Melina was twenty-three, and had never had a
heartbreak. There were plenty of guys who never asked her out and
one who broke up with her after a few weeks, but she had never known the
crushing feeling of a collapsed love. The man who broke up with
her was a poet. They stopped seeing each other during her
sophomore year in college, right after Thanksgiving, when the campus was
just beginning to get muddy and cold. Melina had taken out a red
silk scarf from her suitcase and on impulse she circled it over his eyes
then kissed him as he sat there blindfolded. There was something
in his lips, a lack of response, a restraint, so that later when he said
the words (what words? she couldn't even remember), she wasn't
that surprised. "So this is what it feels like," Melina thought
when he left, meaning to be on the other side of a break-up. She
went to the dining hall and was pleased to see fried clams, her
favorite. "This isn't so bad," she thought.
When her father left her mother for his secretary,
Melina realized she was wrong about the poet -- his leaving was nothing.
It was so cliché -- a boss off with his secretary -- that she had to
joke about it when she told people, but she still felt bitterly
abandoned and angry and she also felt she would do just about anything
to get her father back. It was foolish; she was twenty-three.
She had graduated from college a month before with a degree in
communications. She went to Rome by herself after graduation.
Her parents' marriage was peripheral.
The secretary's name was Candy, another cliché.
Really, she could hardly tell the story for laughing. They moved
to Hawaii together. They studied Tae Kwon Do.
"I'm not kidding," Melina would say. She
laughed, but her face was pulled into an angry frown, like there was a
knotted thread tugging through her.
After her summer in Rome Melina went back to San
Francisco, which was where she grew up. But her father lived in
Oahu now with Candy and her mother had lost twenty pounds and gotten
herself transferred to the San Jose office. Melina's younger
sister Catherine was still in college but was threatening to drop out;
she was taking their father's defection very hard.
To make matters worse the vacancy rate in the city
had dropped overnight to only one percent. Melina finally found a
flat in a gritty apartment building way out by the undesirable side of
the ocean. The neighborhood, once Irish, was now mostly Chinese.
In contrast, her parents' condo -- where she grew
up -- had been near Ghiradelli Square. From the living room
windows you could see the great Ghiradelli sign hanging over the bay
(the letters backwards since the sign faced west), and long wet piers,
and sailboats that swung around in the water like glistening white
Melina's new flat had no side windows and a
cemented-over yard and low, cracker-colored ceilings that creaked
whenever anybody upstairs walked around. The first night there,
sitting on a milk crate watching her parent's old color T.V., she felt
shadowy and alone, a nobody. Already she wanted to move out.
But the worst part was, since she had grown up in San Francisco she
couldn't just give up and go home -- she was already there.
* * *
"Bastard," her sister Catherine said over
the phone sometimes, when she called Melina up to complain about their
father. Melina circled want ads in the morning paper. She
felt it was her duty as an older sister to seem optimistic.
"He still loves you," she said.
"He's a fucking bastard."
"You know, he might just get it out of his
"I might just get him out of mine,"
Catherine said. "And anyhow why doesn't he call? Coward."
"He's probably embarrassed," Melina said, though
secretly she agreed with Catherine.
The job search was proving even more difficult
than the apartment. Every morning Melina diligently sent out
resumes, but for a few weeks she had nothing to do in the afternoon but
watch soaps or drive around in her little red car.
She loved her car. She loved the color, she
loved how shiny and compact and fun-looking it was. She wanted to
drive along the water but to get there she first had to pass all the
ugly row houses with their treeless front yards and squat driveways.
A few had small front lawns, but most had pebble gardens or --
unbelievably -- cement painted green.
Fog floated across the hood of her car like waves
of damp white ash. Melina turned down Noriega Street, which was
wide and dirty and crowded with banks and manicure shops and a
surprisingly large number of laundries, none of which looked clean.
Neither did the sidewalks for that matter, or the building facades.
Even the sky with the afternoon fog rolling in looked like a dirty
billowing curtain overhead. She had to brake hard when a huge
Lincoln Continental suddenly pulled out in front of her.
The worst drivers in the world drive down Noriega,
her father used to say. There was one very good Mexican restaurant
where they used to go, Casa Aguila, which served barbecued fish platters
with fruit. Showing up is nine-tenths of being there -- that was
something else her father said.
At the end of Noriega Melina doubled back to get
to the Great Highway, driving the upper part so she could see the ocean.
