Fortunato Salazar

Two Stories

Sasquatch Meets Nessie

They didn’t believe I could be out on the eques­tri­an trails, that I should be out on the trails, giv­en where I was in my taper­ing. I had to sign a spe­cial release, a release that they com­posed for my spe­cif­ic eques­tri­an request, absolv­ing them of any harm on account of inep­ti­tude or over­con­fi­dence (theirs). I signed my name on the release and then I signed my name on the eques­tri­an elec­tive sched­ule, name and name of horse. Then I went out with con­fi­dence; for me, it was just like get­ting back on a bicy­cle.

*

I knew that it was all about my taper, that every time I tried to find mean­ing in that 3:00 a.m. empti­ness, I was look­ing in the wrong place. I tried to work, to put my sta­mi­na into some­thing that added up to more than mileage. I start­ed play­ing around with the clip. I got myself set up in the fau­teuil in the cor­ner of my room and thought about the pro­duc­er and his week­ends. I clicked on the lit­tle FireIvy Screenplay Pro icon and I hummed Jackson Browne lyrics to myself.

*

Because for me it had been all about get­ting back on a bicy­cle. For the whole last year I’d been locked in a com­pe­ti­tion with some unknown prodi­gy in the U.K. I’d been com­mut­ing to my stu­dio in Larchmont on my bicy­cle. And then in my ongo­ing quest to under­stand myself I came across the piece about the kid. We were abus­ing the same unfor­giv­ing med­ica­tion, but the quan­ti­ty he took dai­ly best­ed me by half, and he was still com­mut­ing every day by bicy­cle. So nat­u­ral­ly I imme­di­ate­ly upped my dai­ly quan­ti­ty, not by half, but I was head­ed in that direc­tion.

*

Okay, so for lit­er­al­ly an hour we’re sit­ting around debat­ing where the crea­ture dwells, what it feeds on, what’s its home milieu, does it have a nest in some recess of the cliff below the water­line, does it clam­ber out of the water and spend the day­light hours in the dark woods? Having just watched the pro­duc­er peer­ing through the bub­ble win­dow, enveloped by the mist, in his com­fort­ing long-sought retreat, where he splits his own fire­wood with a maul, we’re amus­ing our­selves in the spa­cious com­mon room which is what we’re sup­posed to think of as, but don’t get too attached to it, home. The crea­ture clam­bers out of the water when it hears the plink of oars against the sur­face of the lake; it hun­kers down in an aban­doned trail­er in the woods, a moss-cov­ered trail­er that it fixed up with a gen­er­a­tor and a ceil­ing fan, a nice set of opaque moss-cov­ered win­dows, a dark­room and a sun­roof.

*

The pro­duc­er whips out his notepad and says to the crea­ture, Hey, look, I’ve been tak­ing notes this whole time. And the crea­ture whips out its notepad and says, Well, I’ve been tak­ing notes this whole time. Then the pro­duc­er holds up his Leica, which is on a thong around his neck, and says, Well, I’ve been tak­ing pho­tos this whole time, and I have more than two thou­sand. And the crea­ture whips out a cam­era from behind its back and says to the pro­duc­er, Five thou­sand.

*

At the begin­ning, the facil­i­ta­tor told us a cau­tion­ary tale about a for­mer res­i­dent who had seen the clip and then went out look­ing for the lake: the moun­tain lake with the house on one side and a steep wall of green on the oth­er. Had obsessed him­self with find­ing the loca­tion, to the detri­ment of remem­ber­ing that he had lost ground and was still on the clock. There’s a cer­tain aura that sur­rounds Los Angeles Plays Itself and we all got a bit caught up in it, to the detri­ment of our bet­ter selves, that’s for sure.

*

Afterward, when they gave me my walk­ing papers, I obtained a copy of the whole print, for no good rea­son except to avoid a sense of, as they say, spu­ri­ous clo­sure, that ill feel­ing of secu­ri­ty that comes from not rec­og­niz­ing a missed oppor­tu­ni­ty.

