We made a fake Facebook account at an internet café, one of the last ones downtown, full of Korean gamers and a weird smell of burnt electronics and sour milk. The owner sold liquor mixed into off-brand Gatorade to the kids, who were constantly getting up to piss with their headsets still on. Most of them were skipping their classes at the language factory across the street, where Cory and I had met as teachers. He’d convinced me to quit by the end of my first week.
I overheard an Australian man use that expression today at a Best Buy in Montreal - where I bought a blank CD and Mars Bar. A few nights ago, I finally finished editing my first EP, Pull, which I’d recorded while dating my – what should I call him now, my ex-boyfriend? My ex-partner? My ex-lov-ah? And after uploading the songs to my iTunes, I transferred them to a CD and promptly threw it into my mother’s fireplace.
“I’m so tired,” Kate says.
“I feel like shit,” Kate says.
“We should go out tonight,” Kate says.
Next thing I know I’ve gulped down, like, four vodka tonics — even though I hate vodka tonics — and I’m sitting on Kate’s bed eating a Ziploc bag of macadamia nuts by the fistful while Kate shoves tall black heels onto my feet.
“I don’t know if these are gonna fit,” she says. “Your feet are huge.”
“I know,” I say, “and look, my hands are big, too!” I pull my hand out of the baggie to show her and I accidentally sprinkle macadamia crumbs all over. “Oh, it’s in your hair! Like fairy dust!” I say, and go to brush it out, but I just make it worse. Kate shouts at me and fastens the buckle on the right shoe so tight that it pinches the skin beneath my anklebone and I cry out.
When Arthur leapt out from the black the eight men around the fire quit talking. One stood like he was pulled up by cables. The fire burned six-feet high in the quarry-pit gulley and showed the skin of Arthur’s legs painted with dirt and ran through where he’d been cut by rock and thorn on the way down the grade. He passed through those seated on stumps and stooped near the fire to take up a long and knotted cedar limb, black by the thick end. He stepped outside of the circle of men and turned. Little lights yet traveled the wood when he clubbed the nearest man across the brow bone with it. That man half-rose with a hand by his face, soot black forehead torn and swelling.
HELLO, DOWNERS GROVE!
All right, ladies! Woo! Are we having a good time? I can’t hear you, I’m sorry. ARE WE HAVING A GOOD TIME?
Most of you still refuse to answer the question, which is a shame. But I did hear you back there on the far right! What’s your name, pretty lady? Jacquelyn? Thank you for committing to having a good time, Jacquelyn! Toby, head over there and give Jacquelyn a beer koozie, on me.
That’s on me, Jacquelyn. Hope you enjoy.
Jazz and I started out that summer spending every day together. I first saw her earlier that year in the parking lot, unloading groceries with her mom. She was wearing a bikini top and denim cutoffs and I was jealous, because I just had a couple of old one-pieces, faded from chlorine and saltwater. We just stared at each other that time. But we were the only girls our age in the building, and soon we were best friends. All the old ladies called us “those girls”, and everyone knew who they were talking about. We looked alike, same blonde hair and brown eyes, and we liked it. We tried to convince everyone we met we were twins, even though Jazz was a year older, thirteen, which sounded much older than twelve.
The temperature hit 105 in Daytona Beach in the middle of June that summer. Jazz got her period for the first time that summer. We met Johnny that summer.
My son found a severed hand in the sandbox. Dug it up, along with half a lime green crayon and the nub of a baby carrot. “Daddy, look,” Stevie said, holding onto the appendage as if crossing the street. “I’m being nice.”
It was ten-thirty in the morning, too early for this macabre kind of shit. I’d yet to finish my second cup of coffee. And then there was the thing itself, flesh shriveled and plum purple, a mat of curly hairs running to the first knuckles, which were encrusted with sand. A sharp bit of bone jutted from the brown stub of wrist—brown like old rust, a color I remember from the nastiest of Maureen’s panties, what she called her “B-listers.” And wouldn’t you know it? I left the house so fast I forgot the damn Purell.
