Monday, December 27, 2010

A Good Cry

I have a morning routine. It works for me and so I've stuck with it for 38 months. On weekdays, I start with 40 milligrams of Micodine, then I put the coffee on and take a shower. By the time I'm dry the coffee is ready and that helps wash down the Lamictol, which are big pills. Two hundred milligrams and then I'm stabilized.

I drink the second cup of coffee after I'm dressed -- usually a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and pressed trousers. It's cooled down a few degrees and I can gulp it down in no time. Sixteen ounces of coffee to start. I'll have another 16 at the office.

I pop a Klonopin in the car, two if traffic is heavy, and flip through my mp3s -- over 16,000 songs loaded. On days when I'm feeling good and agitated, I'll put on some classic Stones or Zeppelin or maybe even Blondie if it feels right. On days like last Tuesday, when everything seems poised to crash and my eyes are drooping and my teeth are grinding, I'll pick something more mellow. Maybe Leonard Cohen or one of the more drugged-out Neil Youngs. Something to keep me sharp but settle me into the mood.

This was one of those Tuesdays; I could already tell. I put on Nico, stayed in the right lane, and took the freeway at 35.

The office was starting to fill up and I shuffled quickly to my desk. I had to close my eyes and think about whether to put down my bag and turn on the computer first or to leave the bag on and walk to the kitchen for coffee. I compromised, dropped my bag and turned, and my eyes stopped twitching.

The drip coffee is shit, but if I supplement it with a long pour of half and half it becomes bearable. I was at the office early this Tuesday, so I got one of the big mugs and a tall glass of ice water, to which I added some Sweet & Low.

My desk is positioned perpendicular to the window and faces the entrance. Thus, only people standing directly behind me (or out the window) can see my screen. Even if I am dutifully working, I don't want the scavengers watching me.

As I said, I was somewhat early on this Tuesday, but the office was starting to fill up, so I nodded my head to new arrivals while the computer booted up. I don't sit still and I don't like looking unimportant, so I flipped open the notebook that always sits on my desk and started writing sentences. Anyone passing by would think I was on to something or had remembered an idea from the night before.

Once the newcomers settled down, I got on Google and typed in "bourbon cocktails." I was normally a scotch drinker, and wanted to do something different after work. I wouldn't have the opportunity, of course, but I didn't know this at the time. I marked down a few variations of the Old Fashioned and then closed the tab. I pulled up Facebook and scrolled through the list. Most people were at work, like me, so it was busy. Girls were excited about stupid things like lemon cookies and seeing Thom Yorke at the mall. The guys on my list were posting articles that confirmed their point of view. I kept scrolling. It wasn't even 10:00 a.m. yet and I was already bored.

That's when Chloe came over to my desk.

"Hey Blake, at 1:30 there's going to be this guy, um, this guy named Cookie. He's having Share Time across the street, you know in the Chili's parking lot?"

Chloe was a real nice looking girl, but I tried to avoid her at the office, as she had some of my same daily proclivities, and I didn't appreciate attention my way.

"Oh, really," I said. "Come with me. There's a fresh pot of Caffe Verona in the kitchen."

We walked and she talked and I tried to keep her straight, euphemistically, until we were alone. Then, in the kitchen, I did indeed pour myself another cup of that shit Caffe Verona and pulled her to the side where the pretzels are and asked for further details.

"This is a big Share Time," she said. "It's almost too overwhelming. That's why I'm telling you about it. I don't want to go by myself. If it was just the normal thing with a few groups milling about, I wouldn't mind so much. But this is a big fucking event, so I hear, and I think I'd really like you to be there with me, if you're okay with that."

I should explain why this exchange with Chloe was riling me up so damn much. I take great care to procure my goodies from reliable sources without attracting attention. I like sharpening my focus on life without consorting with folks like Cookie and certainly without discussing the peculiar particulars with an attractive but disjointed girl.

Despite the irritables, however, this Share Time had my attention, as one could often find hidden gems at these sort of events, the way you might discover an old, cherished record at a garage sale. I agreed to venture out with Chloe around 12:30 p.m., under the guise that we would be walking to Isaac's around the corner. (Isaac's was a sandwich place around the corner that we all knew but nobody ever went to, as the sandwich quality was spotty at best.)