But the dunes, black with bus fumes, obscured most of the water, while
stalks of tall brown grass bent in the wind like a row of musicians.
Just before the pump station Melina turned into the Ocean Beach parking
lot and shut off the engine, then sat in her little car facing the
Why did he do it, this is what she could not
figure out. Was it sex? Her mother was a beautiful woman,
and Candy was merely pretty. It didn't make sense. Her
mother was intelligent, hard working, at times locked into her own
world, okay, but she always came back. Candy was not stupid, but
nice was the best you could say about her really. Was it just the
thrill of something new?
Below her, on the sand, a couple of surfers
holding boards under their arms followed the departing water. They
weren't the sexy, casual kind of surfers like you see on T.V. -- they
looked dedicated and cold. San Francisco is not a beach town, it's
not a Santa Cruz or Los Angeles, the wind is too sharp and abrupt.
If people go on the beach it's for more serious pursuits -- jogging, Tai
Chi, or at the most frivolous, kite flying. But certainly not the
frivolity of sex. It occurred to Melina, watching the jittery
kites, that Candy was young enough still to have children.
I have too much time on my hands, Melina thought.
It would be better when she got a job. Less time to brood.
Or if I was seeing someone, she thought. But that was too weird --
the idea that she'd get over her father if she just had a boyfriend.
* * *
Her mother bought a ranch-style house in a
development just north of San Jose, using some of Melina's father's
money to buy it. When Melina saw the house for the first time she
was surprised to see some of the furniture from the Pacific Heights
condo -- without really thinking about it, she had assumed everything
from the old life was gone. But here was the painted oak chest,
her grandfather's desk, their living room couch, the etching of a San
Francisco pier. There was also a new rug and a smaller dining room
table with less comfortable chairs.
"How's the job hunt going?" her mother asked.
She wore a spandex shirt and tight black exercise shorts and her legs
and arms had become muscular, almost taut. Her face was less
fleshy too, but since there was no muscle to tone, her skin seemed to
sag under her cheekbones. Her face gave a different impression
than the rest of her body -- not older, just less hopeful.
"Okay," Melina said. "I think I might have a
She was having trouble with the sight of the
furniture -- their furniture, she kept thinking -- in her
mother's very new house. It smelled of plastic and wood chips, and
the door knobs looked too new. The house had only been completed
six months ago, and from the dining room window Melina could see two
pale unfinished houses, insubstantial, like woodcuts. The solid
oak and walnut pieces from their old life seemed out of place.
"What's the job?" her mother asked.
"Testing software. Well, hardware first,
then hopefully moving up to the QA department."
Her mother smiled her crooked, joking smile.
"For this they needed a communications major?"
"It's an engineering company," Melina said.
"I don't know."
They went out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner
because all her mother had in the house was frozen fat-free pizza.
They stayed on three topics during dinner: her mother's office (chaotic
and challenging), the food (not spicy enough but not terrible), and
Catherine. After a while Melina realized her mother was not going
to be the one to bring up her father. As they waited for the bill,
Melina said, "Have you heard from Dad?" She tried to make it sound
"No," her mother said. "I don't expect to
for a while."
"I haven't either."
"He hasn't called you?"
Her mother said nothing for a moment.
"He will, though, sweetheart, don't worry."
"What's going on?"
"He loves you and Cath. I'm not sure what's
The bill came, and they discussed the problem of
Catherine again. But later in the car, her mother said,
"You know Mel, you might think of moving down
here, if you want a job in software. There are lots of those jobs.
And you could get a fabulous apartment right on the Bay."
She didn't say live with me, Melina noticed.
Her mother was doing all right. It was hard, but she was doing all
right on her own. She was smart and warm and good looking and she
laughed at all the right places.
"Maybe, if this job doesn't work out," Melina
said. She looked out the car window into the harsh unvarying
sunlight and tried to imagine living there. It was still very
bright out even though it was after six o'clock and light-ringed palm
trees lined the streets, giving little shade to the sidewalks. At
dusk the city sprinklers started, and small orange flowers, which were
in bloom all year long, dropped petals in a trail down the highway.
* * *
The engineering company finally called to offer
Melina the job. They were developing a board for high-end PCs;
when the boards were ready it would be Melina's job to test them -- "see
if they blow up the computer," as her soon-to-be manager explained over
the phone. Entry level, he called it. She would get nine
dollars an hour.
But the night before Melina was supposed to start,
Catherine showed up at her door. She had dropped out of college.
