About two weeks after Lisa left to check in on her father, I remember waking up and thinking that the light outside was so clear and beautiful. I thought maybe I would go to the beach after work. I opened my front door and went out to drink my coffee. It was icy outside. I tried to remember what month it was, but for some reason I couldn’t remember. I kept thinking it was July. Later I checked and saw it was November. The ice made sense then. But I stayed out there and had my coffee anyway, somewhat confused. I had my jacket on. And it wasn’t that cold. As I sat there, looking at the cars and my neighbors who never spoke, walking back and forth, I had this feeling that today was going to be a good day. Or not good, just different. I felt almost happy. But I didn’t know why. I just knew that it was a special sort of day. Or that I was going to make it that way with no will of my own. There was a cold snap in the middle of July, I thought. That might be cause to celebrate.
I went to work. Nothing special. I found out it was November. I came home tired. Nothing new. Lisa called, like she normally did, right around sunset when her mother would walk to her room, “Like a fucking ghost,” Lisa once said.
The first thing Lisa told me was, “Chaos, Jack. Chaos.”
I told her I was sorry she was stuck with them. But we’d get through it. That I’d help her figure something out. She asked if I was okay. I said I was fine. She hung up. As she said goodbye, I heard her father, probably in the same room or another, I don’t know which, yelling, “Who the fuck are you woman!” That wasn’t the same kind-hearted man I’d met a few years ago. Or maybe it was. It’s hard to tell.
Then I thought about that feeling I had in the morning. It was gone. I knew now it was November. Lisa was south of me. I was alone in the house. It was quiet and I hadn’t yet turned on the lights. I don’t know why. And then I thought that might’ve been it. That might have been the moment—hearing that good man not be so good, that might’ve been the special thing. But I’m not sure.
I looked outside. The sun was set. We can see stars in our neighborhood. But it was getting cloudy. I went out onto the porch again. I didn’t want to do anything except sit and draw a blank in my head. I sat. And this time it was warm outside. I mean, really warm. The sky was covered in clouds. I couldn’t see the stars. I couldn’t smell the coming of snow. It was warm. I took off my jacket. And the stars couldn’t be seen. I heard rain begin to fall. The sound of it on the trees is nice. I guess I’ve always been an old man. I actually thought that at that moment. I kept thinking it. I couldn’t draw a blank. It was an odd pleasure though, accepting that thought as though it were true.
When we got to the park the sky was so bright, I thought that it wasn’t there. You were so happy. But that’s when I realized that, no, it only looked like the sky disappeared. And it wasn’t a premonition. It was just a bright day, and the clouds were thin, covering all the blue.
I had no idea she did that…Yeah…She was…I’d like to see it…
After that we walked into town and got some pizza slices. I looked outside the window of the pizza shop. You started laughing. You were looking at pigeons across the street in the grass. It looked like there was a breeze. The light shifted in the grass. But it wasn’t the light shifting. It was the grass itself. I forget that sort of thing pretty often. And then I saw the pigeons with their puffed chests. Madam, you said to me, laughing.
No, not that time…Yeah, it was at that pond and we made a fire and we brought a thirty rack…I think it was right after we moved away…And there was that super tall tree next to us…
As I watched you laugh, I started thinking about the coming fall. Maybe not the fall. The future. What it was going to be like without you. Maybe I saw what it would be like without, in general.
Yeah, it was super clear out…She couldn’t stop talking about it…No, I think I was sitting by the fire…And you pointed up to the tree…We started calling her something…What was it?
As the old man hobbled around a pillar on the platform, she could hear him whispering something to himself. He was looking down at the ground, angrily, as though the cement laid before his feet were somehow to blame for whatever it was that hurt him.
To Last. No, that’s not the goal. No, no. It can’t be just to last. Cement below. Oh, good one. Cement below. It goes. It goes. Yes. No. Not to last or outlast. If that were it, I would be fine. All done. I would have won. No. I think I lost the last of it.
She was good at this game. It was always fun, almost always harmless, unless someone saw her watching. It was a way of returning. No one could take the game from her. She was no longer seen that way. She could no longer feel being seen.
