Category Archives: Stories

Heaven

Swirving around the roads we pass avocado trees and farms. There are sleeping cows, wandering aimless deer.  A country store that advertises the best beef jerky in town. I ask him on the ride,

“How’s your son?”

“I had a fight with Sandra. She changed her number, but the little guy is doing well. I go up and see him in Alameda when I can.”

As we drive, the sunroof and windows are down, letting a warm breeze swoop in and blow our hair around. We hold hands and don’t speak much.

Before we hopped in my car, heading to the lake, I had met him and his ex, Gina, for lunch. They exchanged I love you, I love you too before Bert and I left. We borrowed her florescent green colored raft.

At the first lookout point, I was laughing. Below us, pristine glassy blue perfection.  A gigantic sprawling lake; no people, just us. And there was that warm wind again. We were only twenty minutes away from home, but here, a different land, an easy air, a
reunion. We hadn’t seen each other in months. Not in this way.

There’s a sign, 3.5 miles to the main lake entrance. We drive and laugh and hold hands and are quiet again.

As we pull up, Bert runs in to another ex and her daughter.  The woman has a black rose tattoo on her thigh and her son’s hair grows long down his back.  Quick hellos and goodbyes.

We find free parking off the road away from the main entrance.

There are signs everywhere, NO TRESSPASSING and we learn the lake is for drinking water, no body contact.

“How could they have a lake like this and not allow swimming?” Bert said.

“The practical answer is polluting, but I want to go in,” I said.

“Should we sneak under the gate?  Here’s a little opening,” Bert said.

“Sure.”

Bert laid a towel down underneath the gate, and I slid under to the other side, to something unknown, something new, something worthwhile.

A bright yellow butterfly flies by, fluttering, traveling, but still stopping close as if to say welcome to this place.

Then it was Bert’s turn, but there were little spikes at the end of the metal gate and they stuck, near the vertical line where ass meets lower back.

“Push the gate up,” he said struggling.

I did and he slid through, easy.

Gravel and dirt found its way into my new shoes as we worked our way down a steep cliff.

“I think the coast is clear,” Bert said.

As we came up to the water’s edge the beauty of this new place seemed like a dream, and suddenly I was feeling something very close to falling in love. There were Mallard ducks, mud and willows, white wildflowers, odd mossy sticks, and that water-more blue than the cloudless sky above us.

Bert jumped in. I felt the water with my foot and was surprised at its warmth. It had to be eighty degrees. Two people stood high above us.

“I’m going in,” I told Bert.

As I got into the water, I swam up to Bert and kissed him on the lips.

“You see those two people up there?” He said. “Do you think they can see us?”

“Could we get arrested?” I said.

“Probably.”

We decided to change locales. Up the muddy bank we hiked and then hiked some more around the edge of the lake, looking for a new spot to lie out, swim, and try to successfully avoid being caught. It must have been a mile of walking and I felt my shoes filling up with more and more twigs, thistle, rock and mud, but it was all worth it for what was in front of us.

A bright green grassy meadow lie right in front of this section of the lake, and now there were no people. It was our lake, our little meadow, the sunshine, the wind, we were part of everything.  At a long distance, we saw a white truck and figured it must be a ranger, but we laid our towels out in the middle of some foliage and Bert undid my bathing suit top.

Lying next to each other, the warm wind blew past my breasts and I wondered if my breasts would tan in this dry heat. Bert kissed me, moving his tongue inside my mouth and then we held hands and closed our eyes for a bit. A little make shift pier made up of floatation devices became a makeshift trampoline for us. I wondered if I looked old to Bert jumping up and down, topless on this pier and I wondered why I hadn’t cared about seeing two of his exes in one day. I had one possible answer, I couldn’t shake. I was falling in love with this place and this place was falling in love with me.

“Let’s go in the water again,” Bert said.

“Yes. Let’s,” I said.

Pushing through dense mud and rooted lake sticks, we finally reached a place in the water where we could both touch the bottom and fully remove our bathing suits.

Bert tied them up together on one of the water tree sticks and swam over to me. I wrapped my legs around him and felt the slip, slip, slide of our naked bodies up against each other. He slip slip slid inside of me and all at once, my legs were wrapped around him and we were breathing hard in each other’s face. The worry of the patrol truck vanished, my whole life in this one moment; perfect.  I was shaking.

He finished and we stayed wrapped around each other with little waves flapping up against us, flapping like our bodies just had.

“It’s been a long time for me,” I said.

“Me too,” Bert looked down.

We start to swim to another old pier, but halfway, both of us decided we’d already polluted the drinking water and were afraid at the chance of getting caught.

Walking back to the car, satisfied soul, my skin feels electric.

“This is living,” I said.

Six female deer and one buck feed.

“There’s one buck and he’s protecting all his ladies,” Bert said.

“Lucky guy,” I said.

Back under the gate we go, into the car, and off we speed away.

“I wonder how much the fine was or how long we’d spend in jail if someone caught us?”  I said.

“Hope it’s a co-ed prison so we could share the same cell,” Bert
said.

“They don’t exist,” I said.

“Everything exists,” Bert said.

And maybe here, everything did exist.  I became part of the earth, rock, gravel, deer, wind, sun, yellow butterfly, lake.

On the drive back we steal avocados from someone’s farm and see a farmer coming toward us.

“Hey, hey, hey,” the farmer said.

We hopped back into the car and sped away with what would hopefully make some good old fashioned guacamole later.

Again, we stop at the country mart store and try the advertised beef jerky along with two cans of iced tea. The jerky is spicy hot and thinly cut. We chomp and chew hunks of the stuff in front of each other, smacking and licking our lips, fiercely, as though we hadn’t eaten in days.

When we got back to Bert’s place, we felt comfortable enough to nap side by side and for a few minutes, we both dozed off.  There was still left over adrenaline rushing around inside me; a butterfly party.

He started to kiss me again. We were sweating, pulsing, breathing, blushing, all over again, all over each other, and I felt the sun and warm wind hot on my skin from earlier and the gravel and thistle in my shoes and that perfect lake, more blue than the cloudless sky above.


The 7th Floor

I leaned my head on his shoulder and peered outside the bus windows. Mostly traffic, some honking car horns and a drab hazy sky. I had lived in this town my whole life, but never taken the bus. We’d bought a bottle of Jack Daniels at Food Value and I was taking little sips, for him big gulps.

“Want a sip?” Sam asked the young busty brunette with an accent sitting across from us.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Yes a sip. And Germany.” She said.

“Are you going out downtown?” Yes. Other friends from Germany are visiting.

I liked the fact that I didn’t mind Sam’s eyes on her low cut tank top, breasts, almost corseted, plunging upward.  Usually I was jealous of other women.

The night before, 3 am, my feet swelled and I held my high heels as we walked through a little park hand in hand.

Sam said, “I wish you were the pregnant one.  I love you.”

He also told me, “She broke my heart in this park.  I cried forever.”

We fell asleep at his place.  Candle wax dripped from the window down the
wall.  In the morning I noticed a narrow red waterfall of wax.

I shiver on the bus because I’m cold in my breezy cotton skirt with the polka-dots, but also because I’m afraid, and like an unconscious twitch-my attraction to Sam moved my body closer to him-I couldn’t not be close.

When we got to the college, we went into a classroom that seated about 100. Sam had just graduated from this college that sat on the edge of the sea.

I held the bottle of Jack and used it as a microphone.

“Class. Pay attention. Life is a highway. I want to ride it all night long.”

Sam grabbed my hand and led me toward the library.

It was a stuffy 1970’s style library with orange carpet and brown walls.  We took the elevator up to various floors looking for a place to fuck.  He’d said he’d always wanted to, but it had never worked out.  We kissed in the elevator, trying to keep the kisses quiet as not to get him too ready too soon.

It was the 7th floor where we ended up. Sprawling windows overlooked the bright green grass that led to cliffs that led to sea. A gray bearded man sat on one of the stools in between an aisle reading and a couple aisles down from that another young
brunette with a scrunched brow highlighted a large text book.