"Why? Shit, Catherine," Melina said.
"I'll go back." Her face was doughy, as if
she had been crying, but her voice was pointed and sharp.
"You'll let me crash here," Catherine said.
"Is this the Miss Manners approach?"
"Please," Catherine said fiercely. She was
only twenty, and Melina was worried. At seventeen Catherine used
to hang out with god-knows-what lowlifes on Fillmore Street, and it was
only after the most constant haranguing that she applied to college at
"You have to get a job. That's my
condition," Melina told her.
"I was going to, anyway."
Melina thought she should have asked for more: a
time limit, money for rent. Her mother would have known what to do
but Melina was new to all this. And Catherine really looked awful:
she was puffy and pale and her skin was bad, as if she'd been living on
chocolate and sourdough bread. Melina ordered take-out Thai but
Catherine would only eat rice. The semester was a wash, she told
Melina. She couldn't work, she couldn't read. The print
became tiny ants leading off of the page.
"I figured, it's time for a breakdown," she said.
"I mean, someone has to."
"Cath. You can't just decide
something like that."
"Mom acts like she doesn't care."
"I don't see that at all."
They sat on purple chairs that Melina had
purchased from Costco for two dollars each. The table, a chipped
white metal fold-up, came with the flat. Catherine did not seem to
notice how ugly everything was.
"I just want to know why," she said. "Has he
called you yet?"
"No," Melina said. "And you know what, maybe
it's none of our business why."
"Don't give me that therapy crap. I want to
Melina noticed a funny smell -- was there a gas
leak? The oven was very old, she never used it. Usually she
ate cereal for dinner in the living room, watching T.V.
"Do you smell something?" she asked Cath.
"No. Have you realized it's been almost
three months since he left? He's got to call some time, right?"
"He'll call," Melina said. She went up to
the oven and sniffed around the edges.
"What are you doing?"
"I thought I smelled gas."
Catherine inhaled, her nostrils flaring.
Then she sat still for a moment. "Is there a baby upstairs or
"No, that's a bird."
"That's not a bird."
They listened to four short calls then a cry that
was rough and somehow casual, like a scratchy yawn.
"It's a mockingbird," Melina said. She had
identified it from a bird book, which had once been her mother's.
"It's been here for a couple of days. I saw it yesterday
"No way. In the city?"
"And I saw a red-tailed hawk on a telephone pole
near the park."
Catherine shook her head.
"Welcome to the sticks," she said.
* * *
Catherine found a cafe job almost immediately at a
place called Java-Bound on Irving Street. To get there she could
either take the 71 bus or walk six blocks to the muni.
"Why did you move all the way out here?" she
"A hundred and fifty dollars a month," Melina told
Melina's job was worse than she feared. The
good news was that no one cared what she wore or when she came in as
long as she put in six hours. But the job was brain-numbingly
dull. She worked in a cubicle the size of an outhouse, where a
computer lay open on a tiny desk as if waiting for surgery. Metal
boards and wires were fitted like orthopedic necessities into the
computer's plastic casement, and it was Melina's job to pull out one
board and insert another, then re-boot. If the computer re-booted
successfully, the board could be shipped; if not, it went into an old
milk crate as garbage.
There were hundreds of these boards to be tested,
piled up in cardboard boxes on the floor. In addition, Melina
answered the phone when the receptionist went to lunch, and filled in
pre-printed reports about the tests.
Once the board was in place it took about three
minutes for the computer to re-boot or fail, during which time Melina
could read or do whatever she wanted. The second day she was there
she brought a magazine with her, but she could only read maybe one
column during boot-up, and then she always had to re-read a lot trying
to find her place again. The monitor sat on top of a phone book
next to the computer, a false window in the airless space. Melina
thought about Rome, the Spanish steps where she sat for whole afternoons
watching the pigeons and spooning up gelato. Was it only a month
ago? And now here she was, in her life, her real life, not the one
she had been born into but the one she made for herself.
"It will get better," her mother told her over the
At night she and Catherine ate burritos or made
pasta with canned sauce or brought back udon tempura from the Japanese
noodle house down the street. They passed groups of Asian women
wearing short flared trousers and orthopedic shoes. The hobblers,
Catherine called them. They all had tired, disappointed looks like
they wished they had just stayed in Tientsin or wherever it was they
were from. No one even glanced at Melina and Catherine, conspicuous
white girls carrying boxes of noodles and one order of sticky rice mango
for dessert. Melina went out with friends from high school a
couple of times, but they mostly wanted to go clubbing and she didn't
really have the money for that. So instead she stayed home with
Cath and watched bad T.V. or talked about their father, or both.
