I’m fairly certain Opal wasn’t thinking about getting a ticket as we passed a patrol car that was lurking like a shark in the median strip. No, she was singing something about riding a see-saw, taking this place on a trip just for me—she wasn’t speeding. I don’t care how fast I’m driving, when I spot a trooper, I hit the brakes.
“Ah, Sweetie, you might want to slow it down.” We weren’t far from her exit or the moment I’d meet her mother for the first time. I turned off the radio, but Opal kept on singing. She held the steering wheel from the underside at the eight and four o’clock position—way too relaxed.
My world is spinning around. Everything is lost that I found. “Jay,” she said, “do you know what I think of when I see a swirling blue light?”
“Going to jail? Flushing money down a toilet?”
“I think of me when I was ten, living in that crummy little apartment I loved near the K-mart where my dad worked the six to close. His second job.”
Obviously, we didn’t think the same way—which was understandable. Opal had never been arrested for blackening out the teeth of The Colonel on her town’s KFC signs.
“I knew every inch of every department because my dad let me go with him and pretend I was a customer. Then my mom would get me after a couple of hours.” Opal tucked her chin down. “’Attention, K-mart shoppers—Blue-Light Special in Housewares, aisle two, can openers half-price’—no one could beat me to the cart with the swirling blue light. Man was it exciting—really wish they hadn’t done away with them.”
I wondered what her mother would think of me. Outside, the gray bark of the trees appeared vulnerable in nakedness—I felt somewhat doomed. “Why do you love me?” I asked.
“Jay-bird—I’ve answered that question a thousand times. Why can’t you believe I do?”
I had enough sense not to reply with all the pathetic answers that were locked and loaded on a loop inside my head. “But you always say the same thing.”
“Because my answer doesn’t change. You know how to just be, and it lets me be, too. How I wish my dad could have learned that.”
“Being is a euphemism for lazy.” There were too many areas in my life where I’d stagnated.
Opal switched her hands to the ten and two o’ clock position on the steering wheel and exited the interstate. “You know what, Jay, you’re absolutely right—you’re no prize,” she said. “But neither am I and neither is anybody else, and yet I love you and God loves us.” She smacked the steering wheel. “In fact, Jesus is like a Blue-Light Special—the Giver of an undeserved bargain—”
“Tell me you didn’t just compare our Lord and Savior to—”
“See, I’m no prize.”
“You are to me.” We drove for many minutes without words. “Hey, take me to your K-mart.”
I probably looked as surprised as she did.
“Sure,” she said. “It’s at the next corner. But you know it’s run-down, right? Dirt’s ground into the linoleum floors; the shelves are junky—Martha Stewart would not approve.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said.
We parked in an almost-empty lot, and made our way to the front door. “Why don’t you go wander?” I said. “I’ve got toothpaste and stuff to pick up.” She pecked my cheek, and headed toward Shoes. I found customer service, asked to speak to the manager. There was a small velvet box in my jacket pocket, and I had finally figured out how I wanted to give it to her.
Attention, K-Mart Shoppers—once in a lifetime Blue-Light Special in Jewelry—two caret engagement ring FREE to the first customer.
I heard her “ooooooohhhhh” all the way from Furniture. Forty-five seconds later she came tearing around an aisle, a huge lamp with a glass base, in arm. Her brown hair streamed behind her. I was waiting on my knee and never had a chance. She tumbled into me, crashed the lamp into the jewelry case, and set off an alarm. The ring was flung in the vicinity of Handbags.
Opal felt compelled to call home, so there on the floor is where I met her mother. And that’s how Opal had her first brush with the law—in the glow of a swirling blue light.
She was right—we were no prizes.
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