15 Days to Wedding
6:20 a.m. Lightning reaches down into Ogweyo’s Cove like aliens randomly snatching up prey from the Lebenswelt, while ticking timepieces separate a ceaseless procession of birthdays, weddings, and funerals that hurtle forward like a train on top of wheels gobbling rail line. Under an awning at the OC Bank of Commerce, Schuld and Woloff wait out an early-morning storm, huddled together in the boomdicrackle of thunder. There’s another flicker of light. Wind sweeps away tree branches and dumps them into the thudbump of waves that blather, dismount, and remount several blocks away.
“Here’s a question.” Schuld tugs at fluffy auburn toppling curls and leans into him. “At what point in a person’s life might it not be okay to be a screaming, tight-panted U2 fan?”
“The question, I believe, should not be if at one point it’s no longer okay to be a screaming, tight-panted U2 fan,” says Woloff, a lanky brother with an ochre circle smeared around his eyes and forming an oval on his chin, and whose long braids are woven with ochre wool threads. “It should be, is it ever okay to be a screaming tight-panted U2 fan?” He adjusts straps on the shoulders of a backpack stuffed with philosophy textbooks before looping an arm, covered from wrist to elbow with bronze bangles, around her.
Above them, a jumbo jet rattles iron girders in the rain-drenched buildings that decorate a cove surrounded by tropical rainforest where slaughtered horses were found tangled among tree roots interlaced with mud. The aircraft floats in troposphere over bucking hills that break into flats of the P.B. & Associates macadamia nut plantation on the east side, and their properties, a slew of beachside vacation rentals surrounded by gangly hotels. The plane hits chop as it passes rock cliffs embedded with steam holes that hiss beside ocean bullying the shoreline. Leaving the island in its wake, the jet stumbles through pockets of turbulence, doddering above tides triggered by a dry run with nuclear warheads detonated in the water hundreds of klicks away. Then it disappears above unmapped depths populated by hatchet fish with ghoulish masklike anglerfish with electric lanterns dangling between bulbous eyeballs.
“My turn,” Woloff says. “What was the first big dream you had?”
“To be a Bond girl,” she replies. “No, a circus director. You know, I’d wear a hat and gloves, and come out from behind the curtains and introduce the performers. ‘Now for the acrobats on unicycles,’ and afterwards say stuff like, ‘Yes. Yes. Thank you. Thank you, Tracy. You’re an inspiration.’”
“I wanted to be Akumbo Taabo, the one-eared African chess champion,” he says.
“He only had one ear?”
“When he finally lost the championship, he got in a duel with the two-eared challenger at what is known as the Massacre at Wolo River.”
Rapid sparks of lightning stretch across the sky, followed by rolls of thunder. Schuld and Woloff burrow into each other’s arms. Rain kicks up hard, splashing them and pounding cars that have slowed to a crawl on the road.
“You got the next one,” Woloff says.
She waits out a grumble of thunder. “Did you and Precious break up?” Schuld asks, referring to Woloff’s ex, Precious Namelok, who visits the Cove next week while on a book tour for Precious: Memoirs of an Insurgent.
“Yup,” he replies. “The last time I saw her, we decided not to make any future plans.”
“Sounds like her idea,” she says.
“Why?” He brushes away rain from his nose with his forearm.
Lately, Woloff has been texting a lot with her, and it makes Schuld nervous. “Because of all your schedules and writing everything down in calendars,” she replies. “You can’t live without structure.”
“We basically made the decision together to call it quits when I left,” he says.
“Basically? Like more or less?”
“No,” he says. “Definitively.”
Once the storm eases up, they step around puddles and over fallen tree branches on the sidewalk of Krion Street. Time bifurcates future and past in palm fronds that lift, drop, and lift beside them. How much of what they’re making together is bound up in what they’ve left behind? Is it enough that they love each other? Is it? They hold on to tips of fingers while red jungle fowl wander in front of them along the cropped hedges of a gentrified hood planted by the invisible hand of the market. They pass toppled election signs of Governor Ostheim, her grandfather, and emerge at Denturra Beach Park, where a hermit lies on sand swaddled in pea-green tarp, unable to remember the category of species he belongs to. Around him, the trickle-trackle of wind drags garbage bags into water, carrying them on waves toward the mossy underbellies of anchored warships.