We walked down more aisles of books with no people in them, toward some tables that were pushed together.  I put my hands down on the table with my back toward Sam.  He pulled my thong to the side, unzipped his pants and started fucking me wildly, but without sound.  My hot pink sunglasses fell down from the top of my head and sat on my face.  I looked back at him smiling.

There was some sort of movement nearby, some sounds of shuffling.  We didn’t care.  The noise passed and we could finish.

I took a gulp of Jack Daniels; wash wash it down.

We walked past the young brunette and gray bearded man, and they didn’t glance up or look embarrassed so we thought maybe we were quiet enough.

“Next time in the aisles,” Sam said.

The sun had gone down through those large sea side windows and now, smeared water color sky, pinks and blues, a wink of purple.

We took the stairs back down in case security had cameras.  And for some reason we ran down the stairs, wildly as though we were late, wildly as when we were fucking, wildly back into the cold air near the sea.  We had nowhere to go but back on the bus, back home, to his place where he might cook some type of camping food-chicken or sausage or eggs or maybe we’d just drink more Jack and fall asleep.

When we got down the stairs, we saw a homeless man sitting on a bench.

“Can I buy a smoke off you?” Sam asked.

“I can roll you one for free.” The old man said.

Sam smoked the cigarette and we walked toward the bus.  I had the occasional puff.  I tilted my nose to my hair and took a deep breath.  Smoky sea salt, stuffy library books, sex; I needed to shower off.

Back on the bus, I leaned my head on Sam’s shoulder, and held his hand.  He
ran his fingers through my hair.

I had to go back to San Francisco. He had to be a father.

“Maybe one day.” He said.

“Maybe.” I said, nuzzling my face deeper into his shoulder.


The Birthday

No one else brought balloons.  Pink was Lara Jane’s favorite color so I brought dozens of heart-shaped ones.  I placed a few around the bar in her living room, a few more in the kitchen.  Then, I put her presents, a bouquet of roses, a pink hat and a long beaded necklace, next to her bed.  We both had keys to each others apartment.  I could get in and complete the decorations just before she got off work.  She said, “I want lots of glitter.  Lots of pink.”

The party’s alarm clock-a fast fading sun, leaving a watery red sky brought in Lara Jane and Iris, Lara Jane’s roommate.

Iris cried, “Peter’s fucking that blond girl in our room. Our room.”  Iris and Peter lived in the room right next to Lara Jane’s room and Peter was a player.  Iris didn’t know until she saw the blonde girl lying underneath Peter on their red velvet duvet cover that Iris picked out earlier in the week.  I practically lived there on the weekends.  I knew the house gossip.

I started drinking champagne and wished Lara Jane, “Happy Birthday”.  Her lips, bright pink, planted a wet kiss on my cheek.  Always fleeting, never in one place, Lara Jane pranced to the bar and turned a vodka bottle upside down into a mug swirling in an occasional splash of orange juice and tonic.  There were random people floating in and out of rooms in the apartment.  A tall white guy wearing a black afro wig kept hitting on me.  He went right up to my face and sang, “Witchy Woman.”

He said, “Can I just tell you, you are one sexy firecracker.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Witchy Woman, Witchy Woman.”

“Come on,” I said.

He put his hand underneath my armpit.

“Tickle, tickle,” he said.

He had a hook nose, big teeth and laughed like a little girl.

“Stop it,” I said.

He wouldn’t stop, so I pulled his wig off.

“Playing hard to get,” he reached down to pick up his wig. “I’m up for a game of tag. You’re it,” he tapped my stomach, too high.

“I’m not into you,” I said.

There was a ladder outside the kitchen door that went up to the roof.  I could escape the singing wig wearer.  I eyed it, and said I had to pee so bad it hurt.

I actually did have to pee a little.  Rogers, Lara Jane’s boyfriend, saw me heading toward the bathroom.

“Hey, hey,” he said.

I looked away and tried to ignore him.

“Hey Sara,” he bumped into me.

He followed me into the bathroom and put my hand below his thick gold belt.

“I want you Sara,” he said.

My best friend’s boyfriend was hitting on me.  Again.  But I liked the smell of his cologne.  It was cedar and pine, lilly’s and fennel.  The perfect masculine, feminine mix.  Like him: colored rings and bracelets on big strong hands, a deep voice coming through a pouty red mouth.

“I want you Sara,” he said again.

I looked up at the ceiling for a moment and let his hands run down my arms.  His fingers moved like curious tarantulas.

I didn’t know what to do.  Part of me wanted to let him slide his tongue into my mouth, feel it touch my teeth.  Let him grab my shoulders, push me against the wall, whatever.

I stared at the mix of different browns swirling around his pupils.  He was too dark; almost like a shadow.  We were both silent for a few seconds.  Lara Jane’s first painting she completed last year hung high on the bathroom door.  A portrait of Rogers’ naked body, every part defined in black ink and pencil.  He was well-endowed.

Lara Jane was dating a sexy idiot, and I was buzzed.  She was a good friend sometimes.  Like when we met, she introduced me to Iris and Peter, other people from her restaurant job at The Lox.  She had gone on night walks with me in the city, found hidden streets, secret doors, ivy and hydrangeas.

I pushed Rogers away, “I need another drink.”

I went into Lara Jane’s bedroom and laid down on her bed.  No one was in there.  There were many naked portraits.  A cowboy at a bar, just sitting there with a hat and beer and red flannel, but no jeans.  There was also an overweight woman wearing silver rings on every finger.  She had curly brown hair everywhere.  My buzz was turning to drunk.  Next to the bed, red candle wax dripped off the window sill.  It smelled like Christmas.  I would fall asleep if I stayed here, so I jolted up and went to the roof.

Up on the roof, two guys were debating over a new roommate.

“She’s sexy,” said the short one with long red hair.

“She’s cute,” said the even shorter one with no hair.

“Sexy.”

“Cute.”

“Fuck you man.”

People were smoking cloves and drinking Mickey’s in brown paper bags underneath a starless city sky, crescent moon.  It smelled like cat piss up here.  I looked over at Rogers who was now in a heated debate with one of two guys who couldn’t decide whether their new roommate was sexy or cute.

“Sexy is fucking sexy man,” Rogers said.

“But who would you rather fuck on a daily basis?” asked the little red head.

“I’d rather fuck them both at the same time on a daily basis,” Rogers said.

“Man, I’m asking one or the other.”

“Fuck man, I don’t know.  What the fuck?” Rogers said.

Then the little guy with long red hair pushed Rogers lightly.

“See man, not an easy choice, right?”

“Don’t fucking push me man.”

I left the roof to go back downstairs and grab another drink, find someone else to stare at, maybe take my shoes off.  Lara Jane stopped me at the base of the stairs.

“Sara! Where were you?  I need to puke.”

Wearing a skirt so short that it showed the tiny curve line of her ass, anorexic, frizzy-haired Lara Jane had started drinking glasses of vodka and orange juice after dinner and had killed about seven by ten o’ clock.  Her eyes were bloodshot.  Earlier in the evening before her pink lipstick was smeared across her face I thought she looked sort of striking.  Her features were so petite, puckered little lips and her neck, the most slender I’d ever seen, too delicate, a vampire’s dream.  Also on her neck was a fake gold necklace Rogers had given her earlier in the day with her name spelled out in italic cursive.  Lara Jane.  This, I envied.  I thought how special it would be to have my name out like that for the whole world to see.  Sara.  I would be the hostess.  Sara.  I could have the hot boyfriend.  When someone asked my name, I could just point at my neck and smile.

Lara Jane grabbed my hand and led me to the bathroom I’d been in earlier with Rogers.

She said, “Hold my hair back.”

I said, “Got it.”

“Here it comes,” she said.

Lara Jane quickly turned her head so that she missed the toilet entirely, puking all over the floor.

She mumbled, “Oh God. I think I’m going to die.”

