Horrible mistake to wear a jacket. It’s almost June and I’m wearing a friggin’ jacket. My skin is on fire because this is what happens literally every year in Atlanta. I’m a damned fool.
Karina, walking beside me in a sensible off-shoulder top and miniskirt, is like a walking oasis. How someone can stay so cool in such blazing weather?
“How much further are we…” I moan.
“We aren’t even to the bus stop yet,” Karina says. “We left our place like, five minutes ago.”
“Today is one of those days where I’m going to be whining the whole way,” I say. “I need to go back and change.”
“Nope. You made your bed. Now lay in it.”
“I certainly did NOT make the bed this morning,” I say, with a hint of disgust in my tone.
Karina can’t help but smile, but she crosses her arms to counterbalance it. “I’ll have you know–” Her cellular begins buzzing loudly. She takes it out of her purse and puts it to her ear.
Uh, huh? Oh, wait. Not English. She speaks in what sounds like a formal tone, discussing with the person at the end of the line… uh, something. I’m not sure. After speaking in a brief exchange, Karina pauses for a couple minutes, rolling her eyes multiple times as she listens to the other person.
When she puts the receiver up to her mouth, her conversation continues, her tone less formal and more audibly annoyed. But then at the end, she switches back to a high-pitched and pleasant farewell.
She puts the cellular away and exhales deeply.
“Who was that?” I ask.
“Father,” she answers. “He wants us to pick up his prescriptions for him. He’s also mad I haven’t come home in a few days. Apparently he’s actually been coming home every night this week and didn’t say anything until now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. It just sounds like a brutal situation,” I say.
“You’re right,” she says. “Ugh. It’s just… I just wanted to spend one day with you and show you this really cool robot without having to do any stupid errands or go to any stupid meetings. How often are we both off work before noon?”
“And don’t have any deadly missions to go on? Not often.”
“Exactly. It’s just, he knows I’m trying to… Whatever. Let’s go to the pharmacy and pick up my father’s medicine. In the opposite direction, of course.” Karina grumbles some more and picks up the pace of her walking.
I should cheer her up. Maybe think of a really bad joke to tell her. But not too bad, or she’ll probably pull out a knife and stab me to death right here in the middle of the street. It has to be that gray area where the joke makes you groan but not makes you full-on violent.
“Say, Karina… what did one Eastern Union robot say to the other?” I ask. No response. “It said, ‘Domo Arigato, Mister Roboto!!’”
She turns around and looks at me. “In middle school some boys tied me to a lunch table and screamed that entire song at me. Half the school was watching before the teachers broke it up.”
“Uh… Shit. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’m over it now.” Tears start streaming down her face. I quickly rush to her side and hug her. Come on, Karina, don’t have a meltdown yet, come on. “I’m going through a lot right now, Morgan,” she says. “I’m really sorry I’m being a dumb jerk.”
“You aren’t dumb,” I say. “Jerk, though… Well, that’s subjective.”
She pushes me off her angrily but laughs along with it. “Come on. Let’s keep going.”
We reach Karina’s usual pharmacy a few blocks over, a chain called Hearts Beep Loud that is apparently dedicated to giving you the best experience with medicine and dealing with health insurance in all of Atlanta. Not having been to the doctor in over five years, I have no idea what the pharmacy prescription experience is like, but I imagine this place isn’t actually any better than Bob’s Drugs or any of the countless other similar stores.
Karina goes up to the counter to converse with the robot behind the glass and pick up her father’s medicine. In the meantime, I scurry off to look at the most interesting section in the store. No, not the forty brands of cough syrup–that’ll be useful come fall, though–, but the magazine section!
There’s magazines dedicated to all sorts of subjects lined up across an entire aisle in this pharmacy. There’s two months’ worth of Sports Illustrated, a Teen Sparkle issue, and as always, a thousand copies of the ever-popular Robots Quarterly. Or maybe not that popular considering the newest issue seems to be from January and these magazines are all still here.
With a few academic journals and some home living and fashion magazines at the sides of the aisle, I see the main attraction of the entire section, the magazine that attracted me to the magazine area like a magnet when I was a kid– the latest edition of King Comics. Every issue, published once a week, is a four-hundred-odd page behemoth, featuring no less than a dozen comic installments all collected in one giant newspaper-quality tome.
I used to read all the best comics from this thing. Legend of the Perilous Seas, Boring-Man, Dreamy Visionary Gothic Silver, The Woman in the Red Mask, What’s a Potato?… It had all the best serialized stories from across the world; no other comic publication at the time had Eastern Union manga, European comic strips, and Atlanta-based superhero tales all in one package. Every time my parents took me to the pharmacy or grocery store I probably spent thirty minutes just sitting on the floor flipping through all the latest comics.
That kind of behavior is probably why the latest issue is shrink-wrapped. The pharmacy owners most certainly do not want kids reading their comics like a library, especially when these things are five bucks a pop and take up the space of five normal magazines.
Contrary to what is surely the popular line of thought, I am not going to buy one of these comics out of sheer impulse, because I am above such things. No, I will abstain from opening this, despite the cover’s promise of an extremely important new chapter of Kuchibiru Network, what appears to be a steamy romantic drama targeted at teenagers, with two girls grabbing each other’s sleeves and staring deeply into their oversized eyes (It could easily be a violent thriller but my inclinations of bias are well-known in these parts). I fear that, if I were to buy a new King Comics issue, I would find my nostalgic memories of series like Tintin and A Puppet’s Purpose crushed by the overwhelming weight of the reality that they just aren’t very good.
Instead, I start to depart the magazine section to reunite with Karina, who has surely picked up her father’s–
Huh, look at that.
There’s a ton of copies of the latest edition of Atlanta’s biggest alt-weekly paper at the end of the aisle. The cover is a garish pink with the title in huge font: “THE ROTTEN PEACH: THE ATL-WEEKLY.” They’ve been around for decades, too, but I never really cared for it. What’s interesting about it is not the distractingly-bright cover, but this gigantic offer right there on the front page: “Featuring the Ultimate Crossword Puzzle of ALL-TIME. Mystery Mega-Prize Offer Inside!”
I have to check this out. Since it isn’t sealed, I open the book and find the crossword puzzle page. It’s actually a two-page spread, a massive puzzle with a good fifty questions. This is way above my intellect level and I’m not going to pretend I could possibly solve it. However… this stunt is too interesting to pass up. I take the magazine up to the cash register robot and purchase it for its two dollar price tag. That’s probably more than it’s worth, but whatever, I have a few dollar coins in my pocket that I wanted to get rid of anyway.
Karina returns from the pharmacist robot and eyes the magazine in my hand suspiciously. “Morgan, what have I told you about impulse purchases?”
“That they… stimulate the economy?”
“I have a good reason, really,” I say. I open it up to the crossword mega-puzzle and show it off to her. “There’s a mystery prize for anyone who solves this.”
“We don’t really have the time to–” Karina’s stomach growls like a lion waking from a nap. “Okay, we can look over it at lunch.”