The Subtle Persistence of Gravity

Kiss UnsplashBoone

Tina sits on the floor of the hotel room, hair damp from the shower, dressed but in bare feet still. Our only plan is to take our cameras and go walking, and that is plan enough for now.

“We should have got more pineapple,” she says. She has been eating slices of dried fruit from a plastic bag that we bought at a gas station halfway through our drive. “All this is doing is making me want to eat more of it.”

“This is a town, you know,” I say. “I’m sure if we walk far enough, we’ll find a market or something.”

“As long as we don’t drive,” she says. It’s one of our rules for the holiday, that we won’t so much as start the car until we are leaving town. Tina wants to walk every inch of the area, and to shoot as many photos as she can while we are here. She’s borderline obsessed with the idea.

“Of course not,” I say. I sit on the bed and start putting on my shoes. “No driving today.”

I try not to think about how she has not kissed me yet, like she warned me she might. She made no promises, but when we are alone together in the room, and when we are in the same bed at night, when she is asleep next to me and I am laying still and staring at the ceiling in the dim glow of the lights of the parking lot which creep beneath the bottom edge of the curtains on the window… that’s when it’s hard not to wonder what all of this is, this thing that we are in.

Tina stands and takes the pillows she has brought with her from home off the bed, so that the housekeeper won’t take them to be laundered. She puts them on top of the suitcases at the top of the small open closet, tossing them high where she can’t reach, and then doing it again when they both fall to the floor the first time. “I want to get wet today,” she says. “I haven’t gone in the water yet.”

“It’s going to be cold,” I say.  “You might want to reconsider.”

“I don’t care. I want to get in the water. I need to.”

Tina is never one to be talked out of anything she decides she will do, so I give up arguing. I will let her lead the day, and I will do what I know is what she wants, which is to take photos of her in the sea. I have a picture of her in my apartment from a trip we took to Carmel one summer, when her hair was short and she hadn’t yet decided if she was going to smile while in my presence or not. She is in a white dress, so thin that it is almost transparent, and standing in the surf which is around her ankles, frozen at the moment of the shutter’s press. I don’t think I was in love with her then, and I’m not even sure if I’m in love with her now, but I know that when she taps her finger against her lips, she is thinking about cigarettes, and that when she sleeps, she sometimes whispers words to herself like she is casting a spell, and that is enough for me.

Her hair is long now, and she ties it up while I wait. She has talked about dyeing it, perhaps some cotton candy color, but I know she never will. That’s more Rivi’s sort of thing than Tina’s.

“At least bring a change of clothes,” I say. “Can’t have you freezing to death on me.”

“Okay,” she says. “I’m too young to die anyway.”

The first time Tina was undressed in front of me was that trip to Carmel. We had shared a room then, but not yet a bed. I was in mine, reading a Dan Simmons novel, when she walked out of the bathroom, wet from her shower, and no towel covering her. She dripped and gathered her clothing from her suitcase while I tried desperately not to look at her, while also trying to appear nonchalant about it. She never made an issue out of it, and so, after my heart stopped racing, I didn’t either.

There are reasons for why we have never come closer together than we are right now. My reasons I know, but Tina’s are a mystery. She doesn’t tell me about any men she has been with, but she does tell me that she isn’t with one now. She never explains any further than that, and I can tell that she doesn’t want me to ask her about it. Some things we leave at the bottom of the dark and frozen sea.

“If you’re going to get into the water,” I say, “then I want to take photos of you before you do. That’s the trade. I want pictures of you dry first.”

“That’s fair. It’s your holiday, too.”

All my holidays are worthwhile when Tina and I run away together. There is a feeling of being untouchable that only comes when we are gone from our respective lives. The lack of responsibility is a welcome change. Also, the lack of accountability that goes with it.

Tina slips into her shoes and stands. She lifts her camera bag from the room’s only table and puts it over her shoulder. “Ready?” she asks me.

“Yeah,” I say. I put on my jacket and get my own camera bag. I put the hotel key into my pocket and take a last look around the room to make sure there’s nothing I’m forgetting to bring with us. We will be walking most of the day, and I don’t want to have to come back for anything. “Alright,” I say. “I’m good.”

