Fist-Fighting Shatner on the Acropolis

Foggy Forest UnsplashSebastian Script

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.”

“Six.”

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.”

“Fourteen.”

“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.”

“Close though.”

“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.

“Call it!”

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.”

“You cheated.”

“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.

Barstow

Ladybug UnsplashBoone

Tina sits on the floor of her bedroom, her back against the mattress, the grey parachute hanging above her head. I can see the outlines in the silk of the pieces of plaster that have collected there since the last time she emptied it. I don’t know how there can be any of her ceiling left above her by this point.

“I found a ladybug in here yesterday,” she says. “I have no idea where she came from. I thought it was too cold for them to live in December.” She touches her lower lip, which I know is her tell for wanting to have a cigarette, but I am wrong this time. “She landed right here, while I was in bed. I let her crawl around until she was finished, and then she flew off into the living room. Haven’t seen her since.”

“It’s here someplace,” I say. “Check the windows. It’s probably trying to get out.”

“It’s colder in here than it is outside. She’d have better odds out there.”

“You’d have better odds too,” I say. “Either the cold is going to get you, or the ceiling is going to come down in the next earthquake.”

“This building is strong,” she says. She gets off the floor and lays down on her mattress. “It’s not going anywhere.”

I sit in the ratty chair by her window. I am looking through an old box of photos, which Tina has told me to search through. She wants three images for a triptych she is putting together, and she wants me to find the ones to use. “What about this one?” I ask, turning the photo for her to see. It’s of a woman in a pool of water, a small white house behind her, and a snowy mountainscape behind that.

“That’s Whitney,” she says. “And in a hot spring.” She waves her hand at it. “You’re picking, not me. Find the ones you like the best.”

I set the photo on the windowsill and go back into the box.

“I’m going to change,” she says. “We can go get Thai once you’re done.” She gets off the bed and goes to her closet. “Take your time. There’s no rush.”

I shuffle through a handful of images—an handsome Asian man smoking in a field at dawn, a nude woman holding a blue coffee cup in a dark kitchen—before finding another I like, one of Tina herself in a snowstorm, flakes in her hair and on her black coat, her eyes wide and her lips red. I put it with the first photo, and continue searching.

“I need to get some film,” she says. “While we’re out.”

“I’ve got nowhere to be,” I say.

“Sure you do. You’ve got to be with me.” She takes her shirt off and tosses it on the bed. After years of photography together, I’ve seen her in much less than a bra and jeans, so I don’t bat an eye at it this time.

More photos—a woman in glasses wearing a newspaper crown, Rivi with a lollipop in her mouth, a man in a pinstripe suit playing a trombone. I chuckle at the next image, of a large dog sitting miserably inside of a pram, which itself is parked in the surf of the grey ocean. I add this photo to my small pile of usable prints.

Tina puts on a clean shirt and sits on the mattress to put her socks on. “My hair is a mess,” she says, “but I don’t feel like screwing with it.”

“I’m a mess,” I say. “Nobody is going to be looking at you.”

“You do need a shave,” she says. “And some new clothes.” She stands and looks at me. “And a haircut. You’re right. You’re the bigger mess here. I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Thanks for your opinion. Go get your shoes on.” She leaves the bedroom, and I look through the box, wanting to be sure of the images I am choosing before settling on my three picks.

A smoking woman shot from below, with carnival lights filling the entire space of the background. A woman I know named Georgia, in profile, her red hair curled back around her ear. A picture of me, standing at the window of an anonymous hotel, peering out into the sunlight, squinting against the brightness.

I remember when Tina took this photo, on a trip we took to Truckee in the winter. She decided to quit smoking while in that hotel, a vow she made to me through the open bathroom door while she soaked in the tub and I watched television from one of the beds. She lasted about two weeks before going back to cigarettes again, and she was irritable and difficult to deal with until she gave in to her cravings.

I put this photo into my pile.

Tina comes back into the room. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

“I’m still looking through these,” I say.

“Finish when we get back. I’m more hungry than I thought.”

“Remember this one?” I ask, and I hold up the hotel photo.

