Julie Ann Shapiro, Jen-Zen
and the One Shoe Diaries
Author: Julie Ann Shapiro
Publisher: Synerge Books,
E-Book: $6.50 U.S.
Length: approx. 317 pp.
“Look into the window.”
Grains of sand skipped across the floor. The floorboards creaked, the lights flickered. The house shook. Forces brewed in the morning.
Bookshelves, dishes, and pots and pans rattled, like a drummer gone mad. Dogs barked and car alarms blasted in a symphonic roar. The rattling slowed down to a soft drill and Brad Lynberry looked outside. Broken bits of a red tile roof littered the street.
Brad opened the garage door, grabbed a broom, dust pan, and trash can and got to work cleaning up the mess. As he swept up the broken tile, he listened to the neighbors talk amongst themselves. “It’s nice to see him outside again helping out.”
Another one added, “You know the photography work he did for my kid’s ballet recital is just breath taking. We should have him over to barbecue... Hey, isn’t your sister-in-law single?”
Brad did not have time for the explanations. No, that’s not true. Time came in downpours, too much of it washing all around him. The salted sea, he could make whole buckets, if he didn’t stop himself.
After emptying the last bits of broken tile into the trash bin in the garage, Brad grabbed his digital camera, a Canon Power Shot Pro1, locked up the house and headed for the beach.
Walking down the steps to the sand he touched a Band-Aid on his knee, forgetting where he stumbled. Inspiration made him the clumsiest runner, but his clients thanked him, the ones who needed beach photos never went neglected just his knees and calves. Somehow he always managed to put on a Band-Aid and antiseptic ointment, but never got around to applying vitamin E to ease the scaring.
Music blared, Beethoven’s 5th symphony, the cell phone ringer. Staring at the phone, Brad wished he turned the ringer off, but that meant living in the memories and saying hello to Jen-Zen.
Getting dumped would have been easier. No one prepared him for the other. Whoever thought about those things in their late twenties?
Not a freaking soul!
The mobile phone rang and rang. Brad remembered how Jen-Zen labeled the cell phone a collar, one she vowed never to wear. She didn’t see how he would need the diversion. No one did, except maybe his Grandma when she saw the photographs of the shoes.
Picking up the phone, he listened to an ad guy at Surf Clean give him a work order for the new campaign, “Photograph beach art, no wave shots and make it edgy.”
Interpretational assignments like Surf Clean’s became a specialty of his over the years. The riddle of inspiration in all its unplanned glory waited for his camera lens; not feeling like work at all.
The answer for Surf Clean came with the foulest smell; the sight of six rotting sting rays in the wet sand fit their ad requirement. As Brad photographed the stingrays he felt sad noticing the missing chunks of flesh; bright red, white, and pink revealed their insides and so much more.
He realized it didn’t end in the sand; the stingrays became lunch for the seagulls not dying in vain. Besides, how did he know that their life was not complete when they took that last ride on the waves. Maybe they did it together, never knowing what hit them, and they died smiling.
He told that to Surf Clean, figuring it would give them something extra to run with for the campaign.
The ad guy, so typical of the business spun it around within seconds and said, “The tagline is “Can a sting ray smile? It’s brilliant.”
Since when is death brilliant?
This thought Brad didn’t express to the client. Instead, he tried to focus on other clients needs, recalling how some nail polish firm wanted sea shells photographed. He assumed he’d end up taking pictures of a clump of mussel shells at low tide, perhaps with the luminescent insides captured in the sunlight, not counting on finding a bunch of fingernail sized shells the color of skin: brown, tan, and white with pink bellies.
The last of the “beach art” Brad almost walked right past, until the unmistakable bend of a woman’s legs in the spooning position commanded attention. He sat down beside the woman’s body carved in sand. Her hips curved sideways. With her hands covering her eyes, she looked like she was sleeping.
When he slept he covered his eyes too, but he always woke up. SHE stayed in the sand.
Before the tears came, Brad ran back home, hoping the neighbors needed assistance rounding up the cats. During the last earthquake several cats got scared and wound up climbing the Eucalyptus trees.
On his street he listened to the neighbors milling around, surveying the damage, assuring one another that nothing severe happened. “Just a little rattling of the nerves like the last earthquake,” he heard someone say. This angered Brad. They rendered shaking of the ground commonplace. It robbed the event of authenticity.