We go to the door, and I open it, holding it for Tina to walk through first. At the threshold though, she stops, turning to me and saying, “Wait.” She then stands on her toes, putting her hand against my chest, and puts her lips against mine. The kiss is brief, and it is over before I am fully aware of what is happening. “I told you I was going to do that,” she says. “If you aren’t careful, I might do it again.”

I don’t know what to say, so all I do is smile and mumble, “Okay.” She walks for the stairs without waiting for me, and I think about Carmel, and the subtle persistence of gravity which pulls us along paths unseen, and steers our futures into currents which had only before existed in our dreams.

Unbearable Big Sur

Bed UnsplashOlivia Script

There has been no point in getting out of bed today, so I haven’t bothered with it. Christopher left four days ago, with very little urging from me, and now I am wrapped in a blanket, listening to the empty sound of the apartment, trying not to think about what to do next. The key and Japanese coin rest on the nightstand. They are also things I am trying not to think about, but I am doing a poor job of it.

I called in sick to work this morning, and with the holiday weekend, that means I’ve had five days now of not leaving the apartment. I don’t know when I’m going to leave it again. Maybe never.

Arthur isn’t standing on the sidewalk outside when I bother to look out the window. I always expect him to be, and I don’t know if I am frightened of the possibility or excited. Very little makes sense right now.

I reach over and take the key in my hand. It looks like something from a Victorian novel, scuffed iron and toothy. I have no idea what it unlocks. It feels warm to my touch, which is slightly unsettling, but I don’t put it back down. To be afraid of it means that it will own me, and I refuse to be put into that position. I take the coin up as well, and it feels as cold as the key is warm.

There is no logic to be found here.

Penelope can help you, the letter said. I still don’t know anyone with that name.

Penelope. Rum and molasses.

I know I am in a bad place.

I am not getting out of bed.

My phone buzzes, and I look to see what it is: a photo, of dew on blades of grass. Another something from Tina, sent from wherever she and Boone have gone off to. She sends one photo a day to me, only one. I haven’t responded to any of them, but they still come, and I put them one by one into an album for safekeeping.

Tina knows something is up with me. She always knows somehow.

Feeling like she is watching is motivation enough for me to get out of bed. I pull the blanket aside and put my bare feet on the cold floor. I haven’t worn clothes since Saturday, but the ones I had then are still laying at the foot of the bed where I dropped them. I pull on the shirt and yoga pants and leave the bedroom, going to the living room. The curtains there are still closed. I pull them aside slightly and peer out. Again, Arthur is nowhere to be seen.

Christopher had a terrible cut on his forearm when we had our fight. It was red and scabbed over and angry. He said he’d slipped on a fallen branch while cutting through a section of the park, and fallen on some stones and cut himself. I wished in that moment that he’d cut himself deeper, that he had bled out on the carpet of eucalyptus leaves on the park’s floor. My hatred was a combination of my anger for him and my fear of Arthur, of the letter from myself which changed its words every moment I looked at it, and for the way the world seemed thinner somehow now.

As he walked away below the window outside the living room, I impulsively grabbed his copy of Kerouac’s Big Sur from the bookshelf and flung it down at him. I missed completely, and the book bounced off the sidewalk and into the gutter. Christopher picked it up without breaking stride and walked away, not once looking back at me.

Her name is Kalie. I want to see her. I want to know what she looks like, the one his hands have been on. Ruinous Kalie.

I look outside the window again.

Arthur is not there.

My mind is not well. I know it, but I don’t know what to do about it.

Penelope can help me. Of course she can.

I just have to figure out who she is.

Cybersex Monday

Cell Phone BiggerSebastian Script

“The best role Jude Law ever played was in A.I.,” Rivi says.

“He played a walking sex doll,” I point out.

“Exactly,” she says.

“You need a boyfriend, Rivi.”

“I need a Jude Law,” she says. She logs into her phone and calls up her browser. “Let’s see what Amazon’s got on sale…”

“Keep the wheels of capitalism turning,” I say.

“Just doing my part, darling.”