I took a quick trip to the restroom when I was confident nobody else was in there. I locked myself in a stall and snorted a few quick hits of frost. Goddamn, I thought, I need to cut my fingernails.

At 12:58 p.m. Chloe and I were out on the street and I noticed it was sunnier than earlier. I felt almost out of place in my navy blue button-down, but I shrugged it off and kept my shoulders rotating as we walked. Chloe talked a lot.

"Are you thinking about getting something to eat while we're out? It'll seem natural that way though I suppose nobody will care either way."

"I'm not hungry," I said, and ran my tongue around the circumference of my mouth. From molar to roof to molar, down to that pit below the bottom-front row, and back again. I had a tendency to do that. Chloe probably didn't notice but there's no way to be sure.

Chloe talked about her boyfriend or someone she was sleeping with who wasn't her boyfriend. She referred to him as "the boy" which annoyed me to no end.

We arrived at the Chili's or, rather, the Chili's parking lot. There were plenty of people milling about, some of them with toothpicks in their mouths, having just eaten. I assumed they were all there for Share Time, though to go through the pretense of eating a Buffalo Ranch Burger or whatever the fuck seemed an unnecessary obstacle.

The sun was sitting high above us and a few of the loiterers backed themselves to the Chili's awning to stay in the shade. I wanted to stand out in the sun and cook. Chloe stood with me and I caught sight of the some of the freckles on the back of her neck. Her skin looked creamy and white with these faint little spots, almost invisible to the naked eye, like they were little stars in a faraway galaxy that nobody else could notice. Nobody but me.

Christ, I thought, when is this shit going to get started? I got a little itch behind my eye. My lips were dry. I was really starting to notice things.

A blue sedan from the early part of the decade pulled up and parked in the far corner. The engine stayed on for a soft minute and then quit. We all starting heading over; the people from the awning stood up hesitantly but I just went right over to the car. Nobody was watching. Nobody cared.

A black man got out of the car. He was skinny as hell and wore a baggy tank top that bore the logo of a team I couldn't recognize. He put his hands up in the air opposite each other gestured to all of us in a general way to gather around.

There were two women in the backseat of the car smoking cigarettes and talking to themselves. One white and one black. They didn't seem concerned about the crowd forming around their car.

The man started talking; again, without any real direction, but clearly at all of us around the car.

"Two things, two things," He said. "One, I don't negotiate. It's cool and you'll be happy, but if I tell you what we're getting and you aren't interested you turn and walk away. Don't fucking matter, you feel me? But, if you happy with the quote you peel off some bills and get them by the window. One of my girls help you out there. We happy to share, that's how everyone stays happy. Sharing makes us happy."

I thought about this last part. Sharing was, indeed, occasionally fulfilling, though "happy" was a bit of a stretch, I thought.

-------

Chloe and I didn't go back to the office right away. She asked me first if I wanted to get a drink.

"I don't think so," I said. "I really don't want to go inside this place." I meant the Chili's.

"No, not here," she told me. "I live a few blocks away. This was quick and I don't want to go back yet."

So we walked to her place. I thought about her and her freckles and how they would spread and her body would get paler and wrinkled. I'm glad I know her now, I thought, when she's young and attractive.

In her apartment, she poured me a glass of tequila straight. She had a few limes lining her kitchen counter, and she sliced one and hung it around my glass.

"Just like at a nice bar," I said.

This made her smile and she stuck her tongue out in a real cute way and poured herself a drink and then bounced over to the couch and sat down next to me.

I had barely opened my package and popped a couple before she started kissing my neck. Wild, I thought, just wild. I sat there and felt her lips pecking around me. It was tough to feel it that much at this point but the contact itself was good enough and I closed my eyes. She did good by me and didn't try to escalate things too much right there. She just kept running her lips and tongue around my neck and my cheek and my eyes were closed and I thought.

I went deep back in my mind. I was in fifth grade and I'd written a book report on a Neil Armstrong biography. I was reading it aloud to the class, and talking about how Neil believed that life was about discovery and we all had a duty to go discover, whether it be a physical place like the moon or just a place in a book buried in the back of a library. We all were looking for things and had to discover them. This was our purpose, I told my class.