“No, you’ll be okay.  I’m here.  I’ll stay.”

I opened the bathroom door and saw Iris who was still pacing the hallway, crying hysterically about Peter fucking the blond in their room on their red velvet duvet cover.

“Can you please go get Rogers?  Lara Jane’s really sick, ” I said.

“Peter’s fucking someone in our room! Doesn’t anyone care? Oh my God, why?  And then she screamed, “Why?!”

Iris stomped off.

Lara Jane looked up at me, “There’s puke in my hair, Sara.”

There were chunks of brown and yellow everywhere.  Intense drum and bass music was blaring in every corner of the house.

“Rogers!” I screamed.  “Somebody get Rogers, please.”

“I’m sick Sara,” Lara Jane said.

“I know. It’s okay.  I’m here.”

“Where’s Rogers?” she mumbled into the toilet.

“He’s coming.”

Rogers walked in, “Oh shit! What the fuck happened?”

“Your girlfriend is really sick and I’ve been helping her.  I yelled for you.  Where were you?”

“Let’s put this girl to bed.”

I took some toilet paper and wiped off my new shoes.

I held Lara Jane’s face up, away from the toilet, and asked, “You want to go to bed babe?”

“Yeah.  I drank too much.  I drank too much.”

“I know.  It’s okay.  Let’s clean you up and then you can go to sleep.”

She threw her head back and then jolted her head forward, only to throw up this time on the bathroom wall.  I yelled at Rogers, “Can you seriously help me, please?”

He stood in the corner of the bathroom with his arms crossed, running his hand through his hair, “I deal with this shit every weekend.”

“I know.  You’re lucky I’m here,” I said.

He didn’t deal with this shit every weekend.  I did.

Rogers picked up Lara Jane and walked into her bedroom.  Like tossing a dead fish into a cooler, he let her long, limp body fall from his arms onto the bed.

“My work here is done, Rogers said.  And then he left the room.

I sat next to Lara Jane on the bed and people kept coming in the room and the drum and bass continued making the house beat like a large pulsing heart.  The tall white guy wearing the black afro wig woke her up for a couple of minutes.  He held a beer bong high above her so that little drips hit her forehead.

“More alcohol! Yeah! It’s my birthday!”

“Go back to sleep babe. You’re fine,” I said.

“More alcohol!”

Iris came into the room cursing about Peter.

“Sleeping with a dumb blond whore in our room.  No one fucking cares!”

A lovely French brunette Lara Jane worked with at The Lox restaurant came in and placed a little pink box on her bedside table.

“Tell her I came by.”

“Check,” I said.

“Merci.”

Lara Jane was a sloppy drunk.  Rogers was right.  Taking care of this girl got old quick.  Rogers and I had something in common.  Neither of us could have a real conversation with Lara Jane, and we both wanted to enjoy the party.  The last party I’d been to with Lara Jane was when she kissed her friend Nick on acid in the front seat of a SUV.  I was in the backseat, alone, laughing awkwardly.  I wondered then, where Rogers was and if he freely cheated on her as well.

The night went on; someone turned the music down, people headed out.  I put a wet washcloth over her head, brought in two extra blankets, and a vomit towel and bucket.

Rogers came back in the room, “Let’s split a cab,” he said.

“You want to just leave her here?” I asked.

“She’s fine. Come on.”

He reached out for my hand, grabbed it, and pulled me across the house.  He said, “I’ve got the cab.  I just got paid.  Thank God it’s a motherfucking Friday.”

I tripped down the stairs and decided enough with the black stilettos.  I took them off.

“Nice toe polish,” Rogers said.

“Just got them done,” I said.

He noticed these things.  I liked him and he was with me now.  I was wearing the italic cursive necklace.  It was my name flashing on my pretty neck in the bright lights of a cab he would pay for, and it was for me.  Sara.  I sat on his lap and he held me with his muscular arms and big hands and long fingers and it was sexy.

“Fifth Street, please,” he said to the driver.

Whether it was the champagne or sheer thrill of being the center of attention for once, I didn’t question it.  His apartment came before mine, but we were skipping his drop off.

We went to my place and in a whirlwind rush he pushed me up against the wall and held my arms behind my back.  He kissed my head and licked my mouth and smashed his mouth up to mine whispering, “I want you.  I want you.”

“I don’t really love her,” he said.  “I’ve tried.”

“I know.”

He threw me onto my bed and undid the button of my jeans and zipper with his teeth.

“You good?” he asked.

My head was spinning with excitement and fear and Lara Jane and the champagne.

“You’re a goddess,” he said.

And then, rather suddenly, he got up off the bed.  And I did too.

He winked and pinched my ass.

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what?” I said.

He winked again, but not suavely, this time with both eyes as though there was something stuck in one or both of them.

Looking out the window, there were a few visible stars.  Also a dead pigeon, missing a leg lying on its back, belly up.

Rogers put his hand on the doorknob as I stood pathetically with unzipped jeans starting to fall down my legs.

“See you around,” he said.

That night I found something in my bed that must have slipped out of Rogers pocket.  The necklace he’d given her.  Lara Jane.  I put it around my neck and curled up to my vertical pillow, a substitute man, a fluffy mass of artificial intimacy.


Unfinished Business

I could see her through the window.  Long cascading brown waves.  Her hair.  And the book she held, so close to her face.  Glasses?  Had she lost them earlier that day or month, or no, no glasses, just a close reader.  Perhaps she was a dreamer.  Reading, perhaps an escape.  She paused from reading and cried.  Her hands buried her face and she rock rocked in an oversized chair.
I wanted to touch her.

My breath was short.  The black mask I wore had cut open eye holes.  In the dying light of day I used my night vision binoculars.  Government business.  She was a threat.  But I only got a name.  That’s it.  Find.  Shoot.  Finito.  It was as though she anticipated the shot.  Her crying kept on.  Her arms were crossed and she rocked her upper body back and forth, like a daisy head on a drooping stem, soon to fall off in the wind. Hyperventilating sobs.  I could hear the way she might sound.  She wore a yellow spandex shirt and black leggings.  A honeybee.  Had she worked out at the gym down the street?   The clothing clung to her like a scuba diver’s suit, like a superhero’s outfit.

My index finger rested on the trigger.  She was so pretty.  Those cascading waves.  Those long legs.  Her hands pushed up against her face.  Her delicate face.  Little features, a tiny pointing chin, large eyes, lashes like a llama’s, a model, a queen, pale, she could be a mermaid or empress.  This was new.  I’d never done a woman.
She lived alone.  No one to help her bring in the grocery bags.  She’d been to the market.  I saw her bring in the bags and leave them on the kitchen counter.  Wouldn’t the milk go sour?  Did she have a backache?  How I’d love to rub and smooth out the kinks.

My index finger rested on the trigger.  I could see us.  The two of us on some beach, maybe Malibu.  Bali.  Brazil.  She’d be wearing nothing.  I wouldn’t either.  It’d just be us.  And I’d run my fingers through those cascading brown waves.  I’d touch her on that sharp little chin.  We’d read together on the sand and drink mojitos.  I’d marry her.  She’d look pretty even with a belly.  And we’d grow old and live in a simple house with a red door and three bedrooms, two baths, and also, we’d have a cat or dog or parakeet named Jim or Hector or Phyllis.
My suit was so hot that evening.  All the black.  I could have torn it off.  I could pretend to run into her on the street.  Tell her she looked familiar.  Ask her to coffee or shakes.  Shakes.  It’d be more fun, old style, white picket fence, simple house, red door.

I was sweating profusely.  She continued crying.  I could see it through the window.  And then I started crying.  Just a case.  The government.  Just an assignment.  A task.  A goal.  A contribution.  It was a silhouette.  Nothing more.  Just hair, legs, torso, nose, chin, the sharp little chin.  The legs, long, she moved like a gazelle.  Waves and waves of brown cascading hair, an ocean of tresses.  Who had the time to read?  And she’d read and then cried and then read some more.