*

Anyway, the pro­duc­er goes on his own quest to find a retreat in the moun­tains, the per­fect iso­lat­ed over­hang­ing week­end stu­dio with a bub­ble win­dow in the floor, and he trav­els from lake to lake until at last he’s way out there in remote high coun­try and begins to hear about the crea­ture. A crea­ture that lives most­ly under­wa­ter but also ris­es up out of the water on its hind legs and, obvi­ous­ly, can oper­ate a cam­era. Larger than a man, but not too much larg­er, low-bud­get larg­er. The producer—the oth­er pro­duc­er, the friend from way back who doesn’t have a lake to himself—will be sit­ting in the row­boat. Sitting. Hunched over his notes. The crea­ture when it makes its first real appear­ance emerges out of the mist and is waist deep in the lake, tow­er­ing against the back­drop of the wall of green, the steep cliff.

*

As I said, after­ward it was just plain impos­si­ble to go back to our rooms and reflect. Why aren’t both pro­duc­ers in the row­boat, why just the one? We sat around the fire­place with our kale-soy-acai smooth­ies and bat­ted this about, lin­ger­ing. Oh def­i­nite­ly, there’s a puz­zle for you: why wouldn’t you want two pro­duc­ers in the row­boat?

*

Everyone went back to their rooms—I went back to my room, but I didn’t linger. In an hour I was up and in pos­ses­sion of the cer­tain­ty that if I want­ed, I could go to the sta­bles (I would need to bor­row the van) and do my fifty miles in the dark, in the marine lay­er, up through the canyon and back, pulling in just in time for sun­rise ten­nis. I just kept let­ting go of the kid and the thought that the kid was out there in the U.K., on his own taper, rid­ing a hun­dred miles in the dark. I kept hop­ing I wouldn’t run into the kid on the way down, as I’d run into him on the way up.

Last Days of the First Flush

Melgar was ban­ter­ing with the gun­ner when the timer went off; anoth­er six­ty sec­onds of lone­ly dis­si­pa­tion. When he couldn’t sleep in the mid­dle of the night, he ban­tered with the gun­ner. Sometimes he and the gun­ner were mak­ing tea on a camp stove when they ban­tered, some­times they were bank­ing hard to exit a tight kill zone, cloaked in a wag­on-wheel pat­tern of laid-down smoke; either way, it soothed him, which he need­ed with all the bru­tal sage­brush he would face when the alarm went off.

*

The timer went off and he was pulled back into the month­ly parade of cheer­ful flo­ra, fes­tive pho­tographs of petals. He had to wait for the tea to cool, he’d over­cooked the tea. He read the cap­tion for August. He’d gone all the way through to August and he hadn’t read a cap­tion. Well, you had to lean in close to read the cap­tion, and it felt a lit­tle too much like you were a bee, on the verge of lap­ping up some nec­tar.

*

His plan had been out­lined for him by his men­tor who also was the mae­stro in whose body shop he toiled. The men­tor instruc­tive­ly drew the par­al­lels between auto­mo­bile body work and den­tistry. The sub­text was that if Melgar didn’t absolute­ly love body shop work, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t find a life of doing den­tistry reward­ing. Or maybe there was no sub­text at all—his men­tor just want­ed to spin out the par­al­lels because he liked loud words to come out of his mouth while he ham­mered and sand­ed.

*

First Melgar’s wife would leave him for his cousin, who lived in the house next door. Then he’d get Parkinson’s dis­ease or MS—he didn’t have a favorite yet, he still was waf­fling. Then he would spend a pro­duc­tive and reward­ing cou­ple of decades dri­ving a wide­body for one of the lega­cy car­ri­ers, and after that he’d pay his dues in a suc­ces­sion of tight kill zones, and after that he’d grind out a year of report­ing on traf­fic, jounc­ing and bounc­ing. He out­lined it the way he’d learned to map out a com­pli­cat­ed shop sequence, a task that once had soothed him reli­ably in the mid­dle of the night.

