Hand in hand, your family and some friends stand in a circle around your father. Ten seconds have passed since his last breath, and you’re counting, wondering if it was his last breath or his last breath. Your eyes lock on his face, and you try to remember when he last opened his eyes and looked around. Days, at least. The memory blooms in your head, something like a flower or a drop of ink expanding in water.
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The hike hadn’t been Ella’s idea. Of course it hadn’t; nothing about this holiday was. It was Nick who’d chosen the destination, Nick who’d chosen the hotel. It was Nick who wanted to go walking, though the day was hot, the sun already furious. At least, she thought as she pulled on the new hiking boots he’d insisted she buy, it would be cooler under the trees. This part of Croatia was thick with them, the trunks tight-packed, keeping out the light.
They took shelter outside of Boulder, in a cookie-cutter subdivision that had seen better days. Five or six floor plans, Dave Kerans figured, brick facades and tan siding, crumbling streets and blank cul-de-sacs, no place you’d want to live. By then, Felicia had passed out from the pain, and the snow beyond the windshield of Lanyan’s black Yukon had thickened into an impenetrable white blur.
Buildings were built, in the beginning, everyone knows, to hold the dead down. Every cellar floor was built over the ceiling of something else. Now cellars are used for all sorts of purposes. Roots. Paint cans. Pantries. Workshops. Other. There’s a rhyme someone invented for children. It’s chanted in nurseries in the Banisher’s town. The nurseries are upholstered in chintz, and the walls are padded, as though they’re asylums and the babies inmates.
You’ve been here before, but not day after day after day in some karmic trap set by an unseen screenwriter who wants you to achieve inner growth and redemption. You’re here because you always fly American and the nearest hub to your house is Miami. The hub and spoke system of airline travel sucks. Only the rich fly direct. The rest of us shuffle endlessly toward our connections, zombie passengers lost amid acres of gleaming glass, soulless architecture, uncomfortable chairs, synthetic plants, incessant television, and expansive views of horizons we’ll never reach.
When writing a recipe, you have to be linear. This, then that, then this. You can’t jump ahead of yourself; you have to follow the logical progression from ingredient, to action, to end result. Meanwhile you keep things on the boil and prepare for the next step. I sometimes feel Temptation Tor wrote my recipe template, everything leading to this moment; an episode of my cooking show, in the place where the idea for Motorbike Munchies was born.
When Lucas walked in and nodded toward the Ice Bus, I thought for a fleeting moment he was finally going to make a move. Not that there was much of a dating scene in the small research station, but sometimes I would walk a short way away from camp and lie on my back and watch the stars and imagine that I could feel the Antarctic ice streams moving beneath me. And every time I would wish someone else was there with me, to let the sound of their breathing tether me to the Earth while my mind wandered among the distant lights.
I was five when we moved to the island. Mommy and Daddy knew that the end was near. There were harbingers, omens, and dire events: poisoned apples, collapsing buildings, broken sidewalks, and the ever-present idiot boxes, a parade of heathens that prayed in tongues. A riot over papayas and saddle shoes broke out in the fifth quarter, and half the city burned. In a far-off desert, our soldiers fought the sand worms.
“I have something I want to show you,” said Nancy. She stared at Jazmine from Jazmine’s front porch, wet and bedraggled. Nancy was a petite white woman with long hair the way teenage boys had long hair: tangled and perpetually in need of a good shampoo. Jazmine sighed and reached out to rest her hand on Nancy’s shoulder, then pulled back.
Cars never bounce around the way they make them appear in the movies. No, instead they glide, more like the lull of a boat on stale waters. And they’re just as loud as the boat’s engine, even with the windows rolled up there are always loud swooshing noises assaulting the senses. The sounds should be calming, like the ocean, but they never are. They are annoying and invading.