Medium 9781574416473

The Expense of a View

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The stories in The Expense of a View explore the psyches of characters under extreme duress. In the title story, a woman who has moved across the country in an attempt to leave her past behind dumps an empty suitcase into the Columbia River over and over again. In another story, a woman who wakes up mornings only to discover she's been shooting heroin in a night trance, meets her doppelganger on a rainy Oregon beach.æ Most of the characters are displaced and disturbed; they suffer from dissociative disorders, denial, and delusions. The settings„Florida, eastern Washington, Seattle, and the Oregon coast„mirror their lunacies.æWhile refusing to look at whatÍs right in front of themselves might destroy them, itÍs equally likely to be just what they need.

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Honey

ePub

The neighbor is in jail. The words snitch, rat, and dead man and two frowny faces are spray-painted the color of charcoal across his trailer. What idiot thinks a frowny face is threatening? Her laughter, edgily uncontrollable, feels inappropriate. Beside the trailer is a half dismembered motorcycle chained to cinderblocks, and below it, a large oil stain. Everything has the appearance of having been disrupted and abandoned without warning.

It's April, and the branches of the Siberian elm are lined with golden buds, each a tiny replica of the sun, and the sun is finally warm enough to warm her face. Everything is in transition—the meth head is gone, new neighbors moved into the house behind the trailer, and she herself is a transplant with a new job and no new friends. It hurts to swallow, as if glass is stuck in her throat. It's no surprise she would be getting sick, a danger at the core of any great transit. Last night's bottle of wine hasn't helped. But at least the sun warms even her hands and hair. She's picked up the wayward garbage blown in from other people's yards and collected branches and sticks. After a few more slugs of coffee, she'll head to the woodshed for the ax, hoping the exertion of chopping might push away the hangover and illness.

 

Night Train

ePub

From his upstairs glassed-in porch, Will has an osprey's view of the water surrounding his dock, now lit by an underwater light. He is watching for snook. Some night soon, he is certain, there will be a net filled with a curving silver fish, and until then he can spend his time waiting. Lord knows there's enough time. He fills his wine glass and examines the cut panels of the Waterford alive with tiny street lights. It's hard not to break the goddamn windows most nights, no, all nights. It's hard. You must fill time. Which is why he installed the underwater light last Saturday, a day's project and an evening considering whether it was done right.

Coquina Bay is a dark plate surrounded by a sickle-shaped seawall. In the distance is the loom of downtown St. Petersburg. But here, the lights of houses across the bay are as infrequent as stars. He's been sitting in the window every night for the past three weeks watching for snook. For three weeks he has not even attempted sleep, though mornings he finds himself waking angry in his chair from dreams he can't remember. Mornings white sunlight crashes into his half-opened eyes, and mornings, he kicks the wall, or the other chair, or the narrow, wrought iron coffee table.

 

Void of Course

ePub

I drag the suitcase through the rainy street, cursing and muttering. It scratches and thumps on the pavement because one of the back wheels is busted. Henry's carrying a laundry bag over his shoulder, and it's got a lot more crap in it than the suitcase. I always pack too much when I visit home, but Henry, he hasn't complained once. This is one night I'm sure glad he's around. I wouldn't have wanted to leave home alone, wouldn't have wanted to be here by myself, on this rainy Seattle street, between the projects and downtown, cars spraying puddles onto sidewalks, old men screaming at themselves and junkies screaming at each other.

The rain comes down steadily. Is there a moon at all? Maybe my sister could have warned me about this night, too. She would have come up with some far-out reason why I just should have kept my mouth shut. Of course, I probably wouldn't have listened—I'd never listened before. So I wonder now why I keep expecting the faces of women on buses to be her face. Why I expect her deep voice to call to me from across an empty room. I expect her to find me in the street. “Angie,” she'd say, “what are you doing?”

 

The Expense of a View

ePub

Lang arrived with flowers. The stems were wrapped in damp paper towel in his fist. When Gracie let him in, he brushed by her, emptied the old flowers into the garbage, and refilled the mason jar he had given her with the fresh ones. How would she tell him?

“New flowers,” he said, staring at the ground.

“Thanks.” Gracie felt old. She looked beyond him, at her reflection in the dark window, shadowed, ghostlike, tired.

“Is everything alright?” Lang asked.

“Sure, Lang. Everything's okay. You haven't eaten have you? I've had black-eyed peas on all day.”

“Black-eyed peas?” he asked.

“Sure, black-eyed peas,” Gracie said, pulling two wooden bowls from the cupboard.

“I've never had black-eyed peas.” He leaned against the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. Gracie didn't look at him. She knew what he looked like, and she was bored, bored with his clean face and his I've-never-been-anywhere eyes.

“Really?” She opened the drawer beside the sink for two spoons. “Well, I've never cooked them before.”

 

Three of Swords

ePub

An old man abducted a small child. She was four. I'm certain she was four. I saw it happen. He picked her up off the sidewalk and put her under his arm. She cried the whole time, but he called her by a name that wasn't her name so no one would know he was a stranger. But I knew. He took her to his house with broken windows and black mold spreading across the walls. There was a TV and a mattress with stuffing coming out of it and a La-Z-Boy chair that would never return to its upright position.