The Familiar Geographies of Wishful Thoughts

Map UnsplashBoone

Tina’s apartment is old and ill-kept. The wind blows in through cracks beneath doors and windows, and bits of plaster occasionally fall from the ceiling. She has hung an old grey parachute from her bedroom walls to catch the falling pieces, and once a week she gathers the bits and tosses them from her window into the concrete patio that is her back yard. I have told her before that she needs to find a new place to live, but the rent is low, and she says she appreciates the feeling of decay that drifts through the air of the apartment.

It’s early, just past seven, and it feels colder inside her living room than it did out in the city air. Tina isn’t dressed for the chill, wearing short sleeves and short skirt, but then again the cold never does seem to bother her like it does other people. She claims to have sherpa blood in her veins.

“I’m not packed yet,” she says. “I didn’t get in until late.”

“We have time,” I say. “It’s only about a four hour drive.”

We are spending the holiday away from the city, as we have the past two years now. I have reserved us a room for a few days in Fort Bragg, close enough to drive to, but far enough away from home that no one will expect us for any social events. Our plan is to wander the coastline during the days, and to eat bad food and drink alcohol during the nights. Tina is bringing her camera, and I am bringing mine.

We are not holiday people.

“I got you a bubble tub,” I say.

“Jacuzzi,” she says. “It’s called a jacuzzi.”

“Jacuzzis are on a deck. If it’s in the bathroom, it’s a bubble tub.”

“You were raised by wolves.”

The kettle starts whistling in the kitchen, and we go to have our tea. It is a ritual for us on these vacations from everything, to remember how we first met, in a crowded cafe, where she sat at my small table without asking, and promptly spilled her tea across my book and coat sleeve. Of course we had dinner that night, because that is what one does after such a thing, and every night after that for a week. The holiday escapes began that first Christmas, and are now our tradition. There is a joy to be found in these trips together that could never be found in the black holes of our respective families.

Tina pours the water into our cups, and she puts our tea infusers—never tea bags—into them to steep. We sit at the kitchen table, because there can be nothing else to do when we are in the middle of our ritual.

She is lovely in the light coming through the window, but I don’t say it out loud. Our relationship has strange borders, and neither of us likes to press upon them to see where they twist and bend.

“I know you’re going to tell me to bring a coat,” she says. “So I will, but only in case it rains.”

“It’s only fair. I’m bringing one, after all.”

“If it’s not raining, I’m not wearing it.”

“Don’t listen to anything I have to say. I was raised by wolves, remember?”

We say nothing for a while, waiting for the tea to finish. Outside the window, a bird lands on the sill. It’s a tiny thing, made of red and blue and black. It peers in at us for a moment, then flits away out of sight.

Tina takes the infusers out of the cups, and of course the tea is perfect. It always is when she makes it. She blows lightly across the surface of her tea, then takes a sip, looking out into the space the bird had been in. Without turning to me, she says, “I might kiss you on this trip. I just wanted to tell you, so it wouldn’t be weird later.”

I don’t know how to reply to this, so I just say, “Okay,” and raise my cup to my lips. I have held her close in my arms as a friend, and the other night we slept together in my bed, only sleeping, nothing more. I have wondered what it would be like to kiss her, and my mind now plays over the familiar geography of that wishful thought.

“I’m bringing lights,” she says, pulling me back into the moment. “Christmas lights. For the hotel room. I want you to take some photos of me while we’re there.”

“Obviously I’m taking photos of you. I’m bringing my camera, aren’t I?”

“Just making sure.”

“I’m going to take some of you, too,” she says. “Don’t argue.”

I hate having my photo taken, but I won’t complain. She knows what she’s doing.

“I think we shouldn’t come back this time,” she says. “We should just get back in the car on Monday and start driving.”

“Where would we go?”

“Someplace with mountains. Real mountains. With snow on them.”

“Can’t be California,” I say. “There’s a drought, you know.”

“We’ll find a place. Close our eyes and point at a map.”

“I’ll have to get the cat first. I only got her a babysitter through the weekend. Don’t want her starving to death.”

“Yes, bring the cat. She can be our good luck charm.” She drains her teacup and stands to rinse it out in the sink. “I need to pack. Did you make a playlist for the drive?”

“Of course I did. We can’t rely on the radio. We aren’t barbarians.”

“We will be once we start drinking,” she says. “That’s my goal, anyway. A holiday to remember.” She puts her teacup on the counter beside the sink and then walks out of the kitchen.