“It’s over, huh?” Schuld says.
“Done!” Woloff replies. “Anakwisha.”
A church bell clangs on the hour, and a startled seagull flies away from the cathedral’s dome with a small fish in its beak. Watching out for trouble, they detour at a bridge where, on other nights, fisherfolk hang lanterns over the chrome railing, their lines dangling among rusty iron columns that support their weight. Sharking left, they enter the market plaza, where shoppers stalk the turf of old money. The breeze wheezes through wheels of abandoned shopping carts next to a courtyard of yakking folk, bandying off the cuff at a burly click of cash registers. These phantoms mill around a fountain filled with pennies they’ve thrown in with a wish for forward motion into the days predicted in their childhoods. Optimistic. Positive. Similar. Jacked on stimulants. They’ve willed their bodies to brighter days. Some have taken up the management of small businesses started by grandparents when the neighbourhood was a handful of buildings surrounded by acres of guinea grass. Others have taken their degrees or certificates to totter after sums of money calculated from the stories of those who succeeded by the time they were thirty. A sizable number have taken tales about rejecting expectations into the company of those who’ll listen. These ones huddle around drinks and discuss those who have chosen to be busy, in the surrounding offices, accumulating the things they won’t be able to take beyond the grave. And amid it all, Schuld and Woloff duck down a flight of steps before following a dangle of custard lights strung along the curve of a road that leads west to Mrs. Lill’s convenience store.
“The 19 is coming.” Schuld points to the end of the block, where a bus drives toward them. “You’ll make it on time if you run for the bus stop.”
“I’m walking you to the store.”
“It’s fine,” she says. “You’ll be late if you wait for the next one.”
“Is it fine?”
“Yes,” she replies.
“Laterz,” she says.
“Stay safe,” Woloff replies.
They kiss before Schuld watches Woloff sprint, bangles clanking, across the street through a steady uptick of grinding axles. His orange neon runners splash in puddles of rainwater before he accelerates along the sidewalk, carrying his backpack in one hand. As he dashes for the bus stop, worry turns cartwheels in her limbs and obstinately parks beneath her chest plate.
She passes a construction crew labouring on the corner, backed by election-poster-covered hoarding, and is made self-conscious about the length of her jean skirt. She crosses Florence Street to the west side and passes hustling sex workers. Gone are the fishnet stockings and stiletto heels. In come the ginger dress tops and sandals speckled with rhinestones. They lean into the windows of cars that slow at stoplights, drizzling flies, and barter with customers over their value.
* * *
7:29 a.m. Standing in the doorway to her corner store, Mrs. Lill wears turquoise leotards, her platinum pink hair snug in a matching pink sweatband. She cradles Falafel, her yapping Pomeranian, under an arm.
“Make sure you unpack the canned goods onto the shelves,” she says, petting her dog on the head.
“I’m on it,” Schuld replies.
“I’m gonna get in some cardio this morning,” Mrs. Lill says. “The spin class is a killer, but the instructor’s easy on the eyes.” She adjusts a name tag on Falafel’s crocodile-skin collar. “Then it’s off for drinks with the girls. Susan’s youngest had her first Tooth Fairy experience, and she’s bringing pics. I know, right? Adorable!”
“Be doubly sure to lock the back door,” she continues. “Falafel will be on his own upstairs, poor dear, and I don’t want anyone getting into the apartment through the side entrance.”
She hands Schuld her dog, along with a bundle of keys, before she kisses him on the head. “Check in on him from time to time and make sure he has enough water. Sweetie sometimes likes to spill it on the floor.” She scratches Falafel between the eyes. “And don’t hesitate to call me if there’s a problem.”
