Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Beach

“I seem to be able to see my thoughts as something quite apart from myself. I can watch them rising, falling, their only form of activity.”
-- Italo Svevo, Confessions of Zeno

“Oh to bring back the days when stars spoke at the mouths of caves.”
-- Joy Williams, The Changeling

She stood barefoot on the beach, the bottoms of her jeans rolled, feet sinking into the wet sand. The ocean rushed up to meet her, the tide spreading out, teasing her ankles. The sky above like a blue bending canvas, punctured with the occasional soft blast of white. Her hand visoring off the sun, now dipping low with late afternoon, she turned back and smiled, her cheeks swelling with a private, untouched joy.


He flew back at the end of summer, a little more than a week before classes were to start. The first day back he bought groceries and cleaned his apartment. It had been left dirty due to a hasty departure, two months prior. The bathroom in particular was its own kind of disaster, with the towels and sink stained with makeup, clops of used tissue scattered on the floor, and long strands of dark hair strewn over everything like tinsel.

It was restless going those first couple nights, re-adjusting to time zones, back in the old bed, sheets unwashed. Thousands of miles now separated him from the events of the summer. He went over things again and again, thinking about how he had left them. It was interesting, he thought, how after leaving a place after an extended stay that period came to form a totality in the mind, an unbreakable cube of thought you could hold up to the light and examine, objectively, from a detachment perch, getting a different impression depending on the refraction of light.

On the second day back he got a call from a friend from the university and the two met for coffee.

They were downtown at a relatively recently opened establishment called Serious Coffee, located in the newly constructed conference building, a modest aesthetic shock that offset the vague Old Town ambience of the surrounding fading brick, wood and cement architecture. They sat at a small table by a large window. It took up the whole wall. Two of them, in fact, were all glass, floor to ceiling.

“You missed a bunch of stuff while you were away. Hiking, shows, trips to the beach, swimming, nights drinkin’ by the fire. It was a fantastic time.”

Neal Sebado was tall and dark-haired, intense and animated in his looks and gestures. There was a general intensity about him, unceasing. Even when relaxing, J. imagined, there was an innate intensity to the process. The same amount of mental power used to write a philosophy paper was also channeled into TV surfing or drifting off to sleep, attuned to the slipping levels of consciousness. An inexhaustible intensity. The slow fire of being. He spoke in spasms of thought, moving from one subject to the next with a child’s glee and and scholar’s rigour. His speech peppered with an above average number of italics and accents.

“You’re right,” J. said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I hadn’t intended to leave. I would have stayed. But then Rita decided to visit and I got swept up in all that.”

“I know. I understand. How’s she doing anyway? Is she still coming to the show next week?”

“What show?”

“Oz Mutantes, remember? The show you both agreed on seeing when you got back.”

“Oh right. I forgot. Shit. Completely slipped my mind.”

“She seemed pretty stoked when I told her about it.”

“She’s like that with everything. In the moment everything’s a trip to the edge. OK, now I remember. I remember that night. We got drunk and went to the beach and writhed and crawled in the sand and then later got fast food. Good times. But considering the fact that she’s half-a-country away and I haven’t spoken to her in I guess it’s now, what, two months. Given all that, seems highly unlikely.”

“And yet you two were so, I don’t know, chummy or whatever. When she was here.”

“Chummy. I like that. Sure. All right. The two of us, chums. But then it was a whole different thing when I was back there. A different vibe permeated. I was on her turf. Her rules. I don’t know what happened. Things were good for a while. Then, I don’t know. Something to do with leaving a pair of socks out.”


“Or maybe it was shoes. Shoes and socks. It was shoes and socks that were my undoing. Sorry about the tickets.”

“Too bad. I liked Rita. We didn’t get along at first. You told me that would happen. What did you say? We’d either get along really well or be at each others’ throats.”

“I said that?”

“Something like that. Anyway, no worries. I’m sure Otis Driftwood can find someone to cover hers. He was the one who got them. He knows others who’d be interested, I’m sure. They’re a great band. Spacey grooves. Big sound. Lots a melody and rhythm.”

Neal shifted in his seat, sipped coffee. There was an intensity even to the way he consumed liquids, a complete shifting of attention to the physical, for that instant, the feel of fingers around the cup or container, gripping, the simple repetition of the action, hand-to-mouth. He immersed himself in mindless tasks such as these, took pleasure in them, tossed them off, left them behind. It was all performance anyway, his sweeping, ironic body language seemed to suggest.

“So what were you doing all that time? Did you find any work?”

“No,” J. said. “Didn’t even really look. Didn’t do much of anything. Didn’t even write. It was so bad.”

“J., see here. You know, if we’re ever going to do some traveling or whatever when we’re both through school, we need to secure some funds. Gain financial independence. Break out. Taste real freedom. Active living. Stasis is not nor should it ever be a lifestyle. Not of choice.”

“Yeah. You’re right. I’ve been all hung up. Out of step. It’s stupid, really. See this. This my shamed face. A shamed face for a sham life.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. You’re still young. Besides, who isn’t? Hung up, I mean. One way or another.”

“Maybe. I just mean it was a lot of stuff at once. It was a weird time. I didn’t know how to cope. I didn’t absorb it all properly. That was it. Trouble absorbing things. I fell into a state of functional paralysis. I turned inward, toward cozy blankness. And now. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. I wait for it to resolve itself but it doesn’t. On and on. Perpetual. Circular. I’m waiting for the end credits. It’s like a movie without an ending. That’s what it is. Does that sound cliche? I can’t think of a good metaphor to convey it. I hate metaphor.”

“You about done?”

“Just about. Humble thanks for your indulgence.”

J. went on to tell him about his summer. There was Lana’s new relationship. He learned of that right after getting back. He’d left things open at Christmas and she had moved on. Only understandable. Then there was Rita. Kicking him out and breaking off contact. That was sudden, surprising, the screeching finality of it. Something severed. The episode with Chrystal came towards the end. Tired drift leading to final exclamation. It was a long time coming. All the bitter, emphatic emails, cut-off phone calls. The odd surprise encounter. Vying for control of the emotional dagger. Fake civility, blackest intentions. All in the name having adoption papers signed, which eventually leading to the decision for the paternity test.

“I can’t believe it. All this time. All this time we’ve known each other you’ve never told me.”

“It’s not something that generally comes up in casual conversation. ‘Oh, hey Neal, by the way, just a heads up -- I’m a father. That’s right. Deadbeat of the year, right here. Ignoring the child I left behind so I could move out here and go to school.’”

“That’s harsh. So the entire time, you thought it was yours?”

“He actually. Not it. He’s a he. For what it’s worth. And yes, I was led to understand that there were no other possibilities. With regards to paternity. The test was meant only as a formality. An expensive formality.”

“Harsh, man. Harsh. Did you see him much?”

“A few times. When I’d go back. It was weird. Like stepping into another world, another time. Right there. An almost visceral shock.”

“Hell of a trip.”

“Tell me about it.”

Neal chuckled.

“At least now it’s through. Done with. Forget about the past. Past is past, as they say. Future is the game. Start plotting. Forward thinking. Now take my friend Quinn. We’ve been hanging out a bunch since he got back from Montreal. He’s got a bunch of stuff he wants to pursue. For one thing, going back to school. He wants to go back and take a bunch of publishing courses to finish up his degree. That’s the first step. From there he wants to move to Victoria and work on starting a publishing house. He even has the name for it. Blind River. Great name, no. I think it is. I’ll get him to tell you how he came up with it when you see him. Start by publishing friends’ stuff and go from there. Who knows? He also wants at some point to go down to San Francisco and dig the scene there. He’s been there before and said he had an incredible time. I’m surprised you haven’t met him yet. I think you two would get along. He’s really into music and books. The other day he dropped a copy of Celine’s ‘Journey to the End of the Night’ into my lap. He said, ‘Here -- read this.’ He didn’t say why but I think it was because he knew it was the sort of thing that aligned with my taste and sensibility. And he was right. I’m a couple chapters in and really enjoying it. It’s morbid and hilarious and totally fits with my outlook somehow.”

He had another drink, taking the opportunity to purge his thoughts as he indulged the physical. J. looked around. He counted six others, including the girl working behind the counter. There might’ve been a seventh. He thought he caught a peripheral glance of someone going into the bathroom while Neal was talking. Then someone walked in. He was about their age. He had soft, ruddy features and wore a cap concealing a mess of unwashed hair, a few curls jutting out at the sides.

“Shoot, there he is now. Hey man! What’s the haps?”

Quinn grinned mischievously, like he had just deciphered the punchline to a joke he’d been working on before he’d come inside. He came over and sat down.

“Quinn, this is J., the guy from school I was telling you about.”

“Hey. So I was supposed to be meeting Nicole here but she just text’d me saying something about her dog getting a haircut. That was it. The entirety of the message.”

“What? Weird. But then that’s not really surprising. Nicole’s always been a flighty one.”

“Yeah. But still. I like Nicole.”

“I like her tits.”

“Like you know about Nicole’s tits.”

“No. But Scott does. I’ve heard all about them from him.” Neal touched a finger and thumb to his lips, released them and said, “Magnifique!”

A moment of silence to ponder the implications of this.

“Anyway, I was just telling J. here about where you got the name for the press.”

“Blind River, you mean. Yeah,” Quinn said. “So this one time when I was high I, like, imagined a long river flowing into complete blackness. With the wind carrying all these papers to the end of the earth.”

J. noted a hint of light regality to his diction, a soft music whispering between the vowels. Neal looked at J., suitably impressed by Quinn’s retelling.

“But nothing’s going to come of it for a while. At least until I get to Victoria. Victoria’s the place to be right now.”

“Neal tells me you were in Montreal for a spell.”

“Yeah. It was OK. Montreal’s OK. But there’s not much of a scene. Just a bunch of fucking rich kids moping about.”

Quinn went over and ordered a coffee and a bagel. When he came back he said to Neal, “Have you asked out that cute New Zealand girl yet? The one who’s always working the counter when we come in?”

Neal looked over at her and then back to Quinn.

“No, not yet.”

“I’ve been waiting for him to ask her out all summer,” Quinn said to J. “He’s so smooth when he talks to her. He has this thing. He can just turn it on on a whim. Mr. Smooth-O Silver. Impressive really.”

