The Patterns of the Clouds

Shed and Bike UnsplashOlivia Script

The sky is clear today, but there is a fog in my head that is unpleasant and leaves me feeling out of balance. The drive from my apartment to San Mateo was difficult, but because of myself and not the traffic on the roads. The coin and the key are in my jeans, one in either front pocket. My left leg is too cold, my right is too hot. I have stopped trying to figure out why their temperatures are wrong. Acceptance is more simple than looking for explanations.

I am walking up and down Quince Street, back and forth. It’s not a long walk, as the street is only one block long, ending at another residential lane at one end, and a middle school at the other. I have seen only one other person outside the houses here, a woman in a black skirt who smiled at me as I walked past, before she got into the car in her driveway and drove away.

I have been repeatedly walking the street because I have a problem, one which was obvious the moment I finished my first pass along the homes here: 601 Quince Street was the address that appeared along the coin’s edge, but the houses on the street all have numbers which begin and end in the thousands. The number I am looking for does not exist here.

There is a prickling in my chest, like a cactus growing between my lungs, and my eyes are stinging from tears which threaten to come free. I don’t want to cry here, not at the opposite end of the street from my car. There is no one here to see me making a scene, but it’s guaranteed that if I break down now, that’s when the locals will come out of their houses and see me falling apart.

Find Penelope.

I can’t even find the right house.

I don’t know what I’m doing here.

I decide to make this walk down the street my last. I will go to my car, get in, and as I drive up the freeway to go home, I will toss both the key and the coin out my window, and try to forget any of this has ever happened. I will return to my empty apartment, not think about Christopher or Albert or the blurred phantom of the Penelope my mind keeps trying to give a shape to. I will try to become normal again.

I watch the house numbers as I walk by. 1597… 1599… 1601…

I stop and stare at the front of this last house. Of course, I think. Of course that’s it.

The house is white, but I can tell that it had once been painted a rich dark green. It’s obvious now that I’m really looking, because the number 1 on the address by the door is the color the house used to be. The rest of numbers are black metal, screwed into the wood, and the new color was painted over the old without removing the address from the wall. At some point after, the 1 was taken down or fell, and instead of being replaced, the owners just left the green paint to show the number which was meant to be there.

I know I’m only seeing holy faces in tortillas now, and finding justification for my madness in the patterns of the clouds. I should just get in my car and go home. Put an end to this now. That would be the smart thing to do.

But.

No one answers when I knock on the door.

No one looks back at me when I peer through the front window.

No one stops me when I try my key on the door.

No one confronts me when I open the gate in the fence and walk into the back yard.

No one sees me when I slip the key into the lock on the door of the wooden shed.

No one knows when I step inside, and the door closes behind me, and I have walked too far to be able to find my way back to what used to be.

Constellations of Desire

Stars UnsplashSebastian Script

Hannah plays Iggy Pop through the speakers of her iPhone as we walk down the wooded path, which leads to an overlook by the Golden Gate Bridge. The wheels of traffic buzz like honeybees on the pavement from just out of sight. I glance over at her as we walk, and a gust of wind blows her hair back, revealing the galaxy of freckles there on her cheeks and nose. She mouths the lyrics to “The Passenger,” but I can’t tell if she’s singing quietly to herself or not over the cars and wind.

A woman stands smoking at the overlook, cigarette raised to one side of her head, her elbow resting on the hand she has crossed across her waist which grips her hip. She looks like a movie star from the ‘40s, both curved and linear at the same time, deliberately casual in her pose. Hannah pauses long enough to take a photo with her phone of the woman. The woman never turns to look at us.

“We should walk down to Fort Point,” Hannah says. “I haven’t been there in forever.”

“Okay,” I say. It’s chilly today, and it’s always windy here on the cliff, but the day is clear and there’s time for walking with old friends.

Hannah and I went to high school together, so far in the past that the edges have been worn off our memories. She married almost straight out of school, and divorced before finishing college. We weren’t very close back then, and I’m not sure if we could say that we are close now, but there is a mutual comfort that we have which makes our rare afternoons together easy and unforced. For a time every few months, we can remember the crisp air of our youth, and ignore the heavy and smoky atmosphere of thickening middle age.

