As he drove past the wall, he didn’t look at the flowers. People were still laying them on the indent. He hadn’t.
His mind was flooded with memories, he tried to choose some from others but failed.
Lewis wondered how many people ended up under a mile from where they ended.
In the kitchen of a cottage nestled among oak trees they waited – for neighbour, for colleague; for broken doors and strangers with zip-lock bags. Jay was long gone, whipping across fields, toward the blockhouse he’d carved with nails and fire. He crawled into peace and wished he could stay, wished he could curl up on the soft, wet earth and sleep. But if he did they would find him, find him without looking and he wasn’t ready for that medicine, for any medicine – just now his liberty was a sickness he refused to cure. He dug up his plane ticket, kicked things quiet and headed toward the airport.
“…you can actually taste the friction Dimitri.”
Stu shook his head and stared, unnoticed at his iPad surfing wife. “Did you hear that Jen? They can actually taste the friction.”
“Hmm…that’s nice love.”
“I suppose they’d know that sort of thing what with it being a cooking show and all, but actually tasting friction? I can’t even begin to contemplate what friction would taste like. OK that’s not true, I imagine it tastes pretty similar to sticking one of those nine volt Duracells on your tongue when you were nine and stupid but that isn’t the point.”
“I expect so love.”
“You’re not even listening to me are you? I could say whatever I wanted right now and you wouldn’t hear a word of…come to think of it it’s probably more like sucking on wet wool.”
Jake drove his convertible Mustang up Highway 1, the Pacific Ocean stretching into oblivion on his left, his girlfriend Samantha sitting far to his right, as if she planned to throw the door open and roll onto the blacktop at any moment. They were on their way to a little B&B that Sam had discovered online (one Yelp reviewer called it ‘kitschy but tolerable’), and although neither of them said so out loud, they both knew that if this weekend was a disaster, their relationship would never recover.
Nietzsche’s cutting quote, “If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you,” is by now a redundancy. And so, when I became a San Francisco probation officer, I prepared myself to keep company with the abyss. But I had not quite realized how extensive the abyss was. I saw it in the eyes of the senior probation officers, so exhausted by massive caseloads that they were counting the months to retirement. I saw it in the faces of deputy jailors, disaffected shift workers who were all but deaf to the human clamor of the cell ranges. And, of course, I saw it in my clientele: hollow-cheeked crack heads, asocial gang bangers, vagrants with thousand mile stares. But at least the abyss could be mellow where probationers were concerned. It was mellow in the case of Joseph Shepherd, a middle-age drug peddler on probation for choking his girlfriend. Entering my office for his intake interview, he glanced at the tower of case files on my desk and chuckled. “I know you have it rough,” he remarked in a voice that could be poured over waffles. “So I plan to make it easy on you, sir.” He smiled with the insular charm of a sociopath then shook my hand with a python grip. He seemed to be a man of elemental strength—a brawn with a life of its own—yet his broad open face and puppy dog eyes set me completely at ease.
Gus is barking his tiny brown head off, Mr. Thomas must be near. Gus came along four years ago, a pint-sized wolf in mongrel clothes. I glance down at my flour-dusted trousers and open the door a crack to greet Mr. Thomas. But I see it’s not Mr. Thomas, but a stranger. I quickly slam the door, hoping that he hasn’t seen me. There is a violent crashing sound as the mail is forced through the letterbox. Gus chokes himself trying to grab the hand, but he’s too late. I finally let him go and he gives me an angry scowl. I probably shouldn’t have slammed the door, but you never know, better safe. Lock the door. Check. Locked? Locked. Locked? Locked. Final check: locked? Locked. It’s locked.
Holly spots a lucky omen far downhill: every backlit tree in a row of poplars along a stretch of the Port Washington Narrows is clasped like hands in prayer, except one. A single, stunted, sloppily unfurled poplar, unloved in shadows, holds the luck. It watches out for the others; it allows them to be confidently pretty by giving the eye something less to compare them to. “Unpoplar,” as Ogden Nash might’ve put it.
The golf course trees, however, don’t say much of anything to Holly. Coddled elms and hand-fattened maples protected against the harsh November winds that howl down the Narrows like steamed souls passing through cracks in hell, have little in the way of luck. They might as well be painted onto the surface of the eye. Stage prop trees.