Life wants to be; life doesn’t always want to be much; life from time to time
goes extinct…. Life goes on.
—Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
I have to write everything down while I still remember.
Dispatch called at 3 a.m. A hospital in Monterey. Insurance had sent a car.
I sat on the porch in the dark, reading the patient’s file. Erik Hagestad. A marine biologist and diver, a scientist at the research institute. He’d brushed against deepwater coral. The abrasions were severe. Antibiotic noncompliance led to sepsis. Headlights swept over me. My ride.
The driver had a serene soul. As he drove, he was thinking of his wife and daughters. Not words, just images. Very specific. The little one grinning, having lost a tooth. His wife’s hands forming masa into tortillas. It made for a peaceful drive.
In Monterey the sky was lighter. The air smelled of cypress and the sea. I tipped the driver $2,500. It was all I had on me. Nurse Devon Jagler met me in the lobby. She walked me to palliative care. A man stood outside the patient’s room. He was weeping. The nurse introduced him. Somebody Smith. Milton?
“Are you the husband?” I asked. Continue reading
In June 1960 my dad and I went tire-kicking with Smitty over at the A-1 used car lot on Highway 99, trying to find me my first car.
The right car.
We went on Sunday, when the Seattle Rainiers were on the road and there were only church shows on TV. In the Sunday paper A-1 had advertised a 1953 Mercury V-8, a Ford Motor Company car, a two-door hardtop convertible. I thought that a hardtop convertible had a wicked look.
My dad spotted a car he liked: a brown, 1952 Chevy, four-door sedan with a straight-six engine and posts between the side windows. The Chevy was a turkey car to me.
“You’ll choose your own car, Mitchell,” my dad said, “but General Motors cars beat the hell out of any Ford car.” My dad always called me Mitchell, never Mitch. My dad always bought General Motors cars.
I wasn’t blind; the Mercury needed work. The paint job was beaten up, the color like a banana that had been dropped in the dust.
“It looks like it’s been peed on, Zeigler,” Smitty said. “Gonna need paint.” Continue reading
In the sixties, the Palace Hotel resembled a castle with Victorian-era decor and intimidating furnishings. The green velvet chairs with ornately carved arms in Lila’s bedroom seemed too formal to sit in. The satin bedcovers, monogrammed with a large, flowery PH, were so heavy she dreamed of drowning the first few nights of vacation. The only thing she liked was the extra-long bathtub in which she floated every afternoon, and the huge towels warmed by their special holder. She lingered, wrapped in one of those towels, as long as possible before dressing for the ritual, four-course dinners in the hotel dining room.
Lila hated the inevitable tension at meals regarding whatever dress her mother picked out for her. Clothes and manners were Grandmother Jacqui’s favorite topic. The inadequacy of Lila’s wardrobe was Jacqui’s frequent target. It allowed her to imply that Lila’s mother lacked the taste and sophistication to be a proper member of the Taylor family.
Back in the States, Lila’s grandparents insisted their grandchildren join them every Sunday for the country club brunch without their parents. Both Lila and her brother, Tad, were thus expected to dress appropriately. One recent Sunday, when Jacqui eyed Lila’s new yellow culotte dress and said, “Doesn’t your mother know how to dress a young lady?” Lila exclaimed, “Leave my mother alone!” Startled by her own anger, she became immediately self-conscious when she realized club members were discreetly eyeing them. Continue reading
Eliza said once that she couldn’t imagine not being in love with me. Seems her imagination was faulty, though, because now, not only is she not in love with me any more, she doesn’t return my calls, my emails, my letters. I’m not sure what would happen if we ran into each other by accident. I’m guessing she’d force a smile, stop for a minute and talk, then frown and say she was late for something. But I’ve been wrong about her so many times. It’s possible she’d just purse her lips, tighten her shoulders, look away from me, and keep on walking.
When she said that, we were in her apartment, a shabby little cave in the Sunset District of San Francisco. This was a year ago, six months before we broke up. November. We’d just gotten back from a camping trip to Yosemite, and she was sick. She’d gotten laid off. She had student loans the size of Everest. The apartment was freezing, with only a time bomb of a space heater to warm it up. Mice had chewed holes in everything chewable and left miniature turds all over. Her books, her clothes, her papers, her CDs were scattered around like fallen leaves. She hated the apartment, was desperately ashamed of it. But we were snuggled in her bed under two quilts, our clothes still damp from Yosemite snow, completely lost in each other. Her skin was hot with fever, and she couldn’t stop coughing. She wanted to make love.
And she said that. She couldn’t imagine not being in love with me. I guess at the time I was the only thing going right in her life. As for my life—maybe she wasn’t the only thing going right, but she was the only one that mattered. Continue reading
“Mexicans have it easy. They just have to cross the northern border. We Central Americans have to cross Mexico.”