The teacher told me that I hadn't followed the assignment. That I was supposed to talk about the written style of the book and how the style influenced what was being said. But, this was just a silly book about Neil Armstrong and how he'd become an astronaut and gone into space, and that's all I'd talked about, space and the moon and discovery and things like that.

This was where I went when Chloe was kissing my neck. I must have really gone there, really deep inside, because I snapped out of it when Chloe pulled away and took my face in her hands.

"What's wrong?" She was very concerned.

I shook my head because I really didn't know why she was asking me that. She put a hand over my eyes and I felt wetness come off my face. She showed me her palm and the few small dots of tears.

"It's not okay," I said.

"It has nothing to do with being a real man, you know." This is what she said to me. "You're allowed. I mean, that's why we came here instead of going right back to the office. Refill?"

I looked at the table. My drink was still there. I hadn't had even a sip, so I told her no thanks.

Then a horrible thought crossed my mind. My routine was shot. This is not how I kept myself going in the early afternoon. One gets through the days by having a plan and sticking to it, even if it means a lack of adventure. Deviation meant disruption.

She rested her head on my shoulder and rubbed her hand back and forth on my chest as if it were a tabby cat.

"Stop being so sour," she said.

I closed my eyes again but made sure I was just staring at that amorphous darkness on the back of my eyelids. I sure as hell didn't want to go back to that place I was before. I just wanted to stay here, in this dark, comforting purgatory, away from the lights and signs and nonsense that had become the world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Get Better

They had sent me home to die. Or, rather, I had sent myself home to die. In my eyes, if I was going to spend the rest of my life in a “death bed,” it might as well be my bed. I wasn't getting better. And now, the people were starting to show up, getting in line to see me as if I were a carnival ride. I had never been so popular!

Joan structured it like a movie. There was a schedule and the least important characters would be first. The first people in to see me were hardly even friends. Did they think I'd have been offended if they didn't show up? One was this guy I used to see at the track named Gene. His wife and my wife were friends, but his wife couldn't make it. So, now it was just me and Gene, me in my bed, index finger still holding the page of a novel, he on the office chair pulled in from the den.

I'm sorry for the time but I'm heading out on a flight to Denver later today. Consulting, you know.

Yes, of course. Thanks for coming by.

Did you see that Sox game last night? It was a thriller.

No. I was reading and fell asleep early. Hard for me to stay awake at night and the glare from the television is surprisingly harsh on my eyes.

It was quite a thriller.


Gene left after a few more minutes, thank Christ, and I peeled open my book. Joan was going to bring me food then, I knew. I thought of telling her, finally, right then, or somehow using metaphor remembered from my younger days to broach the subject. (No honey, I'd prefer pickles to doughnuts. Do we have any of those?) I said nothing, though. How could I say anything? At this point!

I ate soup and crackers, craning my neck forward to avoid spilling broth all over my chest. Like the opposite of sitting in the front row of a movie theater – snapping your neck forward instead of back.

-----

The next day was better because my grandchildren came. As a child myself, I never understood why my parents' parents were so much happier to see me than my parents themselves. Now that I'm old, I get it. I see something in them that I could never recognize in my own kids. As a young parent, their success mattered. Everything I did to them mattered. But, these kids aren't my responsibility. They'll be as ripped apart and damaged as anyone else, but it's not my fault. So I'll give them candy and money and tell them stories that never happened.

I tell them about being a prisoner of war. I make everything up.

They didn't feed me for days, I tell them. It was just me in an outdoor cell. All I could do was look out into the Cambodian jungle and wait for rescue or death. They would come and torture me, though I had no information. They tied me down to a wooden plank and performed water torture on me, the kind of torture where you're staring up at the sky and they splash one drop of water on you at a time. A drop – then a few seconds – then another drop. How did I survive? I hummed a tune in my head, and each drop was another beat of a metronome. DROP—DROP--DROP--DROP--I've got sunshiiiine—DROP--DROP--On a clouuudy day—DROP--DROP--

Sometimes I'd have to update the story to a more modern song for their benefit. Heck, I could've been imprisoned in 2007.

DROP—DROP--I'm bringin' sexy back—DROP--DROP

They ask me how I'm feeling and where it hurts. They think bandages with cartoon characters make things better. I envy them. Then it's been twenty minutes or so and they're bored so they leave.

