Emily Hunt Kivel
We left San Francisco, five of us, three girls and two boys, split into two cars, both low to the ground and in different states of disrepair relative to the amount of money their two respective owners (the two boys) were making at the time. One was full of food scraps and little camps of spiders and ants; the other piled with funny hats and sunglasses and made a grinding sound when we turned the ignition. We left San Francisco because it was unrecognizable to us, had been for a while.
We drove up the coast in search of redwoods. We passed the places where we always said we’d move (we were always moving as a collective in these future scenarios; the idea of children or divorce or illness or death being unthinkable; the notion that any one of us would want something different an inane, cynical impossibility). That was part of it: those places were now on fire. Acres and acres of char and flame through Vacaville, houses drowning in orange and red and yellow in Sonoma. By then, children had started to come out of their homes and make a game of it. They ate popsicles and chased the embers. We passed a group of them, standing in a circle, sucking on their cherry popsicles and watching as one of their fathers sprayed a flaming Manzanita bush with a hose. We got out at a gas station for chips and water. One boy (he was married, his wife sat next to me in the back) pumped and the other went in for the supplies. When he came back, ash started drizzling from the sky like morning mist. Like fog.
“I’ve got an array of chips,” the boy said. He liked me. “I didn’t know what flavor everyone would like.”
I ate a sour cream and onion. I let it dissolve on my tongue until it was like paper, like plaster melded to my mouth. I swallowed while I watched the ash fall.
Who we were: Sheila and Joey, who were married and had been for almost ten years. They were from Texas and it showed. It made them popular. Michael, a boy who’d befriended them when they first moved to San Francisco. I suspected that he loved me though I’d never slept with him. I know it might sound like we were a free-loving collective, moving here and there in a caravan of trash, but it wasn’t the case. I was a prude. I was raised by two sophisticates, a conductor and his first flautist, who lived beyond their means and taught me that my body was a gift. So there was me: a prude. And then there was Jess, my best friend since high school. She was raised by her grandmother. It’s sad, Jess is always left for last.
We had decided to settle in a rental house along the border of Oregon, not exactly in Oregon (we couldn’t) but not really in California either. It should have been its own state, we decided, it should have a name. To the West was the ocean, below us was a creek and if you followed it for a mile, you found a river. We figured we would live there and swim and watch the birds and plant our own vegetables until the earth burned up. We’d have babies there too. If friends or family wanted to see us, that’s where we’d be.
When we arrived, the man who owned the house sat on the porch and waited for us. He kept sitting on the porch, silent, as we gathered up our things (suitcases and food containers and water and portable dressers, a jewelry hutch and wine glasses and six cases of beer). It took a long, awkward time. He finally stood up when we were two feet away from the bottom of his staircase.
“You’re here,” he said. “Hallelujah.”
“We’re here,” I said cheerfully. I shook his hand and introduced myself as Holly. I was the only one of us with any manners.
The house smelled like sawdust and pine. The kitchen was huge—a cracked linoleum floor stripped bare after so many cleans. The copper sink was blue and turquoise in its corners. Our large window looked out at the ocean beyond. A spider twisted down its silver thread in the near corner. We put our stuff down and stared around.
“I’ll give you the tour,” the man said. His name was Lewis.
We followed Lewis along the tour. I walked beside him, being the only one with manners. Jess followed, then Sheila and Joey. Michael was in the back but he worked himself slowly up the line and eventually walked beside me.
“There’s a master bedroom, you could call it,” Lewis said. “It’s got its own bathroom. Closet’s adjoined. The knobs on the door are loose, we could fix it but it’d just go back to the way it is.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Moisture,” he said. “Moisture. I guess you’re gonna take it, right?” He looked at Sheila and Joey.
“Married?” he said.
They nodded again.
“Then you don’t need doors,” he said. He laughed though it was clear he thought it was the truth. He showed us the rest of the rooms, which were small with white, shiplap walls.
“There’s a vegetable garden out back,” he said. He crossed through the kitchen and opened up the door for the mudroom. We descended down a series of steep, plank stairs and into the tundra of the yard. “Right now, pumpkins and zucchini. Last of the tomatoes. Last of the eggplant. The carrots will come soon. And the green beans. They won’t come until the eggplant’s gone. The eggplant’s a son of a bitch.
“Wow,” said Sheila.
“Yeah?” said Jess. “How so?”
“He’s just a mean, pushy son of a bitch.”
We nodded at this, having heard as much about eggplant though we’d never seen him in action.