“Laterz,” Schuld replies.
She makes her way with Falafel in her arms to the back of the store as he wriggles and snarls against her chest. He squirms and bares teeth before biting into her shoulder. “Scheiße!” She drops him to the floor, and he runs down aisle 2. “Falafel!” The pooch jumps onto a shelf and chews through the plastic wrapping on a loaf of bread. “Quit fucking around.” Schuld tosses her suede jacket over his head, picks up the squirming bundle, and hurries with it up the back stairs to Mrs. Lill’s apartment. She throws Falafel inside and slams the door shut behind her to frenzied barking.
While Schuld works the cash register, pain spasms at a flap of skin in her shoulder bandaged with supplies from aisle 3. Customers come in and stock up on items to get them through their day, their smiles pinched from hauling around mental gunk and from acting the opposite of what they feel. She runs up their bills and packs their junk—their cigarettes and their deodorant, their caffeinated drinks and toilet paper—into plastic bags they sometimes forget to take with them. They jostle across a whirl of surfaces, extracting a “Good day” as she thinks of tall steel beams that hold up the city, and of big cranes that swivel on top of them and cart around granite blocks, their floodlights beaming down, nipping at bumpers on the highway.
Talk is difficult. Borrowed words complicate at frisky speeds.
“Are you going to watch the comet Monday night?” a chestnut blonde with an umbrella asks.
“No doubt,” Schuld replies. “You?”
“Hellooo,” she says. “It’s been a thousand years since it was last in our inner solar system. I’m stoked.”
“My boyfriend and I are gonna watch it through an astronomer’s telescope,” Schuld says. “We should be able to see it real close.”
“I love it,” the blonde replies. “Love. It.”
As a parade of talkers chatter past, Schuld struggles to remember where pauses for a breath are supposed to be in her sentences.
“Do you have any Marlboros?” asks a bear of a man with toilet paper stuck to his chin.
Words twirl in and out of her ears. “ID,” she replies.
“I’m thirty-fuckin’-six,” he says.
She tries not to wince. “I still need to see something with your birthdate,” she replies.
He reaches into a wallet and slides a driver’s licence across the counter. “Happy?”
Schuld glances at it and gives it back. “Sorry. I have to ask,” she says.
“Fuckwit,” he mumbles.
At a lull in customer traffic, she crouches over to recover. Then she lines shelves with wax paper and unloads cans of baked beans from wooden crates. Upstairs, Falafel howls, and the racket echoes doubly in her ears.
On her return to the cash register, she sees Pearl, a regular with a tat of a spiderweb on her neck, place goods onto the counter.
“I brought a recycling bag,” she says.
“That’s a five-cent rebate,” Schuld replies.
Pearl points at Schuld’s shoulder. “It’s bleeding.”
Schuld looks down at blood blooming on her white blouse. “Oh, that,” she laughs. “It looks worse than it is.” She gestures toward a noise on the second floor. “I got bitten by the store owner’s dog.”
“You need to have it looked at,” Pearl replies.
“I’m good,” Schuld says.
“You need to get a tetanus shot.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” she says.
There’s no sticker price on a can of peas, so Schuld checks an itemized list, delirious with the bounce of code.
“Did you hear about the three horses dumped in the rainforest?” Pearl asks.
“One of them belonged to the friend of a friend.”
“Oh.” Schuld swipes a credit card at the machine. “Do you want cash back?”
“No,” Pearl replies.
“Press ‘No’ on the screen.”
“Where is that?”
Schuld does it for her. Then she waits for the receipt to appear before handing it to the customer. “I’m really sorry to hear about your friend’s horse.”
“Friend of a friend.” Pearl points again. “Don’t forget to have that shoulder looked at.”
As her shift passes, Schuld watches customers collect objects that make up their milieu. Toothpaste. A comb. Body lotion. Laundry detergent. Ketchup. All the things within easy reach that make the days possible. The upbeat appear, and their happiness pokes at her. If only she could sleep more than a couple of hours at night, she’d be able to remember what story she’s in.
