The Last Times You Saw Jenny McCreary
THE LAST TIMES YOU SAW JENNY MCCREARY
Inkslinger Award Winner
Issue No. 6 – December 2014
The last time you saw Jenny McCreary she was as beautiful as you had ever seen her — all done up in her favorite blue dress and for once, barely even scowling. But she was also as dead as you had ever seen her, lying still in a cold open casket inside the crowded funeral home on Harrison Street across from the McDonalds with the broken arches.
Jenny was this girl you used to know, this woman you used to see. She was two years younger, considerably smarter, and identified alternatively as a liberal and an anarchist. Jenny McCreary was this punk-rock high school burnout who hated everything, but especially God and also her parents, and so it was a troubling development for Jenny McCreary when it stopped being cool to hate God two months after it stopped being fashionable to resent her parents because she hated God, and she resented her parents and she got off on all the awe-inspired looks she got from underclassmen as she walked — bleeding — through the hallways and as she chewed tobacco and spit cynicisms behind the auxiliary gym.
“It’s bullshit,” she’d say whenever she’d come over after 6th period. “The new thing is positivity.” It was around autumn. She was a junior. The leaves were orange and her face was always red. She’d say, “Everybody’s talking about community building and working on passion projects and reading John Green books. You know somebody actually wrote ‘DON’T FORGET TO BE AWESOME’ inside a bathroom stall the other day? It’s crazy. People used to write the most horrible shit.” Her mother had recently been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She almost never talked about it.
At Jenny’s funeral, all of her friends were there. You recognized some of them, like this guy Greg who was sitting alone on a fold-out chair at the end of an aisle and muttering something to himself. There were bags under his eyes. He had a bit of a neck beard.
You approached him, hands in the pockets of your wrinkled khakis. “Hey Greg,” you said.
“Hello, Henry,” Greg said, mournfully. He shook his head and stared in awe at Jenny’s open casket. “I can’t believe it,” he said.
Jenny’s family was there too. Her father was weeping. Her sister was home from college. Jenny’s extended family was also in attendance, as well as members of the religious community even though she’d stopped practicing years ago. They all lined up to eulogize this dead twenty-one year old girl whose problems they had all shoved underneath the rug like a tiny piece of cat shit.
“She was a beautiful girl,” they said one by one. “An artist, a thinker, and troubled but brilliant.” This one guy went on to say that she was rough around the edges but had a sort of a gruff appeal to her. like an 80’s horror movie. The consensus seemed to be that Jenny was odd girl, and that she liked strange things, but that her eccentric interests were symptomatic of her considerable intellect. One woman — you thought maybe it was her aunt? — stood up to say that Jenny would lock herself away in her room to recite poetry about oranges into a tape recorder. “She was odd,” Jenny’s maybe-aunt said, “but that was our Jenny.”
Jenny’s father stood last. You had never met him before but you had heard all about him. His voice was rough but his face was kind. Midway through his first sentence he broke down. He started crying and shook his head and stepped down from the podium. Everyone clapped awkwardly and you clapped too.
A few minutes later and everybody Jenny ever knew piled out of the funeral home. As you walked out, you glanced once more at the open casket. She looked peaceful. You smiled. It was the last time you ever saw Jenny McCreary.
The last time you saw Jenny McCreary alive though, was at this coffee shop called Holly’s in December. You weren’t surprised to see her there. Holly’s held a poetry slam on the first Friday of every month, free to the public, donations encouraged, and Jenny almost always read. She was always reading, always writing, always observing all of the characters in her life. She wrote poetry in her spare time and recited it with a rhythmic cadence and barely restrained anger at everything that ever happened to her or hadn’t happened to her during her time on planet Earth. She wrote about herself, she wrote about her mother, and she wrote about oranges.
You ran into her as you were heading for the bathroom. She was there with this guy Greg, who you had never seen before but who you would see again at the funeral. All of Jenny’s friends were men, some of whom had been in her pants, some of whom wanted to be in her pants and one of whom was a homosexual.