He knew if Jen-Zen stood beside him she would have understood; having your house shook to the core is not a typical day in Southern California and that when what is solid moved it is magic!
TWO MONTHS THEY SHARED and still the connection grew, when it shouldn’t have, then again a house was not supposed to move and the earth was not supposed to rock.
Brad went inside, tracking in sand from the beach. Bending down to pick up a grain of sand by the entryway, he smelled a familiar scent, lavender, not understanding how the smell came in the house.
He recalled how Jen-Zen’s hair smelled like lavender and seaweed when she came in from the ocean. The lavender blossomed when they made love. He closed his eyes and saw purple all around, the purple fields, where the dreams still lived.
No don’t go there you have clients and a Grandma whose days are limited. Stay in the moment, that’s what the self help book said. But, if I go back to the memories, maybe I’ll understand that Leanne was right that Jen-Zen was a stoner. What difference would that truth make? An answer, the self-help book said, is a step towards closure, towards letting go. But I don’t want to. Damn it! Just try and remember.
I promise it’ll be the last time for a while, then I’ll go visit Grandma and get her something real nice, but first I need to see Jen-Zen.
He opened his eyes and swept the sand into a pile and stared at it. Insight came, to know the sand is to know Jen-Zen.
Walking down the beach she often stopped, as if she forgot something. He knew to look into her eyes. Inspiration in its purest form enlarged the pupils when ideas formed. His eyes did the same thing in the camera’s lens.
The first time he had told that to his sister Leanne she said, ”What a bunch of crap. Eyes don’t mark inspiration. They mark drugs. End of story.”
The second time he bridged the subject Leanne said, “Damn it, Brad, drop the rose colored glasses routine. The girl’s a stoner. “
The third time he left the sand pile in the entryway and began sorting through the recycled paper bin in the garage looking for the words Jen-Zen had left with the request, “Not to open, unless.”
The envelope he’d tossed out under the guidance of a self-help book, which advocated a clean slate for closure. The psycho-therapist author didn’t know the lesson he learned photographing in black and white film. Shadows come in varying shades of gray.
Extracting the crinkled up remains of the envelope he smelled lavender. Opening the envelope the smell grew stronger.
Brad read a few lines of the Window Poem.
Look into the window
It is a mirror of time
Reflecting images from the past
Look into the window
You see sand on a deserted beach
The fragments of a forgotten time
And particles of the future
He saw their days in the sand.
Just before the sunset Jen-Zen liked climbing up the steps of the deserted lifeguard tower and writing poetry. The sunset felt so real to her, as if it went into the sea. Sometimes he kissed her and rubbed her shoulders as the sun went down tears trickled down her cheeks.
He wondered if maybe she was a mild autistic, seeing the world in one dimension: the sun left, it died, she cried. But, sunsets never felt so real, until he stood by someone who treasured each one like it might be the last one. Maybe that’s living life to the fullest.
Unless? Jen-Zen knew her fate, that’s why he needed to go back revisiting the memories, to understand what happened and find some answers.
He remembered when the spark ignited between them. Jen-Zen had invited him to a poetry reading. She looked like the quintessential Southern California girl created by an artist’s brush stroke with her blonde hair wrapped in a purple bow at the nape of her neck, wearing a see through blouse in varying shades of purple over a gray jog bra and blue jeans.
As she read from her chapbook Walking Slumber, Brad touched his hair; static electricity. That’s when it began. There was no stopping the universal forces in motion. Hearing her say, “Night flies, fiery recognition,” reminded him of the fireflies he saw as a child. Mesmerized by the little sparks of light, he caught one as a kid and watched it flicker in a jar. In the morning the firefly was gone.
He told Jen-Zen about the firefly, knowing she’d understand why a little thing like that stayed with him for years. She said, “Nature can’t be captured; just the memories can; they’re captured in the soul.”
Jen-Zen’s prescient words were more than poetry.
She led him into her world bit by bit. Like the day he walked along the beach, photographing sandpipers scampering in the sand, jellyfishes shimmering rainbows and clam shells arranged so they formed an arrow.