“What else is planted?” asked Michael. Lewis walked Michael through the garden. “I’ve been working on it all summer,” said Lewis. “I can come over once a week and help out a little.”
“We’d like to try,” said Michael.
“We’d like to do it ourselves,” said Joey. “If that’s okay.”
“You don’t want me to help it grow?” said Lewis. He was a big man, with huge hands, and rings. “They’re really sensitive. They’re cranky little fuckers.”
“We’re okay,” I said. I smiled at him again because I could tell he was upset.
We settled into the house. Twice a week we would drive into the nearest town for groceries, and we’d cook together in the evenings. We’d cook together in the morning and afternoon, too. We all worked on our computers during the day, all except Sheila and Joey, who were rich. What they did during the day was anybody’s guess. They went on hikes. They slept late. They joined us for lunch.
It was idyllic for a month. We ate the last of the tomatoes and eggplant, picked Lewis’ basil. The eggplant’s meanness became sweet with enough oil. There was a lot of spaghetti and ratatouille while we waited for the pumpkins to ripen. Every day one of us went out to give the green bean beds a good soak. We waited for the artichokes; it was said they were shy.
When the green beans were ripe and four inches above the soil, Michael picked them and we ate them for dinner. I steamed them in garlic and lemon. We all sat down to eat and were silent for a bit, chewing.
“It’s—slippery.” Sheila stared down at her green beans.
“It stinks,” said Jess, who doesn’t spare my feelings.
“How did you cook them?” she said.
“You sure they were ready?” Joey asked Michael.
Michael scoffed. “I soaked them every day. I waited until the fourth week of the season.”
“They’re rotted,” I said. Everyone looked down at their plate, or spit their vegetables out, and agreed. Sure enough, the green beans’ faces were folded into grumpy frowns. Their green skin puckered. Like they’d aged about 100 years prematurely. Just two Xs for eyes. “Maybe we soaked them too much.”
After that, Lewis started coming once a week to help but he wasn’t happy about the food we’d wasted. “Poor guys,” he said about the vegetables. He wasn’t happy with any of us. He began walking around the garden with the rotted green beans in his arms. I thought he was going to say a prayer but he suddenly dropped them all in a heap near the far corner of the yard. “You’re all worm food now,” he said.
He knelt down beside the raised beds. “Come out, come out,” he said. “Talk to me, where do you hurt?”
We watched this. He turned back, caught us looking, informed us that it was all normal.
The next day, Michael and I went on a walk. There was a small, dirt road behind the house that led to the edge of town, passed a few neighbors along the way. We didn’t know these neighbors, never would. Their houses were ornate, creaking things sitting far back from the road. Their porches were enclosed in mosquito nets. Their windows were often buried in trees.
“I’m sorry I ruined the vegetables,” Michael said. Lewis had confirmed, they were almost all inedible. Soldiers executed in a pointless war.
“We’re learning,” I said. “What did we think would happen?”
About a mile down the road was a shack full of young people, people younger than us. Their relationships were unclear. Their behavior suspect. Looking at them, in this time, was the dirty work of looking in a mirror, and we often rolled our eyes and complained amongst ourselves when they lit off fireworks in the middle of the night for no good reason. Sometimes, through our second floor windows, we could see them coasting down the road at top speed on bicycles made for fat ten-year olds.
“Hell yeah,” one of them might say, after doing some sort of wheelie.
It wasn’t all young people. There was a kind of matriarch. What her business was we never figured out.
A member of this crew was trying to lose some weight. That week, he’d been riding around and around and around the two mile-loop of dirt road that went from our house to their shack to mansions to wood to town. Michael and I continued walking. The road grew shady. The same guy came zooming up to us, children’s bike blazing, and screamed “On your left! Get out of the way!”
We got out of the way and he zoomed off. I ducked under the knotted bow of a candelabra redwood and Michael stared at me. He followed.
“I guess I just wanted to do it right,” Michael continued our conversation. “I wanted to prove something.”
“We’re all friends,” I said. “You’ve got nothing to prove.”
There was also a cat that lived in the woods around the area. She was thin and wild like a barn cat. I wondered where the nearest barn could be. Oftentimes we saw her trotting away, a dead and bloodied thing in her maw. A bird. A frog. Once she left a field mouse on our doorstep (the only neighbor who had given us any sort of welcome at all). I’d walked outside one morning and found it, a severed head on the doormat. The cat was waiting in the shade of the porch stairs, watching. She didn’t leave until I had buried the thing in the dirt, and after that she promptly and haughtily dug it up.
