Jake West had awakened from a peculiar dream he had mid-morning on Sunday. In this dream, he was walking alone in what appeared to be the aftermath of a nuclear fallout. There was nothing but rubble for miles and miles as his current surroundings were nothing more than a barren wasteland. He then looked on the ground and saw a five-dollar bill and three singles lodged in between some broken concrete before he suddenly leaped up from his living room sofa in a cold sweat.
Jake then wanted to get some fresh air and exercise, so he freshened up and got dressed before he walked to the grocery store as opposed to driving to it like he normally did. He needed to blow off some steam after he had an argument with his girlfriend, Leah, who broke up with him the previous night because she wasn’t happy in their relationship anymore. They had been together for almost three years, and he was ready to propose to her but was blindsided by their breakup. Her diatribe was like a run-on sentence―stating that he didn’t make enough of an effort to keep her happy even after he recited a laundry list of things that he did for her. Nevertheless, he would soon learn that it was futile to plead his case any longer and let her complain until she ran out of breath. It was like being stuck in a traffic jam, and the only thing that he could do was wait it out. She subsequently packed her belongings and left, and he suspected that another man was the catalyst to their breakup but didn’t have the time or energy to prove it.
He had her ring sized and everything―he measured one of her other rings that was stashed in her jewelry box while she was at work one day, but now it was on his to-do list to take the ring back to the jeweler later on that afternoon. He was three grand in the hole after buying the ring and dodged a bullet by not having the opportunity to get on bended knee.
He had reached the corner and observed a gray Chevy Malibu with tinted windows run the stop sign without slowing down. A few seconds later, another car came to an abrupt stop and made a U-turn at the busy intersection of 87th Street and State Street. It was the first warm day of the year in late April as the temperature had reached eighty degrees. Erratic behavior due to the first sign of heat was nothing new because multiple shootings and blaring sirens were commonplace in Chicago for as long as Jake could remember. But something in the air felt strangely different―there seemed to be a different spirit that besieged the city at this time, and he couldn’t put a finger on it. It was as if people in general could sense that the end times were near, and people were ultimately scrambling to their destinations in vain.
His cell phone then rang as he was crossing the street. He decided to answer it instead of letting it go to voicemail even though he didn’t feel like talking to anyone.
“Wanna hang out with the fellas today? We’re trying to get a pickup game going at 63rd and Hayes in about an hour.”
“Nah, I’ll pass, Brian.”
“You sure? We’re trying to get it in before it gets too hot.”
“That’s okay…I’ll hang out next time.”
“Come on, Jake, forget about Leah for one goddamn afternoon. You never wanna chop it up with your boys no more.”
“We broke up,” Jake mumbled.
“What you say?”
“I have plenty of time to hang out with y’all now because Leah and I broke up last night.”
“Yeah? Sorry to hear that, bro.”
“It’s alright, man.”
“You should shoot some hoops with us to keep your mind off it.”
“I know, but I’m not feelin’ basketball right now. Maybe I’ll catch up with y’all a little later.”
“I’ll text you when we’re about to leave the court…we’re probably going to grab some beer and order some pizzas afterward.”
“Whose crib y’all going to?”
“Probably Mike’s crib in Hyde Park.”
“Cool. Make sure you order a cheese pizza, bro.”
“Still not eating pork, huh?”
“I got you, Jake.”
Jake ended the call and walked through the front entrance of Jewel-Osco. He needed a few items like milk, eggs, Pepsi, and turkey meat from the deli for starters. There weren’t any shopping carts on the inside of the store, so he went back outside to grab one. As luck would have it, he saw Leah in the passenger seat of a shiny, black Maxima in the first available parking space closest to the entrance with her face buried in her phone. She didn’t notice him as he observed her, and a guy whizzed by him with a bouquet of flowers toward the black Maxima. Leah’s face lit up when he hopped in the car and handed her the flowers, and she kissed him passionately for several seconds before they drove away. Jake gaped at them open-mouthed as the light at the Dan Ryan Expressway turned green, and they disappeared in traffic heading east on 87th Street. Jake stood by idly for a moment before he shook his head and went back in the store with his cart.