I’d had men want me before, but never someone like Luke. The meteor man, I called him jokingly in a text to Louise, my second-best friend, but the one you could tell things to. I met Luke downtown between Walnut and Race, where he was squatting on the sidewalk and peering so intently at the ground that he didn’t react when the tip of my left shoe—a black flat I wore almost every day because they didn’t pinch—came squarely in contact with his kneecap.
“Sorry,” I said, annoyed. At work, someone had eaten my lunch.
“Oh, god, I’m sorry,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard me. Then he picked something up off the ground and showed it to me. “This isn’t a chondrite,” he said.
“It looks remarkably like it,” he said. “See the textured surface? But it’s nothing special. Maybe a piece of flint. Certainly not a meteorite.”
“Well, it looks like a rock,” I said, not meaning it as a joke, but he laughed hard and suddenly, the way you do when someone says something actually funny. Then he stared at me openly, like I was something to be consumed. My last boyfriend, Darrin, was an art director at the digital branding agency where I worked in payroll. He was an ad junkie who liked to get together with his industry buddies to laugh uproariously at websites still operating in Flash, who said things like “The sales funnel was effective, but it totally ruined my UX.” But he was a good person. A feminist, even. He’d had it on his Twitter bio: Ad man. Root vegetable aficionado. Feminist. And he arranged community trash pick-up sessions, even though nobody ever attended them but us. In fact, that was partly what did us in, those trash pick-up sessions. I could only stoop so much in one afternoon.
Chasing meteorites was Luke’s job. He worked for himself, a kind of private bounty hunter for the rocks that fell to the earth from outer space. He’d been to Africa, Bolivia, Uzbekistan. The money came from museums and private collectors. Occasionally, a geology department at one of the bigger universities bought one of his finds. He sold the fragments from a website that looked like one I made in Computer Science in 2002. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a very old cat named Copernicus.
His full name was Luke Denver, like some sort of Christian-TV-movie hero, and he was originally from Biloxi, with a Mississippi accent to match his biblical first name. “But I’m an atheist,” he told me. “I mean, really, who isn’t? In the age of science.” I liked this about him: the way he declared things without anticipating my reaction or caring what it was. I’d gone my whole life slightly altering my personality to mesh better with that of whomever happened to be in the room with me at the time.
Our first date was that very night. He called to say he wanted to make me dinner at his apartment in Clifton. I texted Louise: Should I do it? Risk/reward odds of getting murdered vs. a really good lay? She wrote back with a shrugging emoji. 60/40?
When I got there, I stood in his kitchen with a beer sweating in my hand, looking at his refrigerator while he deep-fried falafel. He had a cutout of a time he’d been mentioned in National Geographic, plus lots of photos of himself squinting into the sun, holding up rocks like they were prize-winning fish. There were women in some of the photos, but it seemed like he was probably not still in love with any of them. Mostly they were only halfway in the frame, smiling next to him somewhere—at a bar, on a boat, in the middle of a cornfield. The one who appeared the most was probably a decade older than me and always showing too much cleavage. I felt embarrassed for her but maybe this pity was tinged with jealousy, too.
After we ate falafel we had sex in his bedroom, which had a bed tidily made up with a plaid bedspread that looked like the one my mom bought from Target for my brother’s dorm room. Luke was older than me, his body hair less tended to than I was used to, but he had a big dick and a way of not caring too much whether I had an orgasm that I found attractive. Men my age were always concerned about whether you got off but they couldn’t actually get you off. It created a lot of tension.
Afterward we sat on his couch and drank ouzo and he told me about a time in St. Paul when a meteorite crashed through somebody’s roof. “It was the middle of the night,” he said. “They came home from vacation and found this humongous hole in their roof and the meteorite in the basement, right in the middle of their home gym.”
This became our pattern. He’d text to see if I wanted to come over and I’d sit at the counter and watch him trim chicken thighs for adobo or make long, ribbony slices of carrot with his peeler and then season them with cumin and harissa. “Just like noodles,” he’d say, plunging them into boiling water.
“Definitely not just like noodles.”
