I wake up with a slight headache and twist my body onto my back and notice the bedroom door open. I lean forward and see the dog propped up sitting on her back legs. Happy and proud. She moves closer, licks my nose. 7:30. I wish to go back to sleep, but the dog will demand a walk in roughly fifteen minutes. She’ll bark and bark and bark until my shoes are on my feet.
“You ready for a walk or what, Brancy?”
She runs back and forth from the kitchen to my room. I slide my shoes on and find her leash. I try to put the collar around her neck, but she nudges back and forth. Back and forth. Both my arms and legs manage to hold the body in place, get the collar around that fluffy neck.
Vivid mustard leaves half on the trees and half on the streets as if the beginning of fall, though it’s the first of January. White sky. Last night’s rain has the neighborhood wet. The charcoal street glitters like last year’s Christmas lights. We stroll along; she sniffs the ground and does her business on someone’s lawn as I close my eyes and pretend not to see. A car passes and she attempts to chase it. I tell her no, stop, I don’t wish to choke you, my silly dog. She leads the way through fresh grass, walks straight into mud.
We get back home and I leave my muddy shoes outside.
I give her a biscuit and make coffee. A note from my mom sits on the counter: I’LL BE HOME BY 7. I put a piece of bread in the toaster, the butt of the loaf. I don’t mind. Just means I’ll add more butter. I eat half. The extra butter didn’t help the rough texture. I add a drop of honey. Then, go in the backyard with my laptop to read some news. The dog follows and lies at the edge of the pool. I scroll the New Yorker and eye an article. It goes in-depth on how people talk to themselves persistently, however, not because they are “mental” or “mad.” Normal. Your words can’t stop. The mind never stops. Obvious, obvious, obvious.
I have another cup of coffee, pick out clothes to wear, somewhat fix my hair. Think to myself: shoes, pants, shirt, brain. I get a text from my mom. Tells me to get new clothes. I reply: I’ll go shop in Scottsdale. She responds, why not Tempe? Closer, she says.
I drive on the freeway, get to the mall, walk to the only store for me. Find nothing and decide I’m done. Then, lunch. A salad filled with arugula, pistachios, golden beets, green apples, and goat cheese smothered in a red wine vinaigrette. It’s good, but not as good as it sounds. While eating, I decide to get a new book. There’s a one-story Barnes & Noble ten minutes away, or a two-story Barnes & Noble next to Total Wine, thirty minutes away. Better selection at the two-story. And, I, too, of course, can go to Total Wine. A goal and a plan two different things.
The white sky spreads like an endless piece of paper. One cloud. No traffic. No worries. No nothing. Details are the devil, yes? Sure, sounds poetic. The brown mountains in the distance look too steady. I receive a text from my friend, Natali, who lives in San Francisco. Olive-colored skin, curly dark hair, so intelligent, dropped out of college her sophomore year. She felt stuck. Claustrophobic. I don’t know how else to describe it. Natali realized her major was a hoax. Philosophy. Believes it all comes from the same type of people: unhappy, privileged, white men.
Natali’s thought had occurred to me weeks before, chatting with a 73-year-old man with a thick German accent. He cornered me in the kitchen and said not to surround myself with losers but with successful people. Much easier to go up the ladder than down. Said something like that. Quite honestly, I had the urge to hit him but instead gave him a bemused look. Then, figured he expected feedback and told him he sounded like my mom, in which he replied, Oh, God! That’s not what I intended. I recall skimming Carl Jung’s autobiography that evening. When the old man approached me, I had finished reading, “The past is terribly real and present, and it catches everyone who cannot save his skin with a satisfactory answer.” The past is like scrapbooks hidden in my closet. I know where they are and don’t want to see them. Old and best are two different things.
I drive to Barnes & Noble and walk directly to the second floor where there’s fiction. Fake green plants as well. A girl forcing origami doves, a thousand pages of blank words I don’t see, really wish to see. Has anyone thought about ice as blue? I think to myself. A bookshelf stands to my right, the only real thing. Notice a guy, probably, writing a thesis proposal. Another person, over there, possibly, reading a critique. Not natural. Art is not natural. Simply equals control. Conceptualized realities like when I close my eyes and imagine green. Makes it real, maybe true, but only my view. You you you you.
I leave with no book, annoyed. Though, it’s my own damn fault.
I walk to Total Wine and get my favorite holiday beer. The store smells like plastic and their fluorescent lights make the floor appear slippery. I get in line to pay and a lady lets me go in front of her. She has twelve bottles of hard liquor in a grocery cart. The good, the bad, and the friendly.
