Larry Schultz, owner of Shultz’s Fruit stand, is yelling at his eight-year-old daughter, Lucy, for giving free “product” to the homeless. Lucy, unsure how to handle her typically docile father’s strange reaction, raises a trembling hand to brush the hair from her face. Seeing the fear in Lucy’s eyes, Larry Schultz attempts to swallow his anger, but Lucy’s persistence will ensure that doesn’t happen. Seven seconds after Lucy says, “But they’re hungry!” Larry will punctuate the words “So are we!” with a downward fist that will topple seven oranges. Three of the oranges will end up in the gutter, three more will be crushed by passing cars and the seventh will find its way under the foot of woman staring at herself in a tiny vanity mirror applying lipstick.
At 10:04 A.M. the woman applying lipstick will come down on the orange with all of her weight, stumbling into a man named Louis Fellows who is on his way to a custody hearing that starts in exactly fifty-six minutes. Louis, groggy from a night of drinking alone, knows that if he doesn’t clear twenty-seven blocks in fifty-one minutes the courtroom doors will close and he will lose custody of his daughter. As the woman falls she will drive the tiny mirror into Louis’s wrist severing his radial artery. Blood will spew from the wound like an oil well. Louis will scream and start to run. Six blocks later Louis, dizzy from blood loss, will bump into a young boy skipping school. The boy, who’s carrying an armload of junk food, will topple backward hitting his head on the front step of a coffee shop. Louis will scoop the boy off the ground saying, “Jesus kid! Are you okay?” The boy will groan, open his eyes, see blood covering their clothes and say, “I think I need to get to a hospital.”
“Beside a nasty headache, I think you’ll be okay,” Louis will say, revealing the gash. “I’m the one in need of stiches.”
A church bell will ring once, declaring the time to be 10:30AM. Louis will remove a hundred dollar bill from his wallet and shove it into the boy’s pocket saying, “I’m really sorry kid, but I gotta go.” Seventeen seconds later, the boy will see how much blood is smeared across his shirt and at that moment he’ll understand two things: if he goes home looking like he murdered someone his parents are going to know he skipped school, and a stranger just handed him more cash than he has ever possessed at one time. The boy will see a Goodwill store across the street and run in to buy new clothes. He will leave the store eighteen minutes later wearing a powder blue jumpsuit and clutching a graphic novel inspired by the songs of John Lennon. The title of the book will be Imagine.
The boy, whose name is Michael Burby, will go to a park where he will unknowingly sit under the fourth largest oak tree in the United States. There he will fall in love with Imagine, reading it cover-to-cover twice before returning home to listen to the songs that inspired the book. At home, after digging through his parents old LP’s, he’ll listen to all of Lennon’s albums successively. (Walls and Bridges will be his favorite.)
Michael’s parents will hear the music and their minds will flood with discarded memories. Twelve minutes into the first side of Wedding Album, the couple will meet in the hallway. Michael’s mother Paige, looking her husband up and down, will bite her lower lip seductively, which is an automatic aphrodisiac for her husband Nate, who will pick her up and carry her into the bedroom where they will make love to their lost soundtrack exactly three and a half times. The second time will result in a baby girl they’ll name Natalie. She will be the sister Michael has always wanted.
The next morning Nate, still beaming from the previous night, will use a cliché office expression (“Looking sharp!”) to compliment a normally invisible employee known around the office as Burn, because he often smells like burnt toast. Burn, whose real name is Anthony, still high from the compliment hours later, won’t go home to gorge on fast food and cable. Instead, he will go for a walk with his dog Crooner. On their walk Anthony and Crooner will meet a pretty woman with pink hair named Myra and her dog Sid. All four will get along beautifully and make plans to meet the next night, which will go even better than the first. The third night will top the first two combined—ending with a kiss. This routine will carry on for four months. During this time Anthony and Myra will fall in love. Anthony will also lose twenty-two pounds and lower his cholesterol by six points, staving off an impending heart attack for nearly a year.