Florencio chuckles and lifts his left nub, his casualty from riding La Bestia, the freight train that runs across the southern border into Mexico and toward the U.S. Mexican border.
Florencio is Guatemalan. He has two young sons that accompanied him on the journey to Mexico. Robín is fourteen. Everyone calls him Leonito, the little lion. As a baby he used to growl in his sleep like a wildcat. Davíd is twelve. He is a head taller than his older brother, and wears a faded blue New York Mets hat every day over his mess of black curls. The boys are asleep between their father’s legs, propped up against each other for extra support to keep from rolling over the sides of La Bestia as it makes sharp, winding turns through the trees.
“¡La rama, la rama, la rama!” Continue reading
“Four fours,” Zoe says softly, her voice insinuating that she’s lying. This is one of the problems with playing liar’s poker with Zoe; she always sounds like she’s making things up. She even looks like an actress, leaning on her elbow in her pink gingham halter and culottes, her eyes shrouded in sunglasses although the sun is setting.
Annie sighs. It’s still hot, and the humidity is so dense that the oleanders’ leaves are beaded with moisture. Annie holds her dollar bill hard against her chest. She knows the numbers and letters on the bill without looking. Zoe could be trying to peek, even though she has her head turned casually.
“Four fours. Are you asleep?”
Annie snores in response.
“Little red pig,” Zoe says, slapping at her. Zoe is probably faking. Or maybe she has two fours and assumes Annie has two. Annie does have two fours, and Zoe could know. Even without cheating. Continue reading
I grew to hate All-Ireland Sunday, keeping this torment concealed from my family. The day stiffened my resolve to leave Dublin after wasted college years. I went to flat parties with childhood friends and pale girls who rolled their eyes at my slurred advances. Now winter lingered, inducing darkened days that lead to early gatherings in pubs and late nights on the quays.
A taste of whiskey was lodged in my throat, the fetid sweat off a weekend binge bleeding into the walls. I forgot it was All-Ireland Sunday for a moment, although this business of Dublin versus Kerry soon flooded my consciousness. I reached across the bedside table for my watch, the hands on the dial approaching two p.m. Sundays had become an effort in killing time. Ashen clouds brushed the sky through a slit in the curtains. My mum had come in earlier to say she was going to my aunt’s house for the afternoon.
‘Try and at least drag yourself out of bed for the throw-in!’
There’s a blue neon cactus on the side of the road, almost turquoise, so diffuse the plasma seems to turn the night around the sign the color of a bruise and she can’t be sure if the sign reads Vacancy or No. Motel is in the middle of nowhere, east-bound strip of I-80 heading toward Utah, and it’s the middle of the week – she thinks it’s unlikely to be full and signals to the empty highway as she slides right, across weeds and rocks and into the gravel parking lot. The last hour there haven’t even been semis on the highway and it feels later than it is – just past nine with the last of the summer-green twilight just faded and the sky inky black.
Angela’s been driving eleven hours, from Los Angeles to Elko, Nevada, and beyond, no destination in mind, no cash, just credit cards and fury and a hard knot of tears in her throat. Eleven hours to make it to nowhere, driving ever since Jim came home this morning smelling of perfume and guilt but apparently past the point where he needed to make up stories for her.
Apparently he was past a lot of points. Continue reading
Not long after the plane lands, Davis Parker finds himself behind the wheel of his aged and misshapen Lincoln Town Car. Road lights coast past, methodical, casting feigning shadows across the dashboard, which has his eyes strained even more so than his jet lag.
It is something he has grown used to, the fatigue. It comes along with his profession; and it has been said by a considerable few—scientists, theorists, and psychologists—that commercial pilots experience shorter life spans as an effect of the detrimental lack of sleep, numbers ranging from as early as one’s mid fifties, the causes of death a disingenuous slew from heart attacks to quiet exits in one’s sleep to death not of the body but of the mind.
All that, though, in the words of Dave Parker’s woman, is mere statistics. Jessie would be curled up in bed, waiting for the morning and her husband’s company with expectations of late night popcorn and candlelit dinners coloring her dreams. “Statistics,” she says, “shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than numbers and false positives. You just can’t trust those numbers, you know?” That is her gift to him. Besides her surprise evening kabobs and the lessening-in-frequency in-shower involvements, that is her gift to him—wisdom and council—given through by the shade of her charm, a gift to her otherwise “dense but heartfelt husband,” unable to separate hype from truth. “It’s all about how you live your life, you know? Munch on fast food on your layovers and you’re going to have a heart attack. It’s that simple.” And it is that simple. Continue reading