“It’s not hard when she’s so sweet,” Neal said. “This one time I had paid six bucks and change for our Americanos. But there was some confusion about how many shots of expresso were in the large orders. We deliberated on the amount but still weren’t sure. Finally Quinn says ‘Just give us back whatever you think is right.’ The girl ends up giving us a dollar back. I look down at it and looked back at her and said, ‘Here -- take this as a tip.’ She was so excited.”

“For that reason alone I would come back here,” Quinn said. “To be freely joyous and humble is halfway to sainthood in my book.”

“In that case she better stay away from me,” Neal said. “But actually there’s this one girl at work. Lindsay’s her name. Very interesting. Also sort of flighty but in a good way. Something endearing about it, the way she’s both oblivious and intensely self-aware. At any rate, might be something there. We’ll see.”

“Look at you. You’re starting to amass a real stable,” Quinn said.

“I try. Fitfully. I try.”

After the coffee they went over to the organic food restaurant across the street and then back to J.’s apartment for drinks. J. mixed generous Long Island Iced Teas while Quinn sat at the computer calling up old jazz songs from somewhere online -- the exact site wasn’t important since all music seemed to be available, even the most out-of-date or obscure. A limitless preserve of all world’s unmarketable music there waiting to be discovered and consumed. Commercial radio was a quaint indulgence by comparison.

“You guys have to hear this,” Quinn said, turning up the dial on the little computer speaker. “Earl Hines is the greatest jazz pianist of all time!”

They listened to the tinny sounding recording for a minute. Then Neal broke in.

“Ah, say, Quinn, this is cool and all, but how about some music from this century. Or at least late part of last.”

Later they were sitting outside working on a second round of Long Islands and taking in the expansive view of blushing sky over the distant mountains, when J.’s landlord, Dan Faulkner, came down the stairs with a hamper of laundry. He lived in a spacious three-bedroom space above the two ground-level suites that he rented out. A large man, thick but not flabby, muscular if not defined, J. imagined him a retired bodybuilder judging by all the old rusting gym equipment stashed away in the backyard. But he had never thought to pursue the matter. Dan was all brawn and force, at least the appearance of. The completely bald head seemed to add to his girth in some imperceptible way and the goatee he sported completed the hulking imagine. He wore a tank top and flip-flops and smiled jovially at J. as he approached.

“Hey, you’re back! I’ve haven’t heard you down there. When’d you get back?”

“Few days ago.”

He turned the corner and disappeared into the laundry room, returning a few minutes with a more focused manner as he took J. aside.

“Hey, so what happened to that cute girl of yours?”

“Rita, you mean. I don’t know. She’s gone. She’s doing her thing. She’s got her own thing going on.”

“I thought she was your chick?”

J. tried providing a full account but details gave way to generalizations. While trying to pull his thoughts together he realized he had exhausted himself of the subject of Rita for the night with Neal earlier. He was also now fast approaching the point of hopeless, resigned drunkenness. So there was that also to consider.

When he was finished Dan regarded him evenly though not without sympathy.

“Well, damn. That’s too bad. Women, eh? Impossible to read. Always all over the place. Never know what they want. She was a cool chick though. That was a blast we had. The night we went out to the cabin out on Protection. Fried up those steaks and drank that bottle of gut-rot.”

“Yeah. It was.”

Then in a slightly conspiratorial tone, Dan said, “You still have any of that pot I gave you guys?”

“No. No more. It’s all gone. We smoked it all before we left.”

“Oh OK. Just as well. I don’t really smoke it much anymore. Just now and then.”

This seemed to satisfy him and J. sat back down on the bench next to Neal, across from Quinn. But then Dan came over and continued, this time in a different vain, signalled by the slight shift of inflection in his voice.

“So what do you think? Could you use a roommate?”

said, “What? Why?”

“‘Cuz, listen, I met these girls who are looking for a place. They’re going to the university like you. I met them the other day while I was on Protection. They’re here from Germany of all places. All blondes. There’s actually a guy with them, too. Ben. He’s a good guy. Anyway, I got to thinking I would rent out my space upstairs to them. They came by yesterday and were all excited. They’d be happy to have it. But the thing is they would still need an extra room. So I started telling them about you down there by yourself with the two bedrooms.”

It was a two bedroom he’d ben renting the past two years. But he hadn’t used either for that purpose in some time. He had moved his bed into the breakfast nook, next to a side window, the quietest place in the apartment when the laundry wasn’t running. He got used to waking up in a cocoon of dull light. But at the moment he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to believe this. It didn’t seem quite right, quite real. It seemed surreal somehow. Someone was putting him on.

“Where are you going to live? If they’re taking over your space, I mean. How does that work?”

“I’ll figure something out,” Dan said. “I have the cottage on Protection. It still needs some work done but it’s livable. It has four walls. I’d make it work. I could also always go to the mainland. There’s always projects on the go over there a guy can jump in on. There ain’t shit around here these days. Not since the last batch of condos got finished. I did the plumbing on those. So what do you say? You think you might want to do that, rent one of your rooms out to her?”

It was too much to take in at once. It seemed like a big decision that required proper thought and consideration. There were too many details, large and small, he had to go over before he could provide an adequate response. Loose variables yet to be considered. It was a task he could attempt only when he was more clearheaded, in the sober light of day.

“Can I have time to think it over.”

“Sure. Take the night to think about it if you need to. Shit, I thought I was doing you a favour. Have all these hot German babes living with you and above you all semester. The freakin’ Playboy Mansion over here. Anyway, they’re coming by again tomorrow morning to go over some paperwork and whatever so maybe she can look at it then. Give you a chance to meet them. Wait’ll you see her, the one who wants your place. Knockers out to her.”

Dan gestured with his hands in front of his chest to indicate generous portions. Neal and Quinn were still there listening to all this, smiling and chuckling.

“And hey, also. We were going to go camping up at Tofino for a few days. Drive up in my truck. If you want to come along you’re welcome to. Everyone can hang out, get to know each other.”

Again J. could only offer a noncommittal response. Neal wouldn’t let him off that easy.

“Come on, man. You should do it. Go.”

J. smiled him off good-naturedly but something was off. He couldn’t help feeling a plan was being hatched that he had somehow become an active participant in and yet didn’t feel strenuously committed to. Was it possible the alcohol was making him paranoid? Had someone put something in his drink? But wait. But he had made the drinks.

“Say, you wouldn’t happen to have a tent?” said Dan.

“A tent.”

“I’ve got one but we could really use a second. As much as I wouldn’t might sharing one with three German babes.”

“I’ve got one,” Neal said. “J. can borrow it if he goes.”

“Great. Thanks. Just wait’ll you get a look at them. Just trust me.”

Dan went back upstairs. Shortly after that Quinn said there was a pick-up hockey game he was playing in. J. suggested he come back afterward and he agreed to. Neal was right. J. liked Quinn. Or maybe it was because he was drunk. People in general were so much easier to stand when one was drunk. After Quinn left, Neal and J. went for a walk.

“So are you going to go tomorrow, on that camping thing?”

“I guess so. I don’t know. I’m not sure if I really have a choice.”

They were crossing a bridge close to downtown. Cars raced along below them, beside them.

“Don’t fall for the mystical and un-rational allure of determinism, J. Choice is a matter of conviction and follow through. As long as you have those things working for you you will always have choice.”

“I want to know what goes on inside that head of yours.”

“Trust me. You don’t.”

“Yes I do. I want to crack it open and gaze upon it a while. Contemplate it the way one would a void. Not that I mean to imply a connection between the two. Quite the contrary.”

“Sure. Forget it. But some other time. Quick. Let’s go this way.”

They stopped somewhere for more coffee and were back in time to meet Quinn. J. had sobered up some and they drove downtown. Eventually they ended up at an out of the way little bistro, located down a thin stretch of road and past a double layer cement parking complex. It was late now. No customers inside. All the chairs set, legs up, on tables. But they were met by the proprietor who welcomed them in. He took them to a table out on the patio and brought out coffee and an order of oysters.

It was a calm, warm night. The air had that thick, almost enveloping texture to it. Weak light flooded out from the shop’s French doors. They drank the coffee and ate the oysters and talked with a sort of aimless exaltation. Neal performed a few impressions. They paid and left. On the way home, J. dropped them off at their separate residences, stopping at Neal’s to get his tent.

He woke early. Too early. Dan had told him they were coming around ten and he wanted to be up and showered and reasonably put together before they arrived. He tried anyway. He went over to the sink and chugged a glass of cold water. Then he ate, showered, and collapsed on the couch with a coffee trying to stave off the evil rumblings of a hangover. He could hear the opening refrain of Fur Elise wafting in from the apartment next to his. The tenant’s daughter would play it over and over, the opening refrain and nothing more. Play it until the note’s seemed drained of all melodic content and emotion and became almost chant-like, a mad ramble of sounds, with the heft and resonance of a ringtone.

He was in the calm daze of half-sleep when Dan knocked on his door and called to him, asking if he was up. He got up, checking himself in the mirror before answering.

There was four of them. The three girls could have been sisters, of slightly different builds and shades of blonde but sharing something deeper -- what was only caught fleetingly in small gestures, subtle looks, immeasurable movements of the eyes. More than the idiosyncrasies of time and place, their shared German heritage. A deeper knowing beyond the locked gate of self. Sandra was the youngest. She had a natural, soft-slender body, like yogurt. She seemed the shyest, with a sort of undefined darkness, J. came to sense, lurking in her reticence, her remoteness. Desiree was the oldest and this gave her “mommy” status in the group. She seemed like that in a way. The perennially out-of-breath soccer mom. Bagging lunches and cleaning stains, whose communications with those closer to her age she came to regard as an brief island of relief for which you were thanked with fresh enthusiasms. Skinny and angular, with sharp, narrowing eyes, her attractiveness, her sensuality seemed a concealed if not a severe, an almost threatening thing. The one who was interested in the room was Lisa. She resembled a long-haired, voluptuous Jean Seberg. There was even a touch of Ingrid Bergman, if one dare evoke the black-and-white cinema goddess’s immortal beauty. With her full featured, expressive face. She had a prominent mole on her cheek, pleasant and familiar, thought J., in an obscure sort of way.

And the guy with them. Ben. He was dark and thick. He presented himself enthusiastically but ambiguously. You weren’t sure, at first, with him if he was going to put his arm around you and take you out for a beer or punch you in the teeth and have sex with your girlfriend. Maybe both. In that order. He seemed nice.

