When I get within five feet of the squirrel in the middle of the backyard, and he still hasn’t moved, I resort to drastic measures, but even throwing my empty ginger ale can in his direction doesn’t seem to faze him. He starts a little in irritation as it lands in the grass near him, and then proceeds to scamper at a leisurely pace between the trees and under the fence to the neighbor’s yard where he turns back to me as if to ask, “Satisfied, you meanie?”
“Did you come out here just to save that squirrel’s life, Scott?” he says, standing on the back porch with an air rifle in his hands and an exasperated smile on his face.
In an effort to get out of the house, we take a walk on the bike path meandering behind and between the yards of the large suburban homes in Katie’s old neighborhood, with fences and trees guarding immaculate lawns surrounding us on both sides.
Just off the path, we see a tiny, thin vine that seems to be growing out of nothing, attached to nothing, but upon more close examination we notice the almost invisible corkscrew tendrils that anchor it to the dead pine needles littering the ground, and underneath each little leaf, a miniature yellow flower growing.
We continue our walk down the path until we reach a dead end, but as we come around a corner, someone has placed a small statue of a Bigfoot in the traditional pose (walking with a sort of loping gait, hunched a little, looking over his shoulder like he expects somebody to ask him to help him move a couch and he wants to be out of there before it gets awkward). Both of us have been watching Planet of the Apes movies, and so we both jump and yelp a little when we first see it, like we think it might start demanding equal rights.
We pose by the water while Katie’s dad takes a photo. I tilt my chin, try to remember to stand up straight, to look into the lens, to smile so it doesn’t look like I’m grimacing. Loud music blares from a speaker where two people sit resting who will, in a moment, be dancing to entertain the throngs of tourists crowding the docks.
We walk back toward the car and pass a child crouching in a fountain as torrents of water firehose onto him, and as we pass, he closes his eyes, moves deeper into the cascade, and seems to disappear almost completely.
I’m floating in the surf, my head and shoulders just above the surface, my brain waves smoothing out in rhythm with the rollers, when Katie’s brother catches my attention from a few yards away. “They’re coming to get us out,” he says, pointing behind us to the beach.
Katie and her dad are on the shore, the sky behind them piled high with thick, heavy, black clouds, grumbling with thunder.
I turn away, back to the ocean, staring with longing at the tide just starting to come in.
“Scott,” says Katie, poking her head around the open sliding glass door, “stop reading the internet and come out here."
I dutifully step out into the darkness of a humid South Carolina night, and am greeted by a cacophony of voices: frogs, hundreds of them from the sound of it, all of them ribbiting and creaking and chirping in a metallic, croaking polyrhythm across the lagoon out behind our beach house.
Suddenly, after we listen to them for a few minutes, all of the voices cut off, and Katie and I look at each other curiously. Then, a hiss rises from the lagoon, and we hear a gentle drumming on the patio roof as it begins to rain.
There’s a sensation right before the wave comes: like I’m going to be pulled up the glassy green face of it and shot into the sky with the foam.
I push off the bottom and kick like mad, one arm in front to steer, one arm by my side, and I can feel the wave pick me and amplify my momentum. There’s a sound, too, rushing water, surging blood in my ears, and the feeling of flying, of being carried by a force so much bigger than me, lifted by a hand that could accidentally crush me without even knowing that I’m there.
When I’m done, I look back, forty yards or so back to where I started, to see Katie and her brother laughing in the surf, and I stand up in the shallows and start walking back to do it all over again.
‘Pressure Drop’ plays over the resort sound system as I sneak into the restroom during my afternoon on the beach, and I pee and sing along quietly, continuing to do so afterwards as I wash my hands until a man steps up next to me.
“You know who this is?” he says in a Caribbean accent, pointing up at the overhead speaker.
Of course I blank on the band the moment somebody asks me, but I punt, saying, “I know it’s from ‘The Harder They Come.’”
He considers this, then shrugs and nods, like, sure, that’ll do.
We exit the main highway and drive down a tree-shaded road. Katie is checking her phone in the back while Audrey cheerfully continues to chatter away, periodically taking both hands off the wheel to gesture emphatically about a point she is making, and I watch the road in front of us, taking in the gorgeous green of oak and pine surrounding us on all sides.
Suddenly, for no reason, my vision seems to somehow expand, and where I normally see in a narrow slice in front of me, I now see wide-screen, as if the world has opened up, like in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy’s story goes from black and white into full-blown, saturated color.
My stomach drops away, like I’m not so much moving through the world as falling into it, hurtling into a space that is so rich and deep that I will be swallowed up, so I pull back my consciousness, startled, and the world obligingly retreats into its usual narrow band, normal, ordinary, and I wonder what I have lost.
“Wasn’t that the dorm where all the football players lived?” Audrey asks as she drives down the road. All of the roads in North Carolina are surrounded by a riot of green - trees, grass verges, shrubs - and the air is wet with humidity.
“On game days, they’d take your IDs and if you were still in there after 11 PM they’d come and find you and throw you, I guess so you didn’t like deplete their testosterone or something,” she continues.
“I’ve always hated the term ‘pre-boarding,’” Katie says, grimacing as the platinum flyers, the gold level status passengers, the medallion level customers, the whatevers all begin to board the plane before us.
“It’s just a scam to get people to believe that they’re special, to pay for the privilege of being ahead of you,” I reply.
“So if you have ‘Zone 1’ on your ticket, it’s actually, like, the third group to get on,” she says, pointing bitterly at the spots in front of the ticket taker’s desk where each group can line up for ‘Zone 1’ and so-on.