"This is what Dad would call kiddie porn," Cath
said. They were watching a show about high school students with
dyed hair and tight sweaters.
"He'd say, You are what you watch."
"I wish," Catherine said. She had gained
weight and wore an odd assortment of makeup -- green eye shadow, brown
lipstick, mascara that tended to clot.
"Maybe that's what happened to him," she said at
the commercial. "Too much us watching this."
"This show wasn't on last season."
"You know, or something like it. He thought,
hey that looks good, let's get me some."
"You're right," Melina said. "It's our
"I mean it could be," Catherine persisted.
She was sitting sideways on the futon couch and she was biting her
pinkie nail though it was already down to the quick.
"I don't think so, Cath."
"There's a girl at the cafe? She just broke
up with her boyfriend. I mean, he dumped her."
"No, she just hangs out there. She told me
that we ordain everything that happens to us. We make it
"No really, it makes sense."
Melina said, "I'm going to bed."
"You're just like Mom, you don't want to talk
Melina took off her sock and picked at her toe.
It was cold in the apartment, and the wall-to-wall carpet was had spots
of something suspiciously dark. But Cath seemed to like it, and
even bought a few posters to hang on the walls.
"We talk about it every night," Melina said.
"And anyway, Mom will talk about it. But you have to
"She's coming up to see me tomorrow," Cath told
"Do you think she'll be mad?" She meant,
because she had dropped out.
Melina put her sock back on and adjusted the toe
seam. Her mother never got angry. It was her father who
suddenly snapped, went into a rage. Once he broke her
grandmother's gravy boat. Another time he dented the kitchen table
with a hammer.
"She'll just want to know why," Melina said.
* * *
Melina had thought that all this talk about their
father would help her think about him less, but instead the opposite
seemed to be true. Why didn't he call? What was he doing?
Any news of him (he was still taking Tae Kwon Do and had begun
meditating in the mornings facing west) she got from her mother, who got
it from a senior partner in his old office. Melina thought about
him as she tested the bare boards at work, or she thought about how to
stop thinking about him. There was no way her old life would come
back even if her father returned or even if he never even left, but that
seemed to have no bearing on how her thoughts ran.
She wanted to respect him again. She also
wanted to move on but she didn't know how. Her work bored her; it
was not the distraction she'd hoped for. The manager made it a
point to pop his head in every day and give her meaningless praise but
that didn't help. One day he told her if she could just hold on
(he "could see how the work might be tedious") he would get her into QA
and give her a more permanent, full-time position.
Her spirit lifted slightly. Then, a week
later, Melina found a cafe near the beach which was only a little bit
out of her way. It was painted some foregone color and on one side
there was a mural of a seagull sipping coffee, but inside it was like
any cafe in the city -- the espresso counter, the danish display, a
glass jar of madeleines and another of biscotti (some of them dipped in
dark chocolate). The counter girl was appropriately pierced, and
there were small round tables with slightly warped particle-board tops.
Melina sat at a table with her latte and a bear claw and the
Chronicle. It was warm inside and there were lots of
interesting people to look at. The guy at the next table had dark
hair all combed forward and wore trendy clothes and trendy dark-framed
glasses and was very pale and thin. When he noticed that Melina
was looking at his magazine (Scientific American) he said, "The
universe has a preferred direction."
That evening Melina sat on her living room couch
after work and looked out the window as the sky darkened and the street
lamps came on. Brooding, her mother would have said, but actually
for once she wasn't. She was watching the birds. She was
surprised how many kinds there were just here on this block. There
was a small diseased-looking tree by the curb, and birds darted from the
telephone wires onto its nude branches and back. One -- a finch?
-- was singing. They were dull-colored birds, brown and black,
with no dramatic markings to help her identify them. A red
and black bird with a very long tail landed briefly on a telephone pole
then flew off. She guessed that some of these birds were on their
fall migration. That meant the rain would start soon.
