Rivi and I are walking along Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. As we go, she is counting the number of turtle heads she has seen breaking the surface of the water.
“Three,” she says.
“We should take a paddleboat,” I say. “Haven’t done that in a long time.”
“Nah. I’m not feeling the call of the waves today.”
“There aren’t any waves. There are never any waves. It’s Stow Lake.”
“Let’s go to the de Young. That’s always nice.” She points at the water. “Four.”
We have been in the park for a few hours today, having walked a meandering path from the windmills on the beach side to the lake in the middle. The day is cool but bright, and I curse myself for not remembering to bring my sunglasses.
“Five. We can get something to eat. Might be a hot dog cart at the Concourse.”
“We can eat in the museum. Hot dog carts are just temping fate.”
Rivi slept over last night, taking the bed while I slept in the chaise. She insisted we have a Star Wars marathon before seeing the new film, but we called an early end to it as she fell asleep halfway through The Empire Strikes Back and crawled off to my room with barely a grunted goodnight as she went. She said this morning that we would try again tomorrow, but it’s not a big deal really.
“Seven. I think I’m going to get a tattoo. Something small. A bird, maybe.”
“You’re never going to get a tattoo,” I say. “You’ve been talking about it for as long as I’ve known you.”
“You don’t know me,” she says. “You just think you do. Eight.”
“You should get a tattoo of a turtle. One for each one you count here today. An ocean of turtles, all over your body.”
She shakes her head. “Too many turtles. I just want one. Maybe on my wrist.”
“Nine,” I say, seeing a small leathery head poking up from beneath a tree root trailing in the lake. “You could get them all in one spot. Maybe right on your throat. I think that would pretty much guarantee your future employment possibilities are right down the drain.”
“Just means you’ll have to support me, you know. You’re going to need a bigger apartment.”
“I’m not your sugar daddy.”
“Of course you aren’t,” she says. “Oh, you’re going to have to pay my way into the museum. I left my purse in your kitchen.”
“Maybe right on your face instead. Turtles the size of tangerines, all over your cheeks and your forehead. Boys dig facial tattoos.”
“Ten,” she says.
“One,” I say, pointing at the sidewalk in front of us. A dead and ant-covered rat is on the pavement.
“Ew,” Rivi says.
“If I see three more rats before we get to the museum, you have to get a tattoo of a turtle on the back of your neck.”
“If I see three more turtles before we get around the lake, you have to get a tattoo of a rat on your ass,” she says.
“Ten turtles,” I say. “The lake’s full of them. Have to make it a more sporting wager.”
She considers a moment, then nods. “Okay, ten. But if we see a dead rat in the lake, then you have to get Popeye anchors on your forearms.”
“Fine. But if we see a rat eating a dead turtle, then you have to get a tattoo of Donald Trump as a tramp stamp.”
“Now you’re playing dirty,” she says.
“You’re the dirty one, with a Trump tramp stamp.”
“Eleven,” she says. “If we see a rat riding on a turtle’s back, you have to get a tattoo on your forehead of me fist-fighting William Shatner on top of the Acropolis.”
We are almost to the path that will lead us away from the lake and toward the museum.
“Twelve,” Rivi says. “One more to go, and you get a rat on your ass.”
“Two,” I say, pointing at another dead rat beneath a nearby shrub. “And you need eight more turtles, not one. No cheating.”
“That’s not a rat,” she says. “It’s a pigeon.”
“A rat with wings,” I say. “Close enough.”
“This is either going to be the best walk we’ve ever taken, or the most anti-climactic.”
“If it’s the most anti-climactic, you have to get a tattoo of Tattoo from Fantasy Island on the inside of your thigh.”
“If it’s not,” she says, “then I get to be the one who tattoos you. We’ll do it prison style. It’ll really, really hurt.”
“If you get to tattoo me, then I get to pierce you, in a location to be determined at a future date, using a potato and a knitting needle.”
“Thirteen,” she says. “You know, we really should do this more often.”
“You’ll look like the illustrated lady if we do.”
“That’s a stick, not a turtle.”
“You counted a pigeon, I get to count a stick.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I say. We have reached the path we must follow to the museum, which leads off down the hill and away from the lake. “We’re going that way now. No more lake for you.”
“We should walk around again,” she says. “Get our exercise in. We’re getting flabby.”
“Uh-uh. We’re going to the Concourse. Your final count is thirteen turtles and a stick.”
“Your pigeon doesn’t count, you know.”
“I’m not worried. Lot of rats in the park,” I say. “There’s bound to be a couple more dead ones on the way.”
We walk down the hill, scanning the grass and bushes to either side as we go.
“Dead squirrel,” Rivi says. “You don’t get that one.”
“Not close enough.”
As we approach the Concourse, I point at a dumpster behind the bandstand. “And what’s that under there I see?”
“Bag of trash,” she says. “Someone’s lunch bag.”
“Good try. Rat number two. One more, and you’re going under the needle.”
“I don’t know why we do anything together,” she says. “You’re always so mean to me.”
We walk toward the entrance to the de Young, and I scan the ground as though I am tracking Butch and Sundance across the Badlands.
“You’re never going to make it,” Rivi says. “We should just call it a draw.”
“Quiet, you. We’re not inside yet.”
“We’re on the property,” she insists. “It’s close enough to call it.”
“Shut up,” I say.
We are walking past the small pond at the outside of the museum, the water low, the rocks beneath it green and mossy. A pair of seagulls are standing at the water’s edge, watching us as we approach. When we come too close, they lift up into the air, cackling at us, and flit to the far side of the pond.
“What’s that over there?” Rivi asks suddenly, raising her arm in front of my face and gesturing at the far side of Concourse. “Is that lady naked?”
“Too late!” I shout, and I bat her arm down. I point my finger with triumph at the soggy furry lump floating in the pond, where it had until a moment ago been blocked from sight by the gulls trying to pick it out of the water. “Rat number three!”
“Doesn’t count,” she says. “It’s a mouse.”
“A mouse the size of a dog. That is a rat.”
“A rat! I am the winner!” I do a little dance beside the dead rat, something a bit MC Hammer and a bit Willem Dafoe being gunned down by the Viet Cong in Platoon.
“You are the worst winner in the world,” she says. “You should lose just for winning so badly.”
“I get to pick the turtle for the tattoo.”
“Not if I murder you in your sleep.”
“It’s going to be that turtle you’re supposed to draw to get into correspondence art school. Tippy! Tippy the Turtle!”
“I am going to punch you,” Rivi says. “I swear to God I am.”
“Totally be worth it,” I say.
“Forget the museum,” she says. She starts stomping off for the far end of the Concourse.
“Hey, spoilsport. Where are you going?”
“Hot dog cart. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get food poisoning and die. Get over here, dammit. I don’t have any money.”
“I told you I wasn’t your sugar daddy,” I say. “If I’m buying you a hot dog, it’s going to cost you later.”
She holds up her fist and waves it at me. “Five fingers of death, buster.”
“Three words, Rivi,” I say, holding my arms wide. “Trump tramp stamp.”
It takes an hour before the pain in my arm goes away, and I’m sure I’ll have the bruise for at least a week after that.
All I can say is that if Rivi is ever visiting Greece, William Shatner had better stay the hell away.