My phone rings. Long-time friend, Ali. Big personality, big chest, big heart. We’ve been friends since junior high. No idea how. We’ve sat in the back of a cop car together—that might be the reason. Sophomores in high school at the time. Reckless and unaware and secure. A great icebreaker, now. We laugh at the scenario, now. We mock at the myth. Now.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’re in town?” Ali wonders.
“I knew you’d be busy since it’s the holidays.” She works retail.
“Come over. I’m free!”
“Alright,” I say, hang up, drive to Ali’s house.
Ali and I are like, hmm, salt and pepper. Cliché, huh? Just wait. That right there, the difference, the detachment, whatever you wanna call it. The unavoidable ubiquity of changing. This gives us an odd bond. Long-time friends use one another in order to remember their own nostalgia. She pours me a cup of coffee.
“Did you hear? My sister divorced after a year because she found out he’d been cheating and then she got addicted to pills, and now she’s back at home with my parents,” Ali says in one whole breath.
“In all honesty, I would get addicted to something if I was in that position,” I reply, trying to make the horrid dilemma universal.
“Right? Hey, do you wanna smoke some pot?”
“I quit for the new year.”
“The first day of the new year doesn’t count.” She grabs her lighter. We go in the backyard. “We needa’ find you a granola boy,” she utters.
I ask her what that means. She gives no explanation. I look up at the sky to think of something clever. “I, at least, have nuts in me.”
Ali laughs and laughs, “Oh, definitely! You’re the tasty kind of granola. The one you put in yogurt and shit.”
“Makes absolute sense.”
I drive home, missed the sunset (can’t get enough of this place going purple), drive onto the driveway, and accidentally hit my mom’s Christmas decorations. Reindeer heads on metal poles stabbed into the lawn. They’re “cute.” My eyes are not heart shaped. I contemplate whether or not to reposition the heads. Hit a fly it falls. There’s never an in-between, I’m thinking.
Inside the house, the smell of sweet cookies makes me feel the privilege. My mom says dinner will be ready in an hour. She asks if I bought anything. Nothing but good beer. She says I’m too picky.
“Yes, I am.”
While waiting, I click on an email: “I don’t believe anything is timeless. We call things timeless as a kind of compliment-by-exaggeration, recognizing that some things exhibit remarkably stable patterns that outlast dozens or even hundreds of ordinary human lifetimes. But they are not immune to time, nor are they lacking in time, not even temporarily.”
The email doesn’t make sense because I’m attached to the beauty of the word. Timeless. Timeless. Timeless. If everything is timeless, then, timeless equals nothing. If everything is timeless since “nothing” has no point, it can’t end. If it can’t end, it’s timeless. Yes, that works. This makes sense. Or, am I playing the game of words? One day, I remember, in the backyard with my dad, he asked what students learn in a literature class. You learn to make yourself sound better in words, I said. Quite the trade, he said. Can pathos lie, too? There are parts of literature (‘aspects’) that remain unnamed. The only thing real is in the past.
Dinner’s ready. I grab sriracha from the fridge and squirt an excessive amount onto the chicken and rice and corn.
“You like it?”
“Mhmm. Really good. Thanks for cooking,” I mumble, clearing my throat.
“Are you doing anything tonight?”
“What about tomorrow?”
“Haven’t decided, but something.”
Car headlights flicker and pass. The male barista asks if I want my usual 20oz iced coffee and I say no, earl grey. I add honey. Hands get sticky. Sitting. A bead of tea spills on my jeans. My legs crossed like chopsticks or two straws in a drink swaying around the rim against one another, and sometimes, maybe, you have ice cubes and always, without a doubt, they melt. Sitting. That’s all my body’s doing. This brain, on the other hand, chooses a short story out of a Carver novel to re-read. “Where I’m Calling From.” I forgot the plot.
“It has been so long,” I hear someone say. Page Bachman. We were brief friends. Never close friends. Not at all.
I notice her outfit: black jacket, black shirt, black pants, black shoes. I like it and I’m jealous for a moment. “You still live in Gilbert?” (and unintentionally, I sound a bit condescending and my ears begin to burn red.)
“Yeah. I just love it here,” she remarks. “It’s really good to see you.”
I smile. “Happy New Year.”
“Oh, that’s right. It’s a new year.”
I drive home. Take the long way. Think about a story to write. I think about everything that has happened today, this instant. And I can’t. Memory is our weapon because it slips like the moment you forget a dream. This.