* * *
Catherine began hanging out with Audrey, the girl
at the cafe, when her shift was over. Melina hoped they were not
doing drugs. But their bond seemed to be over betrayal -- the
father's and the boyfriend's. Cath was usually done working by
two, and then she went to Audrey's house to analyze stages of pain or to
look at Audrey's clothes. But Audrey, when Melina finally met her,
turned out to be nothing like Melina's mental picture of her. She
was not tall, she was not stylish, and her face had an open, vulnerable
cast. Although she carried some trendy accessories -- a pink
plastic handbag with large white flowers, for instance -- she seemed to
buy most of her clothes at The Gap. Audrey had read Catherine's
Tarot, Catherine reported, and apparently there was a woman with silver
hair that she should avoid.
"And that would be Candy," Cath said. "Her
hair is almost silver."
"We've got to get going," Melina said -- she
didn't want to think about Candy or her hair. Catherine was
working the morning shift, and Melina had agreed to drive her to work.
"It was like this very silvery blonde."
"I'm getting my coat," Melina said.
But in the car Catherine continued to talk about
Audrey and the color of Candy's hair. Then she explained her role
in the break-up of their parents' marriage -- the phrase grated on
Melina's ears. When Catherine finally got out of the car -- they
had parked in a bus zone for almost ten minutes while Cath finished up
her theory -- Melina drove to her own job with a new People and a
latte from Jonesing Java. But she found she couldn't bear to look
at all the bare women in the magazine with their long legs and their
spaghetti-strap tee shirts. Her boss came in around noon and said,
"You're really moving them," and Melina smiled and thought how she hated
him. She was becoming an angry person, she noticed. In the
car, driving Catherine to work, Melina had almost told her to shut up.
"The thing is not to take over each other's
roles," Cath had said. "I'm the baby, you're the oldest.
That's why my coming to you was a good thing."
You need to be in school, Melina thought.
Was it possible her sister was just dumb?
"I'm sure it's fine," she had said.
After her boss left with his trailing shoelaces
and bad upper teeth, Melina bent a board as she tried to take it out of
the unit. And it was one of the good ones.
"Shit," she said, and then she threw it against
the soft cubicle wall. She wished she had something heavy to
"Fucking job," she thought. A phrase of her
father's. Was it possible she was becoming him? Taking over
his role, she thought. But her father, like Cath, had a whimsical
side that Melina didn't have, and envied. And if she really wanted
to hurt something she would have thrown the board against something
harder than a cubicle wall. The moment passed. But for a
second, Melina felt the way her father might feel -- like something tied
up, wound up, and the happy release of letting go and spinning. So
easy. Just let go and smash the thing.
* * *
There were a few short showers in early November,
though they were nothing like the heavy rains of winter. Shrill
starlings and sparrows came out afterwards. Melina watched them
land on the tree in front of her building; they also liked the roof of a
house across the street, despite the three plaster owls meant to keep
them away. Sometimes crows as big as cats flew in, and there were
also finches and chickadees and fat pigeons from the Safeway down the
street. They liked the misty weather, the rain that brought up
worms. In addition, the woman who lived in the house next to the
plaster-owl house put out seed every evening in shallow wooden salad
bowls. Melina watched the birds peck at seeds with their wings
folded back behind them, like creatures in bondage. Sometimes a
gull would fly in from the ocean. Then a complex performance would
start as the gull scolded and bullied the other birds out of position.
Melina came back from work and sat on the couch with Golden Guide to
North American Birds on her lap. She read that goshawks, which
she saw several times near the park, sometimes swooped down and carried
off small birds at feeders. She would like to see that.
The trendy science guy from the cafe asked for her
telephone number, and for a whole morning Melina was light with
happiness -- maybe things were starting to happen at last. But at lunch
she realized this was another phone call she would have to wait for and
maybe never get, and her happiness seemed to dissipate into something
she couldn't regroup. That same afternoon she noticed her car was
making a noise like gravel rolling in a cardboard tube, and the next day
her manager told her the hiring freeze was definitely on.
"But the minute it's over," he said.
Melina wondered if he was just stringing her along
to keep someone, anyone, testing the boards. She looked at a few
want ads in the paper with a feeling of punishment. Catherine told
her she could help with the rent, but that worried Melina too -- she
didn't want Cath too comfortable here. Neither one spoke about
"Catherine has to find her own way," her mother
said on the phone. "She seems to be happy."
Melina thought this was exceptionally bad advice.
"You can't get a good without a college degree,"
Melina said, then stopped, thinking about her own job.
"She'll figure that out," her mother said.