I look out the window and see a bird and a squirrel staring at each other in a tree. It's like a boxing match that hasn't started yet. They don't know each other, but something seems wrong, and if one got the chance it'd pummel the other. There's no wind.

-----

I wasn't getting better. My head felt heavy and the back of my neck was tight, as if a small bag of marbles was tied back there. I was beginning to see colors that didn't exist. I wondered if this is what dropping acid felt like, though the colors weren't particularly pleasant.

My wife would sit with me and we'd talk about the past. Our trip to Belize, the first time we made love, our kids and how they were beautiful but used to drive us completely nuts, so nuts that we often would laugh about driving them to Disneyland and leaving them there. They wouldn't even know we were gone, we'd say.

She touched my hands and described how they'd changed over time. They were never particularly large, but they had definition when I was young. The way I gripped someone's hand when I shook it for the first time, she said, made her feel safe. Now my hands were weathered and old. Joan was nice and said they still looked good. She still felt safe. I touched her face and she smiled. It made her sad because I was dying. It made me sad to know she could have had more.

-----

I wasn't getting better. I saw a unicorn in front of me, a hallucination to convince me that the tangible world wasn't special. It was darker than most unicorns you see. There were no rainbows or long eyelashes or princesses in sight. It was the color of egg nog with the consistency of scotch. Its face was pristine but it looked at me and frowned. This fantastical beast wasn't death coming for me. It was death's lackey, there to stare me down.

-----

On Sunday, a man showed up at the door, younger than me by only a few years but bright and robust and colorful. He introduced himself to my wife as Keith and said we'd known each other years ago at the lab in Brookhurst. Keith heard about my illness through a mutual friend, he told her.

She nodded and showed him to my room. I didn't ask for privacy but she left us with coffee -- which I was still, mercifully, allowed to drink -- and closed the door. I didn't recognize him at first.

I've known you were here for awhile, but I figured you didn't want to see me, he said. I thought for a long time about life and relationships and connections and the universe, and I decided that the life I offered wasn't the life you wanted. I understood that. I accepted it. I moved on. But, I never forgot, and I always wondered if some day you would seek me out, even if just to offer me some sort of explanation.

What can I say? Especially now. If you wanted to find me at my weakest so you'd have an advantage, you've done well.

Oh, I don't want to hurt you. Not now, you old son of a bitch. Just tell me: did you ever once consider returning? Of giving up what you thought you needed to come back?

It was hard to look him in the eyes, those pervasive, insidious green eyes I had once looked into the way I had since reserved only for my children or a newborn puppy. I exhaled -- I had been holding my breath without knowing it -- and gestured to a family portrait on the dresser.

This is my family.

What, in this breathless, overdue conversation, did he hope to accomplish? I was too old and tired to think up words to spare his feelings, then words to summarize the phony conversation I would then detail to my wife. I was too old and tired for these things and my brain didn't want it. My brain didn't want it thirty years earlier, and it sure as hell didn't want it now, especially with these colors and creatures and hallucinations.

It's evolution. This is what I said to him. We know it's happening but we still try to stop it.

Keith sat down by his coffee and poured in some cream that my wife had left in a paper cup. He held it up so I could see.

Want some?

I've been taking it black.
This is what I said to him.

-----

Keith left and Joan sat by my side for the rest of the evening. The sun was out late and we watched it, almost intently enough to see it move. I reached out and touched her hand. I told her the story of her hands, from when we'd first met decades earlier to this very moment. They were dry and plain. She hadn't painted the nails in years.

I sat up as best I could and saw colors in the sunset. Who knew if they were real? I felt like I could reach out and touch them. My wife kissed me on the cheek. I didn't get better.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The First Helicopter In Canada

“What are you talking about,” Lindsay demanded. “Nobody says ‘My Stars’ anymore. What are you, Greta Garbo?”

This was said to Jaimee in person, not in text form, which served to add emphasis. They had just left class and Jaimee knew she could have felt the little vibration from under her desk at any time, but Lindsay waited because she had to, just had to, say it in person.