On the twentieth of March 2014 (known as the Vernal Equinox) Anthony will suffer a massive heart attack and fall to the ground. Cradling his head in her lap, Myra will hear Anthony speak for the last time. A crowd will gather. They too will hear Anthony’s final words, “Lunasa strarippidy!” which is gibberish to everyone in the crowd. The sea of strange faces will look down on Myra with pity because she’ll never know what Anthony was trying to say. Myra, having invented a language with Anthony so they could shout secret messages to each other in public while freaking out everyone around them, will know exactly what Anthony said. And she couldn’t be happier. When the ambulance arrives and the EMT places Anthony’s body onto a gurney, then into the ambulance, Myra will reach out to close the doors revealing a Lunasa Strarippidy tattoo on the underside of her forearm. The only onlooker who will notice is an off-duty television news reporter named Earl Counter.
Earl will follow the ambulance to the hospital where he will sit outside the emergency room doors waiting for Myra to exit. When Myra finally steps into the night, Earl will introduce himself as warmly as possible. “I recognize you from TV,” she’ll say. “But why are you here?” He will explain where he was when Anthony died, that he saw the tattoo and thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He will beg her to be on the news the next night. She will decline repeatedly. But she will tell him how they met, fell in love and the origins of a language they call Myrothony. She’ll laugh and say, “It sounded so exotic and fantastical. But more importantly it made us laugh.” The next night, during the live broadcastof the eleven o’ clock news Earl, whom viewers find stiff and apathetic, will go off teleprompter telling the story of Anthony, Myra and the origins of a beautiful language. “The most beautiful words on Earth,” he will say, “are the nonsensical ones shared by lovers.”
The segment will create an immediate buzz, increasing the show’s viewership to over sixty percent of homes in the broadcast area and shooting the program to the number one spot for the first time since its inception. Earl will end the segment with a warm message to his estranged wife Gillian, who immediately calls her mother. The phone call will delay Gillian’s trip to the store for cigarettes eleven minutes. During those eleven minutes a falsely imprisoned convict named Bobby Richards, convicted of raping and killing an eleven-year-old girl when he was seventeen and exonerated by DNA evidence only two weeks ago, will get in his mother’s car and drive to a twenty-four hour convenience store called Just a Minute! A forty-seven year old Bobby (who has no idea how to survive in the free world) will commit a crime for the first time in his life with the sole intent of returning to prison. The victims will be Arnold and Candace Olabisi, the owners of Just a Minute! and Gillian Counter.
Joni Olabisi, only daughter of Arnold and Candace, will arrive at the store from a date with two pieces of tiramisu to thank her parents for covering her shift. Upon hearing the news Joni will silently stare into the eyes of Bobby Richards and see no hate, only remorse. In the months following the murder, Joni will initially blame herself. But she will reconsider everything after reading a story about Bobby online. She will realize that fault doesn’t lie with her or Bobby—it lies with the legal system. Joni will sell the store nine months later using the money to go to college for criminology.
Every Sunday before going to the library, Joni will place flowers on her parents’ grave and visit Bobby in prison. Bobby and Joni will become lasting friends. After graduation, Joni will become an advocate for criminals’ rights, making sure they receive proper rehabilitation while in prison and (especially) upon release. Joni will spend most of her time at Middlesex Women’s Correctional Facility. There, Joni will fall in love with a convicted murderer named Lizzie Barnhart. The fear of scaring off Joni will keep Lizzie from telling her story almost six months, but on a sunny afternoon as the two women walk hand and hand across the grounds Lizzie will tell Joni about her first girlfriend Rachel. She will tell Joni it was Rachel’s legs and the way she used them to move through life that stole her heart. She will tell Joni that Rachel hated romance and all things Hallmark-y. She will tell Joni about begging Rachel to have “just one” moonlit picnic with her in the park and then she would “never ask for anything again.” She will tell Joni that Rachel groaned, smiled and relented. Lizzie will tell Joni about the way the moon looked that night and how they were making love when they heard a man scream “Burn in hell dykes!” from the bushes. “I tried packing up as fast as I could,” Lizzie will say. But the man in the bushes, Jackie Ryan, was faster. Jackie, whose wife recently left him for his sister, had been drinking in the park for several hours and approached the girls with the unfounded, uninhibited hate only alcohol can provide. “The guy grabbed Rachel by the collar of her shirt,” Lizzie will say. “He spit on her as he unzipped his fly and said, ‘I’m gonna show you dykes exactly what you’re missin’.” Lizzie, young, scared and in love, placed a car key between her knuckles and drove it into Jackie’s temple—killing him instantly. Within days Lizzie was facing a small town jury made up of Jackie’s friends and relatives. Her sentence was ten years in prison. After the trial, Rachel’s parents sent her to a rehab facility in Iowa called New Beginnings that promised to make her straight again. “I only heard from Rachel once after that. Lizzie will say. “A letter. It said Thank you beneath a drawing of our moon.”