The forever part of last. I can loop and loop but the part most important — the part forever there beyond the platform — no. What is beyond. Onto another port. And the cement below it goes. It will recede. The thing to be remade. A shame. Cement is all I know. It’s all we know. I wonder if I could bring those lights down low. If I had sight for beyond the acropolis.
A train came, the whistle disturbing her as she started to hear what he said. Nut crops? Narcoleps? She was still watching him as the train squeaked, drowning out his voice. He stopped his limped walk. With both hands he lazily waved off the train.
The engine too. Muffle it. I could muffle it. Wouldn’t have to limp like this. Not at all. No. If I could walk and turn the lights down low and lean on one of these cold steel beams like I were twenty-three again. I dream again. There’s the door. Always a glass door. The light comes back to me. Again. I walk through it. But what would they do? Would any of them turn the lights down low? Turn off the engine. To outlast at least. I want for the day to hear it all whisper.
Beyond the overhang of the platform, you could see the sky. Sort of. Most of the light in the station masked it, covering it into nothingness. But that was probably what it was. She waited for the passengers to disembark, then entered the train. She took a window seat to watch the old man. He opened the door, heading inside the station.
In the summer, my Mom would plant dahlias. I liked to walk through them. It felt like there were hundreds of them in one plot. This was before they had my half-sister. I pretended it was a jungle and there were black panthers everywhere. I became friends with the panthers, and we would wander the forest, hunting for beetles and caterpillars.
The morning after, I saw a red squirrel. When I first moved here, they weren’t around. Then suddenly they were everywhere. I was looking outside. I was slumped over the counter that looked out to the backyard. I was tired, thinking of what I might say to my dad. Talking to my half-sister all night had put a new weight on my body. We were crying. My eyes were still heavy, still felt water-logged. And as I was spacing out, staring at the garden, I saw the red squirrel. It was walking, which I thought was strange.
We lived just outside of Honolulu, on a little hill. From my jungle, the panthers and I would look out to the ocean. Sometimes we would stop and stare at the ocean, half listening for my parents, hoping they wouldn’t find us. But they always did.
Last time I went home, my parents tore apart the entire garden and planted a little grove of tree ferns. They don’t have to water the garden as much, but they still tended the ferns caringly.
I quietly opened the door to the backyard and sat down on the steps. The red squirrel looked up to me, maybe nervous. Eventually it got used to me and started walking around, sniffing the ground. As I watched the squirrel, I started to think about the tree ferns, how they were already pretty much gone from the forests by the time I was born, how the island had changed so much since then, and how we had gotten used to it being so different.
During that trip, we sat out in the garden every night looking out to the ocean through the ferns. We talked about the invasive boars which were out of control on their side of the island and everywhere else. I remember asking them about the dahlias. I told them about my imaginary panther friends. They laughed. My Mom said that she wished there were real panthers on O’ahu.
I pull over to the side of the road, which is very dark. You can see the ridgeline on the other side. It is long. A long stretch of mountain in shadow. It looks like it has been cut out of the sky.
If I had binoculars, or maybe if I had better eyes, if I were younger, if I were older, or if I were a falcon even, I would be able to see it just beyond the mountains, tucked under those clouds. But I’m not that. I have no tools. I’m not old. I’m not a child. I’m not young. But truly I’m not a falcon, though I can wish it. I wish it. Things would be simpler. The ridge is changing color.
Like this place, and the road. I don’t know what it will look like next. Coming back has been odd. The strangest thing is the trees. From the top of this hill, I can see so many of them are still standing. A good amount of the houses are gone. But some of them were lucky. You can see the rubble so clearly from up here. There are still patches of things smoking.
Very odd. The oddest. The ember is still burning, smoke still remaking the valley. Mostly it has remade the town. I know it is the usual. Yes, I know it. But I don’t know it. I don’t get it. I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m not a falcon. I need glasses.
Beside me, there is the carcass of a car. On the road you can see where the rubber had melted onto the pavement. I look at the ground. Dust picks up as I kick it. It makes that crunching noise that I like. I remember loving that sound when I was little, especially when I was falling asleep. I could hear it crunching in my ear. I thought there was a man inside me walking on gravel. I didn’t find out until I was older that it wasn’t a man walking on gravel, but my heartbeat.
