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Raymond’s Very Young Small Early Peas

Illustration by Mitch Handsone

THAT MORNING, I READ the paper again, and was again disappointed to find no reports of the president’s suicide.

“Sorry, folks,” the unleft suicide note did not read, “for all the atrocities against mankind that I’ve committed in the name of Jesus and Justice and Morality and Necessity and Security. In truth, a couple fellas just talked me into following Henry Kissinger’s plan from 1973: taking over the Middle East’s oil reserves to make money. I’m sorry I lied and broke everything, and killed so many innocent people. Please forgive me and fix things up as best you can. G.W.B.”

No, the president had once again not shot himself through the mouth with an Uzi, had not hung himself or overdosed on expensive pills. No sucking of the tailpipe, no leaping from the monument, no chasing down a pile of blow with a quart of Scotch and a shot of potassium cyanide. The president had not even slit his wrists and bled his life away in a nice warm tub. There was no sign of any struggle at all.

And I was all out of coffee.

 

BUT BY EARLY AFTERNOON, things were looking up. I found a $20 bill in my bathrobe pocket, walked up the block and returned with a pound of good coffee, a half-gallon of soy milk and 72 cents in change. Then Chester and Louise stopped by. You remember Chester and Louise. They brought me a birthday present: a cylinder, about 5 inches high, maybe 3 in diameter, wrapped neatly in plain brown paper. Weighed about a pound. Ribbons of red, white and blue encircled the cylinder, blossoming into a festive curlicue bow almost as big as the cylinder itself. A white rectangle of paper dangled from the bow, bearing the words “Happy Birthday Dave! From Chester and Louise and Raymond” in loud red ink. This white rectangle was also a receipt from a supermarket, faded but legible — a receipt for a can of peas purchased in 1990.

“Here,” said Chester.

“Happy birthday!” said Louise.

Thanks, Chester and Louise. Thanks, Raymond.

My living space is very small. With three of us inside, there wasn’t much room for the gift.

“Let’s go outside,” I suggested, “where there’s room to open it.”

The door doesn’t work, but there’s a skylight. And a ladder. That’s how Chester and Louise had come in. So we climbed back up and out and onto the roof, which was a mess of eucalyptus leaves stuck together with bird shit and squirrel piss. There’s a little sun-bleached table up there, and some chairs. It’s peaceful.

I served some coffee and read the receipt aloud and tore off the wrappings to reveal a 425-gram can of Le Sueur brand Very Young Small Early Peas. (In French, la sueur means “the sweat.”)

“How do you like that?” said Chester, beaming. Louise, for her part, smiled and released two high-powered effervescent twinkles, simultaneously, one from each eye.

“Thanks,” said I. “Really. I . . .” I got a bit choked up.

“Aww . . .” said Louise, kissing my cheek as Chester shook my hand.

 

CHESTER AND LOUISE have a dead son named Raymond. Raymond died about a month ago. One very small piece of fast metal broke through one of his ribs and landed in his heart at the same time that another broke through his right eye and landed in his brain, overseas. Larger pieces of metal landed in his liver and his spleen, and one sheared off his left arm, just below the shoulder, also overseas. Of course, the first two pieces of metal — the very small ones — landed in his heart and brain just before the larger pieces arrived, so Raymond never found out about his liver and spleen and arm.

Raymond liked canned peas. That’s why I figured the peas had been Raymond’s. You might remember: When Raymond was in elementary school, one of the boys in his class killed another boy by throwing a can of peas into his head. After that, Raymond always carried a can of peas in his backpack, for protection. And slept with a can of peas beside the bed.

 

ON THEIR WAY OVER, Chester and Louise filled up their whole tank with gasoline for under $30.

 

AS I MENTIONED, there’s a little table up there on the roof, and some chairs, so it’s kind of peaceful, especially with a pot of fresh coffee and a couple of old friends. Chester and Louise call themselves Republicans. Whenever we get together, we end up talking politics.

Chester and Louise said they’d thought about it, over and over, since even before Raymond died, and decided that the most heinous crime that a human being can commit is not murder or rape but coercing one nation’s warriors into attacking another nation without provocation.

“Crime of the millennium,” said Chester. “With all the evidence, no reasonable, thinking person could consider Iraq a threat to anything American but our oil industry’s access to Iraqi oil.”

“Oil, period,” said Louise. “And then they say, ‘Support our troops,’ but they don’t mean ‘Help them’; they mean ‘Encourage them to kill the people we’ve decided to kill so we can control their country’s natural resources.’ It’s like they’re playing a video game, with real people.”

“Doesn’t matter what party the guy says he belongs to,” said Chester. “Republican? Hardly. I’ve been a Republican my whole life. George W. Bush rejects all tenets of the Republican Party. All those neocons — they flood the news organizations with press releases to convince Republicans that Bush is one of us, but there’s nothing Republican about his actions. Leading a nation into unprovoked war is the ultimate evil, the absolute worst thing a man can do with his life.”

“Amen,” said Louise.

“So we thought about what you were saying last week,” said Chester, with a nod to his wife. “And we agreed that that sounds just about right. The honorable thing would be . . . this really is good coffee, by the way . . . we figure the president and his cabinet should apologize to the world, and then commit suicide.”

“Yes,” said Louise, nodding cheerfully. “We think that would be just lovely.”

Chester raised his coffee mug and looked at Louise, and Louise raised her coffee mug and looked at me, and I raised Raymond’s old can of Le Sueur very young small early peas, and a few drops of squirrel piss landed on the table as we brought everything together between us and made a soft, pleasant clink.