“I hear there’s snow in the mountains now,” she says. “You should come skiing with me this weekend.”

“I’m not a skier. I don’t do water, I don’t do snow. Strapping two pieces of wood on my feet and going downhill at forty miles an hour through the trees never seemed particularly safe to me.”

“Nothing is safe,” she says, “if you’re doing it right.”

In high school, I was in love with her freckles. I would sit in our French class and wonder about them, if they were just on her face and neck, or if they fell down across her back, across her chest and belly. My hidden need for her was written in those constellations of desire, a secret map I traced from earlobe to lip, from chin to the hollow of her throat, knowing the pattern of her stars as well as I did the ones in the skies above at night.

Some memories have no edges from the very beginning, only soft curves that turn inward and repeat themselves in patterns over the decades that follow.

“Then you pick a place,” Hannah says. “We can just take a day trip. We’ll be home before it’s dark.”

“I’ve got plans this weekend,” I say. I am supposed to go with Rivi to some art show. I can’t even remember what it is. Some artist she knows, a painter.

“Oh, okay,” Hannah says. She unlocks her iPhone and stops the music, then puts the phone in her back pocket. “Another time then.”

“We should have hung out more in school.” I’m not not sure why I’m saying it. Our circles barely overlapped back then, just enough to maintain a tenuous social contact, but not enough that we would have extended our relationship to include activities off school grounds.

“We should have,” she says, and we both know it wouldn’t have happened. The adults we have become bear so little resemblance to the children that we were. There was no possibility then of our orbits pulling us together, but it’s nice to have our own fictions to fold ourselves inside of from time to time.

“Pick a place,” I say. “Pick somewhere and we’ll go there next Saturday.”

“I can’t,” she says. “I’ll be out of town that weekend.”

“It’s always something, isn’t it?”

She nods. “It always is. We aren’t kids anymore.”

I remember one afternoon in school, a lunch period in the spring. Hannah was in a red striped dress, laying on the low concrete wall which ran around the open area outside the cafeteria. Her legs were curled beneath her and her eyes were closed, the sun caressing her freckled skin, and my feelings were locked in a chest made of adolescent emotions, and kept buried leagues beneath the sea.

“We should have gone out,” I say. “I like to think we would have.”

“I might be sick,” she says quickly, without looking at me. “I’ve got an appointment next week to find out. Some tests.”

I’m not sure how to react, the Technicolor memories of the past suddenly being obscured by the stark blacks and whites of the moment I’m brought back to. “What kind of tests?” I ask.

“The kind that tell you things you probably don’t really want to know,” she says.

Once, during a presentation on college application processes in the dimmed high school auditorium, Hannah, who was sitting next to me, leaned over in her seat and put her head on my shoulder. There was no reason for it that I could think of, and when in a few minutes she lifted it again, we went on as though it had never happened. A memory, moments in a lifetime, pressed like leaves between the pages of a book with yellowed pages.

“Let’s go see the snow,” I say. “I’ll change my plans.”

“That’s silly,” she says. “We can go another time.”

The constellations on her skin are bright in the afternoon sun, a map made of stars, shining paths in both directions: to the truths and falsehoods of the past, fluid and changing in the moment, and to a future whose stones have not yet been marked into a permanence which can only be undone by living through it. She is an infinite collection of longitudes and latitudes, contained both within and beyond her freckled skin.

“The right time already happened,” I say. “Now we just have to make do.”

Infinite Greenhouse

Woman On Beach UnsplashBoone

Ana is laying on my sofa, looking out the window at the gray afternoon outside. The San Francisco fog envelops the city like a cold and damp blanket, and grows thicker as it rises from the ground and into the air, as though gathering in aspiration of becoming clouds.

“We’re building a greenhouse,” she says. “In the back yard.”

Ana shares a house near the airport with a woman from Turkey. She and Elif met two years ago while Ana was traveling through Europe, and somewhere in that trip an invitation was extended and accepted. Elif landed at the airport a few months after that, and she hasn’t gone back to Turkey since.

“Elif wants to grow plants and sell them to the flower shops in town.”

“Is that even a thing?” I ask. “Don’t they just… I don’t know… get them from Amazon or something?”