He chased the tip of the arrow down the beach on pure intuition, sensing it was her doing. The arrow tip went on for yards and yards until the words, “Ocean, keeper of dreams,” appeared in the sand. As the incoming tide erased the message, Jen-Zen called his name, opened her backpack, and grabbed a yellow-smiley pen.
Entranced, he watched her take the smiley-face lid off the pen and pull out a small wand with soapsuds. Pressing it to her lips she blew bubbles. They popped onto her face, arms and legs, not a one of them burst onto the sand or in the air; that should have told him something! Instead he marveled at a girlfriend that wrote messages in the sand.
Later in the day they watched surfers paddling out to catch the waves, dodging what looked at first like a tire. As it rolled towards the shore they could tell it was a seal. Its head looked seaward, while its torso rocked against the beach. Then it closed its eyes and lay motionless in the sand.
Lifeguards examined the seal and retreated into their tower. Jen-Zen followed them. When she returned she dug her toes into the sand and said, “Red and Blue Cap”, referring to the lifeguards, “smiled there were no traces of tears, just faceless masks, pretending to be the ocean’s friends.”
The Blues and Reds poem she wrote on a discarded flyer. It described the lifeguards’ reaction to the seal, but over time Brad came to realize it was autobiographical, an explanation, he would struggle with for months.
Blues and Reds
Running away from pain,
Feeling the blues of sadness, the reds of rage, and all the shades in between;
Striving so hard to stop this kind of living;
Knowing all too well, the drug of denial;
Using it until you no longer feel;
No longer feeling; is walking death.
When Jen-Zen completed the Blues and Reds poem she attached it to a metal thumbtack on the side of the lifeguard tower and kicked the sand. It spurted in his eye. He told her, “Thanks a lot. Your way of saying you want space?”
“No Brad, space closes in with too much chatter, not company.”
“So, does that mean you want me to go?”
“No. Togetherness binds where words fail.”
He inched a little closer, “Why failure?”
Jen-Zen pointed at the ocean and a mound of seaweed and said, “I can’t keep taking it all in.”
“What do you mean?”
Instead of answering she jogged in place for a couple of steps then waved for him to follow her, as she ran fast down the beach.
He moved in even stride with her and said, “Jen-Zen, if something’s bugging you, let’s talk about it.”
She shook her head no, stopped running, then opened the cap to her pen and blew bubbles.
Giggling, she reached out to hold his hands, then said, “Brad, it’s time you really know about the bubbles, oh sweet bubbles. When I blow bubbles, the little rainbows form. Do you know why they’re not white like in the soap?”
He said, “I think the colors are caused by the refraction of light.”
She kissed him on the cheek, “Brad, in the colors without color we live. In love’s window.”
Her words, her beautiful words, drew into her world as her hands pulled him closer to her body. The mystical discussion itself, dissolved into one wet kiss after the other from lips to ears, to neck, to salt water splashing all around them.
A week later he jogged on the beach with his sister Leanne and stopped abruptly at the sight of Jen-
Zen. She wore a pink sweatshirt and jean cut offs and sat cross-legged on top of a white blanket.
Leanne held the palms of her hands up as if saying, “What now?”
Brad answered, “I want you to meet Jen-Zen, she sees wonder, like Grandma!”
Leanne glanced at Jen-Zen, scrunched her nose, disapproval written all over her face. He introduced them and Jen-Zen shook her head and said, “Brad, I was hoping we could be alone.”
Leanne said, “Go ahead don’t mind me.”
Jen-Zen told him as they walked over to the tide pools, “Brad, can you feel it? I mean you did feel it, when we met. It wasn’t just me?”
“The static electricity it runs through your whole body that’s how it feels when you know for the first time.”
He put his arm around her and kissed her lips. Jen-Zen pushed him away gently and said, “Brad, please answer.”
“Yes, I feel it too. I love you.”
She rubbed her stomach and grimaced.
“Jen-Zen, are you ok?”
He said, “Did you take anything for it?”
“Too much, I think. I shouldn’t have, Brad. Sometimes the pain is so bad I just can’t take it anymore. I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“Brad, just hold me.”