*

As recent­ly as February he’d been excit­ed about the prospect of becom­ing a den­tist, a den­tist who trains hors­es on the side—thoroughbreds. He would train hors­es most of the time and every once in a while check in on his thriv­ing col­lec­tion of prac­tices. After that, he would work crazy hours build­ing up the col­lec­tion. And after that, well, he would mar­ry a very tall woman who trav­eled a whole lot, sell­ing office fur­ni­ture. They would meet in an ele­va­tor and they would both be very tall.

*

The den­tist whose office was next to the truck where Melgar and his men­tor went for lunch came in to pick up his good-as-new Carrera GT. He told Melgar and his men­tor an anec­dote about a patient who was a cop, a tough-as-nails city cop. The patient reclined in his chair and begged the den­tist to put an end to his pain, his agony, to do any­thing to give him some relief. He plead­ed, said the den­tist. The den­tist gave Melgar’s men­tor a Christmas card with a pho­to of him­self, his wife and his chil­dren. They were all dressed in white, and all their fur­ni­ture was white, and so were their two dogs, and so was the Carrera GT.

*

The cap­tion includ­ed the name of the flower, and beneath that, the name of the pho­tog­ra­ph­er along with a copy­right sign and a year. Melgar was sor­ry he had swooped in for a clos­er look, because the year was the year before. The lit­tle last year in the cap­tion was posi­tioned just above the big­ger this year above the cur­rent month. That seemed like seri­ous­ly poor plan­ning, to show a hap­py new flower that was all about this month and this year, and then to drag peo­ple down with a reminder of last year.

*

First they would hang out at the region­al air­field and watch the UAV pilots prac­tice lift­ing and trans­port­ing Christmas trees. Then his men­tor would take them to the air­field, Melgar on the back of the mentor’s Beemer, which was not actu­al­ly the mentor’s Beemer but a repair job that the men­tor had per­mis­sion to bor­row. Then Melgar would slog through a day of reminders that he absolute­ly didn’t love body work; then Melgar would brew him­self some tea and aim the gun­ner toward the ene­my who were stream­ing in to rein­force the trench line.

*

Melgar actu­al­ly didn’t like tea, but cof­fee kept him awake. Awake as in he wor­ried for his per­son­al safe­ty, bod­i­ly safe­ty in prox­im­i­ty to pow­er tools. Also, cof­fee gave him aches around the tem­ple. Actually, the whin­ing and whirring of the pow­er tools gave him aches as well, and what was real­ly chal­leng­ing was when he had no option but to down a batch of choco­late-cov­ered espres­so beans to stay alert and mon­i­tor his per­son­al safe­ty. When it got real­ly dif­fi­cult to tol­er­ate the wake­ful­ness at night, so bad that ban­ter­ing didn’t do the trick, and nei­ther did pon­der­ing an abstract den­tal con­cept like a con­cave cor­ner, he com­pared avi­a­tion head­phone spec­i­fi­ca­tions online.

*

First his wife would for­give him and take him to the air­field for a sur­prise. Then he’d buy her an aquar­i­um and she’d get all qui­et­ly resent­ful because she’d had her fill of aquar­i­ums dur­ing her fur­ni­ture-sell­ing trav­els. After that he’d have to decide on a suit­able pun­ish­ment for his twelve-year-old son who’d con­vert­ed the cen­trifuge in his den­tal lab into a UAV. Excellent. Sleep was def­i­nite­ly on the way when his old plan­ning start­ed to bleed into his new plan­ning.

*

The den­tist came back in again to praise them for the stel­lar job they’d done, and to say how the acci­dent had been a wake-up call. He would be sell­ing off the Eurostar EV97; no, he, would give it away, plus he’d throw in free lessons. Then he drove the Carrera GT into a con­crete mix­er. Then he con­sult­ed an engi­neer about the lap pool, but it turned out that the deck was too nar­row for a horse to turn around at the end.

~

Fortunato Salazar’s writ­ing has appeared or is forth­com­ing in McSweeney’s, Mississippi Review Online (sum­mer 2009 fic­tion issue), Guernica, Hobart, Wigleaf, Corium, Nerve and else­where.