Mr. Erdrick, with a new moustache, pushes a pile of men’s mags across the counter.
“Long time no see,” Schuld says, distracted by Falafel’s barking.
“Did that woman say horses are being dumped in the rainforest?” he asks.
“Never happened!” he says. “That’s one of those hoaxes circulating on the internet. I hate it when people rush to judgment before they have all the facts. Food for thought, maybe she should get her head out of her ass long enough to do research. You can’t go around believing any old thing that pops up online.”
All day people like Mr. Erdrick sell Schuld on their facts. When they aren’t met with agreement, they pout in silence or threaten to revoke their friendliness. She doesn’t know how to dislodge from the clusterfuck. If she could, she’d lock up the store for the rest of her shift, hide under the cash register, postpone the inevitability of her own death, and think of days when the dimensions of a market-driven matrix no longer measured the contents of a person’s character.
* * *
5:46 p.m. Late-sunset yellow dissolves into dark grey over Ka’alipo Beach, a sharp drop from the sand cliffs where palm fronds waggle their forelimbs to phalanges. In a deserted enclave, Schuld lies next to Woloff beneath a coconut tree, entwined in a hammock. The outline of bones protrudes from his pitch-black skin at various hinge points, and as she touches a jut at his clavicle with milky-white fingers, her agitation falls away.
Woloff slides a box of assorted Swiss chocolates toward her. “Good luck with the exhibit.” She’ll be showing her latest artwork in five days at sHipley Art Gallery, a place where she rents a studio.
“Danke schön,”she replies.
“Bitte schön,”he replies.
She pecks him on the mouth, rips open plastic packaging, and bites small chunks into a random selection to find the ones filled with nougat.
His cell dings.
“Precious?” Schuld asks.
“Might be work,” he replies.
“Check,” she says.
“Baadaye,”he replies, turning off his phone.
“What’s going on with the two of you?” she asks.
“She mentioned you in her book.”
“Oh, that,” he replies. “It’s short. Nothing special.”
“And you’re kinda chummy,” she says. “Messaging. Using emoticons.”
“That’s cause we’re kinda chums,” Woloff replies, twisting a braid.
“So, you’re not still hung up on her?”
“Hells no!” he replies. “Like I said earlier, that’s over. Squashed.”
The hammock swings in a kick of breeze.
“Got any rolling paper?” Schuld asks.
Woloff flings one into her hands.
“Asante sana,”she says.
Woloff rubs the knee he re-injured after putting in weeks of heavy mileage on the roads. He’s got one year of eligibility left at Ogweyo’s Cove U, and he’d been working on developing his stamina to get through qualifying rounds in the 1,500 at NCAAs. “I’m sick of training in the water.” He slaps away at mosquitoes. “Today I did some paddleboarding near a set of waves about half a kilometre from shore. I was bushed from running knee lifts in the shore break, so I wasn’t paying attention when a shark’s fin broke the surface of the water.”
“Dang!” Schuld says.
“The last thing I saw was its tail before I toppled into a surge of waves. When I opened my eyes, I was sinking beneath the surface. I kicked my legs to propel upward, until my head poked out of the water. The brightness blinded me. I didn’t know where the fuck the shark was, and my board bobbled beside my head. So I climbed on, clawed my arms in the water, and kicked for the distant sand cliffs. I counted to stop myself from thinking. And as I got closer to shore, I noticed fins swooping in the water around me. Real close. A whole bunch of them.” His eyes brighten. “Turtles. They were turtles, and they kept me company until I finally got to shore. Bananas, huh?”
Schuld tugs at tangles in his beard as chittering seagulls circle above their heads. “Are you okay?”
“Ain’t nothin but a G thang,” Woloff replies, smiling wide.
The pain from Falafel’s bite pollutes her brain, and a sliver of irritation enters her neurotransmitters. “Don’t do that!” Schuld snaps.