Here they were in his apartment, this German family of students.

He showed them around the apartment, with Dan supplying the history, specs and basic pitch. Lisa beamed, taking it all in.

“Geil! It’s wonderful. I take it.”

They were standing in one of the bedrooms, J. and two of the girls, Sandra and Desiree. It contained weights, assorted large plastic containers, a stray night table and various instrument cases. It wasn’t very clean, J. now realized. He hadn’t had time to do anything. It hadn’t been vacuumed in some time. The dust was visible on the ledges that ran the lengths of two of the walls. The girls didn’t seem to notice. They talked on. In English mostly. He tried thinking of things to say while maintaining his poise with affirmative nods. The topic was education. They told him about their school arrangements and what they were taking while here until sometime after Christmas. Their English for the most part was impeccable, for a second language. They had been taught it in school since their earliest grades. Their speech had both a halting, drawn-out quality and a tendency to slink over words. Like each was a new toy they’d become enamoured with, only to quickly put it aside at the discovery of another. And another. And so on.

“So you all flew over together?”

“All of us except Lisa. We met her at the hostel the first night,” Desiree said.

“What are the odds.”

“Then we met Dan the next day,” Sandra said.

“He is very helpful,” Desiree said. “He helped us when we said we needed a place. He was very forthcoming. Very friendly. Very much fun.”

“Big fun,” he said. “Fun in the sun.”

Back in the main room preparations for the camping trip was already in motion. Dan asked J. again if he was coming. The girls all looked at him eagerly, imploringly. He said yes, and there was a little explosion of hands and mouths. Dan grinned and nodded approvingly.

He packed haphazardly, stuffing shirts and snacks in a backpack until the zipper could barely close. The others had left to bring in their weighty suitcases and separate stuff for the trip. J. could hear them being lugged up the back steps and wheeled across the hardwood into their respective bedrooms. A few minutes later Lisa returned.

“You almost ready!”


“I really like your apartment. It’s very -- big!”

“Really. You think? Not for a two bedroom. But big enough we shouldn’t be bumping into each other.”

“I am just glad to find a place. The other one’s I looked at were not so good. The landlord at one was a little how you say, more than friendly but in a bad way?”



“Yes. As in, someone you want to stay away from. Suspect. A bit of a creeper. Shady.”

“Ah, yes. Shady. Yes! Definitely that! He stood very close. He mentioned going out for lunch and other things. As if included in the rent. Is this normal here?”

There was a small leap, he noted, a bounce to her words as she spoke. Little irruptions of language.

“It’s not. That’s weird alright. How old was he?”

“He was old, yes. More than fifty or even much older.”

“I’m just curious. That word you used earlier, what was it? Geil. What does it mean?”

“It means many things. Depending. If something’s cool, you say ‘Das geil.’ If you go out drinking you say you going out to get geil. It also means something else.”


She smiled, then said, “If you’re feeling, how you say excited in a sexy way.”


“Yes. It means horny.”

“Horny. Aroused. Hot and bothered. Lusting. Desiring. Randy.”

She looked at him curiously.

“Who is this Randy?”

“Never mind,” he said.

Ben then joined them.

“What are you two doing in here?”

“Nichts!” she said, her tone playfully defensive.

“Dan’s truck is all loaded. He says we’re ready to go.”

“Yes! I can’t wait! I am excited! A place to live and now camping. So happy!”

picked up his pack and they started for the door, Lisa going ahead of them as Ben took J. aside.

“So you two are going to be roommates.”

“I guess so. It looks that way. She seems pretty set on it. No backing down now.”

“But you are interested in her, no?”

He paused as if gauging something, some subtle shift in his physiognomy, a break in the fog of groggy morning.

“I don’t know. I hadn’t really considered it.”

“Well, in case you are you should know she has no boyfriend back in Germany. Myself I am drawn more towards Desiree. She looks like she was made to do evil things. But alas I have girlfriend back home. Very beautiful. So I must be good,” he said. Then grinned. “But not that good.”

They came around the side of the house and were met my Dan’s dog Jake (as in Jake the Snake, Dan told him, when as a bronze-coloured pup he appeared scampering about the yard, wily and spry), a two-year-old Norwegian elk hound-husky cross. He came rambling up to them, mouth open, tail wagging. Dan was trying to figure out where to put him. First he thought the hatch but when it was clear there was no room, he resolved on the backseat, on the floor with Sandra, Desiree and J. Lisa sat up front with Dan and Ben. They were all set to leave when Dan turned and said to J., “What about the guitar?”

“Should I bring it? You want me to bring the guitar?” J. said.

“‘Course you should. We need someone to play Kumbaya around the campfire.”

J. went back inside. It was a black Ovation electric-acoustic. Not playing it himself, Dan had lent it to him back in the spring. J. had replaced the strings but hadn’t yet cut them down and the loose wires swayed and tinkled freely when he picked it up. He got a pair of wire cutters from off a shelf and snipped off the excess down to the tuning pegs and took it out.

There was no room in the hatch so J. sat with the guitar on his knee, careful where he positioned the headstock, careful not to hit anybody with it.

“Play us a song for the road!” Dan said as they pulled away.

He tried getting himself in a playing position. It was difficult getting his hands around the neck to form and shift chords and he settled on noodling out a few single notes.

On their way out of town they stopped outside a white two-story townhouse with a flawless turf-green lawn.

“Just a sec, you guys,” Dan said. “I have to steal us a tent.”

While he was gone the others speculated on whose house it was. J. tried to spot someone on the other side of the door, through the window, but couldn’t. Dan returned a moment later with the tent. They were all curious about the circumstances.

“That’s my house,”Dan said decisively.

“You own two houses?” Lisa said.

“Actually three. Plus two cabins. I live in one. The others are rentals. My ex-wife lives here. She got it in the divorce. Among other things. I see she’s been doing a good job spending all the money I give her. But you don’t want to hear about that. You want to go camping!”

He let out a hoot. The girls cheered. Everything was in place. They started off.


The day her flight got in he was there at the airport to meet her. They drove back into town and he showed her his apartment. Later they walked downtown. They stopped in at a few shops. She bought little things that caught her fancy, cards and trinkets for herself and people back home. They got sushi at the restaurant that played cool jazz and had old pews and saloon doors leading to the bathrooms. Their server was an attractive French woman, very pregnant. They ate and drank and went for a stroll around the harbour. Back at his apartment they drank some more and talked and went to bed.

During the day while he was at campus she would lay out on the trampoline in the backyard and doze and bake. She made friends with his landlord’s dog and later his landlord. He came home one day to find them sitting out in the yard by the fountain having drinks. His landlord drove them out to his cabin in his boat. It was in the middle of renovations and the only way they could get in was by accessing the front door in a strategic fashion. They ate cheese and pork chops his landlord fried up, along with homemade wine from a rum jug. Upstairs they stood together looking out the paneless windowframe at the rippling ocean. The next day his landlord left to go up north to another cabin. He said he’d be gone a few days and she asked if he’d leave the dog behind. He obliged. They lived together for a time, the three of them.

During the day he was at campus but when they were together in the evening and on weekends they would drive around checking out the sights, go to arts-and-crafts stores, take evening strolls, eat ice cream and watch movies. She had brought some Demerol with her, something she’d been taking for an undisclosed illness, some kind of nervous condition. One night they took a couple each, she perhaps one too many. Later they burned candles and spaced out to instrumental music, letting the sounds wash over them in dreamy, numbed waves.

One night there was a cover band playing at one of the clubs downtown. They did versions of songs by a heavy progressive band, all hammer and abandon. Trembling catharsis. It was almost deserted when they got there and they drank overpriced drinks and sat at a booth. Eventually more people showed up and before the band started the singer came out painted all in blue and wearing a pair oversized novelty sunglasses. After the show they sat on the curb out back, behind the club. Lots of police cruisers were out and there was an inordinate number of guys dressed in tuxes with dates mulling about. He noticed a lone rose on the ledge next to them. It had a slender clip-on tube of water attached to the stem. He gave it to her. She kissed him. They sat watching the band load gear. She struck up a conversation with one of the members and before long they were riding along with them to get food. They stopped at a drive-thru and then drove back to the motel they were staying at. He sat on one of the beds and took nips from a flask and passed it around to the other band members. The bass player sat on the other bed uploading pictures they’d taken of the show onto his laptop. Later on the bass player and singer drove them back to the apartment and he rolled up a joint and the four of them smoked it outside as the sky began to lighten.

He stayed home the next day and laid out with her. He had drank and smoked too much the night before and tried reading a copy of “A Brief History of Time” that a friend had lent him. He read a bit and put it down. He turned over and looked at her. She was wearing a two-piece and her dark skin had a rich, glistening sheen to it. She was laying on her back and appeared to be asleep. He watched her awhile and then got down off the trampoline and went inside, filling the sink with water and doing dishes to the sounds of heavy industrial music, played at loud volume.

They went to a movie. He bought her candy and they sat in the darkened theatre with other strangers scattered about in seats. Afterwards, when they drove home, he took a detour along the harbour, basking in the meaningful silence. At the apartment, in the backyard, he heated up the hot tub and they stripped and got in. Later on, in bed, he read to her until she fell asleep.

On their next to last night one of his friends came over and they had drinks and went downtown for a while, then drove over to a nearby beach and rolled around, then bought doughnuts and went back to his friend’s. They passed out together on the couch while his friend played bass in the next room. It was late and his mother had to come down to tell him to stop. When they were awake they all drove to a spot by the water and hiked up a rocky cliff to watch the sun rise and smoke a joint. They waited a while and watched a couple ships pass but the sky was overcast and instead they drove to McDonald’s for breakfast. Later that day he went up to campus to write his final.

That night they had dinner with another of his friends and his girlfriend. They had all gone to school together at one point. It was a reunion of sorts. The return of an old dynamic. They had a good time. His friend barbecued and made margaritas. When she told them they should be getting back he wanted to keep it going awhile. She got mad and stormed off to find a store to buy cigarettes. He and his friend hung out in the kitchen, drinking and snacking and conspiring. She returned some time later, without smokes. She couldn’t find a store. His friend lived out of town and it was a long silent drive back. He drove while she sat moodily next to him. Finally he got her to talk and they talked all the way back and stayed up the rest of the night packing.
She stood. Barefoot on the beach. The ocean rushed up to meet her, tide dispersing. The sky reflecting back, calm. Sun dipping low with late afternoon. She turned back and smiled, cheeks swelling serenely.