My index finger.  My mask like fire.  All the sweat.

An eyelash.  I see it on the side of my finger.  My index finger.  The one on the trigger.  My brother used to say, blow and make a wish.


Arizona

Passing by a shooting range, along with miscellaneous signs to lost desert highways, I was abruptly startled when Pam, the driver of my shuttle, said,
“Don’t nobody live round these parts except havelinas and black beetles.”
“What are havelinas?”
“They look like a cross between a pig and hienna.  No relations to the pig though honey.  None whatsoever.”
“They just look like pigs?”
“Well, like a boar pig.”
“Oh.  Cool.”
I was experiencing an overwhelming sense of doom.  I was headed to a cattle ranch that had been converted into a bed and breakfast.  I had expected cowboy boots and other cliché desert things like cactus and coyotes.  Havelinas and this odd rain even though it was over a hundred degrees outside were not what I expected.  I expected resorts on the side of the road, quaint bed and breakfasts, I expected to feel relaxed.  A loud boom struck outside.  Thunder, but no rain.  An incoming storm.  Perfect.
A fat balding man was sitting in front of me, I think his name was Robert, and he couldn’t stop talking about his nurse girlfriend that he’d be meeting in a little town called Jerome.  They hadn’t seen each other in months he said.  “I’m a lucky dog,” he said.  After discussing his girlfriend for a long half hour, he mentioned how McDonalds would hit the spot.
“Mind if we stop somewhere along the road here?” Robert asked Pam.
“Well we’ve got some other people in the van, mister.  Does anyone else want to stop?”
The man sitting next to me was asleep.  All I knew was that his name was Sven.  He was Swedish, headed to Sedona. Pam’s dad, an old man whose face was covered with coarse gray whiskers, was sitting in the passenger seat saying, “Shoot the trigger,” and other unintelligible phrases as we drove past Anther, a town that Robert said might have a McDonalds.  Pam asked if we wanted waters.  It began to rain.  The booms outside were getting louder and jagged streaks of electric blue lit up the sky every few minutes.
Everyone was ignoring Pam.  She tried to ask again.
“Cool and fresh waters,” she said.  “It’s been as high as 119 degrees out here.”
Sven had started to snore loudly.  He had a cold too, you could tell, because a green iridescent bubble grew out of his nose each time he exhaled.  Pam pulled the van off the road to stretch out her neck.  The rain had temporarily subsided, but not the lightning or thunder.  I got out too and rotated my feet in mini circles until I heard each one crack.
There were black beetles crawling everywhere.  It was a task not to step on one.  I felt a couple crawl up the side of my leg and in order to get them off, I kicked my leg out spastically.  The land looked like a black river, there were so many of them.  They didn’t bite, but they were everywhere.  I wanted to get back in the van.  I was exhausted and alone.  There was only me and the shrubbery and heat and beetles outside the van.  The earth’s soil had that rain smell—fresh sage, mixed with red Sedona rock.  Every smell attached to your skin, dug deep in your pores, so that you were a rock and plant and a beetle.
As I sat back inside the van, I could feel the itch of shrubbery that had rubbed up against my ankles.  Everything was pulling me down, making me level and flat, as though the landscape were trying to pin me to earth.
Without warning, as if it were pulled right from my brain bank and whirled into space, a very large, in fact human-sized black beetle knocked on our window with its right antenna.
“Hello.  I’m lost and don’t feel well,” she said rubbing her enormous belly.
“Oh hey Ella, how are you?” Pam asked the beetle.
“I think it’s time.  The babies are coming.”
All of a sudden, the van was very dark.  The windows were coated with wet, sticky black goo, and swarming baby beetles the size of human hands crawled all over the windows.


Skeletons

The little girl, Anna, saw a skeleton and pointed.  It was in front of the museum.  Her Aunt Carson, a frail, pasty woman, took her hand and said, “It’s a blue whale.”  “White whale,” Anna said.  Her teeth were small, she had blonde curls and a scrunched up nose.  She was laughing.  “White whale,” Anna said again.  How do I explain this, thought Carson.  Shall I just say it’s white?  But Carson continued to try and explain.  “It’s the inside of a blue whale.  This is what the inside looks like.”  Anna laughed and grabbed Carson’s hand.
The bones bothered Carson.  The last ones she’d seen were tiny.  The accident, she thought.  The swerves.  She kept replaying it in her mind, over and over, a song on repeat.
On the way into the museum, Anna and Carson followed painted dinosaur prints.  They hopped from one to the next and little Anna sang, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”  This was odd to Carson.  They weren’t in a game of ring-around-the-rosy, but Carson sang too and let little Anna enjoy herself.
This was a day away with her niece.  Away from all the photographs, the carnations, those awful pink and red speckled carnations.  She hated them.  And the sticky, humid air after the funeral was too thick, she had trouble breathing.  Carson hadn’t opened the blinds or the windows.  Her food was beginning to rot.
But here, alongside the dinosaur path, midnight-blue morning glories with long winding vines, yellow honeysuckle, and iris shimmered in the sunlight.  They were all wildflowers and thank God, she thought, there were no carnations.  Carson touched the vines as they hopped along.
They went to the insect exhibit first.  “Butterflies,” Carson said, and then “Look.  Bees, grasshoppers.”  Anna looked up at Carson with a pushed out bottom lip, “Not flying.  Butterfly.  Not flying.”  And again, Carson wondered how she would explain.  “These are the butterflies who were tired,” she said.  “Oh,” said Anna, but she’d stopped laughing.
In the mammal exhibit, Anna pointed at two cougars.  “Mommy and baby cougar,” Anna said.  “Yes.  I suppose it could be,” said Carson.  And then Carson stared so long at the cougars they began to frighten her.  It’s like if you look long enough, they come to life, she thought.
And then she wondered if she’d looked at her dead child, Charles, long enough, before they shut the miniature coffin, would he giggle?  Would he burp?  Even a twitch?
Anna rubbed her eyes and yawned.  Nap time.  She had started wailing the song, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
It was time to hop back out, dance down the dinosaur path with the loose vines and vibrant morning glories.  Hop past all the blossoming yellow honeysuckle.  Carson reached out and touched one of the flowers that had changed from yellow to brown.  “Don’t worry, Anna.  We’ll be home soon.  Maybe let’s sing another tune.”