I know this because I see things other people can't see. For example, I dreamed Jenny's cats were gathered together in the barn, but Sebastian was missing. When the cats turned toward me, their eyes had human lashes and human tears, and I knew Sebastian was dead. Sebastian was gone the next morning, and a week later, a neighbor said she'd found him dead in an alley, his eyes bulging out of his gray and white whiskered face. She said he looked “Oddly human.”

I saw the abduction when I was walking to the corner store for cat food. It was hot and white out and the street smelled like garbage. I knew the man was abducting the girl when I saw him lift her off the sidewalk. I knew because I was abducted too. Jenny abducted me. Now she makes me see for her. She asks me to read the cards, like I did the day I predicted Lawrence would go to jail. Lawrence is a mandolin player who comes to open mics Jenny has in her barn. He was in AA, but then he went off the wagon. He threatened to burn down the neighborhood off south Martin Luther King. And I saw it, saw him standing behind the wands in the cards, saw him trapped, saw the devil card that was him going off the wagon. I said, “I think that's Lawrence.” And then Jenny and I didn't say anything, both of us staring at the cards, wondering what Lawrence was doing there.

 

Thinking about Carson

ePub

My dog and I love the ocean. Daily, we wander up and down the coast. Today, like many days, we walked in the rain. Clean spray fell diagonally into my face and rested on my cheeks and nose and lips. Martin wandered up against the dunes weaving his way among the driftwood pieces, pushing kelp around with his nose, chewing on fish bones and old bird wings. I walked as close to the receding ocean as possible. Tillamook Head was obscured in gray, and that gray reflected itself in wide tidal flats. Water pooled around the soles of my boots. I like walking in those reflected areas; the world is solid and repetitive, wide and silent.

Before Oregon, the world was broken up into pieces. Landscapes were broken up into streets and buildings and windows and doors and cars and faces; people were broken apart by words and hands and boots and objects sailing wickedly through the air. Imagine a spare and clean kitchen floor covered with broken glass. Imagine a quiet night, white curtains billowed with a steady wind. You are a child dreaming peacefully. You are woken by unremitting screams, the screams of someone else's nightmare where the breaking down process is no longer variable but constant.

 

Compliance

ePub

I work in Compliance now. This week anyway. Last week I worked in Acquisitions. I worked the phones, but they sent me to Compliance when I said, “Hello, Acquee, Acquiescence.” I knew it was not acquiescence, but I was flustered. The guy on the other end of the line said, “Excuse me?” like he was insulted. I'm much happier in Compliance anyway. No phones. I'm a collator.

I'm sitting in a soft gray chair with wheels. On the table in front of me is a stack of white papers, each with a file tab at the top. The papers come in groups of five, the tabs in five different places from left to right. I also have a stack of stickers. The stickers fit neatly onto the tabs, A through J, which means two sets of tab sheets per folder. I'm collating folders for a merger. Mergers are dangerous things, messy and violent, and I'm not supposed to think about them. I'm not supposed to think about the red paint. The papers are white and crisp, and the rugs are gray, and the chair is gray, and the air is still and quiet.

 

My Old Man

ePub

My boy Quentin and I take walks in the morning. He shuffles and stops often to cough and lean on the wood cane Dr. Brad gave him before we left the city. The steady sound of the creek is always all around us, and the air smells of dry grass. Quentin is happier here than in the city, and so am I. I told my supervisor at CARE Center I didn't want to work fulltime anymore, and I didn't want to work mornings.

It's surprising how you can tell someone what you want and you actually get it. I worked ten years in the city without asking for anything. Now I'm asking all the time. Quentin's taught me a lot about that. I mean, I wouldn't have asked if it weren't for him, not for myself I wouldn't have asked. They gave me a break on my benefits too, said they'd consider it kind of a sick leave. I know my supervisor's bending the rules, but I'm getting better at taking gifts from people. Besides, she's seen Quentin leaning on his red cane with the wolf-head handle. She said to my Quentin, “What an angel you are.”

 

My Doppelganger's Arms

ePub

When I first saw her, she was wearing a long-sleeved, white T-shirt and gray men's cotton pants rolled up almost to her knees. She was carrying a white Styrofoam cup with a lid and a straw as she walked along the beach. I noticed her from far off because she looked so aimless, not like someone walking briskly down the beach, straight any way you look at it. She waded into the water as the tide pulled in over the bottoms of her pants. I thought how odd to roll one's pants up and still not move away when the water washes over them.

I watched the woman from inside a driftwood hut built up against the dune. She was down the beach and to my left. The knots in the driftwood looked like eyes. The pieces, crossing one another, formed shapes that appeared to be more than one thing at the same time. I saw a bird that could also be a woman, and two birds that were one. There was a small fire ring, a table made of a thick stump and a board flaked with red paint, and an empty wine bottle. There was just room enough for one person only to curl up and sleep.

