Antediluvian Banker’s Boxes

“I used to write poetry,” Viola tells me. “A million years ago, before I got old and fossilized.”

“You aren’t old,” I say. “You’re just a baby.”

“I’m the same age as you, Bastian. We are antediluvian.”

We are in the back yard of her house, seated in wrought iron chairs around the matching iron table. We are not masked in this time of plague, which is fine. The both of us are vaccinated, and we do not go anywhere, do anything. This is the world now. We make do as best we can.

“I have a banker’s box in the attic,” she says. “Lots of pages of scribbles and nonsense. Notebooks. Journals. All that stupid love crap.” She gently spins the coffee mug on the table in front of her. “What a waste of time it all was.”

“Writing’s never a waste of time,” I say. “It always adds up to something.”

“Sure,” she says. “It adds up to a banker’s box in the attic. That’s about it, though.”

I don’t know how to respond to this. I have a banker’s box of my own, as well as the digital equivalent of one spread across hard drives and old floppy disks and ancient abandoned laptops stacked at the bottom of the bedroom closet. “I never could get the hang of writing poetry,” I say. “It always looks off to my eyes when I read it. I need paragraphs, you know? Sentences and punctuation.”

“I need air in my lines. Space to breathe. Pauses and naps.”

“I would like a nap,” I say. “From now until this plague is over.”

“It’s never going to be over. It’s just going to keep spiraling forever.”

I don’t know what to say to this, so I don’t say anything. I take a sip from my own mug, the coffee gone cold. An October breeze picks up, and the orange and yellow leaves in the yard crackle and drift across the grass.

“I think I need a road trip,” she says. “I haven’t been anywhere in almost two years. I’m going stir crazy, Bastian.”

“I can’t go anywhere yet. I’d be too nervy, you know?”

“I could do it. There’s enough room in the back of the Volvo to sleep in, so I wouldn’t need a hotel. It’s like camping, except in a car.”

“Sounds like a good way to get murdered.”

“I’ll bring my machete. A good offense in the best defense.”

“As long as I don’t see a Netflix documentary about you, is what I’m saying.”

“Nah,” she says. “HBO or nothing. Their docs are way better.” She leans forward and puts her elbows on the table. “I think I’m going to do it. Load up a cardboard box with Wonder Bread and peanut butter, get a full tank, and head out. I’ve got so much vacation time I haven’t used. It’s just accruing. Throw in sick days, I can probably be out for a couple of months, no problem.”

“All your plants will die if you go for two months.”

“They won’t,” she says. “Because you’re going to come water them while I’m gone.”

“Be sure to send me postcards. None of that Instagram shit. I want real snail mail.”

“The snailiest,” she says.

“And presents. Stupid road trip crap. Like shot glasses refrigerator magnets.”

“The magnetiest.”

I raise my mug and finish my coffee. “If we were still in college, you’d actually take the trip.”

“If we were still in college,” she says, “you’d come with me.”

“Nah. You’re the poet. You’re the one who likes space in her lines and room to breathe. I like paragraphs and punctuation. Besides, if I go on a road trip, I’m not going without my wife, and there’s no way she’s going to sleep in the back of a car for two months. We’d all end up in that documentary by that point, buried in shallow graves in the desert.”

The wind rises again, and Viola stuffs her hands into her coat pockets. “I don’t think I can actually take two months off,” she says. “Gas costs too much. And the Volvo is twenty years old. She wouldn’t survive a road trip.”

“Real life,” I say. “It’s a bitch.”

“Fucking hell.”

“Fucking hell, indeed.”

Two crows ride the wind above the yard, cawing at one another. They drift easily in the air, then I lose sight of them as they pass over the roof of Viola’s house.

“Fuck it,” she says. “I’m just going to write another goddamn poem.”

“Another banker’s box, Vi.”

“Always another banker’s box, Bastian. Always.”

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