Her mother had such faith. That was
one of her problems, Melina thought. Though look at her now -- by
all appearances she's given up on their father and moved on. It
was all very confusing, but Melina could swear that on some level her
mother had faith in her father. Melina herself had no faith, only
hope: the worst combination.
She wanted to give up. She wanted to think
about something else. The sky darkened but the rain held off, and
the neighborhood surrounding her building seemed even more dirty,
abandoned by the city proper. Who would want to live here if they
didn't have to? She saw whole pigs, their skins glistened with
Crisco and their tails curled, delivered by truck to the Chinese
barbecue down the street.
The trendy science guy did not call. Melina
went to the cafe once or twice but he wasn't there. Then she
stopped going, not wanting to go all wooden when she finally saw him.
Better not to see him ever again, she thought.
* * *
On the evening before the first winter storm, when
Audrey was over and they were all eating burritos carnitas in front of
the television, the phone rang. It was Melina's mother.
"Your father phoned me," she said.
Melina let her fingernails rest on the silty
window. It was cold from the fog.
"He wants to know if he can call you."
"He called you to ask this?"
"We were discussing other things as well,"
Melina's mother said, though she didn't say what.
"Are you getting divorced?" Melina asked.
"Who is that," Cath said suddenly.
"We didn't get that far," her mother said.
"Who is it," Cath asked again.
"Let me talk to her."
Melina gave her the phone and sat back down next
to Audrey. She trickled more tomatillo sauce into her burrito.
She couldn't believe that after all this, whether or not he called would
be her decision -- that she would have to grant her father
permission. It made her angry, and then she felt ashamed of
herself for being angry. After a few minutes Catherine came out of
the kitchen looking animated, excited. Melina knew that in spite
of everything, Cath had said he could call. She probably said yes
instantly, from the look of her -- she showed no signs of conflict.
"Come on, let's go get a beer or something," Cath
They went out in Melina's car, and from the inside
the fog looked like dirt. Melina turned on the wipers.
"Let's go to that place next to Cazadores," Cath
was saying as they pulled out. "The one with the pool table."
The next minute Melina gripped the wheel and was
breaking and turning. Something went thump under the right front
tire, then again under the rear.
"Shit, what was that," Melina said.
They stopped the car and got out. It was
cold and the pavement was wet, but the rain was still out over the
ocean. The rear tire was streaked with feathers and a large fat
bird lay nearby.
"Only a pigeon," Audrey said.
"No, that's a starling," Melina corrected her.
"It's like a blackbird."
They looked at it, and Catherine scraped something
off of her shoe.
"I stepped in gum getting out of the car," she
For some reason, the remark made them laugh.
"Let's get back in," Melina said. "It's
dead. I'll call the ASPCA or something from the bar."
"No, wait, this is good," Audrey said. "A
dead bird. Let's get a bag."
"What do you mean?"
"It will be a good ritual for us, to bury it."
"Bury it?" Melina asked.
"Where would we bury it?" Catherine asked.
They got a few plastic bags from a store across
the street called Quarts and Pints and Audrey put a bag on each
of her hands and sort of rolled the bird along inside another bag.
A few small feathers stuck to her bagged hands.
"I don't get this," Melina said.
"Trust me," Audrey told her. Like Catherine,
she seemed very excited. Melina cleared a spot in the trunk and
Audrey put down another plastic bag and put the bird bag on top and
closed the trunk.
"Do you have a flashlight?" she asked.
Melina took one out of the glove compartment and
turned it on and off then handed it to Audrey.
"Go into the park at Twenty-fifth," Audrey said.
"We can do it there."
Melina was afraid the bird was going to stink up
her trunk, so she drove fast. Also rain was coming -- an offshore
storm was being pulled in from Hawaii, and there was another one right
behind it. She turned into the park and they drove to the
interior, towards the Polo Fields.
"Pull over here," Audrey said.
Outside it was dark and muddy and fresh smelling.
The park spent thousands on sprinkler systems and pumped in water every
day to keep everything green and in bloom -- otherwise the park would
revert to its original sand dune state. Nearby ponds had been
filled in, and other more pleasingly shaped ponds created.
Melina opened the trunk but made no move to touch
"Hold this," Audrey said to Catherine, giving her
the flashlight, and then picked up the plastic bag with the bird inside.
They walked up the bank and stopped near a few
small trees. The air seemed green and hostile.
"We don't have to go far," Audrey said. She
knelt and began scooping out dirt with her hands, making a small oblong
hole. The grave.
"I wish I had a sage branch to wave over the body.