Recapitulation

He had a uni-brow.  Thick and wild gray stray hairs grew out from the strangest places of Barry.  Even the center of his nose.  He said, “Yeah.  Gotta do something about these scraggly hairs, pluck them or something.”  He said, “I have a treat.”
Barry had brought a bottle of pinot noir. Helen’s least favorite.  Too watered down.  I want robust, she thought as he played her a simple tune on his guitar.  Each note, like a mosquito buzzing around her, flew to her ears first, then stung, down, down, all the way down.  And the couch they sat on, the loveseat, vibrated uncomfortably.
Barry had made this seem like a date and Helen was confused.  She thought, he should know we’re just friends.  He’s not my type.  He’s quite unattractive.
The guitar was the gift.  The words.  No other treat necessary, she thought.  The guitar made his ugliness disappear a little.  Helen leaned in to hum with him.
After the wine, Helen felt comfortable enough to announce, “I have to pee.”  When she walked back in the room, he’d poured her a new glass of wine.  “New Zealand vino,” he said.  “And my treat, doll.  It’s ex-traordinary.”  Why is he calling me doll now, she wondered.
While Helen was in the bathroom, Barry had poured the wine and swirled tiny white pieces of ecstasy into her glass with a knife. The morsels sank to the bottom, disintegrating.
This is strange, Helen thought while she peed.  Barry was a good friend of her of ex-boyfriend Jim’s.  Maybe Jim told him to come over, she thought.  Maybe Jim said I was lonely.  And then she felt a wave of exhaustion, heavy eyelids, Barry was not attractive, she decided.  Not at all.
“Mind if I put on some comfees?” Helen asked.
“No worries,” Barry said.
“Look away while I change into sweats.”
But he looked back a little too soon and caught a glimpse of pink panties.
“This wine is tart,” Helen said.
“It’s my treat, sweetheart.”
Helen watched Barry’s face turn into three faces, one on top of the other.  Dark shadows came and sucked up his eyes.  Helen zoomed in on the hairy spot in the center of his nose.
Barry sang and strummed on his guitar the lines, “Can’t smile without you,” over and over again in different keys.  A minor, e, e minor, g.
And she wondered, why is he calling me sweetheart.
Each word bled into the other.  Was he singing or speaking, she wondered.  The hairy spot on his nose was shifting.  It moved to the center of his forehead.  Or was that his uni-brow?  It moved to his cheeks.  Or was that stubble?
“I’m scared, Barry.”
“What’s the matter, cute little thing?”
“You came over here because you thought you’d get laid.  I see through it.  My roommate’s here.  The door’s open.”
“Sweetheart, you’re tripping out.  I’m your friend.  It’s just really strong e.  My treat.”
Helen grabbed the bottle of New Zealand wine and lay on carpet looking up at a shifting cottage cheese ceiling.
“Just keep singing,” she said, grinding her teeth.
He smiled, “You’re such a cute little thing.”
“You brought the e to drug me,” Helen said.
“I’m your friend. Cute little thing.”
Helen was scared.  She called Jim then and he picked up the phone.  She said, “You gotta come over,” but Jim hung up. Click, he was gone.
“Jim’s gonna come over and kick my ass.”
“No.  He’s not coming,” Helen said.
“Such a cute little thing.”
“Play me a song,” Helen said.
He played the same tune, same words, “Can’t smile without you.”
“You’re so smart,” Helen said.  “I know what you’re doing.  You didn’t call me sweetheart when you got here, or cute little thing.  You should go.”
He kissed Helen’s forehead, rubbing the coarse hairs on his nose against her nose.
“Cute little thing,” he said.
“I don’t want to be kissed,” she said.
“Such a cute little thing.”
“I think you need to leave,” she said.
“It’s Jim isn’t it?  He’s gonna kick my ass.”
“He’s on the way, you have to go now.”
Barry hugged Helen then, a little too hard, a suffocating hug, he needed some love.  But she couldn’t breathe, and she begged, please, please. And then a knock,
“Oh fuck,” Barry said.
Her roommate, Juan, a broad shouldered, burly man, stormed in, and grabbed Barry by the back of the shirt.
“Oh fuck,” Barry said it again.
“Get out of here and don’t come back,” Helen’s roommate said.
Helen heard the elevator ding ding.  Barry was gone.  She curled up in red sheets, her jaw clenching tight, teeth grinding, shadows blurring together on the cottage cheese ceiling.  She had a drumming headache.  Those nose hairs, she thought.  “You’re a cute little thing,” she replayed the words in her head and thought cute, not a thing.  Cute, not a thing.
And Helen curled up next to her vertical pillow, a substitute man, a fluffy mass of artificial intimacy.


Naughty Nude

It was an ordinary Monday night in the city, sex pots and beggars, thugs, wandering midnight cats.  He wanted something to revive him, wake him up out of the dull monotony of his life.  His work, a nine to five, everyday a different button-down, was not allowing him to breathe.  But he remembered what it was like, breathing, not working on a Saturday.  He remembered the feeling of utter joy in not having to do a Goddamn thing.  He liked lying around on these rare weekend days he had off, napping, swatting flies, even watching a good show on the boob tube.
So, he decided on this particular Monday, he’d switch it up a bit.  Do something different.  After he got off work, his eyes were red and tired, glazed over like an old piece of ham.  He walked down the avenues to a local strip joint, Naughty Nude.  He liked saying the words naughty and nude over and over again in his head, but these words did not evoke the pleasure he sought.  He wanted the words to shiver and tingle below his belt.  He’d repeated them so many times in his head, he even slipped and said it aloud, naughty nude.  But, even saying the words aloud didn’t change his body’s feeling of being anesthetized, his mind, detached like a balloon, sailing away, up into the starless city night sky.
His name was Samson. Samson didn’t want to pay the fee to get inside.  He wanted a free-bee.  A free lap dance, a free kiss on the neck, a hello, how are you, a goodbye, goodnight, free all the way.
It cost ten bucks to get in.  He had to pay up or turn around and go home.  For a minute, he thought about slugging the door man.  Then he could go in and grab a nice girl to take home.
He always got nervous when he had to pay for anything.  He was a disheveled man outside the office, and coins or fortune cookie fortunes or crumpled gum wrappers would fall out of his wallet whenever he grabbed for a new green bill.  He hated to keep people waiting behind him in lines for food or retail purchase or even now, at Naughty Nude.
But this time, no coins fell, no old fortune cookie fortunes.  He paid up, walked in, and sat in the very front row, scanning the room.  An old Mexican man caught his gaze.  Wrinkled and so loose, Samson thought, with his baggy jeans and big white t-shirt with yellow stains bleeding out from the pits.  He also thought, that man’s old skin screams for an iron, something to press out the kinks.  He thought I bet this guy doesn’t work Saturdays.  I bet he eats mangoes and papaya, other exciting fruits and food, feasting on life.
And then, Samson felt a deep sadness, for this place, red-lit with the bended metal pole shaped into a wide open heart for the girls to step around or swing from, and this old Mexican man who probably just spent his last ten bucks getting into a place like this.
The women were fat and bulgy, with brown frizzy hair everywhere, rubbing and slapping their bums against each other with force, not femininity.  These women were like men before football practice.  They glared out past you with fixed, regretless smiles.  Samson was un-enamored, and wished he’d stayed home.  He thought this is why they serve alcohol here.  Most strip clubs aren’t allowed.  These women could crush him, make him cry out.  They scared him.
And one particularly large woman, her name could have been Rita, came up to the edge of the stage, and slapped Samson, once on one cheek, then again on the other.  He sat there stunned.  Her eyes were different up close.  They were full of existence, something he’d forgotten to remember.  They were bright blue pools of light, like the ocean at midnight, lit up with phosphorescence.  Her thighs grew out far past the lavender leotard’s elastic lines.  Her lips pouted out, extending to him.  She said, “Poor baby. That hurt when I slap you?”
The music pumped the room like a hefty beating heart.  He couldn’t answer.
Samson was strangely comforted by the abrupt sudden slap.  He felt a sexy secretion forming below his belt and at the same time his eyes grew heavy, wet.  Simultaneously, little drops he forgot he’d had dripped from both his eyes and genitals.  Tears and semen.  He felt a surprising rage of joy, like he’d felt as a youngster when he ran for the ice cream truck, or like when he’d last been on vacation and ordered five pina coladas without regret, one after the other, getting so drunk he fell into the kiddy pool.
“May I have a lap dance?” he asked the stripper, smiling profusely, ear to ear, unable to contain his newfound excitement.
“Sure thing, baby doll.”
And this is how they met.  He had loved her from the moment she slapped him.  He took her home and she was delighted by the fancy car, penthouse apartment, and helicopter landing pad.


