Luis shared an apartment with his brother Hector and three other men, all of whom happened to be named Juan. Everywhere he turned there was a Juan: a Juan in the shower, a Juan in the kitchen eating pineapple rings out of a can, a Juan asleep on the couch. They were quiet and harmless but undeniably present and numerous, like the silverfish that were also always in the shower and the kitchen and among the couch cushions. Hector was seldom home. If his white Stetson hung by the front door, he was usually getting ready to go out again, singing love songs in the steamy bathroom as he admired himself in a circle of mirror and combed gel through his lustrous hair. By the door was a jumble of boots studded with dingy rosettes of wadded socks. Luis had made a rule that boots were not to be worn in the house, but since this rule was not always remembered by the Juans or observed by Hector, trails of barn dirt crisscrossed the floors.
What you love about pills is how small they are, how much energy is in them, like they’re atoms with electrons zinging around inside. You take a tiny white one, a pill so light you can hardly feel it on your tongue, that floats in the middle of a swallow of water and shoots down your throat like a barrel down Niagara Falls. Half an hour later you’re flying.
We didn’t know who he was. We never do know much of what goes on. We’re too far away from it all. Be it fashion, progress, war, or people’s reputations, few things make their way out here. Everything is foreign to us, as though we take part only on an honorary basis in the human race. All we know is wind and rain and the sound of waves on the rocks. Our few visitors find it sad out here. They never stay. After the excursion, they hurry back quick as they can to civilization, to the sunny shallows, as though out here were the depths: the depths of what, God alone knows. _______ But they’re wrong. It’s not sad out here, well maybe just a bit, in an infinitely gentle way. You have to be born here, and not have known anything else. Then you’d understand, you’d see how it cradles and calms you, lulls you to sleep for life.
I am sixteen and running away to the house where the grifters are squatting. A single story rectangle with a claustrophobic porch, the place is rotting. You can almost smell it from the street. Chunks of decomposed siding litter the dirt yard. A frayed rope hangs from the tree like a claw, reaching for the tire on the ground. The rest of the block has fluffy green lawns dotted with Halloween decorations and houses done in inviting colors—robin egg blues with bright white trim. The grifters’ house looks like crushed eggshell on wet asphalt. But it’s not the grifters’ fault.
San Francisco (1997) She’d hurt herself in small ways. Nobody knew about it. She’d take a knife and slowly deliberately gently slice her thigh. She’d cover it with a towel. She’d watch the blood soak through but it wasn’t the blood she wanted, only the feel of the knife and the proof that she could do it. She was in her thirties. She wasn’t lonely. This had taken her a long time to understand. A feat really, given the circumstances. What were the circumstances? She couldn’t have answered this. Can one’s life be summed up so easy? Other people can sum our lives up for us, but not us. She was so and so and she lived at so and so address. Wasn’t there more to it than this? Shouldn’t there be? She liked to feel a little actual pain once in a while. This was opposed to the pain she couldn't feel? Was this the point? Alone in her room, her desk lamp on, its small circle of light. She felt like an old-time surgeon. Who was the patient? Who the doctor? She was not lonely.
She has been watching Will play baseball in the park across the street, watching him bend his entire torso, the long, thin ankle of the bat against his body as if he were cradling an upright bayonet. (“Ankle” is what Beth thinks; she does not know the terminology of bat parts; it looks like her mother’s ankles, slim and fragile and seemingly pure bone for inches, always too thin a foundation for standing.) Her son grips the bat the way he has learned to: stiff up against him, as if he were an eighteenth-century British soldier carrying his weapon as he marches, so that he will not lose hold. The grip is awkward because of the stump. He swings and thumps it up the center, drops the bat and runs to first base. Beth exhales. She sees him grin wildly. She watches him squat on his knees and heave his chest and wipe his sweaty forehead with the bald end of his right arm. * Will comes into dinner flushed from the baseball game, smelling of grass and dried sweat.