The nausea started sometime after they got on the highway and were outside the city, beyond the commercial district. Unsure who or how to express this to and to what ends, J. suffered in silence. The truck soon became an oppressive force. He rolled down the window partway and leaned his head out. But there was little relief to be had and eventually the girls, Sandra and Desiree, asked if he would close it because of the cold. He complied.

They passed through a large forested area, ancient living wood towering indifferently. To the left, a lake sparkled with the sun’s reflection. A cliff wall cut into it the middle of it, jutting out, arrow-like, to a narrow point.

Tofino was roughly a three hour drive inland, traveling in a northwesterly direction. At about halfway they stopped in a town with a All-Mart and got out to stretch. J. went inside to get aspirin and a bottle of water. In the bathroom he splashed water on his face and swallowed the aspirin. He stood there accessing things. A moment passed. He felt a little better but not great. No great improvement. Then he started to experience a dizzy sensation, the feeling of continuous motion, speed replaces stillness, like he was still riding down the highway. He went back out to the truck. In the parking lot they were waiting around, eating. Lisa and Sandra sat on the curb snacking from a bag of something crunchy. Ben leaned against the truck inhaling a sandwich. Desiree held a bottle of water, pacing. Dan had gone into the building next door. He returned a moment later with various supplies. It was cool out. Afternoon but not much warming going on.

Back on the highway Dan drove fast and easy, almost free-form, down the busy single-lane. At one point he had his cellphone out and was calling around to nearby campsites, doing his best to get them booked in on short notice. Lisa helped him out, looking up numbers. They weren’t having much luck. The first two he tried were filled up. There was an unspoken tension in the vehicle. A tense hush, fraught with meaning. No backup plan had been mentioned if they couldn’t get in anywhere. Things were becoming more perilous with each call. The hastiness of the arrangements seemed on the verge of revealing itself in complete disaster, their -- the German student’s -- hopes of a Canadian campout thrown into disrepair.

Dan remained calm and headlong. The next call he made they had an opening.

J.’s nausea had come on again since the All-Mart. Strong. An almost overpowering body wail. His lips and throat started to tingle sinisterly. He closed his eyes and imagined something solid and inanimate, like a statue or totem pole, and tried projecting himself into it. A solid, well-built structure. It was calming somehow. Eventually he fell asleep, waking some time later just as they pulled onto a gravel road leading to the campsite.

There were three spots available. There was a spot on the beach. Lisa was most excited about this. She was excited about the prospect of going to sleep and waking up to the sight of the ocean as she popped her head out in the morning. The others liked the idea too. But it seemed it would be too windy and cool, out in the open like that, even with the tents and sleeping bags. More, it was only a single space for all six of them, plus Jake, and their two tents. The other option was a treed in area around back of the main building, where there was a fire pit with grill, a clothesline, and two picnic tables. There were two spots right beside each other. This seemed more acceptable and spacious, they agreed, and took both.

After a decision was reached everyone grabbed things from the truck to take over while Dan went inside to pay. J. was coming back to the truck when he returned. He gestured for him to hop in.

“What’s up?” J. said.

“How you feelin’?”

“Good. Better now, I think.”

“I noticed you in the back there, you didn’t look so great.”

“Yeah. Late night. Drinkin’. Not much sleep. Busy day. You know how it is.”

“I know how it is.”

“Guess it kind of got to me.”


“But better now. I feel better now.”

“Well good.”

Dan folded a piece of paper, a receipt, he had been examining and put it in his wallet.

“OK. So, listen, here’s the deal. They’ve all split the cost of the two spaces for so far two nights between them. They’re going to want you to chip in on that. This way it breaks down five ways.”

“Oh. OK. I thing I can manage that.”

“Plus they have a cooler. They had it filled with food that they’ll also want you to put in for. But then, of course, you’re welcome to partake.”

“Oh. What’s in it?”

“A bunch of stuff. Breakfast stuff. Some meats. Pop. Snacks. Bunch a stuff. Food. Eating. Sound good?”


“Good. I know it seems like I’m dropping all this on you. But it was worked out in advance. ‘Course I’m supplying the transportation. Brought along my camping supplies. I’m providing a service. Way I see it, I’m acting as their unofficial island guide. They’re just arrived here. They want to see some of the sights. I’m here to help them out. And in exchange, I get a small fee.”


“Make a couple bucks on top of it. Why shouldn’t I? I’m giving them my time. Offering my services. They get something, I get something. I set them up with a place to live after all.”

J. thought about it. It made sense. The logic was airtight. He got out his wallet, thumbed through its contents.

“But don’t worry about that here. You can handle that with them. That’s between you and them.”

“OK,” J. said. He put his wallet away.

“OK. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s have some fun!”

Dan started the truck and backed out of the parking lot. He drove over and they unloaded. They made camp. The tent of Dan’s turned out to be missing pegs and they were left them with only the one lent them by Neal.

“That’s my ex-wife for you. Doesn’t miss an opportunity to sabotage me. Any chance she gets. She’s the queen of conniving, that one. Watch yourself J., Ben. Marriage is a loving union between man and wife, sure, but it’s also the most deft little ponzie scheme. Remember. Till death do us part but in dollars forever bind.”

Afterwards they got beers out of the cooler and drank them. They stood around drinking and taking things in. A relaxed air. A time of unwinding. At the picnic table, J. sat next to Sandra. Lisa had been conversing with the young couple camping next to them. She came over and played with Jake. She threw her hands up in the air and he got up on his hind legs, jumping straight up. She did this a couple times, careful not to spill her beer. Over by the cooler J. noticed Dan giving Desiree a shoulder rub.

Idle talk ensued. J. learned how to correctly pronounce the name of the German writer Goethe. He’d heard about four different versions, all different from how Ben now pronounced it. J. listed off German bands he liked to see if they’d heard of any. They were all old bands, for the most part. Cluster. Can. Popol Vuh. Others. They hadn’t. Then the subject of the War came up. It wasn’t so much brought up as was just there, in the air, since they’d first met, awaiting its verbal acknowledgement. It was topic they were familiar with. They perked up, each having something to add. They spoke with a sense of inevitability, as if their words were bound to a certain national duty as much as personal conviction. Each of them had their own thoughts but the tenor reflected the shared weight of being born into and now living with a complex national history for which they played no part, now generations removed from, and yet felt themselves intimately tied to. J. and Dan sat on the picnic benches, listening.

Later they broke up into little groups, girls on one side of the camp, boys on the other. J. eventually shuffled over to girl’s side. They were all speaking German now. Their tone was heavy, solemn, less a reflection of their moods than the basic nature the language inspired. He watched them helplessly. He thought he should say something but didn’t know what. Invention and response are the component parts of any meaningful exchange. He was at a clear disadvantage, removed from the essential give-and-take of conversing. He listened, trying to decipher.

“What’s that you were saying?” he said to Lisa when there was a lull.

“Oh nothing. We were just talking about how nice it is here. And how much we like to go down to the beach.”

The girls changed in the tent. They brought blankets and as many beers as they could carry. There was a narrow dirt path that cut between the main building and a mass of hedge. Tents were set up to the left, on the lawn, in front of the building. The path led them out to the middle of the beach. It stretched out for half a mile or more in either direction before curving out into rows of tree that edged out to the water. Directly ahead of them, in the water, about a hundred yards out, two great slabs of rock rose up, splitting the incoming tide, the waves peaking at maybe a couple feet before breaking. They found a free spot and laid out blankets and cracked open more beers. It was busy but not claustrophobically so. Plenty of sand and space for all. Dan had brought a foldout chair with him, and he sat behind them in a manner that can only be described as presiding. He presided over things. Jake, meanwhile, was in his element, his yard suddenly having expanded exponentially. He took advantage. He ran up and down the beach, sniffing out scents and cavorting with others, most of whom didn’t seem to mind his presence. Only one young girl, a few blankets away, suddenly, and without provocation, burst into stilted sobs at his wild, excited display, harmless as it was. Dan showed concern and was about to go intervene when the little girl’s father stepped in and was able to calm her, reassuring her in gentle, instructive tones that he was no harm, and she eventually become comfortable enough to approach and give him a few tentative pats.

It was warm but there was a strong breeze. The sun did all the work. They had caught the last sigh of the afternoon. The girls giggled and took pictures. Lisa flipped through a tourist book of hers she’d been touting since they’d left. It seemed to have everything, all the information a foreigner might need to survive. It spelled Canada with a K. After a while some ventured down closer to the water. They took turns, going in pairs, at intervals. No set system. They cooled their feet and caught a stronger smack of the current off the ocean. All along the beach kids played and dug around while parents watched and baked from a safe, dry distance. J. watched as Lisa tested the water. He had regained a sense of equilibrium after the close calls and near delirium on the drive up. It was like coming out of a manic dream. The sudden eerie calm and lingering dissociation associated with moving between two worlds, of the inner and outer. But it was still a dream, in its way. The beers had sobered him up for the first time since sometime the day before. How things had changed. He needed to recalibrate, reassess. But the situation offered no opportunity to take stock of recent developments. He could only roll with it and see what came. This was him rolling with it. He pulled himself into an upright position and finished his beer. The beer was warm, having been sitting out in the sun. J. hadn’t changed out of his jeans and he took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs in a near absurd style, born of necessity. He went down to where Lisa was.

“Nice, isn’t it,” he said, not sure what he was referring to.

“It is lovely. I love it!” she said. Her hair was tied back but there were few a loose strands that had got away and curled over her lightly coloured cheek. He noticed her eyelashes. They were striking, in their way, magnetic, creating a strong sense of constant movement and vibrancy around the eyes.

“You want to go for a swim?”



“I don’t know. I’m not dressed for it. Too cold probably.”

“You’re probably right,” he said. “Where are you from? I mean, I know from Germany, but where in Germany?”

She imparted some of her history. Growing up in Hamburg. Raised mostly by a dedicated, overworked mother. Schools she had gone to and places she’d been. He tried listening but kept focusing on her eyes. He wanted to brush the hair from her cheek and tuck it behind her ear. There were a few light wisps of hair, discreet as down, along the juncture between jawbone and ear. He started to sink back, his weight shifting to his heels. He dug his feet deeper by turning them back-and-forth in quick, twisting movements, regaining his footing.

