There is no gray, at least that I’ve witnessed, more depressing than the sky on those short winter days in the south where the sun never fully comes out. In Ireland, in the summer, it can be a terrible gray for days, but there is always rain and everything is green, and a vibrancy exists. When I was there, I fell in love, but that is a different thing and nothing now. Ireland could be different in winter. I don’t know. I’ve never been. I have been in New England in winter, and that is also a depressing gray. Though that gray is deeper and often with snow and rain. I grew up in South Carolina but now live in Colorado, where the winter isn’t depressing like one might think. There is plenty of snow and dry cold, but it is mostly sunny even after it snows.
The deer was dead on the side of 26 just outside Asheville. There was something odd about the deer that I noticed as I passed. It didn’t look real and I don’t know what it was that compelled me to turn around, but I did. I parked in a lot of an abandoned business as close as I could find and walked down the side of the interstate. It was hotter than all hell; North Carolina in June. The asphalt was melting. I walked up and looked at the deer. Flies were buzzing and there was trauma to its midsection. Blood and all. But there was something about it that didn’t seem like it was a deer that was once alive. I walked back a ways and sat under a tree behind a guardrail within viewing distance. I sat there for hours, and nothing happened except cars passing. I went home. The next morning I woke compelled to see what had become of the deer and I went back. I sat in the same spot. I played chess on my phone and sat there for hours again. Nothing happened. Two more days I did the same thing and the deer stayed there. On the fifth day I went out there, right as the sun drifted off, about 9:30 PM a black van pulled up beside the deer. A man dressed in slacks and a white shirt with a tie stepped out holding what looked like a remote control to a remote-control car. It had a little joystick and he pushed it and the deer came to life and stood up. It was animatronic. The man opened the back of the van and a little ramp lowered and he controlled the deer into the back, shut the door and drove off.
We met at a strip club in downtown Denver. She was, striking, to say it modestly. I didn’t hit on her or act unsavory, which I imagine is why she handed me her phone at the end of the night and asked me to enter my number. She left town the next day in her van for a two-week road trip. She was one of those who had taken up that lifestyle. She sent a photo of her paddling a canoe on a lake in Texas. It showed her, in less than a tenth of the frame, the boat, the lake and a small, fluffy black dog. How little of herself she’d chosen to put in the photo let me know she was a special sort. Only her face, chest, legs and wrist, which had a tattoo I didn’t remember. I was leaving town and I knew I wasn’t ever going to see her again. What I wanted, so badly, was to jump into the photo, to instantly be there with her on that lake. To pet the furry black dog. To touch the water. Feel the sun and the wind on my skin. To hear her voice again. To see how she handled something as odd as me simply appearing. To lay down together in the canoe. To jump in the water, icy perfect, plunge until my lungs nearly gave out then reemerge.
If I lived in Boston, I’d call and ask if you wanted to wander to Back Bay and eat at Salty Girl on a pale Wednesday afternoon, sun threatening. I’d ask to meet at 3:45 but arrive at 3:30 to find you already there with a gin drink seated at a good table. I’d ask if you’d ordered anything. And you’d say yes, six from the Puget Sound. I like starting with complex flavors, but minimal saltiness. A Peroni would land to my left and you’d have no response. I’d take a sip, cold and crisp and imagine us, for a moment, like a bird’s eye shot from a movie. Rising, rising until the block becomes the neighborhood, and the city becomes a dot beside the ocean. Then slam back to hear you say, what were you just thinking about? And adjust your glasses. I was thinking about how happy I am to be here, I’d respond. Oh really? You’d say. The meal would prove a revelation, like all meals at Salty Girl are. Hours later, in the waning dusk light, we would wander Back Bay ducking in different bars, you sipping cocktails and me beer, the inevitable slowly happening, a finger brushing a forearm, hair tucked behind an ear, lips licked, lingering eye contact and comfortable silences. That first kiss. Forgetting anyone else exists. The jangling of your keys opening the door. The pounding of my heart as I wait for you to invite me inside.
Ruined by the Flash
I was invited sailing with my lawyer, and we drove out to the New Orleans Yacht Club, which is, I would say, in Bucktown. Though that might be disputed because the neighborhoods become confusing out by the lake. If there is anything to know about Bucktown, for certain, it’s that there are several seafood restaurants there that rival any in the world.
The man who owned the sailboat was named Stew.
“It’s all about pink dumpsters,” he said as I stepped on.
He had friends, who, in a show of togetherness, paid a monthly fee to go out on the sailboat. Stew was in on the ground floor of a demolition business. What they did was go around New Orleans destroying old buildings and houses in places where people wanted to build new ones. Their logo was a woman operating a pink bulldozer, and it was plastered across all the pink dumpsters placed around the city to put the destroyed materials inside.
I talked with Stew, trying to understand why this made sense, but came to realize it was just a great marketing idea, and that there was no particular depth to be found inside of it.