She takes it from me and looks at it. “Oh yeah. Barstow. Right before we left.”

“That’s not Barstow. It’s Truckee. And we just got there.”

She puts the photo on the windowsill with the others I’ve selected. “No, that’s Barstow. I remember those curtains.”

“The curtains? They’re hotel curtains. They all look the same.”

“Barstow,” she repeats. “Come on, let’s go.”

I put the lid on the photo box. “I’m taking this with us. I’m not done yet.”

“Don’t pout,” she says. “I know you want to.”

“I’m not pouting. But it’s Truckee.”

Tina puts her hand against my chest as I start to walk out of the room, stopping me. “Wait,” she says. “Look over there.”

She is staring at the bedroom window, and I look out of it, thinking there’s something outside she’s trying to call my attention to, but I see nothing. Then a slight movement catches my eye, and I see what it is that she’s noticed.

“There’s my ladybug,” she says. She walks to the window and I join her, watching the insect crawling on the glass. It opens and closes its wings a few times, but doesn’t fly away.

“I guess they do live through the winter,” I say.

She unlocks her window and opens it. The ladybug crawls onto the window frame and begins to walk the edge of it, in no hurry to leave the apartment. Tina taps her fingernail on the glass near the insect, trying to move it along into the outside.

“It’s Barstow,” Tina says again. The ladybug crawls onto her fingertip. “You know how I know?”

“How do you know?” I ask.

She leans out the window and raises her finger in front of her lips. With a quick and solid exhalation, she blows the ladybug off, and the insect flies off into the city. “Because that was the trip I decided I might be able to fall in love with you.” She closes the window and looks at me. “Not for sure. Just might.”

“That was three years ago.”

She nods. “I know. I’m still making up my mind.” She reaches out and takes the box of photos from my hands. “Leave this here. You can finish later.”

I don’t know how to respond to this, so I just say, “Okay.”

She puts the box on the bed and then touches my cheek. “You always take things so seriously. Just let it go for once and chill out.”

“I’m not good at chilling out,” I say.

“You chilled out in Barstow. That’s what did it.”

“Did what?” I ask.

“Shut up,” she says. “No more talking. Let’s eat.”

She leaves the bedroom, and I start to follow. However, I stop myself at the door and turn back, taking the picture of myself in the hotel off the windowsill and bringing it with me.

Barstow.

I never would have guessed.

The Way Out is In

Suit Unsplash

Olivia Script

The taste is like cobwebs on my tongue, and it starts the moment I cross the threshold and enter the shed. The light is dim, the window small and coated in a layer of dust and grime, and it becomes more dark when I let go of the door and it closes gently shut behind me. A quiet but insistent sound hovers at the edge of my hearing, like the hum of a distant waterfall.

The key in my hand is no longer hot to the touch. I put it in my pocket and turn in a slow circle, looking carefully at the interior of the shed. Gardening tools are gathered in one corner, a shovel and rake leaning against the wall. A water hose hangs coiled like a tree snake on a nail by the window, and a workbench with an assortment of tools and a can of nails on it sits by the door. There is a bare bulb set into the ceiling, and I pull the string hanging there to turn it on, but nothing happens when I do.

Rum and molasses. Penelope. Nothing in the shed shines any light on those mysteries. There must be something here, however. Why else would the key unlock this door? It’s hardly a coincidence.

I look under the workbench, and find some paint cans and a few brushes. There is an old calendar from 2007 beneath one of the cans, a treed landscape covered in circle of splattered white paint. Beneath a tarp in one corner, there are two boat oars and a pair of muddied men’s boots.

There is nothing else in the shed. No clues and no answers.

This can’t be a dead end, I think. I look out the dirty window at the well-tended backyard. It can’t. What am I missing?

“You’re so very close now, Miss Flynn.”

I jump and cry out, spinning away from the window and banging my hip into the workbench, knocking the can of nails across the tabletop with a clatter. There is a man standing in front of the wall opposite me, not three feet away. He did not come through the shed’s door. He was not there a moment ago.

“Be careful, Miss Flynn,” he says. His voice is thick and low, like syrup mixed with opium. “Now isn’t the time to let your mind slip away.”