“What about you?” she said. “And where are you from? What is your plan?”

“Oh, I’m from around. I was away. Now I’m back. I’m here, now, mostly. To stay, I think. For now. I don’t know. I don’t do much. There’s nothing much to do. I go to school. There’s that. I like to sit and think. Other things.”

“That make you sound like a ghost of some kind.”

“More or less. I like old movies and long walks on the beach.”

“You’ve come to the right place then.”

The others were all looking at them smiling like naughty school children when they were back at the blankets.

“What was going on there?” said Desiree.

“Nothing,” Lisa said. “We were talking only.”

Ben nodded conspiratorially at J. There was a light air of mischief and insinuation that lasted until J. pointed out that Dan was gone.

He had left somewhere. He had vacated his chair and gone off. He returned a few minutes later, lumbering over purposefully, a purposeful lumber, calf muscles working through the sand, kicking it out behind him as he stepped. He squatted at the corner of the blanket near J. and drew a couple lines in the sand. There was something ancient and primordial in the gesture, oddly apelike. He looked up, squinting.

“Well I just got off the phone with Tera. She was all freaking out. Get this. One of her friends had seen me with them somewhere in the city, driving around. Imagine. Imagine what she thought. Me with a truck full of young blondes. That didn’t look good. So she went ahead and told Tera on me. I bet she even enjoyed it. Got a kick out of it. These women. Always stirrin’ the pot. I tried my best to smooth things over. Explain things to her.”

“Man. That’s rough.”

Dan and Tera had been dating since J. moved in. He remembered the first time coming over to see the place and meeting them together and just assuming they were married without there being a formal announcement or clarification one way or the other. She was blonde and skinny and had a small tattoo of a sun near her hipbone. Shelby Lynn, J. had thought. Shelby Lynn. He didn’t realize they were only dating and cohabiting until she moved out earlier in the spring, Tera and her two daughters from a previous marriage-slash-relationship. There was a lot less laundry being done and more Dan around after that. But they were still dating, apparently, still together as a couple. He remembered Dan mentioning the occasional booty call.

“I don’t know if she believed me though. I was about to get you on the phone to back me up. You would have backed me up, right?”


“I mean, it’s not like I did anything wrong. Right? She has no reason to be getting this angry?”

He looked at J. in a gritted sort of pleading. There was genuine uncertainty showing, around the eyes and open mouth. Or maybe it was all show? But for who? At any rate, J. sought to reassure him.

“I guess I can see why she would. At first. But you wouldn’t have thought it would have been as big a deal once she knew the facts. I guess, maybe.”

“That’s right. It’s professional as much as anything. A professional relationship I have with them. That’s what I have with you. This is all part of that. Besides, we only just met -- them, not us. What could she think is going on?”

“Pimp daddy Dan.”

He resumed his line drawing. He squatted and drew.

Lisa said, “Is everything all right?”

The girls and Ben had overheard the last part and discerned the rest through tone and body language.

“Yeah. Everything’s fine. Everything’s great. We’re here to have a good time. Who’s hungry?”

For supper they cooked meat from the cooler over an open fire. The girls chopped up assorted vegetables and potatoes and Dan opened a bottle of wine. They toasted the trip and the new arrangement. There was talk afterwards about possible evening activities but nothing resulted. They were all tired, the girls and Ben. Caught by the downward drag of transcontinental travel, still lingering. The flipping of time. Day becomes night. Night, day. It was an early night. A couple blowup mattresses had been inflated inside the tent. The tent itself was a good size. Large. Able to fit the five of them comfortably. Most of them anyway. J. lay close to the edge beside Lisa. Sandra was next to her. Ben and Desiree were somewhere out of sight on a smaller mattress. There was giggling and other noises and sounds coming from their side, followed by a sudden burst of laughter.

“What are you two doing over there?” Lisa said.

“It is fine. We are just -- how do you say it in English, J? Bull-shitting.”

“Shoot the breeze. Shoot the shit. Gab. Ramble. Blather.”

There followed an exchange in German.

“What was that about?” J. said to Lisa.

“Nothing. It was just nothing. I am so tired.”

When the others were all asleep J. tried adjusting himself, nearly falling off the side of the mattress. Finally he got himself back on his back and laid like that awhile. Then he got up and snuck out through the zippered opening. They had left Dan dozing in a chair with the bottle of wine. He wasn’t there now, having probably lumbered off to the truck to sleep. Jake lay curled up, sleeping. Leashed to a tree between the camp’s entrance and the tent. J. put on his shoes and a hoodie and started off. He walked down a gravel road, in the opposite direction of the beach, away from the campground. It was quiet, curiously quiet, and dark. No one around. The only sound came from the rhythmic crunch made by his footsteps. He could sense the humidity in his breathing. An alluring aquatic gift from the oceanic night. His sinuses were clear. Everything about him was. Clear and empty. When he reached a fork he turned and headed back.

In the morning they had a large breakfast. Fresh bread, butter, jam spreads, orange slices, fried eggs, bacon, juice and coffee. Dan’s hotplate had been brought out as the girls worked preparing. They wore loose-fitting clothes, shirts with bolded numbers on them. Everything was being laid out on the picnic table when J. ducked out of the tent. They smiled at him as he sat down, anxious to share what they had created. Sandra passed around cups and plates while Desiree dished it out. He selected things here and there, building up a plate. Ben tossed him a water from across the table. Dan was up. He leaned back in his chair, next to the scorched fire pit, sunglasses on, grinning, only joining them at his leisure. The mood was light. A feeling of generosity pervaded, everyone communing and sharing in the creation, realizing and consuming of the meal.

They ate until full and afterwards the girls took all the plates, cups and cutlery over to a wash area connected to the rec building next to their campsite. The door to the building was left open during the day and inside was a pool, hot tub and showers. On the far side of the building, accessed from the outside, were washrooms. J. made a point of staying away from the washroom. All the plumbing and everything was in order, save for a wobbly knob and shoddy lock, but the odour was so fantastically rank and enveloping, pungent in the extreme, both sour and rotten, with other gaseous shadings mixed in to share in the abominable stench, that he kept his visits to an absolute minimum, using it exclusively, almost, for washing up, and meanwhile scouting out inconspicuous spots behind trees, buildings and vehicles to perform regular bladder evacuation.

J. stood around the wash area brushing his teeth. It was cool out but nice. An enlivening bite to the air. The sun burned with the promise of good things ahead. It required easing in, was all, like most things. A slow building acquaintance with the day. There was a plan hatched to go into town, into Tofino proper, to pick up a few things and start off with a stiff shot of movement.

They piled into the truck and eased out, careful of the stream of campers tromping about. Town was ten minutes away. Dan wanted to check out the Marina and they drove up and down streets looking for it. A couple times he came to the end of the same street and on the second approach he pulled into a parking lot near the waterfront. There was a lot of steel and a pier leading to a little shack-like construction but mostly deserted. Not many boats. Not what he was looking for. Dan drove determinedly, as if force of will was enough to get him where he wanted to be. The Marina was his destination. Directions be damned. The girls grew bored. They wanted to wander around a little and get some things for supper that night. After a while of searching with no luck Dan suggested he drop them off at FoodMart, the main grocery in town. The girls agreed and he told them they’d be back to get them in an hour, at the same spot.

“Is there anything you want?” Lisa said to J. as she was getting out.

“For supper. I don’t know. How ‘bout fish.”



“What kind?”

“I don’t know. The seabound kind. That was a joke. Just whatever seems freshest maybe.”


J. switched over to the front and they drove off. J. in the passenger seat, Ben in back. Jake had been left behind, to keep a watch over things. Many were out now, strolling about, coming in and out of little shops. A beach town, this was the tail end of its peak season, its population having swelled throughout the summer and about to drop back down to its usual population of a couple thousand or so. Dan parked by a row of office buildings and a restaurant and got out. In the backseat, Ben had his camera with him and was scrolling through pictures. He passed the camera up to J.

“Here, look at this.”

J. looked.

“She’s cute. Who is she?”

“Thank you. That is my girlfriend. She’s back home. I miss her very much. She is flying over at Christmas and we will be together until we go back.”

“Christmas is a long ways away.”

“I know. I miss her very much. She’s also in school. She is studying to be a biophysicist.”


“Very much so. Fancy. Yes. She is my special girl. I miss her very much. We all must have a special girl. To have a special girl. It is one of life’s imperatives, no?”

“Yes. Sure. I would agree with that.”

“Tell me, J. Who is your special girl.”

J. was flicking through pictures on the camera. Most were from the last couple days. Local sights. Smiling faces.

“I don’t have a special girl. Not right now. At the present moment. As we sit here,” J. said. “I mean I had one. Once. But not anymore.”

“You must acquire one then. You are how you say -- on the market.”

“The search is on.”

“You won’t have to search very far, if you hear what I am saying at you.”

“I suppose that’s what this is all about.”

“Huh. What is that? What is this you say?”

“Nothing. Never mind.”

J. passed the camera back to Ben. The big man got back in. He had directions to the Marina and was driving there now.

“You know, if you want fish for supper. What better way than to catch it ourselves. Straight out of the ocean. Don’t get fresher than that.”

“That is true,” said J. Dan’s reasoning was sound as usual.

At the Marina they parked and got out. On their right was a restaurant and bar with a patio overlooking the boats and the water. Across from it was the main office slash tackle shop slash check-in centre. They went in. A smiling young woman was behind the counter. Dan started chatting with her casually while J. and Ben looked around. Maps. Rods. Plastered fish. Shiny tackles displayed under glass. J. looked out the floor-to-ceiling glass at the view. It was some view. An island sprung up across from them, covered in deep, rich greenery. A small white boat had just come into sight and was making its way toward the pier. Dan called over to them, excited.

“She says one of their guides has an opening this afternoon and can take us out. What do you say to that?”

“He’s actually an independent guide,” the young woman said. “He operates on his own. Independent of the Marina. You’d have to meet with him to book a time and arrange payment. I can tell you that he has an opening this afternoon. He’s out with a couple right now. But he should be back anytime.”

“So what do you say?”

Ben looked at J. J. offered a noncommittal response.

They left the building and walked around.

“This would be great. To walk in like this is rare. Usually they’re booked up for months. We should really do this.”

“What about cost?” Ben said. “How much is this we’re talking?”

“The cost is the cost. We’ll get that figured out. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad split between us. We’re here. The opportunity appeared. Let’s do this.”