He was proud of his cooking but not quite as good at it as he thought, usually getting one element per dish wrong, like hard potatoes or overcooked rice. I learned quickly that he was the kind of person whose taste in everything was slightly askew: His clothes were old and fit him haphazardly, and his taste in movies and music seemed wildly random, as if he just consumed whatever media had happened to cross his path.
He didn’t have any books in his apartment, but he read the news religiously and knew more about the world than I did, talking about it with an ease that I’d always associated with highly educated people. “I got this one in Gibraltar,” he said one night, showing me a terra cotta–colored stone from his collection.
“You … broke it off?”
He looked at me strangely. “No,” he said. “Gibraltar—the British territory? On the Spanish peninsula.”
“Oh.” I was too embarrassed to tell him that I thought Gibraltar was just the giant rock, the one from the Prudential logo.
He told me about his father, who had died in a plane crash when he was a kid, and his mother, who made him give her foot massages while she drank Diet Pepsi and blew smoke in his face. He told me about being arrested for hunting on private property and how he was once kidnapped by insurgents in Algeria. By then he only smoked the occasional joint, but he’d done every drug under the sun and had opinions about them all. “MDMA is the best high, when you can get it pure,” he said. “Ecstasy,” he explained when I looked at him blankly.
One night I came back from the bodega with a six-pack to find him putting clothes in a backpack. We’d been seeing each other for only two or three weeks at that point, but somehow it felt epic, important. Like Amanda Knox and her boyfriend, before she got accused of murdering somebody.
“Mark called,” he said. Mark lived outside London and was his oldest meteorite buddy. They occasionally worked together but more often took turns passing off info to each other depending on who wanted to fly to the site. “Something just hit in Nicaragua, on the side of the volcano. Do you want to come? Do you have your passport?”
“Yes,” I said. “I mean, I have a passport. You’re leaving now?” The idea of purchasing a plane ticket to fly out the same night seemed insane to me, like something only a very rich or very irresponsible person would do.
“Yes,” he said. “There’s a seven-thirty that connects through Miami.”
“I don’t know,” I said. I could remember at least two meetings I had scheduled for the next day, politely waiting for me on my Outlook calendar. “Can we fly out this weekend instead?”
He had made a pile of shirts—he preferred safari-style shirts and pants with lots of pockets, even when he wasn’t working—and was rolling them tightly before stuffing them into his bag. It seemed like he was bringing way too many clothes but I didn’t say anything. Copernicus, the cat, kept trying to lie down on the backpack, and Luke lifted him onto the floor by his belly, using one hand. “No,” he said. “I want to be there tomorrow, in case it blows up on social.” That happened occasionally—the locals who found the meteorite would post it to Facebook, where other meteor hunters or occasionally a rogue geologist would see it and scoop up the pieces for themselves—but it was less common than you’d think, Luke said. There were very few professional meteor hunters, and most people in most parts of the world didn’t care very much about rocks.
“Oh,” I said. “Well, I probably can’t go, then.”
He stopped putting shirts in the bag. “Really?” He came over and put both hands on my face and kissed me. It was the way I liked to be kissed though I hadn’t realized it until he did it that way. “Please? Have you ever been to Central America?”
“No.” I’d never been anywhere, really, only had my passport because my sister and I had spent a weekend in Toronto after she graduated from college. We’d gone to the top of a very high tower and looked through the glass floor, which she was afraid to walk out onto but I wasn’t. After that we just wandered around for a while and then ate Thai food for dinner.
“It’s amazing. Sunshine and howler monkeys. Mangos everywhere. You just pick them up off the ground.”
“And that’s … safe?”
He laughed. “You don’t have to eat the mangos.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“I’ll figure it out when I get there. There are tons of hostels, ecolodges, whatever. It’ll be fine.” He was looking at me with interest, as if we’d come to some illuminating fork in the road, one that would tell what kind of person I was. “Don’t you want to have an adventure?”
So I went to Nicaragua. I drove Luke to the airport and then booked a ticket for the Saturday morning redeye with a Monday return. I boarded the plane with a new UV water purifier and my arm bandaged from the tetanus shot I’ve gotten from a travel clinic in Blue Ash. Then I read People magazine and used an app to practice my Spanish, which I was pretty good at even though I never used it. I’ve always had an ear for languages.
