A few days ago, my husband read an article about a dog’s birthday party. Now he wants to have a party for our dog, who will be ten years old in January, and who, because of the injuries she acquired from her first owner, may not live past twelve. Truth be told, I love the idea, but I treat it with my usual amount of skepticism, asking questions like “What could we do?” and “Wouldn’t people think it’s odd?” More than once, my husband has noticed that I’m always asking these kinds of incredulous questions, even though I usually end up agreeing with him. And I don’t think I do it consciously, though now that he’s pointed it out, I guess I can’t say it’s exactly unconscious either.
Jazz and I started out that summer spending every day together. I first saw her earlier that year in the parking lot, unloading groceries with her mom. She was wearing a bikini top and denim cutoffs and I was jealous, because I just had a couple of old one-pieces, faded from chlorine and saltwater. We just stared at each other that time. But we were the only girls our age in the building, and soon we were best friends. All the old ladies called us “those girls”, and everyone knew who they were talking about. We looked alike, same blonde hair and brown eyes, and we liked it. We tried to convince everyone we met we were twins, even though Jazz was a year older, thirteen, which sounded much older than twelve.
The temperature hit 105 in Daytona Beach in the middle of June that summer. Jazz got her period for the first time that summer. We met Johnny that summer.
Vashti read the bear policy posted at the start of the trail twice before she decided to walk with us. She made one command. "If we gone do this shit, y'all can't pull out no snacks, no water, no nothing. Ain't no bear bout to fuck with me. Y'all asses gone follow these policies."
I think she came along because she's curious about the nature of bears, but her fear is what drives us. She's almost ours in this place. In these mountains, so near where I hunted with my father as a boy. She's been our girl for the past couple of days. It's been nice. It’s a change. We've been her boys for such a long time. But now, on this mountain, things are right in the universe as long as she fears the bear.
The return to Moon Lake had been a quiet one—a drive through downtown Helena, depressing, most of the storefronts abandoned, the sidewalks cut apart by bursts of weeds. On the Arkansas side of the great fat river, everything had died off by leaps and bounds over the past fifteen years.
In the yard of the old house we rented, the only two gingkoes in town upheld their portion of godless sunlight. In the fall, people would come walking or biking from all over town to watch them burn off their absolute yellow onto the lawn. Kids would run up holding their noses at the smell of the rotting fruit, grab a few out of the grass, then launch them at passing cars.
I was in Texas one summer and found myself sneaking into a famous designer’s backyard with a bisexual engineer and a carpenter who used to model for Abecrombie & Fitch. We all took our clothes off so we wouldn’t get tan lines and played Navy Seal in the pool, this game where we tie up our arms and legs with twine and jump into the deep end to see who lasts the longest without drowning. It's fun, but left marks around my wrists, so I sat out, watching the other two float around. Texas was supposed to be a stop-through on the way to somewhere else.
Faye and me were really up a creek. The rent was due and collection companies were ringing the phone every couple of minutes. My problems all stemmed from my second divorce and the child support I couldn't afford in the first place. Credit cards were the source of Faye's. She liked to shop a little too much and it'd caught up with her. So we did what we had to do. We pooled what money we had and Faye maxed out her last two cards. We loaded her wardrobe into the car and took off with no real direction.
For two days we just drove around pretending to be outlaws. I handled the wheel and Faye the map. She got into the habit, between painting and repainting her nails, of reading off names of all these small towns we could settle down in.
Harpersburg, she'd say. Maybe Murfreesboro. You know how I love Tennessee.
Hyo washes his hands in hot water. He presses his nails into his cloth to remove each excess drop to ready his fingers for pinning. The baby fusses but falls back to sleep, dreaming her arms up. Hyo tweezes his find identified easily as Thyas Juno by the orange under markings. He removes it from the aspirator and fumigates it, lulled by its increasingly tranquil spasms. He chooses a spot next to an inferior twin but the spacing in the display box is wrong. He moisturizes the smaller specimen avoiding its antennae, swabbing it with alcohol for repositioning. The radio is on. Kim Jong Un reminds us again that he has met with a famous basketball player Rod Man and they created a great friendship. Praise the Supreme Leader.
In the dream round shapes come toward her, glowing gray. She reaches.
It was Willy’s job to feed the big cats. Luray Zoo’s got a lazy Bengal tiger that was rejected by its mother, an ocelot born with a deformed jaw, a limping lynx with a missing chunk of hind leg—but the two-toed serval’s always been my favorite. She’s got this tiny head and long body, with stripes on her shoulders and cheetah spots everywhere else. She looks like some kind of messed up jungle experiment, fitting right into this orphanage for misfit animals. Willy used to say that all the animals at Luray Zoo have something that make them special. But it’s more like they’re unfit to live without a human handful of chicken necks passed through the wire cage.
The little pink house on Estacado, along with two mangy duplexes out on Coronado, belong to the late O. K. Gummer’s only surviving daughter, Irene, who packed up and moved to Lubbock a week after her husband’s funeral, so it’s Trey Newhouse of Newhouse Management (number of employees: one) who handles everything to do with her properties, rent and utilities and such, everything except upkeep and repairs. For that, she relies on her only son, Zell, who lives in a rusted-out tin can of a trailer partially hidden behind a spiny fence of cane cholla a stone’s throw south of the little pink house. If you rent from Irene and your washing machine goes on the fritz or your commode swamps your bathroom, he’ll get you fixed up, Zell will, but never as soon as you like, no matter how patient you are, and that’s due mostly to him hauling reefer freight all over the Southwest for Montez Transport.
New neighbors have moved in next door, and we're hoping for an improvement. Our former neighbor lived alone after his wife left him and took their two daughters with her. It was noisy with their girls splashing and shrieking in the pool, but it remained noisy after they'd gone. He worked at home and liked to take his calls in the backyard. He'd pace around the pool holding forth in a booming voice, everyone in the neighborhood able to hear his business, and in the evenings he'd sit poolside smoking cigars and braying like a goat. It took my wife weeks to convince me the sound came from him.