At that moment the young woman came out and told them that the guide was just getting in.

Dan went down to meet him. It was the boat that J. saw coming in earlier. Dan reached them in time to take the rope and help tie it up. A middle-aged couple got out and then the guide. They were far away and hard to make out. He had a fishing cap on. Tall and lanky. The four of them stood talking awhile. Then the guide got a cooler out of the boat that Dan helped him with and they walked down the pier over to a weigh station. Dan continued to stand and talk with them as the fish were brought out.

“Does Dan know him?” Ben said.

“Sure looks like it.”

Dan rejoined the boys.

“Oh I like this guy. What a great guy. I can tell he’s a total pro. Really knows his stuff. I really want to do this. So what did you guys decide on?”

Ben looked at J.

“I guess so. Sure.”

“So everything’s a go then. Great! I can hardly wait to get out there. This is going to be so much fun! Now we just need to get fishing licenses. I have one that’s good till the end of the year but you two probably need to get ones. Don’t worry, they only cost a couple bucks. They don’t offer them here but she told me where can get them.”

“So what do we tell the girls?”

“We tell them we’re going fishing!”

Ben and J. looked at each other.

“What’ll they care. They can lay on the beach all afternoon and work on their tans,” Dan said. “Then we come rolling in triumphantly with a truck full of fish to cook for supper. They’ll love it. They won’t be able to resist. Here come the men with the food. And don’t worry about the cost. I was talking to the girl and she was saying that this guy knows all the best spots. Before we came he had radioed in that he’d caught a couple twenty pounders with this couple he’s with. Come on. We’ll catch so much that it’ll pay for itself and then some. Then when we get back they’ll be a freezer full of good eating for everyone. Come on! What a great opportunity this is. Let’s catch some fish!”

“I don’t know,” Ben said. “That’s still a lot of money.”

“It’s the experience. Ben, this is exactly the kind of thing you were hoping to do when you came out here, isn’t it? Just think. You’ll have all these pictures of you standing next to all the big ass fish you caught to show your girlfriend and everyone back home. OK. You know what. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll just have get the girls to chip in as well. Yeah. Why not? It’s only fair. They’re going to get to share in what we catch. They’ll have as much access to that freezer of fish. It’s a good deal for them. We’ll be the ones doing all the work.”

“Still,” J. said.

“What are you even worried about? Lisa’s going to be splitting the rent. Right there, one month you’ll be reimbursed for everything, the whole trip.”

“I suppose you’re right about that.”



The prospect of a lazy afternoon spent lounging on the beach with a bevy of bikini-clad females was fading with the ascent of Dan’s sudden fishing excursion enthusiasms. But here they were. They drove over to a bank to secure funds. When they were stopped Dan checked his wallet.

“You know what,” he said to J. “I’m little short. How about. Would it be possible. You think you could spot me next month’s rent a little early.”

“I already gave you a check for next month’s rent. Post-dated.”

“I know. And what I’ll do is, I’ll tear it up soon as we get back. Actually no. I won’t tear it up. I’ll give it back to you. There. That’s what I’ll do. How’s that sound?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I have that much right now.”

“See, the thing is, I’m just a little light at the moment. I guess my last alimony check just cleared. That’s the only reason. These things happen. You understand.”

“So what. So you’re short,” J. said, “and you’re looking for me to cover my half plus yours?”

“No. That’s not what I’m saying. Listen, why don’t you just give me the rent money and we’ll deduct that from -- ”

Calculations followed. Money rearrangements. Payments and paybacks. I.O.U.s and the like. Who owns what and to whom and how much when. J. was left dizzy and daunted but strangely determined and decisive as he went into the bank. Embarking on something new and unexplored. The whim of a whim. He returned to the truck moments later, having drained his checking account to its last few dollars.

“Are we good?” said Dan.

“We’re good.”

The girls were there waiting when they pulled up.

“You’re what?”

“We’re going fishing!”

J. watched their faces as Dan’s news reverberated through the truck. They were surprised. Vaguely unpleased in a way that still sought proper expression. Safe to say it had more to do with the fact that plans for the day had been made without them than that they weren’t getting to participate. J. could only imagine the reaction when Dan told them they’d be chipping in.

“Is this so?” Lisa said to J. from the seat behind him.

“That’s right.”

Dan nodded at J.

“We just have to get some fishing licenses for these two. Which is what we’re doing right now.”

The place that offered the fishing licenses was in the same area as the office buildings and restaurant they had stopped at earlier. It was a slight, old building that stuck out like a blemish amid the modern glass and steel. A relic that had survived the postmodern flood. Next door the patio of the restaurant was teeming with noon hour activity. This time they parked on a hilly cliff overlooking the water.

Day licences were ten dollars. A year was only twenty-five dollars but J. went with the the single day.

“Are you big fish fan?” Lisa said. She had been sitting on the guardrail in front of the truck snacking on a bag of nachos when J. sat down next to her. The breeze coming off the water was cool and nice. Mixed with the growing heat to form a pleasing, whirling sensation.

“Not really. Not at all. I used to go fishing with my Dad out at our cabin but I haven’t done that in years. I hated having to get up so early. It was always too cold at that hour. I never caught anything. There was something unnerving and not right about sitting in a boat in the middle of the water with the motor killed, having to be quiet while waiting for what usually ended up being nothing at all. It didn’t jive with my disposition, say.”

“So why are you going now with Dan?”

“Adventure. Excitement. The thrill of the hunt. Man versus the elements. Back to the land. Experiencing the great outdoors. Et cetera. Et cetera. Hell, we might actually catch something.”

At camp the girls got themselves ready to go to the beach. They made up sandwiches using deli meat and mayonnaise they’d bought and wrapped them in plastic wrap to take.

“Those are going to go bad,” Dan said.

“No they’re not,” Desiree said.

A mild argument ensued. Regarding the merits of taking the sandwiches rather than eating them right away or else keeping them in the cooler. The girls weren’t hungry and wanted to have something for later and save them the trip back. But leaving them out in the sun would risk them going bad, particularly the mayo.

They stood firm to their conviction in the face of Dan’s unwavering appeals and in the end went to the beach with the sandwiches.

“What’s with them?” Dan said. “Did you see Sandra. She was giving me the evil eyes as they left.”

“They are very -- what is it? Heady. Strong. They are strong of head. Head empowered, yes. Many German girls are like that.”

“Well I don’t like it.”

They made lunch before going back. They had some time to kill. They were hungry. There was food. Synchronicity. Perfection. Fate. Pork chops, sliced potatoes and onions. All cooked over the grill. They cracked beers. When it was ready they sat at the picnic table and ate.

“It’s one thing if they’re a little upset about us leaving them behind to go fishing. OK. I get that. But I hope they’re not pulling this stuff after we’re back. ‘Cuz if they are. You know what I think, Ben. Ben, I think from now on I’m going to do all business stuff with you. Whatever it is. Rent, cable, laundry, whatever. We’ll take care of it, you and me, and then you can go back to them and tell them what’s what. ‘Cuz if this is how they’re going to be over something so little than I can only imagine how it’ll be trying to deal with them on a professional sort of level. Damn near impossible. They need to learn quick this ain’t Germany. That tough chickie act don’t fly here. OK. So do have that? We know how this is going to work?”

J. was enjoying the food but wanted more. He wanted to load up on carbs in preparation for the great sea battle that lay ahead. Man versus the elements. Man versus sea bass. No contest. But they hadn’t cut up enough potatoes. Barely enough to go around. He took a couple slices of cheese Dan offered and placed them on top of the meat and watched as they softened and stuck to the grilled side.

When they were back at the Marina J. got a better look at the guide, who introduced himself as Chet Fisher. He was indeed tall and lanky, even gangly, all jutting arms and lean legs. The skin on his face was drawn taut. No doubt having to do with the constant workout it got. Ceaseless jaw movements and changing expressions that registered like conversational transition points. He had a ripening tan and was full of good cheer, loose and talkative. They boarded and set off. Dan and Chet jawed all the way out into deep waters, discussing boats and motors and the minutia comprising these areas of interest, all with knowing offhandedness. J. and Ben, donning bright orange lifevests, sat across from each other at the back, close to the motor. As they came out of the mouth of the Marina and the shimmering water opened up around them, Chet instructed them to stand up behind the glass screen and hold onto either the metal rail or the pole sticking up between them. With that he accelerated the motor and it let out a deep howl as they sped off, cutting through the water, the coastline receding behind them in a finning tail of white foam.

They glided and jostled along for almost twenty minutes and then slowed down and trolled along until Chet got their coordinates lined up according to the electronic monitor mounted next to him. There were two rod mounts at the back of the boat, on either side of the motor, and Chet went about baiting up two rods and casting them out.

“This is a good area. I was out here earlier with the couple and had lots a luck. It’s been a real hotbed all summer.”

Chet moved all about the boat in professional frenzy, checking the monitor, checking the rods, adjusting the wheel. Then they waited.

In a flash the nausea from the day before re-insinuated itself into J.’s system. He tilted his head back, eyes blinking. All around him was vast blurry blueness. It was everywhere. Never-ending. Land reduced to quaking smudges in the distance. The sun a shot of pure piercing light. But he felt contained. Centred. It gave him a point of focus. A needle-point sharpness to his thinking. Steady, steady. It became an inner battle. Man versus his physiognomy. Nervous system run amok. Suddenly there was movement from one of the rods. Chet scurried to retrieve it. He made a few quick jerks and adjustments and passed the rod to J. J. looked down at the rod.

“Go! Go! Reel ‘er in.”

The voice was faint and distant. It seemed to register from somewhere in the back of his subconscious. Or from far off. A calling from the blue.

He began cranking the reel in tight flicking wrist movements, a wholly unnatural motion.

“No, no. You’re going the wrong way! Wrong way!”

Chet, in almost a leap, came forward and relieved him of the rod. He began reeling in earnest, the rod held firm to his lower abdomen, but it was a futile cause and he slowed his motion until the empty hook sprung from the water.

“What happened?” Dan said.

“I faltered. A momentary lapse. My head wasn’t in it. I wasn’t prepared. My head and body were on different wavelengths. I wasn’t up for it. I wasn’t up for the task.”

“Ah man. You were reeling it in wrong!” Chet slumped back into his seat. Then he pulled himself up and said, “Don’t worry they’ll be others. Plenty others. He wasn’t that big anyway. I could tell.”