“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Put that down.”
So, I was moving in with my parents.
It was temporary. It had to be temporary. Dale made this clear. Dale being my stepfather. Temporary because of “that thing,” he said. That thing being Death Cab, my cat, to whom he was allergic. Death Cab for whom he was making “such a generous exception,” or - so said my mother, “because the rule is no animals allowed in the house except on the table hahahaha.”
But no matter how bad things were getting, no matter how low I felt, I wasn’t a loser. I wasn’t an idiot and I knew a hell of a lot about music: I could play guitar and before I left school to come home I was getting the hang of the drums at a tremendous pace. I was really pretty, or at least I knew how to dress well, or at least when I wasn’t dressed well I knew I wasn’t dressed well and I had sense enough not to hold my head high in the street.
On an evening in late May, Martin Bigras and his new friend Carl Barnet arrived at a train station in Munich, disembarked and went straight to the nearest beer hall. After a few lagers each, they started talking with a group of fox hunters who would break conversation every fifteen minutes to snort lines of fine powdered tobacco from the backs of their hands, poured from a discreet red container labelled FC Bayern München.
“We have a custom,” one of them said, “where we smear the b—how do you say it?”
“Das blut,” another said. “The blood.”
“Right, the blood of the fox. We smear the blood on the face of the newest hunter. We have not done that for a long time, not since we were very young.”
Something about that made them all laugh together.
“Tomorrow morning,” the third one said. “You’ll come with us. We’ll shoot you a beautiful new scarf.”
They always make it harder to achieve results.
Kielbasa Joe paddles his noodle up the fourth lane in a painfully slow crawl, the fluorescent pool lights making his flesh look blanched and sausage-like. There’s no sense waiting for him; he’ll hog the lane for a full hour, noodling back and forth without a twinge of shame. Likewise, Doctor O.C.D. Grumblestein is busy evenly spacing the lane markers along the rope of lane five, just like he always does, muttering the whole time, as though that qualifies as exercise; that’s probably a twenty-minute wait. Which leaves Chatty Boners chatting up one of his AquaTramps in lanes two and three, and Wady Mary, doing her wady dance in the shallow end of lane one, the flotation belt cinched around her squishy belly propping up her sagging tits like beached jellyfish.
Amber lay with her back on the purple yoga mat, her legs pressed together at a perfect 90-degree angle. “Exhale,” the teacher said, “And bring your legs down slow, like you’re moving through peanut butter.”
I am always moving through peanut butter.
Amber kept her eyes on her flexed feet until they disappeared behind her chest and stomach, until they touched the floor.
What is the next thing?
“Now raise your legs back up. Slow, slow. Your legs are a butter knife, slowly spreading peanut butter on bread.” The teacher recited her speech about slow, exact movements being the best way to build muscle.
Move slow. The world is peanut butter. Honey. Molasses. Cookie dough. I can’t see where I’m going. I can only move slowly. What is the next thing?
The class worked their cores until Amber felt like she wanted to throw up. But she went along with it. She kept doing it anyway.
What is the next thing?
“We want you to come around the corner of the car like you aren’t expecting us.” Melanie smiled. She used a lint roller on my jacket, spinning me in a circle. I was supposed to walk out between these two Tercels looking like I wanted to make a deal.
It was a very hot day. We stood on the pavement of my used-car dealership. I renamed it Noggie’s Used Cars after Dad died last year. He willed it to me. Back when he owned it he made good money off it. Good money in the seventies, when I was younger and everyone drove cars and wanted a good deal on a nice used one. Now, in this particular climate used car dealerships didn’t really bring home the bacon. Melanie and her small crew were waiting for me. I hated everything about cameras. I was going to have a smoke first.
