“I should take a trip,” Hannah is saying. “Someplace far away. Darjeeling, maybe. Someplace where the air is spicy.”
We are walking outside the zoo, and the air is not spicy here. It smells of eucalyptus and salt air.
“I want to be in one of those hotels that you see in the movies,” she continues. “Old wood on the walls and a balcony overlooking a marketplace.”
“How about Fresno?” I ask. “Fresno is exotic.”
“Fresno is an armpit,” she says. “Don’t be a putz.”
She has work this morning, and so we are here walking in the dawn, the sky a rich and dark blue, the chill working under our coats and trailing its nails along the goosebumps on our skin. She called me at three in the morning, and asked if I would go with her. As she talked, I heard the sound of an old typewriter clacking in the background, but I didn’t ask her why. I didn’t remember seeing one at her house, but that didn’t mean anything.
She has a sprig of baby’s breath in her hair, and I don’t ask her about that either. She looks tired, as though she hasn’t slept at all. I wonder if I look the same, since I didn’t go back to sleep after she called me.
There is an empty fishbowl in the bushes by the sidewalk. Hannah stops to look on the ground beneath it, looking for any fish that might have poured out from it. There aren’t any to be seen.
“Gulls probably got them,” she says.
“Wonder how it even got here,” I say.
“People do strange things. Very little of it makes any sense, really.”
“I had a fish once. Rivi bought it for me, one of those beta fish. Nasty little things. I hear they’ll eat each other if you put two of them in a bowl together. Anyway, it only lived about two weeks. I don’t know if that’s all they get, or if I killed it somehow. I’m not very skilled at keeping anything alive other than myself, and sometimes that’s a miracle anyway.”
Hannah stops and stands on her tiptoes, trying to see inside the fence around the zoo. “Do they have penguins here? I can’t remember. I’d like to see some penguins.”
“Yeah, I think so. Don’t you have to work today though?”
She sighs and puts her feet flat on the sidewalk again. “Maybe some weekend then. I’m restless, Sebastian. That’s all.” She pats her hair gently, making sure that the flowers are still there. “I should have slept last night. I feel useless. I really need some coffee.”
“We can get some. I’ll take you to work if you want. What time are you out? I can pick you up after too.”
“Five usually. I can probably get out early if I pull some strings.”
“Stay until five. I can be there by then.”
We continue walking west, toward the beach side of the zoo. In the middle of Sloat Boulevard, on the median, the Doggie Diner head is on the pole where it’s been for as long as I can remember, and across from that is Pasquale’s Pizzeria. “Remember when we got a bucket of spaghetti there and ate it on the beach in the dark?”
“I remember we couldn’t keep the sand out of it,” she says. “God, wasn’t that the night we went to the Pink Floyd laser show?”
“Yeah, it was.”
“Jesus, we really were just kids. Do people still do that? Is that still a thing?”
“Don’t ask me,” I say. “I’m not a kid anymore.”
“You should be,” she says. “Getting old sucks.”
I don’t tell her that I remember everything about that night. Her jean jacket and white cotton skirt. The walk from the parking lot to the place we sat in the sand. Wanting to hold her hand. Not knowing how to do it without making a fool of myself.
“Listen,” she says. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Picking you up after work.”
“No plans,” I say.
“Let’s do something ridiculous then. Let’s come back here and eat spaghetti on the beach.”
“You haven’t slept. You’re not going to want to be awake after work.”
“I can sleep when I’m dead,” she says, and then she smiles darkly at me when it occurs to her what she’s said. “I am a master of inadvertent black humor.”
“A black belt in black humor,” I say.
“Take me to the beach tonight,” she says. “I don’t care how tired I am. It’s important. Important to me, anyway.”
“Okay. We can do that.”
We come to where Sloat connects with the Great Highway, at the edge of the continent, and now, here in the present, I reach out and take Hannah’s hand. We stand for a moment on the street corner, as the sky grows brighter and the sea wind twists our hair into knots. When the light changes, we cross and head down to look at the water for a few minutes, while we have time to not care about responsibilities and traffic and jobs, and deeper worries are but monsters under the bed, vanishing when the sunlight spills in through the bedroom window.
I squeeze her hand, and she squeezes mine in return.
I don’t feel the fool at all this time.