He told her he knew how to do it. He told her he’d camped in the northern forest, year after year, always in mid-autumn, just him and his dog, a foxhound mix with the lungs of an Arabian stallion, who tore up and down the mountain trails, covering three or four times the distance he did, the ecstasy never once dimming in its soft brown eyes. Each time he brought along an extra sleeping bag for the dog even though the dog declined to get inside it when the nights dipped near freezing and would maybe sleep on top of it but generally preferred to curl up against him, right in the crook of his head and shoulder so that, as he tried to sleep, he heard and felt the deep breaths rumbling contentedly through the dog’s body.
He liked this part of the forest, he told her, because the shelters along the trails eliminated the need to carry a tent. The shelters were simple plank platforms with shake-shingle roofs, each with four bunk bed frames, all of it sitting on sturdy foundations built with boulders and mortar. The weathered lumber was incised and initialed, some inscriptions with dates going back forty years and some in languages from other continents.
After the dog died, he lost the will to return alone, but the memories stayed strong, the scarlet and golden mountains and forest whispers and the dog splashing through and slurping up the clear water of every brook they came across, a doggie paradise loop running endlessly in his head.
“It was paradise for you too,” she said. Continue reading
Emily was the sort of six-year-old who would squash the end of an ant, but not the front, to prolong its suffering. Life had dealt her an unfair hand, and now life was dealing the insects an unfair hand. Her mother worried that she would become a serial killer and sent her to a child psychiatrist. Every Thursday she paid $300 for Emily to build Lego spaceships that symbolized her apparent penis envy. Mrs. Harris, who had never studied psychoanalysis, thought that the doctor meant that Emily had gender confusion, and donated all the child’s pants to the Salvation Army. She dressed her daughter in lacy, flowery dresses and party shoes. When Emily sat cross-legged on the floor, everyone could see her underwear. Her teachers forbade her from participating in sports. What a fat child she became! By the time she was eleven, she weighed one hundred and eighty pounds and Thomas called her Jiggles.
Everyone liked Thomas; he was the most beautiful boy in the world. He was small and thin and had curly brown hair. Emily wanted to envelope him inside herself and absorb his body into her bones. She thought about what it would be like to wake up one morning in his bed, with his curls and his penetrating eyes. How were his parents? What did his room look like? Emily saw the trophies lined up on his desk, the framed awards hanging above his bed. He won prizes in math every year, she knew because they had class together, and she knew he had baseball and basketball trophies because the principal gave them to him in special assemblies that took the students out of English class. He was always surrounded by girls but never dated any of them, and people told all kinds of lies about him, but in fact he was a gentleman and never told his friends what he did when he was with women.
“If he’s so nice, why does he call you Jiggles?” asked Emily’s mother. Continue reading
The starling paced back and forth on the windowsill making a low clucking sound, his bill catching here and there on the screen. Mostly it rushed from one end of the sill to the other but sometimes it only made it midway before it stopped and pushed its head into the screen and darted back to the point at which it started. Mark felt bad for the thing in its panic and wanted to lift the screen and let it out but he knew how John felt about the bird and didn’t know what to do.
Anyone who met Mark and John assumed they were father and son. They were both 5’6” and lean with wide set blue eyes and had an affable stoop to their shoulders. Both were amiable and soft spoken and both liked the Mets and the Jets. John was appropriately older than Mark to be his father, but they were not related at all. Neither had had children and neither had been married, both for no other reason than it just never happened. And even though they conveniently wore the same size clothes and shoes, they never borrowed or shared. Continue reading
Freudiana, I’m not a screw factory. It has to be something special to be with him. Otherwise what’s the point?
Freudiana, how are you? I haven’t seen you in a long time. Your hair is styled; not mine. Can’t stand my hair. Let it fall. It glistens, you tell me.
He said, Cutting ages you.
Longer is younger, I said. Do I need you telling me about my hair?
Vogue says, Shorter is younger.
Also, who’s Hal to tell me not to help my child? Before we flew to London, I handed my son, Van, four signed emergency checks.
Children need to be independent, Hal said. Continue reading
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