“I was just exclaiming about her shoes is all,” Jaimee said. She was referring to the flamingo shoes, those tacky, flashy little eyesores that Missy or Mindy or whatever-her-name was wearing. But, of course, Lindsay couldn’t just focus on the problem at hand. No. She had to go after Jaimee. After her words, of all things.

“‘My Stars’ is something you expect to hear from an old lady. Something you’ll hear on T.V. from a movie a billion years ago.” Lindsay was adamant. “It’s just so weird, you know? It’s the last thing I would have expected to hear you say. Um, text.”

This last part was Lindsay’s attempt to be conciliatory. Something being “weird” is a lot better than something being “stupid,” which is clearly what she was thinking.

But, Jaimee accepted this insult and kept pace with Lindsay’s turkey-trot footsteps over the hill that bordered the school parking lot and across the street.

“Let’s go to Randall’s and get a latte.” Lindsay decided what they would be doing and Jaimee didn’t have an opinion anyway.

They walked the two blocks from the school to the shopping center, which was older than “The Hive,” the hip young everything shopping center a mile away, but this amorphous and unnamed shopping center was closer and housed Randall’s, which itself housed a few boys in their late teens, too proud to succumb to working in one of the chain coffee houses or restaurants at “The Hive,” and whom Lindsay routinely would lasso into conversation. These boys were in college, after all.

“Now,” Lindsay began, “I’m not going to say something disparaging to you, like ‘Let me do the talking,’ but keep in mind that these are boys that are very very close to being Em Ee En. We want them to think -- actually, we want them to know that we are more mature and effervescent than the average girl.”

Jaimee didn’t think Lindsay was using that word right, but she certainly wasn’t about to point it out and start another mess. Plus, she didn’t exactly know what it meant either.

In Randall’s, you ordered at the counter, but then you sat down and they brought you your drink. This was a step over Starbucks, where you stand in a little factory farm area by the “bar,” as they call it, and when the barista comes over, they call out “doubleshot soy mocha” and everyone crowds around to see if the drink is theirs, backing away disappointed when Mr. or Ms. Doubleshot comes over to claim their victory prize. Randall’s avoided this, but added the pretention of weak customer service. Where Starbucks has happy employees, Randall’s has angry musicians or disgruntled philosophy majors. Lindsay ate it right up and, thus, so did Jaimee.
As they entered, Jaimee took stock. Three boys from their school were at a booth in the corner, dripping honey from little packets onto their table when the employees weren’t looking. Jaimee thought about this, and wondered who invented the tiny condiment packet -- someone in the ketchup business, she assumed -- and how much that idea was worth. There was a black man working on a laptop at the second table from the door. Jaimee felt bad for noticing he was black.

There was a boy with shaggy blonde hair working the cash register. Lindsay did the talking.

“Hi. Um...I’ll have a latte with nonfat milk please. Honey, what do you want?”

Jaimee shrugged from behind Lindsay and thought about this new nickname. She thought of herself being spilled out from a tiny packet by immature boys.

“Just a hot chocolate, I guess,” she said.

Lindsay turned back to the shaggy-haired blonde boy at the register. She did a half-eyeroll to indicate that she was more grown-up than her friend’s beverage order.

“A nonfat latte and a hot chocolate, please.” She turned back to Jaimee. “I got it!”

Lindsay pulled out a Visa and flipped it like a playing card onto the counter.

Jaimee looked more closely at the boy. He looked down at the card and seemed to notice, for the first time, that he had customers. He pushed some buttons and swiped the card; then, making eyes with Lindsay, lowered his neck and rolled his arm behind his back, as if he was about to ask her to dance. He extended the card forward with tenderness. When Lindsay went to take it, it dropped from his fingers back onto the counter.

The boy took two Post-Its and wrote “nonfat lat” on one and “hot cho” on the other. Then he stuck them on two mugs and passed them down to the other barista, by the espresso machines. Though there were no other customers, Jaimee moved quickly away from the counter, but Lindsay stayed, obviously irked by this affront with the credit card. Jaimee was watching the boy’s shaggy hair, hanging just above his eyes like drapes cut short with a scissors.

The other barista was fat and hairy, and he started making the drinks without a word.

Jaimee made her way to their “spot,” which was in the corner, next to the table with the milk and napkins and things, on a maroon L-shaped couch. She studied Lindsay’s shoes -- which were a bit tacky themselves -- and how they weren’t moving at all. Nothing seemed to be moving.