“Who are you?” I ask. The tremble in my voice heightens my fear, and I feel behind me with a shaking hand, seeking a hammer or screwdriver on the workbench to use as a weapon. “How did you get in here?”

“I am Mr. Middlemost,” he says, “and I have always been here.”

I grip the handle of something, and bring it around in front of me: a long flathead screwdriver. The tip is covered in white paint. “You weren’t here,” I say. “I would have seen you.”

“No,” he says. “You wouldn’t have.” He makes no move to approach me, and has his hands in his pockets. I see now that he is dressed in a fine brown suit, handkerchief stuffed artfully in his breast pocket, a tie around his neck. He looks as though he has stepped out of a Savile Row tailor’s shop, arranged and handsome, perfection in cut and line. “The strings weren’t knotted yet.”

“I don’t know what that means,” I say.

“Of course you don’t,” Middlemost says. “Obviously you are meant to, however. The coin led you here, which it doesn’t often do, and the key is even more obstinate, but it still unlocked the door for you. So there’s a reason for you to be here, Miss Flynn, even if neither of us knows what it is.”

“You know about those?” I ask. “The coin. The key.”

“Certainly. I was instrumental in their manufacture, after all. Well, not only me, but I had a hand in things.”

“Who are you?” I ask again. “What’s happening to me?”

Middlemost takes his hand from his pocket and holds it out to me, palm up. “May I have the key please, Miss Flynn?” I hesitate a moment, then take out the key and drop it into his hand. “You may put the screwdriver down. There’s nothing to fear here.”

“I’ll keep it for now,” I say. “I don’t know who you are.”

“I’m Mr. Middlemost. I’ve already told you.” He picks the key up from his palm using the middle finger and thumb of his other hand. “You’re going to think this is magic,” he says to me, and then he casually tosses the key up into the air above him. The key doesn’t come back down. It has vanished somewhere between his hand and the ceiling.

“It’s not magic,” I say. “It’s just a trick.”

“Oh my no. It’s neither magic nor a trick,” he says. “It’s the design of the Everwhere.” He puts his hands back into his pockets. “I know, I know. At this point you think I’m a lunatic. I can’t blame you for that.”

“A magician and a mind reader,” I say.

“I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he says. “I’m going to say something now which is only going to frighten you more, and I’m sorry for that. We’ll get past it eventually, I promise.”

I edge toward the door, screwdriver held higher in front of me. “I’m going to…”

“You’re going to do nothing,” he says. “You’ve come too far to go back now, Miss Flynn. In is the only way out now.”

I feel behind me without taking my eyes from him, trying to find the handle to the door. When I can’t feel anything but wood beneath my fingers, I steal a quick glance over my shoulder, and that is when I see that the door is gone. Where it had been is now only a wooden wall, the same as the rest of the shed. I turn back to look at Middlemost, and that’s when I see that my screwdriver is also gone, and my hand is empty in front of me.

Middlemost is still against the far wall, hands again in his pockets. “What I was going to say, Miss Flynn, is that I have seen the dead girl inside you. I have seen her death, and I have seen the coin in her hand with which she must pay for passage to the Everwhere.” There is a thin whisper of sadness in his voice as he adds, “You see? I told you that would frighten you.”

“I’m not afraid,” I say, but I am. I very much am.

“Keep your coin, Miss Flynn,” he says. “You’re most definitely going to be needing it.”

Springtime Honey

Honey UnsplashSebastian Script

Hannah and I don’t go skiing, because going skiing was never the point. Instead, we are at her house in Daly City, in her bedroom. We are laying in her bed, but it’s friendly, and not a romantic thing.

There is a cemetery across the street from her house. I can see it through the window. I try not to read anything into it, but of course it’s hard not to right now.

Hannah has not told me what it is she is having tests for, what disease is gnawing at the edges of her body, and I haven’t asked for specifics. If she wants to tell me, she will.

I notice how thin she is, and I try to remember if she’s always been like that, or if this is because of the disease.

It’s hard not to ask.

“I set fire to my kitchen last week,” she says. “Could you smell it when you came in?”