Morning Buzz

The soy steamers whistle when they’re ready.  The grinding beans sound like a muted version of the construction going on outside the window.  It’s warm inside the café.  Business men with their ironed pants and briefcases check their watches.  People are running late.  Morning chatter is quick, caffeinated.  There is an artificial alertness.
I am tired, my hair uncombed, face unpainted, my shoes wet from oversized puddles and rain.  I’m reading the newspaper, and it says they’re trying to get rid of the homelessness problem.  Others stand in line.  Beneath the pressed starchy clothes and ties and polished shoes, the people are weary.  Everyone’s exhausted, but they’re all covering up; a sigh can be a smile or a cough a laugh.
I can tell my friend Beatrice wants a sugar daddy.  She says, “I could shake it on the dance floor then, and they’d come running up, damn hot blooded snakes.  All they want is sex.  Sex sex and more sex.”  She looks at my boyfriend Trevor, “All you guys want is sex.”  Trevor has bright eyes, pools of blue light that stare over at me.  It’s as if he’s asking me to disprove her theory.
Beatrice is persistent.  She says, “It’s true.  Don’t look at me like you don’t know son.”  And then her name is called out.  Her coffee is ready.  She comes back.
Trevor says, “You don’t want to have to do anything.  You say guys want sex, but you just want-
I cut him off.
“Don’t you even say that all we women want is material things.”
“Damn right, that’s what I’m saying.”
“Oh hell no,” Beatrice says.
Beatrice slaps him on the knee.  Beatrice, her laugh, it’s contagious.  And she starts and doesn’t stop.  We’re all laughing.  I kiss Trevor on the shoulder.
“Baby,” I say, and with those innocent wide open eyes, he answers quietly, “yes?”
I tell him how I don’t care about money, and he tells me he’ll always care about sex, and I say yeah, sex is good, once in awhile, and Beatrice puts her index finger down her throat and looks over at us.
“Alright love birds,” she says.  “Alright.  Enough of all that hooplah.  You guys make me sick.”
And the caffeine is setting in, and I really do feel a little sick, and I want to not give a rat’s ass about money, it’s just green paper bills, and I want to see them flying out windows and littering the streets, and I want the homeless man in front of the coffee shop, all toothless and red, playing his harmonica, to pick up those flying bills, buy a pair of shoes, a new jacket, milk and bread, wipe away the weariness of all these people.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome/Irritating BullShit

So he calls.  He says he’ll be at my house around 1:30 pm.  This is great because I just got out of a relationship a couple months ago and I have butterflies about this one. I’m blasting “Today is The Greatest” by Smashing Pumpkins, waiting, pacing around my apartment half-naked.  It’s supposed to be a beach date, so I pick out my cutest pastel summer-looking beach bikini topped off with a puka shell necklace and pink flip flops.
It’s 1:50 pm.  I pop an Altoid in.  I grab some carrots and peanut crunch bars to bring to the beach.  They’re for both of us.
2:17 pm.  I sit on the stained white couch in my living room.  I get up, peek through my blinds.  See if he’s coming.  I know he’s driving a tan Land Rover, so my eyes skim down the street.  No trace of him or the Rover.
Around 2:30 pm I decide to brush my teeth again.  I mope around my apartment, still pacing. “Today is The Greatest,” is still on repeat.  Sunlight peeks in through my blinds.
The daffodils on top of my TV are keeling over.  I look at them and curl my legs into my stomach.
The doorbell chimes.  He’s wearing a green shirt with white printed letters.  Done thinkin’, Just drinkin.  80’s Rayban shades and flip flops.  He apologizes for being late, but claims my house which is on Main Street, no pun intended, was difficult to find.  I ask him, “So we’re headed to the beach?”  He mumbles, “Yeah, baby.”  Then he says, “My stomach’s killin me.  Let’s stop somewhere fast.”  He’s sweating profusely.  We stop at the Safeway that’s right next to the beach.  It’s fucking hot outside, I’d already eaten, and I wanted to be at Ocean Beach already.  When we get inside Safeway, he announces that he only has 5 dollars.  So I say, “There’s an ATM right in front of the cheese section.”  He goes over to the ATM and announces, “Negative 67 dollars!  That’s what I get for traveling.”  It’s starting to feel surreal.  I politely tell him that I’ll get it this time, but he proceeds to talk about his travels to South Africa.  “You spend too much in the Outback you come back with nada.”  I’m thinking, Outback is Australia.  He said South Africa.  I start humming, “I come from a land down under.”
He grabs salami, cheese, and olive oil.  He says, “You slab all this shit on together.”  I say, “Yeah. You make a sandwich.”
He charges ahead toward the cash register.  Then I see it.  His shorts have brown stains on the ass area.  I can’t stop my nervous laughter.  He asks me, “What the hell are you laughing about?”
When we get to the register, I hand him my twenty.  He takes it, doesn’t use his supposed 5 dollar bill and keeps my change.  Instead of asking for my change I decide it’s getting time for me to end the date, so he can move on and make a buck or two from the next broad he picks up at the Cat Club on a Thursday evening in San Francisco.
He says, “I better go home and take a shower.  I’m pretty sick.”
“Yeah.”  I say.
I thank him for the date, and to my surprise he asks,
“Wanna come home with me and wait while I shower off?”


The Janis Tree

The wind moved through the trees making their branches sway and sway.  Made the people move too.  Dance.  Even hula hoop.  A woman with long blond hair shook her shoulders backwards and forwards.  Her friend, a slender young man, pranced around her with one arm going up to the sky and one down to the earth, then switch; a movement like a wave.  The woman tilted her head back and smiled at the sky.  The man grabbed the woman’s behind and they fell to the grass, laughing on top of one another.
People ran fast with ribbons streaming through the air.  Bright colors.  A stream of yellow.  Green and pink.  The ribbon carriers were like little forest nymphs.  They had no shoes.  They wore tights and wreaths made of lavender and daisies.
I could see all of this from up in the tree.  The whole parade of merriment.  Some twigs poked too hard on my thighs, through my pink skirt, but up there it didn’t matter.  The tree soothed away all discomfort.  My college friends, Jimmy and Wesley, as well as a little girl we didn’t know, sat in the tree with me.  I looked out at the open green grass, the old man kicking his soccer ball, the fraternity frisbee players, the hippies smoking joints and blowing it all around their children.  Stray dogs, some bums, people wearing only black; here, everyone came together.
“There’s my mommy,” the little girl pointed.  That guy with her is Andrew.  He’s not my daddy,” she said.
The tree started out skinny at the base, but made a nest of branches at the top, a nest big enough to sprawl out for at least four bodies to sit cross-legged.
Andrew, a heavy-bearded man who smelled like beer came to the tree calling, “Melinda, Melinda,” so Jimmy and Wesley helped pass the child down to her pseudo-father.
It had been quiet before, but now that the little girl was gone, I could really hear the birds chirping, the breeze blowing, rustling the leaves of the tree we sat in, faint laughs and chatter from the green grass below.
Earlier in the day, on the walk to the park, the three of us, Jimmy, Wesley, and I, tried on costumes in a thrift shop.  Furry white boots, a mink coat, trucker hats, and bell-bottoms.  We danced around to 80’s music that played on a vintage record player, held hands, and jumped high, clacking our heels together.  The other customers in the store didn’t need to say shut up.  Their looks did the trick, wrinkled brows and glaring scrunched eyes.  We didn’t care.  It was the weekend and anything could happen.
And in the tree, there wasn’t anything we had to say.  The blue sky above and the whirl of wind said everything.  A red-headed man stopped and looked up at us.  Asked if we wanted cigarettes.  A fat woman wearing a green velvet moo-moo offered us a beer.
The tree brought offerings that we gladly accepted.
A runaway teen joined us and gave Jimmy a DVD.  We didn’t care if it was stolen.
I etched our names next to other inscriptions.  Some read A+J=4EVER, HOLLYandJACK, ABE LOVES RANDOLPH, BILLY EATS MAXINE.
“What should I put, guys?”
“Our names,” Wesley said.
“Our full names,” Jimmy said.
So, I etched in with my apartment keys our full names, first, middle, and last.
A bum who introduced himself as Sanchez came up to the tree and knocked on the trunk.
“Anybody home?”
“Aloha,” Wesley said.
“I used to live up there in the 60’s,” Sanchez said.  “People always looking up at ya, bringing you goods. Real magic ain’t it?”
“Sure,” Wesley said.
Sanchez asked if we needed anything, and we said we were okay, thanks, and he left.
I watched his shriveled legs as he left our tree.  They were red and arched out, skinny, like a wishbone from a chicken.  They looked like they could snap off, and the breeze was picking up, the little forest-ribbon-dancing nymphs packed up their bags, the long haired blonde rode on top of her boyfriend while smoking a clove cigarette in one hand, the other up circling above her head, as though she was ready to lasso a bull.  Sanchez must have been cold in boxer shorts.  He must have wanted to climb up, a shelter, maybe he couldn’t climb anymore.
“Shall we, your majesty?” Wesley asked and grabbed my hand.
“We’re the kings of the park,” Jimmy said.  “That’s what the tree does.”
“And I’m the queen,” I said.
Sanchez turned around from walking away.
“Damn fool,” he said.  “Damn fucking fool,” and he extended his index finger out toward the tree, toward us.
Wesley and Jimmy jumped off first.  They put their arms out.
“Just jump,” Jimmy said.
I jumped and landed in Wesley’s arms.  As we walked away from the tree, I felt the breeze go underneath my pink skirt.  I felt it harden my nipples.  Wesley whispered in my ear, “You’re the queen,” and I grabbed his hand and ran, not looking back at the tree or the bum or Jimmy running to catch up with us.  The tree was ours.  I’d even inscribed our full names, next to other past kings and queens of the park.