“Have you ever been to Canada?” The boy at the counter said this quietly to Lindsay. Jaimee shouldn’t have even been able to hear it but she could.
“You’ll bring the coffee to us, right? We’re sitting over there.” Lindsay didn’t gesture or point back to the couches.

“I asked if you’ve ever traveled,” he said, then paused. Then: “To Canada.”

“I’ve never been anywhere,” Lindsay said, and turned and shimmied back to the couch as would a starlet at a movie premiere. Jaimee saw the boy looking after her, but Lindsay couldn’t know that, with her back turned. Jaimee tried to think of a way to use that information to her benefit.

Lindsay sat down and folded her hands in her lap. Jaimee looked into her eyes and saw sadness. The exchange at the counter had obviously excited her more than she let on, but she’d expected more from it.

Jaimee looked out the window. It was beginning to drizzle.

The drinks were ready. The shaggy boy gave a pat on the back to the barista who made the drinks, to indicate that he’d be making the delivery. Lindsay sensed his arrival and pretended to be in conversation with Jaimee, though they’d been sitting in silence.

“--finished reading ‘Brave New World’,” she said. “Everyone else in the class thought it was boring but honestly I don’t even think they’d finished it. It’s not even that hard. It’s just because people in our class aren’t up to the Advanced Placement reading level. It’s a shame really.”

By this time the boy was standing in front of them. He held the drinks until Lindsay stopped talking. After she said “shame really,” the boy looked down to verify that he had the right drinks and placed in front of Lindsay and the hot chocolate down in front of Jaimee, Post-Its still attached.

“So, neither of you have ever traveled to Canada?” The boy was standing perfectly still, but not rigid. Jaimee looked down to see if he was in danger of swaying. There was no swaying, but no rigidity. It was as if he hung in midair like a scarecrow, neither in danger of falling to the ground or sailing off into the air.
“I told you. I’ve never been anywhere,” Lindsay said. “Except here and Virginia a few times because of my cousin.”

“What about you?” the boy turned his head to Jaimee who was still looking down but not really at his shoes anymore.

“I was born in Winnipeg,” Jaimee said. “In a museum actually. It was my parents’ anniversary, and my dad was taking my mom on a scavanger hunt.”

Lindsay took a sip of her drink and Jaimee just stared at the great globby mountain of whipped cream on top of her hot chocolate.

“It’s an aviation museum and if you go there you can see Canada’s first helicopter. From the 30s. The very first helicopter in all of Canada. It may not seem like a big deal, but they actually had helicopters in the 1930s!”

“Why do you ask?” Lindsay tapped her fingers on the side of her mug and stomped her foot to make sure the boy looked back her way. “Do we look Canadian?”

“You look,” the boy closed his eyes to think, “perfectly, fundamentally, normal.”
Jaimee stared up at the boy who stared back at her. Lindsay took a sip and used her lower lip to get foam off the top one.

“I ask because of the moose,” he said. “Every once in a while, you can see a moose in the states, usually the Pacific Northwest. But the moose here are nothing like the moose you see in Canada. Did you see moose growing up in Winnipeg?”

Jaimee didn’t answer for a while and eventually Lindsay kicked her shin under the table.

“No,” she said. “It was a city, really. And I was young.”

“But, you live here now,” the boy said, and he finally was moving his limbs again. His hand went through the brown-blonde locks of hair that hung over his forehead like well-groomed pig tails. “You live here and there is certainly no moose here. There’s plenty they don’t have in Canada, sure, but one thing I can assure you they have up there is moose and that’s something you’ll never find down here.”

Jaimee dipped a pinky in whipped cream. “Maybe I should go back? Like, there’s more life there than here?”

“That’s not what I said. I just asked what I asked because it looked like neither of you had ever been to Canada. I’m often wrong, though.”

Lindsay asked questions: “Do you go to college?”

“Do you play sports?”

“When you travel up there, do you fly or drive?”

Then she started making statements about the questions she asked.

“I’m applying to multiple schools. I’m not sure which are my goals and which are my backups. I’m just happy to get away from my parents.”

“My brother was a soccer goalie but then he got a knee injury and had to stop.”