Ahead in the road, we spotted her. She was licking her paws. When she saw us coming, she ran to greet us.
Michael scratched her chin. I rubbed her side and she flopped over, exposing her large rabbit feet. The tip of her right ear was missing, shredded forever in some nocturnal brawl.
We sat and played with the cat for a while.
“But we aren’t really friends,” Michael finally said. “I haven’t known you for all that long.”
“You wanted to prove something to me?” I asked.
“I wanted to impress you.”
I looked up at his face, small and rather avian but attractive. He was staring at me so earnestly I had to look away. I focused on the cat. Stroked the ragged tip of her ear.
“That would complicate things,” I said. “You know that.”
“Sheila and Joey are doing it,” he said.
“Sheila and Joey have always been that way.” I said. “They’re part of the ecosystem.”
Michael didn’t see my point.
“What would happen to Jess?” I asked.
“Nothing would change,” he said. “And why would it matter?”
The man on the children’s bike zoomed by again, screaming with joy. He did this four or five times before our walk was over.
“Who cares what Jess thinks?” Michael jumped out of the bike’s path. “Who cares what anyone thinks?”
“I love you,” he said finally. He was walking a little behind me. He called it out. Bravely. Like he just had to tell me.
I didn’t say anything yet. All this talk of ecosystems—the point was that I wasn’t quite sure what to think. In the moment I felt like it was all a big mistake, like I should leave.
The next day, Michael had a surprise for us.
“We’re going boating in the river!” he said. He sat atop his car, which was caked with dirt from our drive away from San Francisco, from the many small journeys between here and town.
Sheila squealed. “Really?” she said. “Really?” she said again.
“How?” Jess said.
“I borrowed a boat,” said Michael, proudly.
“This is great,” said Joey. “This is fantastic.” “From who?” Jess said.
“A friend of Lewis. He lives in town. I went over to his house last night to arrange the whole thing. He’s a great guy. Younger. Closer to our age. He’s a really cool guy. We spent all evening eating chips and drinking whiskey and listening to records. He’s been here for fifteen years and has got a wife—but his wife lives in Santa Barbara. They only see each other once a month.”
“That’s wild,” said Jess.
“He says it works for them. He’s great. You’ll love him.”
We piled into one car this time and drove to the river. We could have walked but it was a hot day. Most mornings were greeted by a cold, grey fog that lasted until evening, when the stars came out. It made everything sweet. But today was hot. I could feel the ground beginning to swelter.
We’d gone swimming in the river only twice since we’d arrived. (It’s always that way with rivers, with beaches, with bodies of water. They sit there, outstretched, waiting while you busy yourself with far less welcoming things. They’re so near they almost kiss you, yet most days the distance is just a little too far. It could be a couple meters, five miles or fifty, the distance is always a little too far.)
We hiked down to the mouth of the river and there were a few small boats docked, bobbing slightly on the water. We walked out onto the plywood. Michael led us across the plywood. I walked in back, watching him, wondering if I could love a man who looked such a way on plywood.
“There it is,” he said. Pointing to a small motorboat with the name Barbara painted in white on the side.
“Barbara,” Jess said. “What, his wife in Santa Barbara is named Barbara?”
“Maybe,” Michael said.
Jess started laughing.
“What?” said Michael.
We all thought this was very funny, that a man had a wife in Santa Barbara who he saw once a month, and that this woman’s name was Barbara, and that his motorboat’s name was Barbara, that he had made his own reality and docked it in the river. Michael grimaced, untied the boat and climbed in. I had brought a picnic basket full of sandwiches and mashed pumpkin with cinnamon and maple. Jess had a cooler of beer. Sheila and Joey had blankets. Michael pulled the motor, a pleasant roar emitted from the engine, and we were off into the river.
Once we were far enough out, we took our shirts off and let the sun hit our faces, our necks, our chests. Joey brought out a sandwich and started eating. It was a lovely sound that surrounded us there. The rippling waters, the rustling of the far-off trees, the slipping of the road, the steaming rays of the sun, the quiet munching of Joey’s mouth.
“This is the nicest,” he said.
“This is great,” I agreed.
“Thanks, Michael,” Jess said.
Jess was a girl who did not give compliments regularly and mostly withheld all praise. Michael shaded his face with his baseball cap and smiled with satisfaction.
“Ouch,” he said suddenly. We were 100 meters off the dock. It was a big river. The kind that made you shocked and dismayed to realize that there were thousands of them all over the globe, reflecting the stars and hugging the fish.