I stay at the table, drink finished, but not wanting to stand just yet. I think again on the possibility of kissing Tina, of the redrawing of our borders that would come from it. Would we gain territory from the act, or would there be miles lost to it instead?

I carefully refold the map of us in my mind, and go to help Tina load her things into the car.

Rum + Molasses

Tube UnsplashOlivia Script

There are four things inside the envelope: a small iron key, old-fashioned with pronounced teeth and a loop at the end, like it could be worn on a necklace; a Japanese coin, round with a square hole cut into its center, and kanji inscribed at compass points around the hole; a black plastic ballpoint pen, cheap and with a cap on its end; and a sheet of thick white paper, folded into thirds. The key, coin and pen I put onto the passenger’s seat, along with the envelope. The paper I unfold, and I begin to read the letter, written in my own handwriting, addressed to myself, and which I have no idea of ever having written.

Olivia:

There’s no time to write this. Things are getting wobbly, and it’s almost time for a shift. If I can finish it in time, I’ll give it to Arthur, and hopefully he can get it to you.
Use the pen in the envelope. Write down what I’m going to tell you, because this letter is going to change when you look at it again. It can’t be stopped. It’s a spillover.

I glance at the pen on the seat next to me, but don’t pick it up. There is something unsettling about it, and I don’t want to touch it. I turn back to the letter and reread from the beginning.

Olivia:

I can’t write this now, but I have to anyway. It’s almost shift time. You have to use the pen in the envelope and write down what I’m telling you. This letter is going to change as soon as you look away. Nothing stays solid. Everything is moving.
Write it down. Everything changes when you come back to it again.

This makes no sense. It’s a trick, of course, something Arthur is playing on me. I turn the paper over and look at the back, as if to find the words I originally read on the reverse side, but it is of course blank. I flip the letter around again and look at the handwriting once more.

Olivia:

I have to hurry. It’s coming again, and I can’t stop it. Use the pen and write this down.
Things are beginning to slip.

Without looking away from the page, I reach over and fumble in the passenger seat for the envelope, which I set on my thigh, and then the pen, which I uncap with my thumb, letting the cap fall where it may.  I press my hand against the envelope, and sneak a quick glance at it to see where my pen falls on the paper. When I look back up at the letter, I see that it has changed again.

Olivia:

I’m almost not here anymore. We’re almost not here. You and I? Can you see me?
I’m slipping.
You have to go to Penelope. Penelope can help you.

I don’t know anyone named Penelope. I scribble the name on the envelope, not looking at what I’m writing, adding a question mark after it. I’m sure my writing is sloppy and childlike, but I am afraid to look away from the letter again.

Rum and molasses.
Write it down, Oli.
Penelope. Rum and molasses.

Then, at the bottom of the page, scrawled in my handwriting, but jagged like it was written in a moving car on a potholed crumbling road:

Believe Arthur, but don’t trust him.
He doesn’t slip like the rest.
He isn’t

The sentence ends there. I reread the letter again, and even though I haven’t looked away from the sheet, I can see how the words are straining to change again, fading at the loops and whorls of the writing, the ghost of another letter pushing up from within the paper itself, wanting to rise up like an answer inside a magic 8-ball.

I already don’t trust Arthur, and what is it I’m supposed to believe that he tells me? That we were in New Zealand together? It’s nonsense. I’ve never been to New Zealand. All of this is a game he’s playing, this paper some kind of trick. I’m in the tech capital of the world. He must have some kind of digital paper, something not out in the world yet. It’s a stupid idea, but it makes more sense than… than what? I don’t know what any of this means.

I don’t trust him, and I don’t believe him either.

I look at what I’ve written on the envelope: Penelope? Rum + molasses. Believe Arthur don’t trust him. When I look back at the letter in my hand, the paper is completely blank. I fold it back into thirds and slip it into the envelope, then put the coin, key and pen back as well.

My name is still on the envelope’s front, and the handwriting is still my own.

I don’t know any Penelope, and I don’t want to know Arthur either.

I try to pretend my hands aren’t shaking as I turn the key already in the ignition, and I pull out onto the street.

I try to pretend I’m not wanting to find Arthur and ask him who Penelope is.

I’m trying to pretend a lot of things.