Joni will be the only person on hand for Lizzie’s release. To celebrate they will marry in a small ceremony attended by a few friends and co-workers. The ceremony, originally planned as a civil union, will take on a new importance when the officiator, Mayor Jason Reed (the youngest and most liberal mayor the town of Garrison has ever seen) finds a loophole in the town charter. This oversight allows any elected official to perform same-sex marriages recognized by the state. An article covering the ceremony will run on the front page of the local paper a day later. A smattering of homosexual couples will rush to Garrison requesting Mayor Reed wed them. The Mayor will honor each request. But the townspeople will quickly contact their Senator who will repeal the clause, negating all recent same-sex marriages. Joni and Lizzie will be outraged. Together they will form a group called I.B.L.O.G. (I Believe in Love Over Government). Gay. Straight. It doesn’t matter. The group will acquire a mass following and march on Washington. It will be the largest peaceful protest in U.S. history.
A young boy tucked in his bedroom will hear his parents watching the protest on television and head to the living room to investigate. The images on the screen will knot the boy’s stomach. His throat will cinch and he will cry. The silent tears will stream down his face for several minutes. It will be one of the most significant moments of his life. The boy, Lucas Goolsby, will spend the next several weeks in his room exploring deep within his imagination. After many false starts he will write and illustrate a satirical graphic novel called The League of Effeminate Gentlemen. The comic will follow the story of three superhuman gay couples that believe (or hope) if they save the life of everyone in America the government will be forced legalize same-sex marriage. The comic will garner no attention whatsoever. The only person who will read itis Lucas’s older brother Jonathan who will be so moved by the comic’s humor and sincerity he will decide to tell his family and friends he’s gay. To his overwhelming surprise Jonathan’s family and friends will be just fine with it. And having the support of those he loves will allow him to grow up unafraid of who he is and go on to become one of the most influential politicians in history.
During his second term in Congress, Jonathan Goolsby will present The Pursuit of Happiness Act. The Bill, calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage, will pass with uncharacteristic ease. To celebrate Jonathan will publicly wed over two hundred couples. The first couple will be Joni and Lizzie. Earl Counter’s coverage of the story will earn him a Peabody Award. When Jonathan presents Joni and Lizzie to the community as an “Officially married couple!” Lizzie will throw her bouquet into the crowd, which will land in a trashcan eleven feet away. Everyone will laugh. Someone in the crowd will yell, “Is that a sign of what’s to come?”
“No!” Lizzie will say. “That sums up all we’ve been through.”