“Her parents have a shop back home. I have no idea how it works, but she’s got a plan.” She rolls onto her side and rests her head against her arm. “It doesn’t really matter. She’s just trying to find something to keep busy with.”

“That’s what we’re all doing. Keeping busy until we die.”

“You’re always so cheery,” Ana says. “It’s truly endearing.”

It’s taken us a while to become comfortable with one another again, Ana and I. We didn’t speak to one another for years after our split. It was a heavy time, thick with bitterness and mutual distrust. I think the only reason we recovered at all is that we had never married, and so the baggage we carried away from each other was lighter for it. I do miss her sometimes, in a way that the encounters we have now under the heading of “friendship” can never really fulfill. It’s for the best how it is here though. We do not work well as intimate partners. This way is a much easier path to take.

“She wants to grow irises,” Ana continues. “Those are pretty, right?”

“I suppose. I’m not really very much of a flower guy.”

Once Ana and I went to the shore on a stormy late summer day. We walked along the waterline away from other people on the beach, and at the foot of a Pacific cliff, she stripped out of her clothing and walked away from me out into the surf. Her long hair was bound in a braid that fell down to the small of her back, and she kept going deeper into the sea until the braid was floating behind her on the surface of the water. She stayed there a long time, the waves lifting and dropping her, and sometimes I would lose sight of her as the ocean rose and fell around her. At times it was as though she didn’t even exist, that the pile of clothing in the sand was a mystery that would never be solved, that the space that a woman once filled was now hollow, and the shadowed absence rolled in my mind like a stone.

Eventually, she came back to the shore. A month later, we stopped seeing one another.

“If you’d have bought me more flowers,” she says, sitting up on the couch, “we’d probably still be together.”

“There aren’t enough flowers in the world for that,” I say. I’m thinking of her braid, heavy and wet, and hanging between her shoulder blades as she put her clothes back on at the beach. “I miss your hair,” I say. “It was lovely back then.”

“It’s lovely now,” she says, and it is, but it’s not the same.

She kissed me on the beach that day, before we went back to the car, before we completely fell apart. She tasted of salt, and her lips were cold, the Pacific having stolen her heat. I thought about the first time we’d been together, alone in her apartment, and the feel of her skin beneath my hands, and of her weight on my body. I think about it now, while we are in my living room, and not for the first time, I want to touch her again. I am drawn to her as always, and as always I tell myself what a poor ending that would bring.

“You should come have dinner with us,” she says. “Bring Tina. Elif wants to pick her brain about something.”

“About what?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Does she know anything about flowers?”

“I have no idea,” I say. “Probably. Tina knows something about everything.”

Ana checks her watch and stands. “I have to go. I’m late.” She doesn’t say what for, and I don’t ask. She puts her hand on my shoulder and kisses me on the cheek. “Call me about dinner.”

“Sure.”

I follow her to the door, opening it for her. She pauses on the landing and turns to look at me. “There might have been enough flowers,” she says. “For us, I mean.”

“They didn’t make greenhouses that big,” I say.

A ghost of a smile crosses her face, barely rising to the surface. “I guess not,” she says. She looks for a moment like she’s going to say something else, but then she just smiles again, and walks down the steps toward the street.

I stand in the doorway after she is lost to sight. Eventually, I shut the door and go back inside.

A Possible Path

Water Drowning UnsplashOlivia Script

I have decided to go out today.

The sun is creeping through the gap between the curtains in my bedroom, carving a bright line across the comforter on the bed. I have been watching it move slowly from the foot of the bed up to the center, and I have told myself that when the light reaches my face, I’ll get up, shower and force myself to go outside.

Christopher called my phone yesterday, but I didn’t answer. I haven’t listened to the voicemail. I delete his texts to me, unread.

I want to go to the beach today. I am not sure if I am hoping Arthur will be there or not. I don’t know if wanting to see him is a good thing or not. No, it’s not that I want to see him. It’s that I think I need to see him.

The key and the coin are still on my bedside table.

I have to get my shit together.

My phone buzzes again, and I lift it, fearing it will be another message from Christopher. Instead, it’s a photo from Tina: a layer of fog mostly obscuring a collapsed and abandoned seaside shack, an old washing machine in the yard, Boone in the corner of the frame. Spontaneously, I use the camera on my phone to take a snap of the beam of sunlight climbing up my bed, and I send it to Tina, my first interaction with another person in days. Baby steps.