I got a taxi from the airport in Managua, which was poor and dirty even though Fodor’s had said that Nicaragua was the new Costa Rica. People lived in houses with dirt floors and satellite dishes for TV, and there were loose animals everywhere, dogs and chickens and cows that didn’t seem to belong to anybody. A horse stood placidly in the median. The driver drove fast and swerved dangerously around the animals, like it was up to them to move out of his way. After that I took a ferry to Ometepe, the little island where the meteorite had hit, sitting anchored to the sticky vinyl seat the whole time and trying not to throw up; I had never been on a boat that big and hadn’t thought to bring Dramamine. There weren’t any other Americans there, and I felt ridiculous in my maxi dress and big sunglasses. Two men tried to get my attention. I want to know you, one of them hissed at me in English.
But when I finally got to the ecolodge Luke had booked for us, which turned out to be a cute little hut on the beach, I felt exultant. Before I’d never been anywhere and now I had and that meant that I could go places by myself now, I could do it, it would be fine. Even though I probably wouldn’t, not unless Luke was there, too. I’d always let my boyfriends set the tone for hobbies. Then I either adopted those hobbies or dumped them if I found the things they loved too hard or scary or boring. In addition to the trash pickups rock-climbing had been one I couldn’t bear.
I had thought Luke wouldn’t be in the room when I got there—I had been looking forward to showering and browsing the travel guide—but he was lying on top of the comforter in his clothes, asleep. I showered quietly, making sure not to open my mouth to the stream of water like I’d read. After that I sat reading in the wicker chair in the corner of the room. I was thirsty but afraid to drink the water, and I didn’t know how to use my UV filter.
He was irritable when he woke up. He’d looked all morning but found nothing. “A total fucking waste of time,” he said.
“But how—I mean, someone reported it, right?” I was immensely disappointed. I had fantasized about helping him pick up the meteorite pieces. It would have been the biggest adventure of my life.
He shrugged. “Supposedly. Or maybe it hit the lake, which means we can’t recover it. It’s pretty hard to tell where exactly they hit when you’re just eyeballing it.” He had explained to me before that not all meteorites landed in one huge chunk; in fact, it was more common to find smaller fragments. And they could be very difficult to locate, even if you had firsthand information. But that wasn’t how it was in my head; I liked to imagine that he arrived to discover boulders the size of Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball.
I felt angry on his behalf, pissed off at whoever it was that had made up the meteorite or described its coordinates poorly or whatever they had done to make it so we’d return to the U.S. empty-handed. I also had the competing feeling he was giving up too easily, even though I wasn’t one to talk: Sometimes I went to bed instead of flossing my teeth if the dental floss was buried too deep in my makeup bag. “Are you sure it isn’t there? Do you think we should go back and look one more time—just to be sure?”
He twitched his nose. “It’s not like leaving your phone charger in a hotel. There’s nothing there, babe, I promise.”
We sat on the bed and looked through the window at the ocean, which wasn’t really an ocean, just a big lake. But it had sharks in it and everything, the only freshwater sharks in the world. I’d read about it on the plane.
“Do you … want to see the sights? Since we’re here?” I was looking at the notes I’d made on the front flap of the travel guide.
“It gets dark at six here.”
“Okay.” It was barely one o’clock. “Do you at least want to go for a walk?”
Eventually I convinced him to rent bicycles with me so we could go kayaking. But it took us longer than I’d thought to get there, and then he got frustrated when the owner wanted to row us out himself.
“We’re capable,” Luke kept repeating. “It’s fine, I promise. Es bueno.” I realized he spoke hardly any Spanish.
I hesitated. “Es posible … ir sin el turismo?” I asked the owner. Can we go without a guide?
“Si,” the man said, understanding. Yes, it is even cheaper that way. He pointed to the sky and told us to be back before nightfall.