“No,” I say. “How did you do that?”

“Grease fire. I panicked because I’m an idiot and tossed the pan in the sink. Caught the curtains on fire. I’m lucky I didn’t burn the place to the ground. Had to take three showers before I could get the smell out of my hair.”

“You know,” I say, looking around, “when we were in high school, I would have killed to get into your room.”

“You weren’t missing much. Couple of Def Leppard posters. Some pot in a shoebox in the closet. Kid things.”

“Not kid things. Your things. I did have kind of a crush on you back then.”

“Why, Sebastian,” she says, twirling a piece of her hair around her finger. “You’re not thinking about hitting on me here, are you?”

“Oh God, no. That was a long time ago.”

“It was,” she agrees. “And I knew you had a crush on me. It’s not like you did a very good job of hiding it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was completely suave at all times.”

“You were totally obvious and it’s just because I wasn’t a total bitch back then that I didn’t mess with you about it.”

“You had your moments,” I say.

She rolls onto her side and faces me. “I guess I did, didn’t I?” She watches me without speaking again, and when I become uncomfortable with her gaze, I look over her and out the window at the cemetery again. She knows where I am looking, and says, “I learned to ride a bike over there. No traffic, no steep hills.”

“This isn’t the house you grew up in, is it?” I ask.

“Nah,” she says. “That would be a little strange. We lived five blocks down. The house is still there, but I don’t know who lives there now. Probably still a couple of hamsters and a cat buried in the back yard. Anyway, when I moved back here after the divorce, I wanted something in the old neighborhood, and this was about as close as I could get in my price range.”

“It’s a nice place.”

“Nicer if I don’t burn it down,” she says.

“Much nicer.”

She is quiet again, and I move onto my back, hands beneath my head. I think of her in high school, all short skirts and loose shirts, teased hair and teenage make-up. It’s true I had a crush, but it wasn’t more than that. If it had been, I wouldn’t be in her house now, wouldn’t have seen her off and on over the years. An awkwardness would have grown between us, and it would have been me who would have planted it there. The present I am comfortable with, but the past is littered with snags and holes and tree roots aching to latch around an ankle and pull you down into the dirt.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she says quietly. “I’m not messing with you.”

“I know you’re not,” I say.

“It’s not weird, is it?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Good,” she says. “Because look. This could totally be weird if we let it. We’re in my bed, you know?”

“I’m aware of it, yes.”

“I’m just saying that I’m glad you’re here and we’re not thinking something is going to happen that isn’t.”

“I didn’t think anything was going to happen,” I say.

“I didn’t either,” she says. “And this isn’t a John Cusack movie where it ends up happening anyway.”

“Why John Cusack? Is that something that happened to him a lot in his movies?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably your hair. It looks very John Cusack right now.”

I touch the side of my head. “I just had it cut. Thanks, I think.”

“You’re welcome. Although,” she adds, reaching out and touching my John Cusack hair just above my ear, “if something ever is going to happen, it’ll be in this bed anyway. If it happens.”

“Now you’re just messing with me,” I say.

She laughs and takes her hand away from my hair. “Yeah, I am.” She sits up and swings her legs off the edge of the bed. “Thanks for not asking,” she says, not looking at me.

“It’s not important,” I say, then quickly add, “The knowing, I mean. Obviously it’s important.”

“No,” she says. “It’s not really. It’s just a thing that’s happening.”

“Do you want me to say that you haven’t had the tests yet? That it might not be happening?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t need the tests. I already know.”

I want to touch my hand against her back, and after a moment’s hesitation, I do. She is warm through her thin shirt. “I’m still not asking,” I say.

“That’s why I’m glad you’re here,” she replies.

Hannah doesn’t stand up, and so I leave my palm pressing against her. I can feel her breathing in and out, and she makes a small and quiet sound that I pretend I don’t notice, her shoulders giving a slight shift as the air catches briefly in her throat. The years have slipped away like leaves in the wind, and it’s the seventeen year old girl I knew in high school that I’m lending sympathy to now, the one who lives in a small place in my mind where the colors aren’t muted and thin, but instead are vibrant and thick as springtime honey.