Exchange

The sky’s original violet hue was getting darker like a forming bruise.  I could see it outside the windows.  On my right the green rolling hills were gamboge yellow with mustard flowers and on my left jagged rocks jutted out of the sea like crooked teeth.  The bus would take nine hours to get there and much of my time would be spent staring out the windows.
There were orange flowers with black centers, swaying lavender, a glimpse of sleeping cows, sheep wandering aimlessly.
The open windows let in the smell of farm and fertilizer, growing broccoli, sweat and soil.
A few seats behind me, a woman with a raspy voice and only her two front teeth had been secretively drinking a bottle of gin, sharing sips with her boyfriend.  And I could hear the creak of the bathroom door opening and closing in the back of the bus.  The woman kept losing clothing.  And so did her boyfriend.  They had been going in together, coming out spent.  I’d heard about this type of thing happening on airplanes, honeymooners too excited to wait.  I thought then about falling underneath Jack, to be raised up with a lengthened neck, to sleep and release, sleep and release, repeat, dream.  These people on the back of the bus had holes in their clothing and dirt under their finger nails, but they glowed.  They held hands.  Maybe they even loved each other.
“Call me Mr. Mac,” the bus driver announced.  When Mr. Mac stopped in San Luis Obispo, everyone, only seven people on a bus that seated fifty, got out and bought lottery tickets at the mini-mart.  Mexican field workers waited with their arms crossed behind the large expanse of strawberry and broccoli fields.  The dying light of day illuminated the wrinkles on their faces, like cobwebs at sunset.  Some wore blue and red bandanas, others had on cowboy hats.  They were sunburned.  Worn out.  One woman who got off the bus was greeted by one of these field workers.  He hugged her and cried.  It must have been a long while.
I got out and bought a pack of Vero Mango lollipops.  The ones my mom warned me about when I was just a girl.  Said they had lead inside.  Said they were imported from Mexico.  “Not very clean,” she said.  “Different standards.”  But I liked thinking maybe I was a little electric to touch; maybe the lead created an energy field inside my body.
When I left the mini mart, I walked past the two-toothed woman and her boyfriend.  She was jumping up and down, spitting out whatever was in her mouth.  Something syrupy, something dark like tobacco juice.
Mr. Mac yelled, “We’re taking off!”
A beep.  It was Jack text messaging me.  And even though I hated text messaging, I liked when a message came from him, he was worth the nine hour ride.  I read the message again and again, how are you, how are you, feeling a gnawing beat beat in my chest.
When the woman got on the bus, she asked Mr. Mac to read her ticket, double check, make sure she’d really won the 5,000 dollars.  Her head was cocked back and her mass of dark oily hair fell loosely.  She laughed out loud, “I’s might be a rich woman.”  Mr. Mac scrunched his face up close to the ticket.  He scrutinized.  Then in a deep voice, he said, “Only four dollars, Miss.”
I peered over the seat and watched Mr. Mac push her ticket underneath his with a white gloved index finger.  She took the ticket he handed back to her, “Can’t read too well,” she said.  Just a little push of one finger and it was done.
The woman was drunk.  She stomped her feet and spun around, a dance, a shake of her wide behind.
I felt the stares of the Mexican workers outside the bus, waiting with their arms crossed, looking at the bus
longingly, as if they wished to hop on, go somewhere, get away from this stop at the sad mini mart, where only the m and i of mini were lit up, shining blue, and only the a r and t of mart. M i  a r t.  I imagined what they thought of me when I stepped back on the bus.  Probably, lucky white girl, nice and clean, warm jacket.
The sun slipped away.  It was cold now.
The woman spun circles with her body, all the way down the aisle to the back of the bus.
I text-messaged Jack about the ticket switch.  He wrote back, “That’s why I fly.”  But I didn’t have the money to fly. I spent my only bills to ride.
Before I fell asleep, I saw the woman in the back of the bus, passed out, mouth open wide, exposing those two teeth, and her boyfriend rubbing his long spidery fingers down the front of her chest.
I held my bag close, turned off my phone.  The sky was no longer a forming bruise, the dark imprint had stuck, the stamp was sealed.  My eyes caught the last glimpse of those hills.  Not bright gamboge yellow anymore, dark silhouetted hills, like curves of a body, like breasts. My eyes were closing shut, trying to sleep inside the bus.