To cleanse it," she was saying. "But anyway we can say a few words
about boyfriends, fathers ... whatever we want."
The bird lay on the ground beside her. They
had chosen a spot near one of the park's street lamps, and a diffused
orange glow lay over Audrey's back. Melina noticed plants
sprouting on the side of the road that looked like the tops of wild
carrots. Just then the bird jumped in its plastic bag.
Audrey shot back. "Fuck!" she said.
They looked at the bird. It lay still.
Then all at once: another twitch.
"It's just a nerve," Catherine said. "Right?
They do that sometimes. Or at least chickens do." She was
holding the flashlight and now directed it towards Audrey.
"Get that off me! I don't know."
They stood in a line with their backs to the road,
looking at the plastic bag. Melina could feel the wind on her
neck. And maybe a drop of rain? She shifted her weight and
felt one of her loafers sink slightly in mud. At her college
graduation last summer -- the last time they were all together -- she
had watched her father on his cell phone, standing in the wet grass
laughing, and she remembered thinking he never laughed that way with a
client. How could she have known? It was probably Candy.
But she wished she had known, maybe that could have prepared her for all
of this now.
Christ, Melina thought all of a sudden. Here
I am watching a bird suffocate or something in a plastic bag and
still I'm thinking about him. The bag moved again.
Melina looked over at Audrey and Cath but it was clear they were
useless, they had no clue what to do. They could stand there with
their mouths open forever. Christ! Melina thought again.
It was time to go home.
"Let me see that," Melina said, and she took the
flashlight from Catherine. She walked over to the bird, which
twitched again as she approached, a wing lift like a tight brief shrug.
Melina gripped the flashlight and crouched down and hit the bird on the
skull. She looked at it. She hit it again, hard.
Nobody moved. Melina watched the bird.
It didn't move.
"There," she said.
* * *
The rain started as they drove back out of the
park and it was still raining the next morning. The car was making
its funny rattle, and Catherine was talking and talking about what she
was going to say to their father, but Melina didn't care. She felt
fine, maybe even good. After dropping Cath off she decided to stop
at Jonesing Java on the way to work. The trendy science guy was at
the counter when she walked in.
"There you are!" he said. "I lost your
Melina thought he was lying, but she said, "You
want it again?"
"Well, I was thinking, you want to just go out
somewhere this Friday?"
"Sure," Melina said.
He'll break my heart, she thought. She knew
the rule: never go out with anyone better looking than yourself.
But she was just glad to be back at the cafe with its warm bitter smell
of espresso and newsprint. For a moment the wind changed direction
and rain spattered at the glass door, hard, like tiny claws on the pane.
Everyone turned to watch it.
After work Melina stopped at a small Mexican
grocery and bought Ibarra chocolate for cocoa, which is how her mother
used to make it. She got some Bailey's Irish Cream from a liquor
store, then decided to drive around Lake Merced before the sun went
down. The rain had moved east, but the next storm was on its way.
Melina passed a pale blonde woman who was driving a Mercedes the same
color as her hair. She thought of something her father used to say
about one of his law partners: he has a face best seen from a distance.
She laughed, remembering his deadpan delivery. The air was clear
and beautiful, and the lake, emerging suddenly after the dunes, was a
wonderful vision of lush green plants and green water.
That night Melina moved the television into the
bedroom and she and Cath drank their cocoa and Irish Cream drinks in her
bed as they watched T.V. Around ten they heard the next storm move
in: the first uncertain taps on the eaves, then sudden downpour.
Earlier Melina had looked out the living room window, but the birds were
It was warm and comfortable in the bed.
Melina refilled her mug, and Catherine's mug, and they found a re-run of
a really bad show they both liked. Melina felt almost very drunk.
At a commercial she stared at the web of cracks on her ceiling which
fractured then tapered to nothing. A small thin crack seemed to
open as she watched. Was it actually getting larger before her
"Maybe he really loves her," Catherine said, her
eyes on the T.V.
"Maybe," Melina said. She thought about her
mother. Then she thought, or does she mean Candy? The rain
hit the window in a hard loud continuous spatter, and Melina could hear
something bumping and falling on the balcony above them. It was
going to be a wet weekend. That morning the waves were two stories
high in some places, and down south, near Santa Cruz, a high school boy
on the beach had been swept out to sea and lost. The thin window
panes shook and the heat came on through the wall vent. Melina
knew this was the start of the long, indoor season.