That stupid toy Prius with the food delivery sign on the roof done circled the block twice and is now on its third lap. I can see it on my front door surveillance cams, eight neat squares with different views on my laptop screen. I could go out there and flag down the bastard but I refuse to. I’m paying for this. How hard is it to fetch Kung Pao to an address that’s been around as long as I have? My house was here thirty years before I bought it. Hell, my ex’s fuckboy’s truck still shows up in my driveway on Google Maps from three years ago. Every time someone uses street view they ask me about my red truck. My failed marriage is right there on Google if you know what you’re looking at. Google keeping one of how many adulterous fuck sessions at my house frozen in time for public consumption. I went to a counselor for one visit and asked him how you get over something like that. He said who the fuck knows. Use a different map. I never went back because that’s the same thing my brother and my cousin said, but that’s the problem living in a hidden corner of the South and that Google car is a long time coming back. That’s why I busted them. I was on the internet to see if Google had a street view of my house yet and there’s this red truck in my driveway. Dodge. Had to be a Dodge, damn Mopar-driving motherfucker. That Google car rolled by while I was on the road and it caught them, just red-handed. So I know Google’s map knows where I live except tell that to this driver, this Maude or Julio or Zanzibar, this delivery driver every bit in his own little world like one of those Jap soldiers in the Philipines after the second big one and all the while my Kung Pao getting colder.
These delivery people don’t know I’m watching them, but I am. Cameras all hidden around the house in bird feeders. Porch plants. The weathered cypress trellis covered in ivy that I made out of old boathouse wood for our fifth wedding anniversary. The wood anniversary. She got plenty of wood alright. From me. From him. Them? Remote web cams weren’t much around then like now but I’ll never get blindsided again. Once, a pizza guy snapped a picture to confirm my food was delivered then he stepped in extra and snapped again. The security cams made it clear the second time he was scoping the front door lock. I grabbed a screenshot of that from three angles and sent it to his employer with the caption, “This house protected by a crazy old man with nothing to lose.”
I’m not, but they don’t know that and won’t deliver here no more.
* * *
When the lockdowns became the norm, I tucked myself in fine and I’ve been strictly obeying every tiny instruction from the universe as best I can. I was never the kind what needed a whole lot of structure, and after a while it became clear that fortune cookies provided the right amount of bang for the buck. The only problem is when I get no cookie or more than one. I once got five. Five, on a single order. It warranted a phone call.
“Thank you for calling China Bee what you order?” It was the owners wife. Or daughter maybe. They both talked fast in a high-pitched voice but the daughter’s Chenglish was usually better.
“I have five fortune cookies in my delivery sack,” I said. “Five.”
“Very so sorry,” she said.
“This is racism, practically.” I shouldn’t even have to point this out.
“We happy to send more over. You are best customer. How many you need?”
“More? No, not more. Just look at the ticket. I clearly specified one fortune cookie only. Did Jesus have all the apostles preaching at the same time as him? Did Buddha have to talk over anyone? Or that Mohammed? The universe doesn’t speak all roughshod scattergun, does it?”
After a long silence she said, “Rum shot coffee? Shack her down?”
“Are you even listening? How about Confucius. Would he approve of throwing all this cookie scripture into people’s to go sacks like that? Did he ever have diarrhea of the mouth? And what about your overhead? And who needs a handful of fortunes?”
More silence and some muffled back-and-forth at the other end of the line, then the husband’s voice said, “Very sorry, sir. Next time only one. I tell everyone here.”
“Much appreciated but do you have any idea what this is putting me through? I know she’s your wife or daughter or something, but think about it, bubba.”
“Yes, I’m thinking. Again, very sorry. How about free egg roll next time?”
He wasn’t getting it but it wasn’t his fault. He had probably been back in an office running an adding machine the whole time and wearing some kind of visor. I didn’t even call the time I got the fortune cookie that had no fortune in it, and that had given rise to the kind of spiritual crisis that at one time involved vultures and hairshirts.
“How about free egg roll next two times,” I suggested. The universe helps those who help themselves.
“Ok,” the woman said. The man must’ve given her the phone and gone back to his closet. “Free egg roll next two time.”