Bobby

I didn’t think anything of meeting on the plane.  Random, I told myself.  Absolutely random.
I’d met Tom on a plane going north to San Fran from Los Angeles.  We’d joked around, taught each other bits and phrases of language from other countries we had visited. Ciao is hello and goodbye, I said.  I know it’s the most obvious, I said.  He taught me Swedish cuss words.  We ordered a couple small airplane style bottles of vino.  After the flight, Tom and I exchanged phone numbers.  A short flight and random stranger, I told myself.  He’ll never call.
Tom looked young, like he still had baby fat to shed. He was just finishing college, and I was almost done with my graduate thesis.
“Are there a lot of drugs up there in the city by the bay?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I’m trying to move on from all that.  I’m almost finished with school.”
Even though Tom was only a handful of years younger than me, the gap between undergrad and grad school was vast.  But we had shared some good laughs, wine, and looking back on it, the school and age gap didn’t matter.
About a month later, I got a call from Tom.  He was going to see a friend’s band play in the city, right down the street from my new apartment.  He asked if I wanted to spend that Saturday with him and his friend Issac exploring Golden Gate Park and checking out the remodeled art museum.  I needed a break from working on my thesis so I agreed.
I met them at a coffee shop near the park and ordered hot chocolate with extra whipped cream.  Tom was taller and thinner than I had remembered on the plane.  His friend was tan with very white teeth and dreads.  They were friendly and told me all about their upbringing in Orange County.
“It’s so different here,” said Issac.
“Yeah.  Less judgmental,” I said.
Tom tried to make a joke about the double D blonde women that parade the streets of southern California.  He continued these jokes throughout the day whenever he saw a woman that looked like she might be from LA.
“Look at that one,” Tom said.  “A stripper I bet.  A dollar to make you holler,” he laughed.  On the plane, this sarcastic wit was funny, but in the café, sober, drinking hot chocolate, it was kind of annoying.  I just wanted to hang out with them as friends.  I was sick and tired of men trying to impress me with repetitive witty humor or girly gifts.
Issac was a little more mature and reserved than Tom.
“Tom.  Jesus Christ, man.  Nothing changed.  You’re still the obnoxious prankster you’ve always been.”
“Don’t be jealous, fool,” Tom said.
“This hot chocolate is amazing.  Want to try some?”
I looked at Issac.
“Wow.  That’s a damn good cup of coco,” Issac said.
We went to the top of the art museum where there was this incredible view of the city.  For a long while the three of us discussed how lovely the open green spaces of the park were.  How we wished there was more places like this.
“All the new developments, especially in Southern California make houses look exactly the same,” Tom said.
“There’s no character down there,” said Issac.
“The day San Fran becomes like LA is the day I buy a
one way ticket to the moon,” I said.
Tom and Issac surprised me with this conversation about open space.  I felt like the bad jokes and silliness temporarily disappeared.  Now it was like I was talking to people my own age.  People out of college concerned with the real world.  And there was a closeness forming between all three of us that made me think, I’ll know these guys forever.
I invited them over to my new apartment for drinks and we decided we’d walk to see the band afterwards.  My new apartment was impressive.  It’d been a lucky find on Craigslist.  My roommate, Sancho, a fifty-year-old Brazilian man, was laid back, and told me never to ask about having parties or strangers over.  He had said, “This is your house.  Don’t ask me.”  The whole time I lived at Maritime Place, I never really knew Sancho’s true profession and I didn’t really care.  He’d stocked the place with fancy leather sofas, a huge flat screen TV, and a coffee table he claimed had real gold South African coins embedded on the surface.  The view was the best part.  From my balcony, you could see all the trading barges coming in and out, sail boats, the Bay Bridge, and the glistening steel city buildings.  Our place at Powell and Sacramento was only blocks from downtown, Chinatown and North Beach, and you could even run to the wharf in only a couple of miles.  You could see all the people hustling here and there, Asian fishermen, women in business suits, stray muts, the elderly, children holding hands in matching school uniforms.  It was all there, right before me.  Everything breathed life.  It seemed even the buildings, covered in a haze of fog, some with birds perched outside their windows, all things had a breathing rhythm that you could hear and see and feel.
From the roof of my apartment complex was a 360 degree view of the city, which meant you could see the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate.  Also on the roof was a vacant fully-stocked bar that may have belonged to the owners.  I wasn’t sure.  My doorman, Saul, had a tendency to mumble.  I think he’d said it belonged to the owners or manager of the building.  He said they were usually never at the place because they constantly traveled.
It was my idea.  Up there, mostly sky.  The bar, loaded with liquor.  Inside the bar, black leather loveseats and a flat screen TV.  I couldn’t resist.  But I wouldn’t open the door.  It was my building, not my bar.
I asked Tom, “Why don’t you just try and open the door?  I’ve always wanted to sneak in.”  I knew I’d already established some pull with Tom.  My wish was his command.
“Why the hell not,” said Tom.
Issac and I looked at each other, laughing nervously.  I think we both were thinking, trespassing, cops, jail, handcuffs, not a good idea.  No way, fun, just a little good clean fun before we went to see Tom’s friend’s band.  I was a little apprehensive, but overall completely thrilled.
Tom lifted up on the handle with force and then pulled it back with both of his hands and the door flew wide open.  I wasn’t sure if he’d broken the lock or if the door was just sticky, but we all just strolled like we owned the place.
“This is amazing,” said Tom laughing hysterically.
“Wow,” said Issac.
There was a pinball machine, a telescope, TV, stereo, refrigerator filled with fine champagne and wine.  The bar was stocked with shelf after shelf of hard alcohol and liqueurs.  There were mixed nuts in round porcelain dishes and large framed photographs of an elderly man with past presidents.
“Can you read the name on the photograph?” I asked Tom.
“It looks like Bob,” said Tom.
“A word to Bobby.  Thanks, Bobby, for letting us crash the joint,” said Tom.
“Bobby’s the man,” said Issac.
“Hey hey, Bobby.  Gracias,” I said laughing.
“What would you fellas like?”  I pretended to be a
bartender.
“Oh, I’d like a shot of rum.  No whiskey.  Or, actually, what about gin,” Issac said in an English accent.
“Oh sure darling.  Whatever you please,” I said, also in an English accent.
I could see Tom was beginning to feel left out.  His arms were crossed and his head down.  He slouched over the bar.
“Let’s turn some music on, guys,” said Tom.
“Sure,” I said.
“What the hell is this?” asked Issac holding up a white buisness card.
“It has the government symbol on it,” Tom said.
“Shit, Bobby’s works for the government,” I said.
“Dude, we should probably get out of here soon,” said Issac.
“Fuck that, man.  I say we have a party up here and invite the band later on,” said Tom.
“Probably not the best idea,” I said.
“Whatever, we’ll leave in a bit,” said Issac.
Issac came over and turned the stereo on to a local radio station.
We began to dance all over the joint.  I jumped from black leather love seat to black leather love seat, shaking my hips, moving my arms up and down.
“Imagine the parties you could throw up here,” said Tom.
“I know,” I said.
“No one would know,” said Issac.
“This is a party.  Our very own, secret party,” said Tom.
Tom had to use the loo.  While he was gone, Issac and I bumped booties, and ran around the place like chickens with our heads cut off.  We had taken over the bar.  It was ours now.  We claimed it, and no one knew.  Up here, with all the sky and fog around us, it felt like we were in a floating castle.  I was like the queen with two kings or a goddess with two gods.
“Breaking and entering is kind of sexy.  Don’t you think?” I asked Issac bumping his bootie.
Before he could answer our attention shifted to an elderly man.  Jesus Christ.  Bobby?  Was it the one and only?  Had he heard the music?  Did he live in the penthouse suite one floor below the bar?  I had a bottle of some old European liquor in my hand that I had never heard of before and Issac was sipping his fourth shot of gin.  This could be pretty bad.  I was genuinely scared and I think Issac was too.  His eyes were bigger, and he shot me a look that said, oh shit.  It’s over. Trespassing, cops, jail, handcuffs.
“Hi.  I live on the twelfth floor.  This bar’s for everybody right?” I asked innocently.
“No,” he said.
“Oh.  I’m sorry.  We’ll just be leaving then,” I said.
Tom returned from the restroom, and before he saw the elderly man, he screamed out, “I love you Bobby.”
“Hi Tom,” I said in a clear loud voice.
“Oh shit,” Tom said as he walked in to the bar.
“Hello.  I see you know my name.  Have we met?”  asked Bobby.
“No.  Sorry.  I’m Tom.”
“I heard some noise so I came up the stairs to see what the hell was going on up here.  I live in the penthouse right below.”
Bobby’s right hand was in his pocket and he shook something inside.  Keys?  A gun?  He did work for the government.  In my head, I planned how I would duck if he started shooting.
Bobby’s right hand lifted from his pocket and he tapped the counter.  “Do you guys want a glass of wine?” he asked.
Issac and I looked at each other with a little relief.  We were both trying hard not to laugh.  Not out of humor, but fear.  Nervous laughter.  Bobby still could have a gun in his pocket.
“Sure.  Wine.  This place is fantastic,” said Tom.
Bobby poured white wine into Tom’s empty glass and white wine into Issac’s glass that still had some gin in it and my glass too.
“Why, thank you.  It’s a great view.  What were you drinkin there, son?” asked Bobby.
“Well.  I’m not sure,” said Issac.
“This is the best view in the city,” said Tom.
“It’s so beautiful,” I said.
“Why, thank you.  So you live on the twelfth floor young lady?”
“Yeah.  I love this apartment complex.  Everyone’s so nice,” I said.
“So you’re rooming with Sancho,” said Bobby.
“Yes, actually I am,” I said.
“Real good guy.  And a computer whiz,” Bobby said.
As we sipped our white wine, Tom struck up a conversation with Bobby asking him all about his profession, which Bobby would not discuss, and then talked about the band we were going to see and then the city itself.  Issac and I looked at each other semi-scared-shitless, semi-enjoying ourselves as we sipped the fancy white wine.
When we finished, we thanked Bobby and he led us out of his bar.
“Can you believe that shit, man?” asked Tom
“I think we’re cool,” I said.
“He seemed pretty chill.  All that money.  I’d share a bar too, if I owned one,” said Issac.
We left about a half hour later to go and see Tom’s friend’s band.  The band, “Royalty,” had us dancing for hours. When we went outside for a break, next door there was a famous author’s birthday party going on.  He was turning 90.  There was a concert violinist.  We crashed the party, drank more free wine, Tom schmoozed with all the old folks, and we even got a piece of birthday cake.