“What?” I said.
The mosquitos were out. It was warm, like I said, and they were happy about that. “Can I have the bug spray?” he said to Sheila, who looked at Joey, who looked hopelessly inside his bag knowing that there was no insect repellant inside of it.
We decided to make the best of it. We all lay across the boat, eating our sandwiches and drinking beer, slapping each other intermittently to kill a bug. We were getting bitten up, but those bites don’t feel like anything once you’ve resigned yourself to them. They’re bugs, so what, the lightest things in the world. Lighter than a feather, smaller than a fly, get over it.
We drifted farther and farther along. It came to the point that the dock was a pinprick in the horizon. The car blurred and invisible between the blue above, the green between, the brown swelter of the ground. We took a dip every once in a while. Despite the summer heat, the water was ice. At a little past noon, Jess passed around the beers and we drank until we were hot and stupid. Michael pushed Jess into the water and she poked her head out, sputtering. We all jumped in. A few of us lost our cans of beer in the water, and we waited until the cans popped back up, poking their aluminum tops out from the surface like messages in a bottle.
“Do we have any paper?” I asked.
Joey had a few shreds of discarded receipts in his wallet. He had a pen but no bug spray. This was Joey’s way—to be seduced by quiet impracticalities, to suffer some because of it, but ultimately to be delighted enough times that he never learned a lesson. It was why he had married Sheila just out of high school. It was why he stuck around.
We wrote notes on the strips of paper and stuck them in the cans. This required that Michael, who was the best swimmer, swim around the immediate river vicinity and collect the discarded, wet beers so that we could fill them with wishes and send them back out into the water.
“What do we write?” said Sheila. This was Sheila’s way—a darling follower. She was the kind of person I took on boring outings and into unfamiliar neighborhoods.
“What we want,” said Jess.
“What we most wish in the world,” I said.
“Or what we regret,” said Joey.
“I won’t write that,” said Jess.
“Me neither,” I said. “It’s negative.”
“I’m going to do it,” said Joey.
“Me too,” said Michael.
The boys were always doing this—making everything stupid.
We all sat on the bottom of the boat, skin glistening with the river water and mosquitos feeding on our blood. The sandwich discards and paper wrappings were stored in one corner of the boat. As I said, the slips of paper were actually just Joey’s old receipts, disintegrated into shreds and pieces in his wallet, so we had to be economical. I looked over at everyone writing on their disintegrated pieces of receipt and felt an overwhelming amount of love, and an overwhelming amount of sadness like I was going to be sick, or they were going to be sick, or something around us would eventually get sick.
Perhaps that, combined with Michael’s most recent confession, prompted me to write what I wrote:
It was corny and I knew it when I wrote it. I didn’t share my message, but Sheila did, and she said “a family.”
(Sheila was also the kind of person to want things she already had, just more of them.)
“And y’all?” she said. “What did y’all write?”
“Not telling,” said Jess. It was something trivial.
“Me neither,” said Joey. It was the same. He’d probably tell Sheila later, before sleep, in the shower, whatever married couples do.
“I’ll tell,” said Michael. He stuck his note into an empty bottle and pushed it into the water. It went underwater and sprang back up, the note still folded under the aluminum tab.
“Did you write what you want or what you regret?” I asked.
“Both,” he said.
“Well?” said Jess.
“San Francisco,” he said. He watched the can floating away.
We all thought about that. What our lives had been like in San Francisco, how the place felt nearer and farther than it ever had. How we could never go back because it was gone. We thought of the ash.
“This can be the new San Francisco,” I said. “We’ve founded a land and now we’ll call it San Francisco.”
Michael liked this. “Why not?” he said. “Why not?”
“San Francisco!” Jess shouted. She put her hand over her eyes like a visor, stood up in her bikini and looked exploratorily toward the dock. “I see San Francisco,” she said.
Joey and Sheila laughed. Joey brought out more beers. We got drunker and drunk, hotter and hotter, and lay down on our backs. Every once in a while someone spoke: “San Francisco,” they’d say, slowly, articulating every consonant and elongating every vowel. “Francisco. Francisco. San. Francisco.”
When it got dark, it got cold. We probably should have left earlier, but it wasn’t cold enough. We were sleepy. The alcohol had warmed our blood. In college, we used to take three shots of vodka before we left our apartments to disappear into the night—we called it our extra layer.