“Um,” Jenny said when she saw you.
“Um,” you said when you saw her.
Jenny was friendly but awkward at first, though eventually she loosened up. She said she was thinking of going to New York or to Los Angeles to try her hand at being an actress or a waitress or something glamorous or not glamorous, “or just about anything so long as it’s not in this town.”
As she spoke, you couldn’t help but look her over, objectively, not sexually. She was thin and stringy-looking. Her arms were covered in trackmarks like the concrete at the Indy 500 and her eyes were bloodshot red. She trembled as she spoke, but she was still so alive looking. You never would have believed that her father would find her dead a few months later, strung up by her neck in the basement of her childhood home while a repeat of The Twilight Zone played on the television set in front of her.
You wished Jenny good luck and shook Greg’s hand and wandered off to the bathroom. You urinated and washed your hands. On the way out, you caught a glimpse of your own reflection in the mirror and zoned out for a few seconds, imagining old girlfriends wearing white wedding dresses.
The last time you saw Jenny McCreary as an object of romantic affection was in her room the August before she graduated. Foreplay was always the best with her. She liked ear stuff and she liked rough stuff and she liked the taste of your lips more than you liked the taste of anything. She was good at banter, too. That was always so important when you were younger.
One time, she came over late at night after you had gotten into a fight with a couple bruisers. You danced around telling her what happened and after a solid ten minutes of back and forth she pushed you against the wall and kissed you all enthusiastic-like. She said, “You taste like blood.”
You said, “I bite my lips when I’m nervous.”
She said, “I’m tired of all this he said/she said,” she said as she made like a vampire and sucked the blood from your gums and shoved her tongue down your throat.
That last time you were together, you talked on her bed and as she told you about her day, you could not help but stare off at the eccentric contents of her bulletin board. Her mother and father were attending a chemotherapy session. Her sister was at a friend’s place. Jenny kissed you, then she touched you, then she begged you to be better. She said, “The best thing about you is that you’re passionate and you’re funny, but your jokes have all grown dark and morbid and you haven’t gotten excited about anything since Lost ended.”
That was all it took to get you indignant. You said that of course you still got excited about things. She said yeah, like drugs, and then she said that you barely even got hard anymore. You said that she was just too young to understand sometimes. She said that you were just an asshole. You told her to screw off, and it launched into this giant fight that with no clear victor because arguments with you always seem to end in stalemate.
You said, “Bitch.”
You said, “Whore.”
You said all kinds of misogynistic shit because when your pride gets wounded, you get like a feral goddamn cat that’s just had the blinding epiphany that it’s not going to be alive forever.
By the end of all the screaming, your throat was sore and Jenny was exhausted. You were done. She wanted to keep fighting. And so when she tried to start something again, you stopped her by saying, “I can’t do this anymore.”
It took her a second to process what that meant but when it clicked her face contorted and she sprung up from her bed, grabbed you by your arm and said, “Kill me, love me, stuff me in a closet and cut my jugular, but don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”
You left her like that.
You closed her bedroom door behind you for the last and final time and stood there for a few seconds, listening for her reaction. After only a few seconds of what you could only assume was grieving, you heard the click of her tiny tape recorder and her confident voice reading off the words, “I am a very ordinary orange.”
The more you look back on it though, the more you start to realize that there were really a thousand last times you saw Jenny McCreary. There was the last time you saw her as an innocent, as a friend, as a virgin. The last time you looked at her and saw someone invincible.
But even still, going forward, you see her a thousand more times because you see kids like that all over the place, passed out drunk on a beanbag chair, tingling with excitement as they sniff drugs off a countertop and shaking with exhaustion as they wait to be absolved outside the catholic confessional. And it is the strangest thing, but they all look like Jenny McCreary.
Chris Vanjonack is an undergraduate studying English Education and Creative Writing at Colorado State University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Crack the Spine, the Greyrock Review and the New Haven Review.