I don’t want to get out of bed.

The sunlight is on my chest.

I reach over and pick up the Japanese coin. It is, as it always is, cold to the touch. I imagine I can see a fine layer of frost coating it, and then I realize with shock that it’s not an illusion. The coin is frozen, and tiny flecks of white are barely visible pressed up against the edges of the kanji characters embossed on the metal. It is almost painful to hold it in my hand, but I don’t put it down, because I can see that the frost is also on the edges of the coin, filling in and defining what had appeared to be scuffs there. Now however, I can see that these are not defects in the metal, not a result of normal wear, but are in fact tiny, ill-defined letters scratched along the outside edge. I pinch the coin between my finger and thumb and hold it up close to my eye, trying to read the minuscule frosted writing there.

It’s an address: 601 Quince Street. As I am looking at it, the heat from my fingers is already warming the metal, and the frost fades and the letters vanish. Quickly, before I can forget the street number, I grab my phone and enter the address into Google maps, getting a hit in San Mateo, thirty minutes south from my apartment.

This is something.

The sunlight hasn’t reach my face yet, but I am out of bed and going for the shower.

This is something.

Measures of Triscuits and Waffles

Waffles UnsplashSebastian Script

“I hate that it doesn’t snow here,” Rivi says from the kitchen.

“It’s a drought,” I say, laying on the chaise in the living room. “It doesn’t snow anywhere anymore.”

It is ungodly early, somewhere around seven in the morning, and I haven’t slept all night. Rivi had appeared on my doorstep about nine the evening before, full of too much energy, and with no one to expend it on besides me. The day is going to be a long one.

“It’s December. There should be at least a foot on the ground,” she says.

“You have to go east for that. Nothing but dust and tumbleweeds on this side of the country.”

I hear Rivi opening cupboards. “You’re out of bagels,” she tells me. “This is a catastrophe.”

“You could go get some. I’ll just take a nap here until you get back.”

She comes back from the kitchen. “Very funny. You’re the one with no bagels. Obviously you’re the one who should go and get more.”

“I’m only out because you ate them all last time you were here.”

“You’re only out,” she says, “because you didn’t replace the ones I ate. Supply and demand, dude.”

“Did you just call me dude?” I ask. “Don’t call me dude.”

She pushes my knees up so she can sit on the end of the chaise. “Whatever, dude. I need breakfast. This is inhumane treatment.”

“Okay, look. Let me take a nap for an hour, and then I’ll take you for waffles. You know you like waffles.”

“I do like waffles. I like them better if we have them now instead of in an hour.”

“If you wanted waffles now, you should have brought some frozen ones last night.”

“I didn’t know last night that I’d want waffles this morning. Last night I thought I’d want bagels. Which you are out of.”

I roll onto my side and cover my face with my arm. “Thirty minutes. Just give me thirty minutes.”

“I’ll give you ten, but then you have to go out and bring me back some waffles.”

“You give me twenty, and you go get the waffles and bring them back here while I sleep.”

“I’ll give you fifteen,” Rivi says, “and while you’re gone to get waffles, I’ll make your bed for you.”

“I didn’t sleep last night. My bed’s already made.”

“See? You’re already coming out ahead!”

“Go away,” I say. “Go in the bedroom and read or something. There’s a box of Triscuits on the bottom of the nightstand. Eat those, you harpy, and let me get some sleep.”

“Triscuits? What kind?”

“Sweet onion. Go away.”

She considers this a moment. “We’re still going for waffles after.”

“When I wake up.”

“Half an hour,” she says.

“An hour. An hour or I’m pouring the Triscuits out the window.”

She pushes herself off the chaise and stands. “You’re a terrible negotiator. You could have gotten two hours out of me if you really tried.”

“You’re the devil, Rivi. You should be killed with fire.”

“I’m the devil with the sweet onion Triscuits. You get your nap in. I fully expect blueberry waffles when I come and wake you up.” She holds her arm up and taps her wrist where a watch would be, if she were wearing one. “The clock is ticking.”

By measures of Triscuits and waffles, that is how I will map out the length of this endless day.