Seventy-three minutes later, when silence has reclaimed the park, a homeless man will find the bouquet. It will be clean and untainted by the trash. The homeless man, who goes by the name Warren Peace, will remove the flowers, hold them to his nose and inhale. The delicate scents of orchids and roses will envelope him like a warm blanket. It will be the most beautiful experience for him in years. When the moment has passed, Warren will lie on a bench and fall asleep in the fetal position clutching the flowers like a lover, only to be woken the next morning by two boys, Brent and Brody Blackmore, known around town as the Blackmore Brothers. Brent and Brody will wake Warren by doing an impression of their beagle six inches from his ear. Warren will jump up, instinctively swatting at his attacker with the only thing he has—a bouquet of flowers. The flowers burst upon impact, filling the air with colorful, silken rain. Warren, in an act of desperate love,will try recovering each petal. The Blackmore Brothers will laugh as they watch a tattered man try to pick petals fromthe sky and ground. Warren will yell at the boys as if they’d killed his only friend, trying to express what it is they’ve taken from him, but the only sounds that will leave his lips are strange little chirps and grunts, which the boys will find hilarious. Dark clouds will move in, dropping water on their noses. They will leave the man in the park with his petals, finding their way to school where they will bully and laugh at others. A heavy rain will fall. Warren will remove a holey umbrella from his bag andsit and stew in hate while listening to the rain, which to him will sound like a band of over caffeinated secretaries typing at a rate of ninety words per minute.
The boys will see Warren again two weeks later after a night of partying. Brent and Brody will consume a dozen drinks each and although they will both be too drunk drive they will also be too prideful to admit it. Sixteen blocks from the party the boys will hit a telephone pole at fifty-two miles per hour. Neither boy will see it coming. Neither boy will be wearing a seatbelt. Brody will go through the windshield, coming to rest on the hood. Brent will break his neck on the steering column. The last thing they will see is a homeless man in a park sniffing a bouquet of tattered flowers. The boys will not recognize Warren. The boys won’t even remember Warren. But Warren will know exactly who they are.
A young woman suffering from insomnia named, Bryce will go out for a walk. She will arrive at a park just in time to see a homeless man place a ratty bouquet of flowers on the roof of a totaled car and whisper something into the victims’ ears. Bryce will be the only witness interviewed by police who find the story of the mystery man intriguing, but unhelpful. They will tell Bryce, “It’s clearly alcohol related.” and “You should go home and get some sleep.” The image of the broken bodies will haunt Bryce for the rest of her life.
The homeless man and his flowers will haunt Bryce for the rest of her life. She will tell every man she dates, “Under no circumstances are you to give me flowers.” None of the men will take the request serious. This, in turn, will make Bryce feel as though they do not take her serious—dumping all of them.Three days after the accident, Bryce will wander punch-drunkenly to her favorite coffee shop where she will order a caramel macchiato and a blueberry muffin. Bryce, after placing a large dollop of butter on the peak of the muffin, will warm it in one of the communal microwaves lining the back wall of the café. In her sleep deprived haze she will place the knife on the plate, the plate into the microwave and set the timer for ten minutes instead of ten seconds. The mistake will go unnoticed for two minutes and fifty-eight seconds when the microwave will catch fire and startle Bryce who jumps backward to get away from the flames. Bryce’s spastic movement will throw her and her coffee into the face of a woman named Loretta Kelley.
Loretta, an attorney whose unethical behavior and addiction to Valium got her fired from her law firm a month earlier, will use the injury to secure her financial future, suing the cafe owners who’ll eventually settle out of court for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Loretta will use the settlement money to open her own café called Mommy and Me Coffee and Tea. But Loretta will never see the opening.
The night before the Grand Opening, she will acquire an experimental painkiller called Cinexetrol from a former client-turned-lover named Robert Woodbury. As lead scientist for Alliance Phibbs Pharmaceutical Company, Robert will develop the drug himself. And despite having earned the office nickname “The Lion Tamer,” he will assure Loretta that the pill will provide her with a calm,controlled high. The next morning, nervous about her big day, Loretta will take three of the pills on her way out the door. The effects, designed for terminally ill cancer patients, will kick in as she is driving into the city thirty-six minutes later. The overwhelming effect of the pills mixed with the throngs of people and traffic throw her into a state of panicked vertigo. Six seconds later Larry Schulz, owner of Shultz’s Fruit stand, will dart into the road trying to catch several oranges that toppled off the stand. Loretta will honk and scream, but never apply the brakes. Larry, blasting the iPod his daughter gave him for his birthday, will never hear it coming.