As the sailboat slid out of the slip, smooth across the water’s glass, a calmness set in and not too far out into the lake, Stew dropped anchor and there we all were, drinking and gazing in different directions, in possession of affectations that might have made it seem, from a distance, as if we possessed something that might be called depth.
The same could be said about Lake Pontchartrain, but the truth is most of the lake is very shallow. It is also, technically, not a lake, but an estuary that connects to the Gulf of Mexico, and that’s water is brackish, though a diluted brackish that probably tips closer to fresh than salt.
It’s difficult to imagine how many terrible things rest on its bottom.
I took a photograph of my lawyer, in profile. Behind him, the city skyline jutted into the cloudless sky.
I jumped in the lake. The water felt like a bath that was almost over.
I backstroked away from the boat until it became a dot. I thought someone might yell but no one noticed I was gone. I swam back and climbed in.
There was a discussion going on about women. The sort of awful talk you can only witness when men are alone together.
Destructive, but titillating.
While offensive words and phrases spun together, I escaped to thoughts of a woman from Australia I’d recently met outside of The Chart Room, which will always be my favorite bar in New Orleans. She was a hospital administrator on extended holiday. A terrible error had been made and though it was a surgeon’s fault, the responsibility fell on her shoulders. That was why she was on extended holiday.
Her name was Hayley, and she was in her early 40s. She was darkly funny and had a goofiness that made it easy to see the child who became an adult. But it was a quiet wisdom bred of loneliness that drew me in; the strength to be so alone and so far away from where she was born.
We said precious little outside the Chart Room, she seemed more interested in bullshitting with me and my friends, but I received a request on Facebook, and nights later I asked if she’d like to come over for a drink. To my surprise she asked for my address. Thirty minutes later she arrived in a cab. She had a bottle of wine and I fumbled around my kitchen until I found a rusted corkscrew and two glasses.
We sat in the living room, me in my recliner and her on the couch. At some point I asked her to sit in the recliner and she did. I held her, and we kissed. She seemed surprised by the kiss but gave herself over to it entirely. We went to the bedroom and made love until the morning sun shone through the windows. Outside, the birds were chirping. On any other morning I would have found them annoying, but that morning, naked in the all-encompassing light, I found nothing to be annoyed with at all. The memory is like an old photo ruined by the flash. One that would simply be deleted now from a phone, but that might have been worth keeping, years back, when film had to be developed to see the picture.
And that’s the way things went, until she had to go back to Australia. A leap she wanted me to join her in, but that I hesitated on and didn’t jump. Our communication became electronic and slowly faded after that. All I can say now is that I lost something when she left that I will never find again. But like all things that are demolished, there is a memory of what existed.
The remnants, tossed into a pink dumpster, all the things that can be remembered but cannot be seen.
I erupted out of the memory hearing someone on the boat finish a sentence with “in her mouth,” and said, “haven’t any of you morons ever been in love?”
A silence lingered.
The water soft slapped against the sailboat’s side.
Then everyone erupted in laughter.
Stew tossed me a beer and I popped the top. I drank half in one gulp and said, “tell me more about these pink dumpsters.”
“Well, man,” he said. “Where to begin?
And I didn’t pay attention to a word after that. My mind was floating toward the horizon. Some dream of being able to not be there and step onto the surface of the water and walk. Thinking about boarding a plane. Doing something not destructive, building a future that couldn’t yet be seen.
It was in Tamarindo, on a men’s week/bachelor party when a placid stillness fell upon him, and it was so quiet and pure that he wondered if death was close behind. When that passed and the cocaine buzz wore off, he settled and started to wonder if what he was experiencing was all there was. He knew it was, truly, but knowing that was as simple as understanding that existence itself is awful. Which was no concept any great genius had discovered. There were so many beautiful women on the beach, wearing little, and giggling perfect and he knew, that way of describing women, was frowned upon, but what wasn’t in 2022? Yet, that’s what he thought in his watching them and if it was objectification then it was done out of admiration and fear far more than whatever negative connotations the idea of objectification held.
It was the rainy season, but the sun was out. Deep clouds slathered across the horizon making the clarity of distance simple to compute. There was a curve, but you could see it as a cell’s wall if you approached it from a certain perspective. Music was playing and the breeze off the ocean was constant and slightly cool. Locals selling all wares imaginable wandered by every few minutes like they’d been spawned from the cavernous center of a video game. They sold cashews, cigars, musical trinkets, sunglasses, necklaces, and a variety of other crafts. Twin brothers walked up and down the beach pulling coolers behind carts and carrying pineapples to gut and fill with Pina Coladas.
He hoped a story would unfold, but the truth was that the being and the describing was the story. And so many times in a man’s life that is the only story. No stories that don’t come from the mind of a writer are clear or mapped out as one experiences them. That’s the power of being a writer. It is, perhaps the only way, at its basic core, to slow the endless onslaught of time down into something we can control. Control, really, isn’t that what it is that we all seek?
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His short fiction is forthcoming in Olney Magazine, Barzakh Magazine, Bull: Men’s Fiction and Gargoyle.