When was it?
Summer in Minneapolis, near Lake Harriet, eighty-five degrees.
Right, a tattooed group preceded us through the fifty-odd rows of roses, skin tanned and curlicued, bestial designs pouring out of their tank tops and black knit shorts. They paused at each row. They were drunk on roses.
You speculated they were dialing back through memory on purpose, plumbing their psyches.
I overheard a woman, stick-skinny, with a blue mountain tattooed across her back, speak in quiet reverence about smells, amygdalas, the limbic system. I’m guessing it was her husband—the big man, bald and hairy—who got down on one knee, sank his nose in a yellow bloom, and wept. The group, nine or so, leaned in and palmed his wooly shoulders. I remember your noting that.
Yes, and “When the man rolled to the ground, collapsed on a mound of black bark and mulch, everyone seemed happy.”
Later in the car, my daughter Lil said the garden lacked an “appurtenant array” of pre-modern tea hybrids.
Lil would go on and on about those tea hybrids.
Evie was there.
Yes, Evie, her friend. Evie was shy.
Evie passed away.
Yes, in June.
Years earlier, in Roanoke, without Lil and before your mother died, we were at a costume party where an astronaut spoke plainly about girls in pink clothes.
His name was Hector, or Herman.
An eloquent drunk.
Somewhat. He was maudlin.
What I loved most about that party was the crystal chandelier hanging from the living room ceiling.
I liked the bartender who poured drinks from a collapsible bar near the window.
The place was quasi-rococo, heavily curtained.
“It’s supposed to be like a vagina,” the astronaut told us, “a womb-like color to attract mates.” Whenever the astronaut drank—I believe it was scotch—he raised the mirrored shield of his helmet and tipped his glass inside.
“A straw is like a little penis,” he added.
That night, back at the hotel, in the mirrored bathroom, I tore off your Mary Poppins outfit. Four paper quote marks fell off the wire hangers around my shoulders. The remnants of “myself” and Mary Poppins like a constellated code of sewn wool and paper on the cold tile grid.
You put it so nicely.
Which reminds me, in Wyoming, the tomb of Dick Cheney. His disembodied voice crooning at us.
Like an icy birch tree, as you put it.
I offered the apparition a drink and he said, “We were just kids then, our lives were intact, the radio transmitted true lo-ove.”
Then the police came.
Booked, I lay in white rubber slippers, coarse orange jumper, eternal lighting, a combination of body odors. The call was collect; you refused—I told you everything in that pause where the name goes.
Next morning you were stellar in the courtroom.
The judge said, “There’s no camping in the cemetery… city ordinance.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“Nope, no littering, no trespassing, no slurping with ethereal statesmen, get outta here.”
A helicopter ride over Charleston. My uncle Leo asked me to transport a small rifle to Murfreesboro for a talent show—a bolt action .22 named Judy. “Leo,” I said, “I don’t get it. I mean Judy. How does she do it? How does she dance that way?”
“Well, the routine goes ‘Pretty Fair Damsel,’ ‘This Land is Your Land,’ ‘Acadian One Step,’ then she closes out with ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground.’ There’s a lot of faith involved, which is key.”
That year Judy won first prize in the Middle Tennessee Firearms Talent Competition, as I recall.
But Leo never saw the ribbon.
Right. Brain tumor that August.
Yes, brain tumor. Always a brain tumor.
Well, not really always. Sometimes it’s other things.
Most of the time, though, it’s a brain tumor.
I guess so. Those fucking brain tumors.
Can we talk about something else?
Of course we can.
Josh Collins teaches at Texas State University and serves as book review editor for Front Porch, editorial staff for Southwestern American Literature, and fiction editor for Precipitate. He also has work forthcoming in Quick Fiction.
When was it?