“Is this about Precious?” Woloff asks.
Schuld calculates the cost of saying nothing. “You say you’re just friends,” she replies. “But how is that possible? You were together for years.”
Woloff pulls her down in the hammock sling beside him, careful to avoid bumping into her injured shoulder. “You got bitten by a dog named Falafel.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
Woloff touches a hint of pubic hair that sticks out at the waistline of her jean skirt.
“I’m not interested in anyone else.” He slides his hand under the elastic of her underwear (much like he did that first time beneath a canopy of rainbow trees) and drapes a leg over her thigh. “I’m with you.” He kisses her lips, pressing his flesh close to hers. Schuld’s fingers sidle in his chest hair before she clamps tight around his nipple, her tongue flickering in his mouth like a butane flame.
She smells of dank heat as he enters her. Then their hips move together, slow at first, until they break like banjos speeding through bluegrass.
Afterwards, they curl in the sling and doze off in a trade wind sweeping sand through the clamour of an ambulance siren.
* * *
11:55 p.m. Distant suns may no longer exist as they walk to Café Hashim’s. Traces of lamplight disappear in the dark roots of Schuld’s glimmering auburn mane, and she notices her leather boots are scuffed with yellow paint. On Filmore Avenue, they tumble into white soapstone light glancing indifferently from untidy rows of storm drains. Surrounded by office buildings that surrender their facades to breeze, they halt in a nook hidden by a garbage bin to pass around the herb that makes late-night crawlers stagger anonymously into canals. Toot, toot, go car horns. And they smash discarded bottles against a wall drowning in ivy before they totter around a corner and duck into the café.
Beneath saturnine art, doughnuts are glazed, coffee is topped up for free, and they sit opposite one another, sipping caffeine to stay awake. The comet is coming, so they speculate about the cosmos, and about scrambling through to the other side of a wormhole to stare at another galaxy in the multiverse—another trillion galaxies to explore for a place to start again, and build cities, or populate continents.
Schuld stubs a cigarette into a saucer that swims with caffeinated dregs and then tries to say everything that might be important for Woloff to know—she likes a coffee before she goes to bed. Her papi was an organic-toothpaste tycoon who left the family to start a life with a woman who owned a chain of boutiques selling children’s clothes. They’ve retired and travel half the year in a Winnebago to national parks across North America. Now her mutti is getting remarried to the son of a plantation owner, and Schuld hates that she was pressured to be the ring bearer. “It seemed unfair to make me choose between her happiness and participating in a bogus paradigm that has failed her so miserably.” Did she mention she wishes to live in a home with a garden full of pale-blue hydrangeas? Huge ones. In bloom one day and wilting the next, a constant reminder to her of impermanence and the pressure she feels to wring the bejeepers out of each and every moment. She squinches her brow in embarrassment, and Woloff reaches for her hand.
Now it’s his turn to say what is important for Schuld to know. He waits to make sure she’s finished before he begins his list. He prefers to sleep with a hall light on. His mother died while giving birth to him, and when Woloff was five his father, a mercenary, was killed in conflict with government soldiers near the border. He was brought up by his uncle Phineas, a car mechanic with a PhD in philosophy. Phineas later became his coach in Africa. Thus, his major in philosophy and his track scholarship. He hasn’t been as good a runner as he was his freshman year at OCU, and he’s lost sponsors because of it. His university coach felt sorry for him and got him work, through a church, taking care of Rick Sunderland, a sixteen-year-old with cerebral palsy. He took the job because he couldn’t tell him he was fine for money from selling weed. Shrooms. Some hash now and then.
“I’m a medicine man,” he says. “A bit like Namunyak, the witch doctor.”
“Is that someone else you’ve made up?”
“No, no, Namunyak is for real,” he replies. “Whenever I got sick, she was the person I went to.”
“Like your family doctor?”
“For fevers. Broken bones. The works. She’d use plants she grew in a small garden and slaughter animals of various sizes, depending on the illness.”