They hugged and watched the waves. Deep in their own thoughts, they breathed in the salt air, listened to the pounding water hit the sand, watched surfers and talked about the ocean spray’s miniscule rainbows. But time went too fast. If he could slow it all down and go back, he would have asked so many questions, instead of just accepting it when she said, “I feel dizzy. I better sit down.”
On the way back to the blanket Jen-Zen stumbled. Brad put his arm around her. Leanne shook her head and looked at the ocean. Jen-Zen stiffened and walked straight to the center of the blanket by the picnic basket, sat down and served a salad made with sweet vinegar, sesame seeds, chili paste, pink and golden brown seaweed. After she finished her second helping she laughed with the pure joy of a child. Her eyes flickered wildly. She closed her eyes and opened them in a slow even motion.
The pink sky faded. Night fell, small banks of fog rolled in, leaving the moon suspended between swirling circles of fog.
A cloud passed over the moon as Jen-Zen’s lips quivered. Her mysterious words came out slurred. “Wide moon glides when the bull toots its last horn.”
Leanne laughed and said, “What are you smoking, girl?”
Brad glared at Leanne and put his arm around Jen-Zen and ran his fingers through her hair. He pulled a few strands of hair off her face. A tear fell down her
cheek as she said, “Lay me up, lay me down, but don’t lay me goodbye.”
She rested her head on the blanket and closed her eyes.
Brad held her hand and rubbed her fingers. They were unresponsive. He let go of her hand. It fell against the blanket. He touched Jen-Zen’s forehead. It was cold.
He snuggled up against her and said, “Why are you so cold? It’s a nice summer night.”
Leanne said, “Brad, it’s probably her period. I’m always freezing.”
He saw a flash out of the corner of his eyes and sensed something. No, don’t dare think it. The beach blanket he wrapped around her shoulders and pressed his fingers along the side of her neck. The pulse felt too slow. He picked Jen-Zen up, cradled her in his arms. She flopped on his shoulders like a rag doll.
He screamed, “Leanne, grab the stuff. Run to the car.”
They drove Jen-Zen to the emergency room. The hospital nurse told him to wait in the lobby, that the doctor would examine her soon.
He said, “No. Let me go with her.”
Leanne rested her hand on his shoulder. The nurse said, “They’ll let you know when you can see her.”
While the doctors examined Jen-Zen, Brad opened her backpack, set aside her poem books, before finding her Mom’s phone number typed on an inside tag attached to the base of the backpack.
Panic stricken, he called her Mom and said, “Mrs. Martin, this is Brad, Jen-Zen’s at...” The words choked in his throat.
Her mother said, “I haven’t got all day.”
Brad bit on his lower lip and said, “Jen-Zen’s in Urgent Care at UCSD.”
“You took Jennifer to a county hospital? How dare you?” Her tone sounded threatening.
“I’m on my way. Call me on my cell.” She reeled off the number before hanging up. Her voice left no question in his mind; it was an order not a request. He dialed the cell phone. It rang and rang. She answered, “Hold on...” The line clicked. She said, “Dr. Carther, drop everything. Jennifer’s in Urgent Care at UCSD. The moron didn’t think to take her to a private hospital.”
Brad interrupted, “Mrs. Martin it’s...”
She said, “Hang on...” The line clicked. “Dr. Carther, yes I know. It’s out of my hands. You’ll take care of her. Thank you.”
Brad screamed, “Look, I’m not Dr. Carther this is Brad, remember?”
He took a deep breath and calmly said, “I’m Jen-Zen’s friend. We’ve been dating. She didn’t tell you? Well, something happened at dinner. I don’t know what. I got so scared. I rushed her to the hospital. Jen-Zen’s an incredible poet, you must be so proud.”
“My tea leaves make more sense and another thing I just pulled into the hospital. I’m running things now.”
The door to the waiting room opened; stomach acid assaulted Brad’s taste buds. A woman in her sixties stormed through the door leaving behind a scent of stale cigarettes and rum. Her form-fitting gray pantsuit, short-cropped blond hair and the way her eyes darted back and forth across the room reminded him of a vulture. Behind her, a thick-necked man carried a large burgundy brief case. The man stopped when she did, but remained two paces back.
Brad swallowed hard, the taste of acid still fresh on his tongue. He walked towards her. The acid taste intensified.
“I’m Mrs. Martin,” she interrupted. “Who are you?”