“I don’t see what’s so special about Canada. It’s sunnier down here.”

Another customer came in and the boy left. It was a bald man with a dog who ordered a muffin. Jaimee wondered where they got them from. Even though this place was a notch above the other coffee places, it didn’t seem like they had the resources to bake their own pastries. She looked at Lindsay.

“Do you want to go?”

“No. It’s fine. He’s cute but weird, right? I don’t mind staying. You’ll be the plane and I’ll be your wings.”

“Or I’ll be the helicopter and you’ll be my propellor,” Jaimee said.

When the boy came back, he was holding a cup.

“I’m on my break now,” he said. “Why don’t you both come out back with me. I want to show you something.”

Lindsay and Jaimee looked at each other. This was the sort of invite girls their age were advised not to take, but the mystery of it all became too much. The girls got up without saying anything. They followed the boy out the door and around the corner to the alley behind the store.

“This is a fun afternoon,” Lindsay said. “God, it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut. School, home, school, home, school, home. It’s nice to have an adventure. This is an adventure, right?”

“I guess that depends on your definition of ‘adventure,’” the boy said.

“And what happens now,” Jaimee said.

The boy led them to a row of parked cars behind the coffee shop and adjacent stores. Then he showed them the cup.

“I put honey in here,” he said.

The boy stopped at a Chevy sedan and put his hand on the trunk. The girls stopped talking and looked at him. He wasn’t moving, but Jaimee would not have been able to look at anything else if she’d wanted to. She looked at his jeans, neither overly tight nor baggy. His face showed little sign of weather, but he was still only modestly attractive to her. Though a bit older, he looked like all the boys she knew, and now she was standing behind a coffee shop next to his car.

“Last night,” he began, “I was driving home from a party at the beach. We’d brought chocolate and graham crackers and marshmallows to make s’mores. Since that’s what you do at the beach. There was volleyball, even after the sun went down. I watched my friends play and then I showed everyone how to make s’mores. Here’s how you angle in the chocolate and marshmallow between the cracker to keep it from breaking. Here’s how you get the stick through and keep it all together, and I showed them with my hands.

“Afterward, we all dragged ourselves and our sticky hands into the ocean. I thought the water would clean them off but they just felt stickier afterward. My hand tasted like a chocolate-covered pretzel.

“I drove separately from everyone else for some reason. I was all by myself, but I liked it, I think. I was driving up the hilly road away from the beach and lowered the passenger side window and tried to reach out to the right to feel the breeze. My hands were sticky and smelly but I still felt clean and free. Cleaner than when my hands are covered in coffee grounds. Cracker crumbs and marshmallow are always better than coffee grounds. The wind was great. I was on a road nobody else was on and I heard a thumpump,” and here he smacked his free palm down onto the trunk of the car, “thumpump and I stopped and pulled over to the side of the road.”

He stopped talking and tried to swallow. One of his hands held the cup and the other he used to open the trunk.

“Look,” he said.

The girls kept their breathing shallow and sidled forward. Jaimee kept her eyes on the boy as Lindsay peered in. She saw a brown-red fluff of nothing. It looked like a rug someone had ignored for months and shoved away in a closet, behind old shoeboxes and umbrellas and jeans that didn’t fit.

“They’re always out at night,” the boy said, “And I’d even seen them run across the road before. But, I was looking out the window. I was feeling the outside.”

Lindsay reached out for Jaimee’s hand and pulled her closer. The two girls huddled together like old Russian peasants and crept up to the trunk. The coyote was only bloody from the chest down. Its face was fully intact, frozen in the moment just before death.

“Do you think it will still eat the honey?” The boy picked up the cup from where he had placed it on the ground. He leaned over into the trunk of the car and moved the cup in position next to the coyote. It took no honey.

Jaimee saw Lindsay tighten her grip before she felt it. She began to feel her lip quiver and her foot tap the cold suburban asphalt.

“We have to go,” Jaimee said. “And she turned and took Lindsay’s hand and they walked briskly away, not turning back to see if the processed honey would somehow resuscitate the animal and change the physical world as we know it.

They walked and walked without saying a word. After a few blocks, Jaimee looked up and saw a helicopter circling overhead. It looked like it was falling.