We rowed out around the rocks, not speaking. We were still a little bit pissed off at each other but Luke laughed when I startled at the sounds the howler monkeys made, thinking they were the grunts of wild boars. We drank piña coladas on the shore—I forgot that you weren’t supposed to eat the ice—and then I switched to coconut water, the real kind, which you could buy from a little cart where a very tan, wrinkled man would open a coconut with a machete and stick a straw in it. Afterward if you brought the coconut back to him he’d crack it open so you could eat the meat. Luke paid the man an extra 30 cordobas to add rum to his.
“What do you want to do tomorrow?” I asked when we got back to the ecolodge, where they served us curried black beans and rice for dinner. “Do you want to hike Concepcion?” Concepcion was the other of the island’s two volcanos; the one where he’d searched for the meteorite was Maderas.
“Not really,” he said, scooping the last of his beans and rice with a piece of homemade bread. “My back hurts. I was on my feet sixteen hours yesterday.”
“A massage, then? I think they come to your room.”
“I don’t know, babe. I’m not really an activities person. Why don’t you go to Concepcion, though?”
I could feel my face getting red out of embarrassment over the fact that I was afraid to go alone and anger that he was making me do it; I didn’t want to admit that I was scared. “Okay,” I said, because I am the kind of person who goes to great lengths out of spite. “I’ll go. Alone.”
I went to bed angry but slept hard, making sure no part of my body was touching his, even though I usually liked to throw one of my legs over his when I slept. The next day I woke up at four a.m. to meet my guide—tourists weren’t allowed to hike Concepcion, with its craggy ledges and disorienting, foggy conditions, alone—who would shuttle me to the other side of the island and then lead me to the pinnacle. He had American sneakers and the nicest car of anyone I’d seen on the island. He spoke perfect English. “Hello, I’m Eric,” he said. “Do you have water?”
The hike was much harder than I expected. It began on a country road that transformed into a canopied forest before opening onto sunbaked, gravelly terrain that made my feet slip with each step. I lagged behind Eric the entire way, though he seemed to have a sense for how hard he could push me, never getting too far ahead. When we reached the top, he used my phone to snap one photo of me giving a thumbs up—the volcano erupted every couple of decades and the guides didn’t like to linger—and then turned around to make his way back down, getting even further ahead of me now. I started to worry that I’d really lose him, but he’d always circle back right before I lost sight of him.
When we were about halfway down when I started paying attention to the rocks. I’d been asking Eric questions about how long he’d been a hiking guide, how was his English so good, and he’d warmed to me and slowed his pace some, stopping to pick up lizards and bugs and show them to me. He treated all the animals gently, setting them back down exactly where he’d found them.
“What kind of rocks are these?” I asked him, and he shrugged. “Just volcanic sediment, probably.” We were sitting on the ground, drinking water. I was thinking about Luke back in the hotel, probably drinking Toñas at the bar. I’d noticed that some of the rocks looked different than the others. The terrain was gravelly, but these were different—textured, with a glassy surface. I picked one of the rocks up. It was dark, almost black. I could see a few more like it dotting the area around us.
“Have these always been here?”
“I don’t know. Probably.” He was peeling a large mango with a pocketknife. There wasn’t a lot of packaged food on the island; it was hard and inefficient to bring goods from the mainland. I’d seen only one decrepit grocery store, and the items there were all mixed up together, plastic-wrapped muffins and drinking straws and toilet cleaner all on the same shelf.
I held one of the rocks on my knees, trying to remember everything I knew about meteorites. I knew that the area where the pieces landed was known as the strewn field and that it tended to be an oblong shape, which didn’t really help. I knew most meteorites would stick to a magnet, which didn’t help either. I knew that some meteorites had indents that looked like thumbprints, which these rocks didn’t, and were supposed to have something called a fusion crust—a leathery, cracked surface—which I thought maybe these did, though they looked more glassy than leathery. What else? Meteorites were usually heavier than normal rocks. And when I picked up the largest one I could find—it probably weighed ten pounds—it was definitely heavier than other rocks of its size. And it looked different than the others, bumpy and black instead of the dusty gray of the volcanic sediment.
I walked a little further and found that the black rocks became sparser and then stopped appearing completely; they were all contained within maybe a quarter-mile radius.
