You Can Renew Your Vows at Chuck E. Cheese Anytime You Like – Claire Hopple

        There they are attempting hand-to-hand combat in an automobile. Imagine their surprise once they run out of breath.
        “And I was going to pluck out your fingernail! And you were reaching for a pressure point!”
        They had mostly just garnished each other with matching tricep bruises.
        These two detectives can’t untangle the impetus of their physical froth, but one of them can recall hearing something to the effect of, “You think you can just walk into my life and host a picnic?”
        One had watched a vendetta-style movie with his wife last night. His reflex to enact justice was freshly fueled from the viewing while his wife came away from it feeling like she already had.
        These two are accustomed to itineraries, formalities. Now, a lip is bleeding and a knee joint crackles.
        “Guess I’m not president of the thumb wrestling club for nothing,” one says as a sort of conclusion.
        The street is becoming more and more populated as they idle outside the basket shop.
        Earlier that morning, they had received a tip leading them across town. There was a man-made lake where an office park was supposed to be.
        Everybody knows that this basket shop is managed by a cult. That’s how it’s always operated. In this town, baskets are startlingly dangerous.
        Citizens here sure do extract heaps of joy from picnicking. There’s a coveted spot under the tree in front of the lumberyard’s main entrance. Many appreciate this tree’s beckoning defiance beside such an establishment.
But the shop itself leaves most with a sense of pageantry imitating hospitality. Regardless, sporting a picnic basket from anywhere else proves unsuitable.
        The shop owner had dispersed the rumor about herself: she was a shrewd cult leader not to be crossed.
        Since the age of five, she had run away from home every year, extending into adulthood. However, in order to keep leaving, she must keep returning, which deflates a fraction of its power.
        Upon meeting her, she almost always defaults to saying, “The picnic business. It’s no picnic,” irrespective of whether it comes up in conversation.
        She also whispers to every patron that she’s training a chimp to answer her correspondence. She claims to be in various stages of experimentation. A primate has yet to emerge. How this figures into her cult no one can really say.
        These detectives will catch her amid some illegal practice, that is certain. Once they draw her out, though, they don’t know what they’ll do with her.
        The store employees—her supposed followers—are hushed dirigibles grasping price sticker guns. And the picnic crowd is so unhelpful it seems in league with the staff.
        The detectives have not found life easy or breezy as a result.
        “My husband came with nine trench coats,” says one of their wives at every cocktail party.
        Fogged with the question of what it takes for someone’s words to be said once and continue to play in your mind versus someone who repeats the same phrase on a regular basis that you ignore, but also fogged with the very real condensation from their scuffle, the detective sitting in the driver’s seat reviews his notes.
        The other exits the vehicle to find some gauze. His mother and a stranger stand on the corner looking at him.
        His partner watches from the car and notes that he asks the stranger for assistance rather than his mother.
        Neither of them can equip him with what he needs, so he turns back.
        The one inside tries to hide his notebook a bit too late.
        “Why would you write that about my mother?”
        “I believe it’s integral to the case.”
        The car’s windows start clouding over again, so to avoid another incident, one says, “Listen, I’m sorry about what happened. I think we can both agree that I’m a passionate person.”
        “Thank you. I’m sorry too. I didn’t mean it. You can renew your vows at Chuck E. Cheese anytime you like.”
        Chapped with whether or not they are actually apologizing or trying to add in last-minute insults, they find that the picnic cult isn’t what matters now.
        And why should they tell you if it ever matters again.