The next one Ben took. He reeled in hard but in the middle of it the line went slack. Got loose.

The third one Dan reeled in. He stood at the back of the boat and brought it in with precision and finesse. The scaly grey-green form broke through the surface and glided up beside the boat.

“Hey, I got one!”

Chet leaned over, lifted it from the water and unhooked it. He examined it a moment. A decent, if modest size. Then he placed it back in the water.

“Sorry. That was a Coho. Any Coho’s we catch we have to throw back. We have a deal with the Americans. They leave the halibut to us, we leave them the Coho.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Thing is, there’s been a huge influx of Coho this season while the halibut have been almost nonexistent.”

“Sucks for us.”

“It goes in cycles. Changes from season to season. They keep things tightly regulated.”

“So what if we brought in just this one with us. Sneak it in under the radar.”

“There was this one guy not too long ago. He had snagged a whole bunch and was hanging onto them without reporting them in. Everyone back on land was getting real suspicious. What’s going on? They knew he was pulling them in, pulling in a lot in fact, based on the other boats nearby that’d been observing. He stayed out there all day, maybe thinkin’ he could wait it out. Buy some time. Finally he had to dock and that’s when they busted him with a couple coolers full of Coho. Stuff like that ruins it for everyone. Because then they have to start clamping down even harder. Enforcing stronger regulations. Everyone gets put on the hook. So to speak.”

The lifeless form drifted away from the boat, a shining dimple carried along by the current. Once it had drifted off a safe distance, a pair of gulls swooped in and started tearing into the untended remains with brutal pecking efficiency.

They waited and watched. Waited and waited. Perhaps an hour passed. More than an hour. It was hard to tell. There was no sense of time, of time passing. There was the drift of the current and the stillness of the rods.


“We should have brought beers,” Dan said.

“I don’t know what to tell you guys. I can’t believe this. I’m surprised. I’m really surprised nothing’s biting. We had great luck this morning. All week they’ve been biting nonstop. This is unusual. This is really unusual. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m really at a loss. This is really unexpected.”

J. leaned over and positioned his head expectantly, lips parted, a slight tremble. Nothing. Whatever it was had subsided, momentarily.

Chet had another spot across the island, back in the direction of their beach and somewhere beyond that. They would have better luck if they tried there, he told them. Another prime spot. J. and Ben took their standing positions as Chet re-directed the boat and sped away. J. welcomed the move from sitting to standing. After his second close call in as many days, he had pulled himself into a near fetal position, rocking in time to the movements of the boat while finding fixed points to stare at. His mind continued unimpeded, and he thought up self-deprecating jokes regarding his botched catch that he refrained from voicing. He wanted to project a light air, a freeness of mind, and avoid slipping into silent morosity. But the latter won out. He soon became accepting of this and burrowed further and further into his thinking, somewhere underneath the sick feeling hovering uneasily over the surface of sensation, where all was clear and steady. Now he stood and opened his mouth to the pushing air.

The area he took them to was calmer and even more deserted. They fished the placid waters but nothing grabbed the lines.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” Chet said, observing the little blips that lit up the monitor. “They’re there. They’re just not biting. Bite you fishes!”

The boat drifted closer to a small island on which a single tree grew, its lean trunk skewing to one side in a sever tilt. It was a haunting image, the distortions of nature, left isolated, alone, attaining its own unique singular beauty. Chet moved them over to another nearby spot and they waited some more, passing the time with more idle speculation on their underwater whereabouts.

“So you guys are camping over near Long Beach,” Chet said after a quiet moment. “I remember this one time I went camping with my wife over by there. This was back when she was still my girlfriend. It was just the two of us and we had brought a bag of mushrooms. We drove around and found this perfect out-of-the-way spot. I mean nobody around for miles. Just us. So we pitched our tent and got settled and then decided to eat the mushrooms. I’d done them before but it was her first time. We were all set for this nice, mellow trip in this quiet, deserted spot. About an hour goes by after we’ve eaten them when this low rumbling sound starts up. At first it was quiet and we just thought it had something to do with the drugs kicking in. But it gets louder and louder and I peek my head outside the tent only to discover that we were in the middle of a new construction site and the heavy machinery was being brought in all set to go to work. Man, I’ll tell you, talk about timing, because right about then...”

It was at that moment Chet cut himself off and made a break for the back of the boat. There was a quivering movement coming from one of the rods and he lunged forward to take it. But it was a false quivering. He gave the reel a few spirited spins only to realize the line had become snagged on more seaweed.

J.’d been enjoying the story. During the boat ride over the nausea had started to lift and he found himself returning to an even frame of mind. He felt lucid and lively at the same time the mood in the boat had reached desolate levels due to the lack of returns on their ocean game investment. As they raced back to shore, he was overcome with a sudden ecstasy. It lacked precise definition; came to him not as an idea firmly set in words but as running fragments. The dispersed excess of a fixed idea. Then it coalesced somehow and its significance was drained to a cliched husk upon registering. He preferred it when it was just out of reach, a thought endlessly receding. Senses swirled. It felt good. He scraped it now for meaning, teasing out the implications. It had to do with the past, of course; the present as continuous unfolding. Past, present. Future, past. Old reproaches, fresh perceptions. Past defeats, future failures. The lulls and accelerations, thought unbroken. Finally he let it go and that felt good, too. Better. He gave up the thread, abstract and dialectical as it was, and stared off at the small island and its solitary bent tree, receding now to a thin indistinct speck. He felt both calm and exited. A calm excitement. Above, the sun was now a twilight memory that lingered in the dusty maroon sky.

At the dock payment was made and Chet offered to take them out for a free session the next day after lunch. Dan jumped on this. A deal, yes. More, he wanted another shot. They’d be there. J. and Ben exchanged glances but kept tight-lipped.

It was almost total dark by the time they docked and there was nothing left for them to do but go over to the restaurant and take stock and reflect on the afternoon’s happenings. The restaurant was almost full. They found a corner table that faced a high-mounted flatscreen projecting the day’s sports highlights. They got drinks and ordered food.

“I could tell Chet felt really bad about not catching us anything. Of course there was always that chance. But I had to make it sound good or you guys wouldn’t have gone. Anyway, I think what we should just tell the girls is that we caught a bunch but left them here to be cleaned and weighed and that we’ll be stopping in tomorrow to pick them up. Then we can leave them on the beach again for a couple hours while we go out. No chance we won’t come back with something. A simple matter of odds. It’ll be a tidal wave. I can feel it. We won’t know what to do with them all.”

The girls had already eaten by the time they returned. They had cooked up meat over the grill along with preparing side dishes. They were proud of this, such an act was an assertion of their independence and strategic cunning. Conjuring the fire, bringing life, the essentials of survival. Rugged outdoor life. There was no firewood left and by chance they had run into two guys who had a cabin near the edge of the grounds where they kept themselves well-stocked. They sold them a few logs for five dollars.

“They also said they had mushrooms and herb they could sell us,” Lisa said to J. “But I told them I wasn’t hungry.”

“Mushrooms and herb?”

“That’s right.”

“And you said no you weren’t hungry.”


“Oh man. That is funny. That is hysterical. You know the whole time we’re living together I’m gonna tease you mercilessly about that. Man. That is too funny.”

She looked at him with desperate misunderstanding. Bewildered. Baffled.

Dan asked them how much they got and Lisa said just what they had used. This was not a reasonable transaction, in his estimation. He took J. and the two of them drove over to the cabin. The cabin was hidden away in the woods, accessed via a gravel road, the same gravel road J. had been walking down the night before. The path forked off just before the cabin and they stopped and got out. The cabin could be see on the right. They scouted the place out but found it quiet and vacated and they went back and tried the other path, where they discovered a large stockpile of chopped wood, piled high.

“Score,” said Dan.

They started loading up the hatch, only stopping when it occurred to them they wouldn’t be able to take any home and would have to use it all that night.

A modest fire was built up, contained and crackling. Bottles of wine were opened. Dan had J. get out the guitar for a campfire serenade. He strummed a few chords uncertainly. Then he adjusted the tuning pegs while letting notes ring out in no discernible melodic sequence. The girls called out requests for songs he didn’t know. Then he started one he knew and played while the others listened.

“The couple next to us said they liked it,” Dan said when he was through. Sufficiently loose and lubricated he was about to start into another when one of the campground’s staff came over.”

“Sorry, guys, but no noise after ten.”

Dan tried providing a protest but it did little to puncture the definitiveness of his statement.

“No noise after ten. There are family’s with kids here. They’re trying to sleep. We have to keep things quiet for them. We can here you all over the grounds.”

The evening entertainment through they continued to drink and devise new plans, new courses for the evening to take. Dan wanted to go down to the beach and see what came of it. But it was a repeat of the night before as the German clan were weakening in their resolve for more. Ben sat in the chair near the fire, his head dipping forward.

J. was wide awake. He was still riding the euphoria of his semi-mystical slash delirious thoughts earlier out on the water and the wine further fuelled him now. He was feeling antsy and reckless. Anticipating something he wasn’t sure of. He was seated at the picnic table drinking wine when Lisa passed and he gently pulled her over and eased her onto his knee.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “You’re going to be my roommate.”

“That’s right,” she said.

“I’ve never had a roommate before. This is going to be exciting. I’m excited. I really am. I’ll admit when Dan came to me with the proposition I was weary at first. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to share my space and give up some of my privacy. But I can see now it’s going to work out fine.”

She was perched on his lap, motionlessly. He squeezed her to him, enjoying the soft absorption of her sweater’s cotton fabric on his fingers. She smiled nervously. Dan approached.

“You two coming?”

“Coming, yes. Coming where? Where are we coming?”

“To the beach.”

“Yes,” J. said. “I’m there. Perfect. The beach. Yes.”

J. uninstalled Lisa from his lap.

“Are you coming too?” he said to her.

“I am not, no,” she said.

“What? How come? Why not? You’re going to miss all the fun. No. You must come. Come, won’t you. Come to the beach with us.”

“I am sorry. I cannot. I am so tired.”

J. sighed. “Suit yourself.”

“Here, take these.”

Dan handed J. cans of beer that he stuffed in the pouch of his hoodie.

“And don’t forget the guitar.”

J. picked up the guitar off the picnic table. He held it by the neck in one hand while gripping his glass of wine in the other. Dan filled his glass with more wine and they set off. Jake had joined them, running ahead sniffing out the pathway in the dark.