“Healing people! That’s what you think you’re doing?”
“Fersurely,” he replies.
As the couple choose how they want to be imagined, they reach across the table to trace fingers in one another’s palms. Around them, the sober, whom they good-naturedly detest, trickle out of the café to go home to hibernate. Dull greys illuminate the windowpanes, and it’s well after five in the morning before Woloff and Schuld make their way outside to stand at a winking orange traffic light in front of a poster of Colin Riverdale, the thirty-seven-year-old challenger for governor in the upcoming election.
“When do you get your motorbike back from the garage?”
“God knows,” he says. “They’re ordering parts.”
“I miss riding around on it.”
“You sure you don’t want me to walk you home?” Woloff asks.
“I’m good,” she replies.
A couple falls out of an awning-covered door before they stumble toward a parked car.
Schuld pulls closer.
“It’s really no problem,” Woloff says.
“Go!” she insists. “My place is three blocks away. I’m good.”
They hug before she watches him run across the road and disappear into a city full of vehicles that morph, on the creased horizon, into distant points of shuddering headlights.
* * *
5:49 a.m. Schuld walks along the canal in the prick of lamplight, and up ahead, a shaggy-maned man sits on a wall, staring at black water, trying to find a suitable name for his particular sadness. Farther along, a couple emerges from the gaggle of thirty-floor high-rises to walk a golden retriever. As the woman tugs on the dog’s leash, they both drown in the itchy fabric of baggy sweaters. Separated by a dull awareness of their intractable differences, they silently continue on their ritualistic stroll before the early-morning talk shows.
Schuld looks down at the cobblestones beneath her feet and beelines for the water fountain.
A crow flutters from a porcelain basin.
“I wouldn’t drink out of that if I were you,” a man with a blue cap says, pointing to his friend. “He had one too many beers last night.”
“It was the sushi, bro,” the other one replies. “Believe me.”
Schuld stares at a bowl filled with chunky clots of pasta. “Laterz,” she says to them, covering her nose.
She turns onto a side street where a black cat slinks through the wheels of parked cars. Salt cakes her skin from a dip in the ocean, and the scent of Woloff’s cologne remains in her nose.
“Hey, Red. Wait up!” It’s one of the men from the fountain. “Do ya know where we can get some action in this shithole?”
Schuld fixates on the traffic light.
“We’re on vacation,” his pal with an LA Dodgers cap says. “But there’s fuck all to do here.”
Schuld hurries into the intersection, her heart beating wildly in her chest.
“What’s with the stick up your ass?” the first one says.
“Holy mother of Christ,” the other one adds. “Are you a dude?”
Schuld crosses onto the sidewalk.
One of them grabs her arm and spins her around. She tries to pry fingers loose, but the grip tightens. Schuld swings at him with her free hand, clipping the bridge of his nose with her ring. He staggers backwards, cradling his face in his hands. A siren sounds nearby. The man in the blue cap tackles her, and they both fall hard to the sidewalk. Before she can reorient herself, the other one pins her to the ground by the arms. A foot painfully crushes her right hand, a knee digs into her rib cage, a hand clamps over her mouth, and she feels them lift up her skirt.
“He’s got a dick.”
Schuld squirms until they push her back into the intersection and run down the sidewalk laughing. Then she sits up, straightening her skirt, and gets to her feet, ransacked.
14 Days to Wedding
12:03 a.m. In a night delinquent with ivory moon, P. J. Banner Jr. slumps alone on his couch in the living room of his one-bedroom apartment in Aspen Towers. He spent the better part of the night with his fiancée, Kerstin Ostheim, and they finally made seating arrangements for the wedding reception. Kerstin’s parents are divorced, and it took a long call to her mother before they got the go-ahead to seat them both at the table of honour. Now Kerstin is back at her place, working on a deadline for an article, and P.J. unwinds watching a repeat broadcast of ladies’ figure skating on the Grand Prix circuit. Tonight in the short program, a spunky Romanian is a hipster cowgirl. Next up, the American national champion falls on landing a Salchow, and afterwards puts on a brave face while she clutches a bouquet of flowers next to her coach as they wait in the green room for her scores. The favourite, a Japanese skater in flouncy white, is flawless in her execution. However, while the announcers enjoy her technique, they feel she lacks the energy of the American and the spunkiness of the Romanian.