At once I was certain that these were Luke’s meteorites. With his bad Spanish and his third-party intel, maybe he’d gotten confused. Both Maderas and Concepcion rose out of Lake Nicaragua; both were on Ometepe—just on different sides. He was on the wrong volcano, I thought suddenly. Was it possible?
“Do you mind if I take a few of these?” I asked Eric, who shrugged. So I started putting the rocks in my backpack, wondering how many I could carry. I have never been in good cardiovascular shape but I figured we couldn’t be more than a couple miles out. Plus, I had paced my water consumption poorly and it was almost gone, meaning my pack was significantly lighter than it had been to start the day. I kept waiting for Eric to ask what I was doing, why the hell I was picking up all these rocks, but he never did, sucking on the mango pit and drinking water out of a Gatorade bottle. He seemed content to linger, so I took my time picking through the rocks, making sure I got all the best pieces.
Once I decided to bring the meteor pieces back, I felt hot with excitement. Fuck payroll, I was going to be a meteor hunter! I’d just found my first one without even looking. I had always hoped I would turn out to be secretly very talented at something, like one of those girls in a movie who sings at a high school talent show, shyly at first, but then louder and better and it ultimately turns out she’s got pipes like Whitney Houston.
And how much were they worth? Luke had never told me what his meteorites went for, but I knew that he didn’t have another job and he did have a SMEG refrigerator and a MacBook Air. These were small pieces, in the scheme of things, but they had to be worth something.
When I got back to the hotel, my back aching from carrying thirty pounds of space rocks, Luke had left me a note that he was at the bar. I laid the meteorite pieces out in ascending size and then took a shower and put my maxi dress on. I’d wanted to give Eric one of the pieces but I didn’t want to tell him what it was because I was afraid he’d make me give them all to him. So I gave him a twenty-dollar tip and my nice headphones, which he had admired in the car.
I brushed my hair and teeth in front of the mirror. I’d gotten tan on the hike and I liked the way my skin looked even though I knew it would eventually make me more wrinkly. Luke still wasn’t back after that so I walked over to the bar and found him sitting there drinking rum. I didn’t tell him about the meteorite; just ordered a Toña and drank it with my hand on his leg.
“You’re in a good mood,” he said. He seemed happier, too. I didn’t hold his earlier moodiness against him even though normally I’m pretty consistent about grudges.
We had another round of Toñas and then I couldn’t wait any longer to show him the meteorites so I put my hand up his shorts and told him that we should go back to the room. When we got there he was expecting to have sex but then he saw the rocks on the bed.
“What are those?”
“They’re meteorites.” I was doing a bad job restraining my glee. “I wasn’t even looking, but then I noticed this rock that looked kind of like one in your collection, and, babe, I realized that it—the meteorite—must’ve hit Concepcion, not Maderas.” I paused so he could respond, then changed my mind and kept talking. “There could be even more. I made sure I got the best pieces, but we could go back tomorrow, get the rest.”
He was turning one of the larger pieces over in his hands. “This is not from outer space,” he said.
“It’s not what?” I thought he was joking; sometimes he was like that. I waited for him to say more, something like Just kidding! This is totally a meteorite!
But he didn’t. “I’m sorry, babe. See these craggy little indentations? These are volcanic rocks.”
“But—are you sure?” I wasn’t giving in. “What about the fusion crust?”
“It looks like it, but that’s just where the rocks aged differently depending on which side faced the sun.”
“Really and truly.” He was impressed that I remembered about the fusion crust. “You act like you don’t pay attention, but you do.”
“So these are definitely not meteorites.”
“I lugged thirty pounds of regular rocks back here for nothing.”
“Well, not for nothing. It’s still kind of cool, you know, volcanic rock. You don’t find that just anywhere.” I could tell he felt bad for me, because he suggested going for a walk on the beach even though I knew he would have preferred to drink beer in the room.
After we got back, I washed my feet in the outdoor shower while he took the rocks outside our room to make space for us to sleep on the bed. He asked if I wanted to bring one back for a souvenir but I was too embarrassed and pissed off. We didn’t talk about it on the plane ride home, but he helped me do a crossword in Skymall. He hated crosswords even though he was pretty good at them. He knew a lot of trivia.