“‘Zone 4’ is actually just the bar next to the gate,” I say, and Katie laughs.
“Well,” I think to myself, sitting in the kitchen after Katie has left, “I should jump on my bike and head over to the mall to buy those shoes.”
boom goes the sky, in a low-key, grumbly sort of way, and I look out the window to see that the horizon is blanketed in dark, angry looking clouds.
Within minutes, the world has gone three shades darker and more foreboding, and, as the wind begins to throw its weight around and whip the trees back and forth, I text Katie, “Yeah, I think I’m staying home."
The boredom of a Monday night forces us outside, only to find oppressively quiet streets and thick, wet air that slow breezes only stir around to no relief.
“Want to walk toward the park?” I ask Katie. “It might be cooler.”
She thinks it over, maybe mulling the effort required to walk uphill, and finally agrees, so we walk up a side street under lights hazed by halos of moisture past silent homes, and peer in windows at empty kitchens and front halls; nobody home.
This beat, which I’ve been working on for the last hour, changing the drum sounds, changing the accents, this beat... sucks. It’s too slow, or too spare, or just not very exciting, I’m not sure.
I take the headphones off (it continues playing, tinny and faint around my neck) and sigh deeply, and put my hands over my eyes. I can feel the lack of inspiration like a bandana wrapped tight around my head, and, with another sigh, hit stop, unplug the keyboard and USB interface, and begin wrapping up the cables.
The third box, the biggest one, is by far the heaviest yet, and I can feel the small of my back protesting faintly until I adjust to lift correctly using my legs. The contents shift slightly, and I hear the mildly distressing clink and rustle of pulverized glass sifting across the inside of the cardboard.
I haul the box out the front of the store, and as I stomp into the late afternoon, I can hear my landlord behind me. “You don’t have to remember to go to the gym today,” he calls to my retreating back, and I give a grudging, somewhat forced laugh.
The cold air of the grocery store chases me out into the mild late afternoon sunshine, and I breathe in the fragrant air. “Did you want to take the long way home?” I ask Katie.
She looks around hesitantly for a second, then nods. We walk down the hill away from the one church, and toward the other, and the sun turns the bricks all creamy, and the lilies they planted in the churchyard look like they’re just about to open.
“Stay out here,” I say to Katie before heading back (for the second time) in to the aisle of tools at the local big-box hardware store. “I’ll come get you.”
Like before, there’s nobody in there to help me, and the aisles seem organized in some non-arbitrary but impenetrable fashion that costs me several minutes of wandering before I find what we’re looking for, and then a couple more minutes to dig my way back out.
“I was going to shoot up a flare,” I say when I find her standing next to the bored looking cashier, “but I don’t think they would have approved."
“He bought a brownstone, just a few blocks from where your parents stayed at that Air Bnb,” Katie says as we walk down Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn. Trees shade the sidewalk and a light breeze keeps us cool on this hot day.
“They paid, like, six million for it and still did a gut renovation on the thing,” she adds incredulously.
“If I pay six million dollars for something, that shit better be finished,” I say
Both Dan and I smell it at the same time: the unmistakeable, piney, pungent odor of weed drifting over the booth in this outdoor market.
I peek my head around the corner to the alley where we suspect the smell is coming from, and as I do, a guy just sort of standing back there by himself looks up at me, like he’s been waiting for me to show. We lock eyes for a long second before I turn around and go back to the booth.
“Yeah, that guy’s high, totally paranoid,” I say to Dan when I return.
Katie turns the screen of her phone to me and swipes through another half-dozen photos of our recently deceased puppy. They’re in no particular order, so we watch her transition from relatively young and ridiculously photogenic, to older, slightly crooked, and ridiculously photogenic, and back again.
I’m still feeling a little sad and nostalgic when Katie takes back her phone, then turns it around again, to show me a picture of myself from two years ago: bald, somewhat sickly, thin and pale, clutching Katie’s teddy bear, about to go under the knife for surgery to remove a tumor the size of large grapefruit from my thigh.
“That’s weird,” I say, unable to completely convey how long ago that seems, how far away, as if it happened, not to someone else, but not at all, a rumor I might have heard, scarcely to be believed.
“Do not take a cab,” says the woman a few seats behind us on the train home from New Jersey. We’ve spent the Fourth of July celebrating the birthday of our dear friend, but a day out in the continuing heat wave has depleted us, leaving us with very little patience for entitled college students on their cellphones.
“You’ll get caught in firework traffic, and, just, Jesus are you crazy?” she continues, full-voiced.
“I hate her voice, but I like her attitude,” I tell Katie, who sighs, but nods.
The avocados on the bottom shelf are rock hard, the ones on top squishy and disgusting. I touch a few of each to try and find the magic medium and snatch my hand back in horror and repulsion, which draws the attention of another shopper.
“I think there might be one... yes, here you go,” he says, pulling it out and offering it to me.
I take it, and then promptly try and give it back to him, but he demurs, and I put it in my bag with a sort of grateful incredulity, like someone found a winning lottery ticket and just... handed it to me.
The heat is clearly getting to everyone, even if the train is air-conditioned, and people are just sort of barely tolerating one another in such close proximity, so I’m not exactly surprised when a woman makes a loud, startled, angry noise, and I look up from where I’m standing to see a pleasant, soft-eyed dog wearing a muzzle dance away behind his owner from a seated woman giving him the evil eye for having gotten just a little too close.
“Some people don’t like dogs,” Katie says with a shrug.
“Sure,” I say, “but touch my dog and I’ll end your fucking life.”
“Touch my dog and I’ll end your fucking life,” Katie says, nodding.