by TARA LINDHOLM
“She’s single-minded,” suggested Willie, who was unusual in appreciating his own qualities in other people. – Penelope Fitzgerald
Check-out is at 3, so we have all the time in the world.
Marco splits on the fifth day we are in Seattle. It is not because he does not want to pay the bill, since I was always going to be the one paying it. There is a reason they demand a deposit – that way if you leave, you’re ruined. But I don’t know if the place always gets their money. I think they do, because otherwise they would not be in business. Anyway, I settle up with what’s left of my savings, and I go looking for him.
By the next afternoon I don’t care where he is particularly. A strong wind pushes me forward. A good place is the waiting room of a doctor’s office, since it is virtually certain to be warm there, and the last thing they want to do is ask a young, potentially fragile young woman how long she has been waiting.
I decide to head to California. I was only going north because of Marco. He was Canadian, but he did not look or sound it; so I guess I only have his word on that. You would think his say-so would not be worth very much, and you would probably be right, but it does take some fundamental amount of energy to lie. Suppose the person you love had the means to lie about that, but nothing else? You could not know where you stood. You wouldn’t even be standing.
Anyway, I am glad enough that Marco did not take my guitar, since that would have been more than unkind. He plays it better than I do, but he didn’t like playing it half as much. I sell it for $95, which is a substantial windfall. The meal I eat afterwards shakes the rafters. What rafters, you ask? Well, it rains a lot, so if you sleep outdoors, it is best to find cover. Those are the rafters, and when you look up at them long enough they don’t resemble anything at all.
Portland is lovely but too cold at night, and the level of scrutiny is appalling. It is easy to make friends but I am not so facile at keeping them. It is hard for me to believe in people, and while I try to bury that distrust so far beneath the surface they will only discover it at some later, greater date, I worry it bleeds into my talk, small and large. What an effort it takes to prevent ourselves from being exactly what we are!
Dave drives me from Portland to San Francisco, a trip he often makes to visit a girl who lives in the Mission. I know he likes me, maybe a little too much, but he isn’t brave enough to say anything about it. This is one reason I let him drive me. The whole way down, he plays the worst death metal you can imagine. At the end of the ride he very seriously asks me what I thought of the music. A lot is hinging on this, so I reply, “I am always surprised at what inspires me,” and this takes more than twenty seconds to register, like what the fuck have I meant by this statement, but then he frames it for himself. “I used to love watching Oprah,” he says.
When he drops me off in a tony neighborhood uptown, I think, well, if he had asked nicely enough and he did not have this other girl, it would have been a warm bed. That’s when I get a call from my cousin Cindy. She says I can stay with her as long as I like, only how I am going to get from San Francisco to New York? It is $250 to board a plane, which does not seem like that much of a figure, only I am down to sixty dollars at present with not much in the way of tangible assets except some jewelry that will be impossible to move and has vague sentimental value.
Now I regret not tracking down Marco in Seattle, because he probably would have given a small sum out of guilt and perhaps more if I demanded it. I mull over whether to text him how much he owes me, but if I do that, I won’t see a dime. I could tell him that I’m pregnant, but he’ll never believe it. No man ever had so much faith in the concept of withdrawal. I can tell him the truth, that I just would like to see him for no real reason. This is what I do, and wait for a reply.
Except for Cindy, who is my cousin, I always feel like people in my life are never reaching out in a timely fashion. When they call me, it is never at the key moment. They want to be close when I am far away in my heart, and when I desire their company, they are floating in the Dead Sea. They wanted to go their entire lives.
In order to make some money, I beg for a bit and get nowhere. San Francisco is overly crowded for this. I have this busted up iPhone I use to get sympathy which works pretty well. Only they always want to know how exactly how you broke it. If you find this protective American male, he might like to hear your boyfriend did it. Whether or not that comes across believable to a god-fearing all-American mark is a gamble. Mostly what you get is a dollar for the bus or to go away. It is easier just to find work.
Before I try doing that, Dave calls me and says they broke up. Do I want to go back to Portland with him? I explain I’m on vacation. Does he want to make it somewhat less lonely? He kisses me on the esplanade like I am the first woman he has ever met, and I bear him a grudging respect for that. I promise myself I will not ask him for money, but he is staying at his buddy’s Airbnb and it’s a lot better than where I had been the previous night. Marco would not have minded the smell, but I did.
His temporary roommate is a slender gay Asian named Bagel. (It’s pronounced differently.) I ask what Bagel does for work and Dave explains that he writes the documentation for a software engine. “They actually had really terrible documentation until Bagel came along,” Dave says, possibly half-seriously. The only thing I don’t like about San Francisco besides the hills is that you can’t tell how much anyone knows about themselves. I text Marco again, but this time it is not a question, it is just a depressing emoji. He does not write back.
Sex with Dave is a welcome distraction. He does not have much of an appetite for it, probably because he mixes substantial amounts of marijuana edibles with prescription opiates. His apology, if and when he loses his erection, is a vague grumbling at himself. I grow very tired of this in one week, and think about stealing a laptop. Only I don’t do it, since I don’t want to get pinched when Cindy is sticking her neck out, coast-to-coast. And I know it’s wrong, even if they can afford it.
Finally I ask Dave for a loan. He wants to know what it is for, and I say, it’s to go to Los Angeles, since if I tell him I am going to New York, he will realize he will never see me or the money ever again. He just nods, and says he will think about it. That night Bagel comes home and asks me how much it will take to leave. I think about it for a hard second, wondering how much I can get out of the deal. You never know, because documentation can be very lucrative. But if I go too high I know I will not see a dime. “$300,” I say, and he hands it to me out of his wallet in twenties. “It’s nothing personal,” he says, “only Dave will never leave unless you do. He told me he’s never met anyone like you.” Bagel mimes sticking his finger down his throat.
Above this country, in the air, I stick to the basics. I do not like to fly, but when I do it, I want to believe I am going faster than all the other planes. Why not believe I am the best in the world at something, darling?
Tara Lindholm is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Manhattan.
Paintings by Leandro Manzo.