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.

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.