We drifted apart after that. I stopped answering his calls and after a couple of days he stopped calling. But I was surprised to find that I was still interested in meteorites. I bought a couple of books about them but more often I just read articles on the internet. “Did you know,” I said to my new boyfriend, Brian, “that some people think the dinosaurs went extinct because of a meteorite?”
I liked Brian because he was very muscular but also very kind, a guy who could house a bacon cheeseburger without gaining an ounce because he’d done 200 squats or kettlebell tosses or whatever at the gym that day. I think maybe it was a biological sort of attraction, watching him eat all that meat. But I also liked that he never said a word about me eating a bacon cheeseburger of my own even though I never went to the gym, that he didn’t seem to care that my belly was a little soft and fat gathered at the armpits of my tank tops.
It had been maybe five months since I’d spoken to Luke when Louise emailed me a link to a CityBeat article. Nicaragua??? She’d written in the subject line. I clicked to read the article, which was about a meteorite Luke had recovered in Tucson. There was nothing surprising about it until I got to his bio: Denver has recently recovered meteorite fragments from locations in New Orleans, Saudi Arabia, and Nicaragua.
I read the sentence three more times. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK., I texted Louise. Did another meteor hit Nicaragua? Or did he lie and say he found something there when he didn’t? Or is he pawning off MY meteorite pieces? MUST FIND OUT.
I told Brian about it that night, when we were waiting to pick out ice cream at the grocery store. We watched a fat man hovering in front of the freezer case for an unreasonable amount of time. But I understood it, because I was always unreasonably slow picking out ice cream, too. But I still felt embarrassed for the people I saw doing the same; it felt too personal to know how deeply they cared whether they ended up with fudge brownie swirl or peanut butter chip.
“You talk about him a lot,” Brian said.
“Like, pretty much all the time.”
“I’m sorry. It’s the one good story I have.” It was true: I treasured the story about going to Ometepe with Luke. I liked to tell people about the chickens and pigs in the road, the volcano, the mangos you could eat right off the ground, even though I never did.
“That’s fine,” Brian said. “But if you really think he has your meteorites, why don’t you just go over there?”
“I should,” I agreed. “I totally should.” I am much more easily convinced to do something when someone else confirms it as the right choice. “Will you save me some ice cream?”
“I’ll just get you one. What kind?” Brian hated it when I ate his ice cream, because I always took more than I said I was going to.
“Okay,” I said. “Mint chip. No, cookies and cream.”
I left him to walk home and got in the car and texted Luke. Hey stranger, want some Indian food? I’m buying. I almost wrote more but then I remembered that liars always overexplain their lies because something in our brains makes us think that more detail is more believable.
Always, he wrote back immediately.
I found a very old stick of concealer in the glovebox and dabbed it under my eyes so I looked less tired. Then I turned my head upside down and mussed my hair to give it more body. I was glad I’d blow-dried it and put on mascara that morning. I was pretty sure I wasn’t in love with Luke anymore but I have a thing about looking good for someone after an extended period of not seeing them, so they don’t think Wow, she went downhill. Then I went to our favorite Indian buffet and scooped a bunch of lentils and chicken tikka masala into two Styrofoam clamshells.
“Hi,” he said when I got there. “You have Indian food.”
He looked the same, but different. I noticed things I hadn’t paid attention to before, like how thick his eyebrows were and how they stopped so suddenly and in such a clean line at the bridge of his nose; it occurred to me that he probably swiped a razor straight down between them. I wondered how often he did this, if he’d snuck off to the bathroom each night after I fell asleep so that he’d have no eyebrow stubble in the morning. I felt embarrassed to remember that I had fantasized about marrying him. I’d even looked up meteorite jewelry on the internet and had been disappointed to see that it was mostly ugly, showy wedding bands for middle-aged men, not high-set solitaire rocks like I’d been hoping.
“What?” he said, seeing me looking at him.
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s good to see you. How’s the biz?”
“Feast or famine,” he said. “Same as always. It’s good to see you, too.”