When Michael went to pull the motor though, it roared and then it burped. “What was that?” I said, rousing from my stupor. Yes, it was cold. The stars above were out in astounding legions, a glittering battalion. On one of our first nights in the house, Jess had used her cellphone to take pictures of the sky and feed those pictures into a program that told us which stars were which, where the constellations were. Since then, though, we’d all preferred to not know or to guess.
Michael didn’t say anything. He grunted and swore to himself.
“What’s going on?” said Jess.
Sheila was sleeping against Joey. Joey was sleeping against Sheila.
Michael pulled the motor again. A great, violent grinding from the engine.
“Jesus, fuck,” he said. He did it again. Again a chainsaw.
“What’s happening?” said Joey, sleepily. “What’s wrong?”
“Just give me a second,” said Michael. I could smell his sweat. In the dark, illuminated by the purple starlight, I could see him look at me fearfully. He furrowed his eyebrows and looked back at the motor. He gave it one more great, big tug. The boat lurched forward and Michael was thrown back into the hull. The noise, though, it continued. The boat lurched around. The motor was sputtering and screaming. It lurched again. Sheila had woken up by then and was yelling. I could see her grabbing onto Joey’s arm. I could see him holding the lip of the boat for support. Then the boat jumped forward, jumped again, did a balletic, dolphin-like flip just above the water and plunged us all into the river.
Like the empty beer cans, I popped back up quickly. I treaded water. The boat had righted itself and was powering away from us toward the dock.
Seconds later, Sheila was up. Jess quickly followed. They gasped and looked around. Are you okay, they asked each other. It’s freezing, they said. Joey! Sheila called.
We all listened to the quiet of that river. Lapping, lapping, swirling.
“Joey!” she called again. She swam over to me. She grabbed my arm, her fingers slipping off my wet skin. She almost sank again and splashed to stay afloat. The icy water droplets hit my eyes, my cheeks, my nose.“
Where the fuck is Joey,” she said.
“Stop yelling,” said Jess.
“Well?” Sheila yelled.
Fifteen feet away, Michael popped back up. The whites of his eyes were hard and troubled, and the three of us, the girls, we watched his soaked, auburn head emerge with a confused emotion—like we weren’t expecting him, had forgotten he’d been there at all.
Finally, to my right, Joey surfaced. He looked up at the night sky, barked a laugh, and swam over to his wife. Sheila clung to him. Michael paddled sulkily toward the group.
“What do we do?” I said.
We looked around us. The world was mostly dark. There was land on either side of us, we knew it in our mind’s eyes, but in all that black it was as good as a dream. The faint light of the dock was in the distance, just a pinprick of faded gold above the water.
We didn’t have much choice. The invisible land, the light on the dock, the stars above. Wearily we all swam back to the dock. At one point, Jess got a cramp and we all paddled there in place as Joey held her up. At one point, I told the group I wanted to vomit but only dry heaved my salty air into the water. It all wasn’t so bad. It all could have been worse. We all helped each other, waited patiently, worked as one. We all swam back to the dock, through the black waters of San Francisco.
The boat, Barbara, was waiting there for us. It was dead. The boat had crashed and sort of folded itself into the bank of the shore ten meters from the dock. At some point its motor had fallen off and sunk into the infinite mud of the river. As we passed the boat, climbed ashore, stalked back over the plywood and loaded ourselves wetly into the car, Jess started getting mad.
“What the hell kind of a boat was that?” she said. “I left my hat in that river. And my sunglasses.”
“Yeah, was this a joke? Was this guy playing a joke on us?” followed Sheila.
“Who is this guy, Michael?” said Joey.
I said nothing and marched ahead. We left the car unlocked. I climbed into the passenger’s seat.
“He’s just some guy,” said Michael. “He’s just a guy who’s friends with our landlord. What was I supposed to do? I barely know him.”
“Yeah?” said Jess.
“I barely know him,” he repeated.
How Michael handled the whole ordeal, the destruction of the borrowed boat called Barbara and the repayment plan with Lewis, I didn’t know. And we never spoke of love again. After we sunk the boat called Barbara we simply went back to the house and continued trying to live there.