At the commercial break, P.J. writes down a reminder of a reminder from Kerstin to call the wedding planner to make sure the tablecloths, curtains, and flowers are all pale blue. Then he goes to the fridge to get a root beer and grabs a blanket from the bedroom before stretching out under it on the couch in time for a profile of the two-time Olympic silver medalist. As the Olympian tugs on the teats of a goat on her parents’ farm near Düsseldorf, describing the deliciousness of its milk, he thinks about giving notice tomorrow to the landlord of the apartment his father’s money has paid for. He’s ready for his new life to begin. The timing couldn’t be better. The future is infinite with the possible. He’s making a small profit on his own photography business, one that’s reaping benefits from changes he’s made using recently acquired knowledge of the industry’s best practices. He’s put up a website with a snazzy splash page. He has a punchy slogan, “Trust us with your treasured moments.” He has a presence on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter he feeds daily with new content. Customer traffic has been up in the last couple of months, so pretty soon he’ll be able to hire a team that will get P.J.’s Photo Lab permanently in the win column.
After their honeymoon in Bali, Kerstin and P.J. plan to move into his pop’s vacant beachside property in the gated community of Granger’s Grove. It’s perfection. The deck looking out onto shore breaks and swells. The sunrises. The works. They’ll no longer live next to Kutama Point, with its streets littered with discarded syringes. All he needs to do is find the right time to ask his father.
* * *
5:07 a.m. P.J. sleeps and dreams of the exposed part of Kerstin’s belly, the one between the hem of her low-cut T-shirt and her gargantuan belt buckle. It’s vanilla like soy milk, and pristine like an ivory tusk cleaned for sale on the black market. On a star-spangled night at Ka’alipo Beach, they skinny-dip in crashing surf that shifts in iotas, milli-inched neuron by milli-inched neuron. Three freckles run in a vertical line above her left hip, her frosty hair tight in a bun tugged back over her ears. As they swim toward deep water, she transforms into a mizzen, a white mast, and badgered by trade winds that rock and bop the water, they’re swept out to sea.
When he wakes up, pressure pushes against his third rib, his breath is crooked in his esophagus, and it’s difficult to swallow. Gathering himself, he steps out onto the balcony to stare down at rowing oars that dip and rip the surface of black water in the Tomi Canal. Sobriety was supposed to make his life better. Instead, he has been making mistakes. Yesterday, he cancelled a meeting with his father because of uncontrollable trembling in his hands—more evidence that he’s a long way from a finer version of himself. He’s forty-three. He has to do better, but all he wants is to stop being a copy of his father measuring the productivity of his days like a manager going through receipts.
He grips the bannister with both hands and leans forward into a gust of wind.
* * *
1:22 p.m. Dapper and styling in a charcoal slim-fit suit, P.J. leans across a desk to shake the hand of Adrian, the super. “Thanks,” he says, staring behind the man’s head at a picture of his wife, two older men, and three grandkids. All of them wear white judo uniforms with black belts that match their hair.
“Two weeks,” Adrian replies. “No extensions. I have to paint the place and change the carpet.”
They’re interrupted by Gee, a surf instructor from the second floor. “I’ll tell the police, Adrian.” He grew up on the island, did various stints with the army at bases all over the Mideast, and, depending on the day you catch him, he may tell stories about his friends in the veterans hospital (where they’ve been fitted with prosthetic limbs). “I have proof.”
“You have one week to get out.” Adrian raises a finger. “Exactly one week to fuck off.”
“I have photos of customers on the second floor.”