Cheese In a Can

Cameras in Window UnsplashBoone

Tina and Rivi are sprawled across my sofa, one at either end, feet tangled together in the middle. Tina has an old Polaroid, some beat up old thing she rescued from a Goodwill, and where she has managed to find film packs for it, I have no idea. Rivi has the cat—Jessie—on her chest, and the purrs are louder than would seem likely from such a small animal.

“The thing about being depressed,” Rivi is saying, “is to just stay in bed until you get over it. It’s absolutely socially acceptable to eat cheese in a can and not bathe for a week if you’re in bed the whole time.”

“I think John and Yoko did that,” Tina says. “And look at all the publicity it got them.”

“I don’t think there was cheese in a can back then,” I say.

“They’ve always had cheese in a can,” Rivi says. “Napoleon had it at Waterloo.”

“And look at all the publicity it got him,” Tina adds. She lifts her camera and snaps the shutter. With a whirr, the photo slides out the front of the Polaroid, and Tina takes hold of it and sets it on her chest while it develops.

“You have to have the right playlist too,” Rivi says. “Most people think classic depressing music is the way to go. The Cure, Morrissey, that sort of thing.”

“Cliche,” Tina says.

Rivi nods. “Exactly. You want to be really depressed, listen to the last couple of Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.”

“Those guys are still around?” I ask.

“That’s my point,” Rivi continues. “Depressing, isn’t it?”

The cat rises on Rivi’s chest, gives a stretch and then leaps to the floor, padding off into the kitchen where her food dish is. “You’re not feeding Jessie enough,” Tina says to me. “She should be fat and lazy by now.” To Rivi, she says, “Lift your shirt up so I can see your belly,” and when Rivi does it, she adds, “Put your hand behind your neck.” When she is satisfied with the pose, Tina snaps another photo, putting it beside the one already on her chest.

“I used to play piano when I was a girl,” Rivi says. “But the only song I knew was ‘Open Arms,’ that Journey song.”

“Okay, that’s depressing,” Tina says.

“And I only knew the first eight bars.”

“Extra depressing. Turn your head.” She takes another photo, and puts that one on the floor.

“Know what else is depressing? Carousels.”

Rivi nods. “Oh yes, very depressing. The perfect metaphor too, just a bunch of frozen animals going around and around in a circle and never getting anywhere.”

“You two are loonies,” I say.

“You’re the loony,” Rivi says. “You live alone with a cat.”

“I don’t think that really counts.”

“Totally counts,” Tina says to me. To Rivi, she says, “Roll over and pull your pants down just a bit.”

I grab my keys out of the dish on the TV stand. “I can’t tell if this is supposed to be kinky or creepy, so I’m going to go get a burrito. Text me when you’re either finished or naked, and I’ll decide if I should come back then or not.”

“See?” Rivi says. “Obviously a loony, or you’d be staying.”

“Let him go,” Tina says. “It’s a sign of depression. He’ll be fine after his burrito.”

“I’m not bringing anything back for you. How’s that for depressing?”

“I’m going to take my pants off,” Rivi says, “so really I don’t care.”

Tina takes another picture. “Bring me back some more film, would you? I’m running low.”

“I don’t even know where you get that stuff anymore.”

“Not my problem,” she says.

“And don’t be such a downer,” Rivi says. “It’s depressing.”

“Right,” I say, opening the front door. “I may or may not be back later. Stay away from the windows. I don’t need my neighbors to talk.”

“Your neighbors talk already,” Tina says. “It’s because you live alone with a cat. They’re counting the days until they have to report a weird smell to the police and they break down your door.”

“Cats will eat you six hours after you die,” Rivi adds. “I read it on the internet. They go for the eyes first.”

“Another reason you should feed Jessie more,” Tina says. “It’ll take longer before she eats your corpse.”

“Goodbye,” I say. “Don’t burn anything down while I’m gone.”

“We aren’t the depressed ones!” Tina shouts as I shut the door.

I have a sudden urge for cheese in a can.

I hate those two so very much sometimes.

Depressing, really.