At the time, her life had been lacking in sure things, and so Lindsay took comfort in knowing where she stood with Aaron, even if it was nowhere good. She was technically his manager, which made their friendship inappropriate, but as her job title was meaningless and he knew she was in love with him, her authority couldn’t have been compromised further. So Lindsay went out for drinks with him whenever he asked, and understood that he suppressed his reciprocal leanings out of fairness to his long-time girlfriend, Staffanie, the habit he just couldn’t shake.
Our library is dying. The books break apart like hard dust, and we can no longer read their stories. A film of oil sticks to the skin of the jackets, which emit the slightest belch when they are handled. We have all felt this breath rising up our own gullets—how curious to note that the library is similarly bloated.
Vashti read the bear policy posted at the start of the trail twice before she decided to walk with us. She made one command. "If we gone do this shit, y'all can't pull out no snacks, no water, no nothing. Ain't no bear bout to fuck with me. Y'all asses gone follow these policies."
I think she came along because she's curious about the nature of bears, but her fear is what drives us. She's almost ours in this place. In these mountains, so near where I hunted with my father as a boy. She's been our girl for the past couple of days. It's been nice. It’s a change. We've been her boys for such a long time. But now, on this mountain, things are right in the universe as long as she fears the bear.
1. Chinook (2012)
Cam and I were at the river and I was telling him a story he’d already heard a dozen times:
We were still deep in winter, I was saying, but a Chinook had blown in and so much ice was melting off the rooftops so fast it sounded like rain. Ten o’clock at night the temperature rose from 25 to 45 in half an hour; people were wandering the Missoula streets in giddy shock, but I had the alleys to myself. Valentine’s Day was coming up and I was aiming, as always, to skip right over it. On a tear that week after a cocked-up escapade with Angie, I was running a backdoor trap line, bar to bar, and it’s not like I was so shitty I couldn’t see straight, but I was definitely tilting at a trash can or two. Jesse came out of nowhere. He startled me and I backed up, sat down on the curb like I meant to.
“Go on,” Cam said. Because I didn’t realize I had stopped talking. The story was five years old but it still played loud in my head.
These talks are mandatory, aimed at increasing our productivity. The week prior I’d received an email from the organizer, Owen Peck. He promised “tactics to deal with Downers, Moochers, Whiners, Passive Aggressives and all other Energy Vampires in your lives!!” Sounds like Devon, I thought.
As I step into the boardroom, I take a moment to remind myself to smile, to participate but not in an overbearing way, to be cheerful not cloying, assertive not strident, to be a team player, and under no circumstances to mention Devon. Never ever bring up Devon. It’s only after this bit of self-talk that I notice the mantra projected against the wall: “Happiness is the Powercord of Success!”
The day Eugene told me his secret he gave me a bouquet of lilies. Ice clung to the petals like fuzz.
Sorry about the frost, he said. That was an accident.
I stuck my nose into the flowers but they were too chilled to get any smell out of them. It puzzled me that the ice hadn’t melted—this was mid-June.
The thing is, he said, my trick is the weather.
The weather, I repeated.
That’s my schtick, you know? Everyone’s got to have a schtick.
We were in Washington Square Park. There was a guy playing Rachmaninoff on an upright piano.
Pick a weather, Eugene said.
I crossed my arms. Snow. Bet you can’t do snow.
Snow? Well … might be complicated.
You’re so full of shit, I said, giving him a playful punch to the shoulder.
It’s not that. He hesitated.
He straightened. Alright, he said, closing his eyes, clenching his fists.
The return to Moon Lake had been a quiet one—a drive through downtown Helena, depressing, most of the storefronts abandoned, the sidewalks cut apart by bursts of weeds. On the Arkansas side of the great fat river, everything had died off by leaps and bounds over the past fifteen years.
In the yard of the old house we rented, the only two gingkoes in town upheld their portion of godless sunlight. In the fall, people would come walking or biking from all over town to watch them burn off their absolute yellow onto the lawn. Kids would run up holding their noses at the smell of the rotting fruit, grab a few out of the grass, then launch them at passing cars.