“Yes. Thank you,” I said. “Pork.”
I bet that tiny office was full of steam from the kitchen and he wore one of those old-timey green visors to keep it out of his eyes.
“Okay thank you for calling bye-bye,” she said in her fast voice and hung up before I could answer.
I felt a little bad. Just last December when I was going in there three, four times a week she gave me a 2020 calender for being “best customer, and nice.” I’d gladly give that screwy calendar back for some fucking religious tolerance. I know they’re all godless communists over there but this is America and how hard is it to just drop one single fucking cookie in the bag?
* * *
Third time turned out to be the charm and I watched my eight views of the Prius stopping at the end of the driveway, watched the girl walk up to the house, drop the food on the doorstep from knee-height, ring the doorbell, and head back for her car, all the while talking on the phone. Fucking soup container had a hairline crack so I left it in the bag. I was going to call them about the soup when I finished eating but the fortune distracted me.
“Listen to a voice from your past,” I read on the small strip of paper while I chewed crunchy orange-flavored weirdness. There was energy in that admonishment. I sensed something major incoming and I was right. Not two days later, a girl I dated in high school who was now a divorced real estate agent sent me a magnetic calendar for my refrigerator, so I obeyed the universe and went to her office. She was in a cubicle playing solitaire on the computer. She had a bit of double chin now and short hair and kind of shapeless in the body but not fat at all. Just kind of straight and slim and soft. Her name was June Verser but I always called her “Junie Bug” not knowing much back then but now I could see it. Junie Verser. Junieverse. Was this what it was all about? So much that is hidden will eventually be made known if you trust the plan, if you have enough wits about you to read direct mail from the universe.
“I got your note,” I said after pleasantries. She seemed confused. “The calendar,” I added.
“Honey, I sent those to everyone in y’all’s zip code. That’s why they’re marked ‘Res-i-dent’.”
“Fortune cookies don’t lie, girl,” I told her. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”
She seemed hesitant at first and got quiet thinking on it, so I passed the time looking around her cubicle to get eyes off her and make her more comfortable. She had a few pictures scattered about. Mostly pets, it looked like. One old, fuzzy computer paper photo of her on a cruise with her parents was tacked up on the gray fabric wall above a row of binders kept standing by two large ceramic cat bookends on her desktop. She was tapping the rim of her coffee cup while she thought about my invite. Her nails were painted black except the index on both hands was zebra-striped. Then she put her hands together like she was praying.
“Yeah I reckon,” she said in her Junieverse voice. She was also staring at the bookends. “It would be good to catch up.”
* * *
I showed up fashionably late with flowers I picked up from a street vendor. I had to drive some thirty-seven miles out of my way until I found one because one of my fortunes from a long time ago read, “The longer the distance, the more precious the gift,” and I had yet to make good on that one but with Junie the universe had finally made it all clear. Good thing I’d found it in my wallet even thought it was stained with soy sauce and hard to read.
She smelled the flowers, then held them out for me to smell.
“Nice,” I said.
“I haven’t had flowers in a long time.”
“Starved,” she said.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Oh I just love Chinese food.”
Chinese food. Of course! This was it. All paths led here. I wouldn’t rush it though. I won’t pop the question until the third or fourth date.
“How about Empress of China?” she said.
Empress. Of China. That Cantonese whorehouse! “What’re you trying to do, seduce and convert me?”
“Convert?” she said. “To what?”
“Who sent you?”
“You did,” she said. “When you came to my office.”
“The Empress is a false prophet,” I said.
“I don’t know about that. I love their sweet and sour pork,” she said.
“Sweet and sour is an abomination. I only eat Kung Pao.”
“They have that too,” she said excitedly, almost giggling.
“Apostasy. They water down their menus to collect false profits.”
“Calm down, man,” she said. “It’s just food.”
“And you’re just the whore of Babylon,” I said. I snatched the flowers back and threw them in the storm sewer. The universe doesn’t promise easy answers. If I drove fast I could just make it to China Bee before they closed. I needed direction. Guidance, and I’m their best customer. They said so. When I left the parking lot and turned onto Main Street, I could see her in the rear view mirror staring at her palm and swiping with that hideous zebra finger.
These whores and their phones.