I set the containers on the counter and spooned the food into bowls, getting them out of the cabinet above the dishwasher without asking him. We sat cross-legged on his couches to eat it like we always had, and it felt so familiar and good that I suddenly doubted my plan.
“Do you have any wine?” I asked, knowing that he wouldn’t; he only liked liquor and beer.
“No,” he said. “Why?”
“Let’s get a bottle of pinot,” I said. “They have it downstairs. I’ve seen it there before.”
“Nah,” he said. “I’ve got some Stella.”
“No, come on,” I said. “Please? I have a weird craving for it.”
I wondered if he was going to ask me to go get it, but he didn’t. I’d been counting on that; he’d always been the one to run out for things unless I expressly offered.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” I could tell he was a little annoyed but it was easier not to care now.
Once he left, I went immediately to the den, where he kept all his meteorites. They were easy to find: Everything was labeled meticulously by date and location, and sure enough, between Lithuania and New Orleans there was a medium-sized Rubbermaid container labeled ISLE DE OMETEPE, NICARAGUA, 9-24-16. You fucker, I thought. I only let myself look at the rocks for a moment before I placed them into my bag, stuffing one of his T-shirts in afterward to cushion them.
I felt no joy stealing the meteorites back but felt immensely relieved once they were all in my giant bag. In the living room I looked at the chicken tikka masala on the coffee table, sorry I wouldn’t get to eat the rest of it. Copernicus rubbed my leg and I was reminded of how I didn’t like how Luke treated the cat, always petting it hard, like he was taking something from it. I don’t think you should pet animals in a way so that your pleasure eclipses theirs.
On my way out I took some of his pot from the bento box where he kept it in the TV cabinet—an impulse steal. Then I let the door click quietly shut behind me. The meteorites were heavier than I remembered them, and more awkward to carry in a purse, where they slung me to one side, off-balance, than in my hiking pack.
I wasn’t even halfway to the stairs when he caught me. He actually smiled at me, like a psychopath, even though I knew that wasn’t really what he was, just a guy who cared a little more about his meteorites than he did about a girl he had dated for three weeks. As I’ve gotten older I can see that most things aren’t personal, and neither was this. To him, I mean. To me it was really fucking personal.
“I knew you were doing something weird,” he said. “You never drink white wine.”
“These are my rocks,” I said.
“So now they’re meteorites.”
“Yes, they were always meteorites.”
“How did you get them back to the states?” I asked. “Are you going to try to take them back?”
“I checked them in my luggage. Do you mean am I going to physically remove them from you right now?” he said. “No.”
“Really. They’re yours. Honestly, I should have let you keep them in the first place. I wasn’t in the right headspace at the time, I can see that now.”
“How much are they worth?”
He shrugged. “Depends on who buys them.”
“Well, I’m taking them.”
“I just said you could. Be my guest.” He leaned in and air-kissed me on the cheek, even though that wasn’t something we’d done.
I never saw him again after that. I heard he moved out west, was building his own house from scratch somewhere in Utah. For a long time I kept the rocks in a Rubbermaid in the basement of my apartment. For a while I hoped Luke would try to get them back, or that he’d at least get in touch to try to bargain. I thought about a lot of outcomes in my head: Maybe I’d offer to split them with him—for a price—or maybe I’d let him sell them if he gave me some of the profit. But he never contacted me again. So they sat down there, next to the crock pot. Brian wanted to get rid of them but I had come to like the thought of them being there. Maybe someday somebody could do something with them, like make ugly jewelry or use them in landscaping.
Mostly I didn’t think about them at all. But sometimes I’d go down there and touch one of the meteorites, my meteorites, and a synapse would fire somewhere in my brain and I’d smell the sea on the day Luke and I rowed those little kayaks out on Lake Nicaragua. Mar Dulce, the locals called the lake, sweet sea. But I’d read that it was actually very polluted, filled with millions of gallons of shit that got funneled into it every day. And it was getting too low, too. After the drought the Nicaraguan government started recommending that people raise and eat iguanas instead of chickens to reduce water consumption. But it had never looked like anything was wrong. If you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell at all.