They followed the sound of the waves, present and dark. At the beach they heard others. They were down from them a ways, gathered in a circle around a fire. Dan and J. walked towards them. As they got closer they heard music, loose singing with guitar accompaniment.

“Start playing,” said Dan as they got closer.

“What should I play?”

“Anything. Just play whatever.”

J. handed Dan his glass and fingered a chord, strumming. They were seated on logs, the group that had assembled, perhaps an even number of guys and girls. They greeted the new arrivals with grins and gestures of welcoming solidarity. Dan and J. sat down, feeling the heat on their faces and knees, an open shelter amidst the crisp flailing winds.

The other musician sat across from J., guitar positioned in his lap. Between them they built up an unspoken correspondence across flame and night. They played through songs both intuitively and by a shared musical history. Strumming and belting. It was a release, putting voice to song. Shadows dancing off the flames. The ocean could be heard in the background. It pulsed hypnotically, a nocturnal rhythm beaten out by the smacking waves, full of rip and whoosh.

Some left and others arrived. J. had put his glass of wine on the sand next to him and when he went for it again the glass had been knocked over in the bustle of feet. The same thing happened with the beers. He took one out, sipped it and put it down, trying to lean it against the log for balance.

Wasted beers, wasted nights. A group of drunk guys came over in a big whooping arrival. They had on over-sized T-shirts and wore their caps sideways. They wanted to her something in a rap or hip-hop vain. There was a moment of confusion and uncertainty. Then J. dropped the guitar so the back was on his lap, and slapped out a beat for one of the hip-hoppers to improvise over.

At one point, a guy took the free spot next to J. He had shaggy blonde hair, a prominent jawline. He smiled at him boyishly and clapped and nodded to the music. When the song finished he made a specific request.

“I don’t know that one,” J. said.

“That’s OK. Just play whatever. It sounds great. Play whatever. Keep playing. It’s all great.”

They played another song and when it ended he made the same request.

“Still don’t know it.”

“That’s OK. Man, this is great. This is the greatest night of my life. I left my wife back at our tent. We just got married. We have two kids. Both boys. I love them so much. I just want to be the best dad for them, you know. The best dad I can be. That’s what it’s all about. This is the greatest night of my life.”

He spoke with a thick Irish accent. It wasn’t noticeable at first. But the closer you listened and the more he went on the more prominent it became. A lather of language.

Dan had been over on another log, talking with some of the others. He came over to J. with a lit joint. J. smoked it and passed it around.

“Here, take this,” Dan said, looking around in mock tenseness.

He handed him a ziplock bag that J. glanced at briefly before stuffing in his pouch.

“I don’t smoke that much anymore but my friend over there offered it,” he said. “How we doing over here?”

“Good. The vibe is excellent.”

“I’m feeling the vibe too. It’s great out here. So glad we did it. Imagine we followed the Germans’ lead, we’d all be asleep by now.”

The joint had circled around. Dan smoked a little and kept talking. J. freely strummed.

“Say I noticed the other guy over there does a lot of the full sounding stuff but you’re doing all the fancy stuff.” Mimicking with his hands.

“When I don’t know a song I just noodle around. Try to add something.”

“Well I wish I could do that, what either of you are doing. You got to show me some stuff when we get back. I won’t be around as much once they’re moved in but I’ll still pop by every now and then. Maybe grab a beer or something.”

They continued to play for the groups that came and went. New songs were suggested and taken up. A girl who had been singing enthusiastically brought over sheets of lyrics from somewhere.

The Irish guy stuck around, observing J.’s playing raptly. A girl had sat down across from him, around the boundaries of the circle. She caught a few of his between song remarks. She was sober and slightly thickset. She revealed she was about to be married, right off. She had questions. Serious questions. She wanted to know what he meant when he said he loved his wife and kids. For real. What does love mean? How does one go about proving their love, actually prove it? It went further. How does love move from abstract concept in language to real life employment? What form does love’s manifestation take? She came at him hard and wouldn’t let up. This was serious stuff. She was looking for specific, detailed responses. Assert and elaborate. Wouldn’t settle for anything less. Anything less being deserving of her full ire.

“I’m about to get married. I need to know about these things. I’m sceptical. If you really love your wife like you say why are you out here and not back with her. Is that love? Doesn’t seem like it to me.”

The Irish guy’s earlier excitement had been whittled down now to gaping uncertainty, beyond the realm of word and nearing a void of paradox and unreason. He fidgeted and stuttered and rubbed his head.

J. jumped in.

“Why? Why now? Why must you? How about, spare him the Dr. Phil routine and let the man have a good time.”

“I just wanted to know. I’m about to get married. I was looking for answers.”

“Does this look like Oprah’s couch? Come on. Nobody here wants to hear that kind of babble.”


“That’s right. We’re trying to have a good time and you come out here wanting to dissect the stars.”

“What do you know?”

“Enough,” J. said. “I know enough.”

He had been speaking to her through a half-smile and employing a light tone, distant but firm, but this last remark fell like an anchor that surprised even himself. An annihilating blow. The conversation left with nowhere else to go after this dark note, he went back to playing, digging into the chords looking for lift and levity.

Soon he had lost track of the joint and all his beers had spilled. The night drawing down, he and Dan started back to camp. But then they realized Jake wasn’t with them. He had been on the periphery of the circle throughout, darting in and out, disappearing and re-appearing, tail wagging. Dan looked back at the fire now.

“He’ll find his way back.”

They cut through the tents that littered the lawn, creeping cautiously. Dan retired to his truck while J. sat in the fold-out chair and drank water. The fire had been put out. The darkness was near total. He started to slip out of consciousness when he was brought back by a jingling sound coming from the other side of the trees. It was faint, spare. A distant midnight chime. Teasing. He got up and followed it. It lead him through the parking lot, towards the beach. He was back at the fire where a new looking group had gathered. He saw the musician he had played with all night. He was standing now, drinking a beer and talking with someone away from the fire. J. approached. They weren’t able to interact earlier beyond calling out chord changes and so forth. He was a student from Argentina. Attending the university down island. Came up with friends. Dark innocent features. His English was good, adequate. He was soft-spoken, smiling politely. The humble communications of a second language. While they were talking J. caught sight of Jake. He was on the far side of the fire, chasing a smaller dog up-and-down the beach. After a while he got his attention and the two started back for camp, where he secured him to a tree.


He lay spread out on the bed in tense repose. Early dawn. The house now an unsettling quiet after the disconcerting blasts and unearthly eruptions of some faux-apocalyptic pre-dawn storm. He was alone. He rose, creeping down the hallway, bare feet on hardwood, to the kitchen, where he poured a glass of water. Standing at the sink he felt the cooling liquid make the tunneling journey down his throat and through his system with the acute sensitivity that accompanies waking. Later in the day when he was up her ex came over. He was sitting at the glass table staring at a laptop when he, the ex, popped his head in. He had never wanted her to go and told her as much. The kid was with him, scampering and screaming as she entered, then retreated back out. Also their dog, a gray socially anxious Akita. Seeing she wasn’t around he made to leave but then got ahold of her on the phone and waited around until she arrived. She returned a short time later. It was Sunday and she’d been gone since sometime Friday evening, the day after they’d flown in, leaving him the house without further instruction or list of duties. She seemed vaguely put-off upon learning he’d slept in her bed while she was away.

His birthday was a quiet affair. After going out for a low-key dinner with family he returned bearing bags of groceries. She was in the kitchen on the floor, the kid in bed. A friend of hers was over, on the floor beside her. They were painting, each immersed in their own individual projects. He dropped the bags on the counter and began unpacking. Crackers, cheese, cereal, juice, milk. Soon they cleaned up the floor and put away their canvases and the friend left, grimly, wordlessly, leaving them to converse in the low light of the kitchen. Later they retired to her bed. He lay there waiting as she got herself ready in the bathroom, brushing, cleaning, moisturizing. It was calm and quiet in the house, a pair of lamps offering the only light. She joined him, putting on a movie. As they watched he realized it held little interest and he started to doze, the images from the screen drifting in and out in no meaningful sequence. When it was over she asked him how he liked it. He answered in the affirmative and passed out. In the morning the kid came hoping on the bed.

They began taking breakfast together out on the porch, he and the kid. She had grown fond of the cereal he preferred, a mix of peanutbutter and granola. He shared a few bites with her at first, then began supplying her with her own portion in a separate bowl. She chewed deliberately while looking up at him with wide wondering eyes. It became a routine. They ate cereal and sipped juice on the porch while the mommy slept in the next room.

That night she was having some of her family over for dinner. Her step-dad was in town and she was going to give him the news. A major announcement. She was going to become a professional artist, she had decided. She was going to paint professionally. She had become serious about it again these last few months. She saw opportunities. There was more. He was going to get to meet the new boyfriend. He’d be joining them once he got off work. It was to be a gallant affair. She moved about the house in a frenzy of cleaning and reorganizing. While this went on he played with his iPod in the kitchen. It seemed to no longer work. Shortly thereafter he slipped out.

He remembered the summer before and the time they would spend together. Those days their meetings, sparse as they were, seemed like an event. They spent most of their time on the porch, music always playing, candles lit at night. Some nights they stayed up till dawn, drinking red wine while listening to old jazz (for mood), switching over to coffee at some point. One time her ex came over (a different one, this ex, then most recent, just ended), just stopping by. He had caught them, it felt like. They were doing something illicit. He was just like every other ex of hers he had known. He was used to it by then. They paid him no mind. There was nothing he could do, even as he made like there was. He fretted and fought. They argued. Eventually he left. But still in her life somehow. Still hanging on. Hanging on to something.

She got the news from her landlord in the morning and was anxious all the rest of the day. He was selling the place, he told her. Wanted to start showing it right away. Suddenly everything was thrown into chaos. Forced change. An upheaval. It took her the rest of the day to recover. She sipped from a bottle of codeine. He tried to calm her. It was no use. His words were no match.

The last day he stayed there they had coffee together on the porch first thing and by suppertime he was told to leave. He had just walked in the door and found his sister there getting her nails done for her upcoming graduation. He hung around the kitchen and when they were done she came in and told him. He went downstairs immediately and packed his bags and took them out to his sister’s car, who was now behind the wheel waiting for him. Before they left, he went back inside but she was already in the shower. She had a date that evening to get ready for.