“Brad Lynberry. I called you about Jen-Zen...”
“You’re the one responsible for Jennifer being in this...”
Brad’s face flushed. “My sister and I were having dinner with Jen-Zen...” His words faded, unheard as she walked past him, moving towards the admission desk. The large man followed two paces behind.
“Mrs. Martin...” he called to her retreating back. She stopped, turned and glared at him. Brad opened his mouth to speak.
“You,” she said, in a menacing tone, “Have nothing to say. You gave my Jennifer drugs and did who knows what to her when she was stoned and now you’re going to try justifying yourself.”
Brad clenched his stomach and fought back the urge to vomit. He took a deep breath, but no words came.
Leanne put her hand on his shoulders and said, “Look lady, my brother’s not the bad guy. He knew something was wrong and insisted we rush Jen-Zen to the hospital.”
Mrs. Martin turned away from them and walked towards the front desk. A woman looked up from the computer screen, smiled at Mrs. Martin and gestured towards a man with a briefcase, who leaned against the wall.
The two woman exchanged words in whispers. Then Mrs. Martin spoke to the man, “I’m going in to see Jennifer. You wait here.”
Brad lurched forward, belched and no longer suppressed the urge to puke. Just seven feet from her, Mrs. Martin held up her hand and asked, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
“To see Jen-Zen,” he stammered.
“The hell you are!” She stared at Brad; the coldness in her eyes stunned him. She gazed at the man with the briefcase then towards Brad and spoke a single word, “Jimmy.”
The man said, “Yes, Ma’am.”
Mrs. Martin nodded. The man stepped in front of Brad and clinched and un-flinched his hands. Brad started to protest, “You can’t...” Leanne’s firm grip on his shoulder silenced him.
He didn’t know how long he sat in the uncomfortable squeaky chair and stared at a painting on the wall of a lady’s purple high-heeled shoe standing upright on a white grand piano.
Leanne’s fingers pressed around his. She pulled his hand to the left. He looked in that direction.
Mrs. Martin walked down the hall. Her shoulders looked less square, more rounded. Brad swallowed hard; the sharp taste of acid singed his tongue. He stood and walked towards her. Jimmy, who stayed motionless against the wall like a hawk scouting its prey, moved forward and stepped between Brad and Mrs. Martin.
She put the palm of her hand upward and said, “It’s all right, Jimmy.” The man took a step back.
Brad said, “How is Jen-Zen? Can I see her?” Mrs. Martin stopped in front of Brad. She smelled like a bottle of rum. Her face looked chalky white.
“Let me see Jen-Zen.” Brad demanded.
Her wrist snapped striking his left cheek. As her hand dropped, blood rushed to his cheek. “My daughter is... because of you and people like you, she’s...”
Tears blocked his vision. “No!” He screamed. “She
can’t be dead!” He shook away the tears. “Mrs. Martin, “I want to see her!”
“Jimmy, get him the hell out of here.”
The man’s fingers wrapped around Brad’s forearm and tightened. His black boots squeaked across the floor making large black smudges. “You heard the lady. Now leave. Or do I have to show you how?” Brad glanced at the fresh marks on the tile, not understanding the cruelty. Leanne touched his hand and said, “We should go.” He held her warm hand and nodded. Jimmy released his grip. Brad stared at the painting of the purple shoe and noticed a slight shadow in the base of the heel.
Jimmy’s black boots streaked across the tile as they walked towards the door. Brad pictured Jen-Zen’s lifeless body on the crisp white sheets of the hospital bed, so alone and cold. Tears spilled from his eyes.
Back at their beach, Brad dug a hole in the sand. Leanne handed him a bouquet of pink and white roses. He spread the flowers and formed a circle with the petals touching each other. In the center he placed clam shells and a tall white candle.
Leanne cupped her hands around the candle and lit the wick.
Staring into the flame Brad rhythmically moved his thumb and index finger back and forth in the candlelight. In the soft light, he visualized the two of them, once again, dancing in the sand.
Jen-Zen’s words came back to him. “Left in the shadows, soul dances missing the beat.”
He wrapped his arms around his knees and rocked slowly back and forth. His side tingled. The body knew.
Copyright © 2007 by Julie Ann Shapiro