Eventually, Michael did get better at gardening and Sheila became an excellent cook. Lewis oversaw the growing process and was often in our yard. Lewis would lay down on the dirt, belly first, and whisper to the plants. “Stop mocking me,” he’d say to us. “Who cares what you think?” And eventually we did stop mocking him and he did stop caring what we’d think. About twice a week we’d wake to find Lewis in the garden, sprawled out and asleep among the rutabaga. Lewis, Sheila, Michael: together they worked the garden and the kitchen and they developed a new friendship. The next year Joey wrote a novel and asked me to read it. It was a terrible book. It was about a force-field wall and sexy clone wars on a far-off planet. Then he started going on bicycle rides with the young man with the children’s bike, who never got a bigger bike and who did eventually lose some weight. And it went on like that the whole time we were there: him zooming and zooming around the two-mile loop, yelling and doing various stunts. The lot of them lighting fireworks off for no apparent reason. “Why do they do that?” I once pressed Joey. He shrugged: “I’ve never asked.” Jess got a new job in town. It was the only job opening the town had had in fifteen years, and they told her so. For her job, she melted glass bottles down into liquid and then helped her boss rebuild them into art. Then she helped him mail the art all over the country. I kept the same job I’d had for a while. It kept me on my computer and kept me tethered to the outside world, to the city where we used to live. Between that and eating Michael and Sheila’s food and keeping Lewis off the rutabaga and reading Joey’s novel and visiting Jess in town, I was busy for the whole time we were there in the new San Francisco. We built our own little world in the new San Francisco.
But as we drove back from the river that night, we all could tell it wouldn’t last forever. We all could tell that the land would only be the new San Francisco for a time. Maybe it would be three months. Maybe it would be five. Maybe it would be five years. But we knew that it wasn’t all there was and that eventually one of us would have to leave.
We ended up staying for three years. Sheila and Joey were going to have a baby and wanted more space. And the rest of us to be fair couldn’t have dealt with the crying. The last summer, the vegetables from the garden were huge and wide-awake and happy.
How could we do it?
We slept late that next morning, after we’d sunk the boat called Barbara and swam to shore drunk through the river and returned home. It was noon when I finally got out of bed and no one had made breakfast; no one had even brewed coffee. My arms ached like a scream. Lifting a bowl from the pantry was too much. Lazy and in pain and, I think, hungover, I let myself out through the mudroom and took a walk along the back road. I was wearing my pajama shorts and sweatshirt still, and treaded across the dirt and gravel in my sandals. The fog was back. The sun shone through the mist coldly and at irregular intervals. I walked about a half a mile and stopped, breathed in the air, glanced disapprovingly at the gargantuan, shrouded house beyond (they had an infinity pool and a porch that looked right over the ocean, almost dangled off the bluff; they were wealthy hermits; glamorous people who needed a rest and to be as close to the edge of the world as possible; these were the kind of people who inhabited theses homes, I’ve since learned, and they had a worldview that I’ve come to understand is not uncommon). I turned around and headed toward our house.
On my way back, I ran into the cat again. She did not get up to greet me this time, stayed crouched contentedly in the grass under the shadow of a cypress tree. I looked at the cat and realized she was quite young. Almost brand-new. Certainly under a year old, tawny and muscular and assured. She was dirty white, with a black face and black paws. Her chest was splashed with orange. Her ears, including the right one that had been bitten half-off by some unknown adversary, were black. She sat in the shade by the fresh corpse of a mouse. As I drew closer, I could see that the thing was headless. Some of its red blood glistened. The cat looked up at me, back at the mouse, up at me.
Looking at her, I thought she would make a fine mascot for the new San Francisco.
For the three years we lived in the new San Francisco, I learned a lot. I didn’t learn as much as the rest of them, for they acquired new skills and made new friends and started projects. That is just my way—I am the type who observes, and whatever new wisdom I gain, and I do gain it, is rarely put to the test.
We lived for three years in the new San Francisco, and then we left. How could we do it? I once asked myself, but then remembered that I’d already learned. I started learning it that night when we left the river and the abandoned boat they called Barbara, returned to the house to try and start our life in the land we called the new San Francisco. Jess was angry that she’d left her sunglasses and hat in the river. We’d also, though I don’t think we were completely to blame, left the crusts of our sandwiches and the scraps and tape from our food wrappers and our blankets and sunscreen there in the river. Not to mention the abandoned beer cans floating in the water. I saw it like a dream that night: why there’d be no permanence to the new San Francisco. When the barn cat made a kill, she sat by it all day or until she worked up the appetite to finish the thing off. Whatever she did not eat—the head of a bird or the foot of a rat; the belly of a lizard—she would watch over like a guard. She took a seat beside her kill and let it be known. “I just won’t quit you,” she’d say to her unfortunate vermin corpse. “Have a look,” she’d say to passerby. “This is what I have done.”