I can’t see it just beyond the mountains and under the clouds. Instead of it, I see many colors. I see the ridgeline. I see the clouds. I see bits of smoke in the valley. I am looking.
I heard that Lao Tzu taught Confucius all that he knew. Or that he worked for Chinese royalty. Something like that. It’s hard to tell what really happened 2,600 years ago. But he got sick of living with these people and decided to leave. He wanted to live alone in the mountains, be done with society. When he left, all he brought with him was what he could carry. I bet he brought some money, too.
In 1993 the big hit was Whitney Houston’s cover of “I Will Always Love You.” The reception of that song was, beyond the financial success, welcoming. She hit those notes so high, so well, people fell in love, literally fell seeing her. This was the year of the internet, the year that Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States.
Looking for Nests
I go looking for the plovers early in the morning. No one is at the beach then. Even when you’re right on top of their nest, you can’t really see them. Sometimes I worry that I’ve stepped on them without noticing. But still, it’s fun to go out looking.
I think most of us know what happened next. Look where you sit. Look where you stare. People love Whitney. We love that song. Pop music isn’t quite the same, even though we make songs for the past. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” plays sharp 80s synths. The music video is a mixture of Blade Runner and a psychotic Michael Jackson running around alone, drunk or high, in Las Vegas. He is bleeding from his head.
The hardest mornings are when I walk onto the beach and I find a dead one. One that wasn’t even eaten. It just died. I’ll usually look around the beach and try and see if I can find a predator, maybe a raven. But normally I won’t see anything. Just the young bird on the shrinking shore.
To the Mountains
Lao Tzu needed to pass through a city in order to get to the mountains. He had no paperwork that proved who he was. The guards didn’t let him in. So, either he wrote out the Tao Te Ching right there, or, what I like to believe, he already had the stack of papers and just handed them to the guards. They liked it, I guess, because they let him in. Then he passed through the city and continued into the mountains.
His hands were in his pockets, as though he was about to take those hands out of his pockets and conduct. There was a camera in front of him. He said nothing. The journalist talked and talked, giving all the context for the question, making sure that he knew what he was talking about. This was nothing new for crowhead. They were always giving him context. Always making sure he knew what they were talking about. The journalist was going to ask him for his opinion. Crowhead had a good, logical eye. In fact, most scientists who worked with him believed that he was one of the most logical clinical psychologists they had ever met. They called him Spock, lovingly. The media loved him. He did not give love back in kind, though he wished he could. The journalist was still talking, not asking if crowhead, as the media calls him, might know about this story, this particular dictator. In fact, he did know about this dictator. He had written many essays and indictments of this dictator. He even emailed him once to ask if he could come and ask him a few questions, after which crowhead had to hire two more bodyguards. There were many jokes made about it in the papers. Environmental theorists dove at the opportunity to question the subjective and objective values of a human body against a crow’s head. The journalist stopped talking. The journalist asked the question. Crowhead sighed. I fear none of you will listen. Only look. He took his hands out of his pockets, turned around and walked toward the bright white sky. The journalist looked confused. Crowhead could hear the journalist speaking into the camera. Crowhead looked up to the sky. It was overcast, but still so bright, as if the world were a void now. He closed his eyes and felt calm, looking at his eyelids.
Eve Wood is the recipient of a Jacob Javits Fellowship and a California Community Foundation grant. She was represented for several years by Western Project and Susanne Vielmetter. Her work was included in several exhibitions including Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York, The Vincent Price Museum, Western Carolina Museum, Weatherspoon Museum and Angles Gallery. Her work is included in many prominent collections including Beth DeWoody and Peter Norton. Her work has been reviewed in The L.A. Times, Modern Painters and The LA Weekly and the OC Weekly.
Cole Hersey is a freelance writer and graphic designer in the Bay Area. His fiction has appeared in literary magazines across the country and abroad, along with recently featured reporting and nonfiction pieces in Bay Nature, North Bay Bohemian/Pacific Sun, Wales Arts Review, and elsewhere. His work often focuses on environmental/ecological issues and how we relate to nature.