 

Festival

ePub

Baby Michelle slept like a kitten against Sheila's chest, Nick's white crew hat completely covering her face so it was hard to tell she was anything other than part of the baby sack. Nick lifted the edge of the hat with his thumb, but all he saw was the hat's arcing shadow; even her tiny red fists had disappeared into folds of cloth. “Hey there, Little Buddy.”

“Stop calling her that,” Sheila said.

The air smelled of butter and corn and meat, and the cacophony of twenty or so bands playing at once stirred Nick, the rhythm like a pulse. He wanted to jump up and down in a crowd close to the stage and the speakers which thumped like his insides thumped, to hold his arms in the air and shout above the deafening sounds of a grunge or punk band, to bash his body against the bodies of others.

“But that's my Gilligan hat,” Nick said, stepping in place so as not to get ahead of Sheila. He'd gotten the hat on a trip to the coast to visit his aunt and uncle. They were always giving him gifts. As a child he'd loved them more than he'd loved his own parents, a love that eventually turned to shame the more he grew to dislike his parents. He'd grabbed the hat along with the one small duffle bag of stuff he cared anything about—his coolest shirts and surfer shorts, some books Sheila'd given him, and a couple of giant moonshells—when his parents had “recommended” he move out. “We just can't take it,” his mother'd said, meaning, we don't want to be responsible for your baby. He should have been glad his life with them was over, but instead he'd hated himself for not leaving sooner, hated himself for waiting until he'd gotten his high school girlfriend pregnant and moved out only by default.

 

How to Make an Island

ePub

Edith is leaving. Her friends are having a party for her on a boat. She invited me because we're always together and because she's scared of boats. She said she'd feel safe if I was with her. All around us is gray water and gray air. Fog moves among the coastal mountains. In the distance are low islands.

I haven't been on a boat in many years. I like the rise and fall, the openness. The rocking makes Edith a little sick, but she covers it up well. Her left hand, hidden behind her back, grasps the low edge of the boat. There are a few things in this world I forever return to. The rock of a boat on water, the smell of salt and air, the noise of waves against something hollow. And a few forbidden places where I take shelter. Like Edith. Like Cayo Pelau.

When I was twelve, my best friend Mac and I had planned a boat trip to the pirate island Cayo Pelau. It was cursed. My parents didn't want me sailing that far, but my father was going away, and Mac was staying at my house while he was gone. My father was going to the hospital to be with my mother. Then he was going to bring her home. I didn't know exactly what they were doing to my mom. I didn't really want to know. But that she was dying was clear. And that she was coming home to die was certain.

 

Blue Plastic Shades

ePub

Fred's mother switched on his clown face lamp and leaned over him with a damp washcloth. He lay in his little red bed, afloat, sweating, a glass of water bluish on the bed stand. She folded the cloth in three parts and placed it across his forehead. “Take a sip of water, Freddy,” she said and propped his pillows up behind him. He moved into a sitting position and held the glass between his hands. He stared up into her face, watching her closely as he drank, watching her as if that would make her stay. I know a dark secluded place. Fred opened his eyes. Where no one knows your face. Dusty's damp, silky ear lay across his cheek, and he was hugging her wiggling body against his chest. Muted morning light pushed against the grubby window; the clown lamp with its triangle eyebrows was turned off.

Dusty hadn't disappeared. Her wet tongue stroked his chin and nose and cheeks. Hernando's Hideaway played throughout the house, shook the domed walls and the tiny plywood paneled rooms. The ceiling over his head, low and made up of white water-stained squares, drooped around the light. The squares had tiny holes in them. He'd counted the squares. He'd counted the holes in a squares. He'd lost count. But this morning, all he wanted to do was stare into them until he floated away while Dusty's heart beat frantically against his skin and her tail thwopped against the sheet.

 

The Grandmother's Vision

ePub

The grandmother, Carolina, had gathered all the family members who were still alive and not incarcerated to the lake to scatter her youngest son's ashes. One-armed Billy, Charlotte, and Duke with his metal canes were the only three of the seven who fit the bill, except for Jordan, who even Carolina knew better than to ever allow on the family property again—if he wasn't currently incarcerated, no doubt he should be. A half-dozen or more grandchildren, most of whom she couldn't identify, played around the campfire in true Stevenson fashion: inventive in their insults, smells like a cat crawled up your butthole and died; sulking around hitting things, including each other, with sticks; crawling into cars and trucks and onto motorcycles trying to start them with paperclips and coat hangers as if by some magic beyond their understanding, anything to hear a motor, to be in control of all that noise and speed. What was there to keep track of? They were all the same as the generation before, lanky anxious boys and slutty pimply girls who would turn into overweight, angry women.

 

The Island of Cats

ePub

The surface of the water is the color of metal. Gray reflects gray. The canoe slips into steely water. Mud squelches under Billy's tennis shoes like weight sucking him into the shoreline. This weight feels right, normal, the slow sucking of each step, the slow and constant effort. He cannot imagine living without the weight. The weight is who he is. This boat trip is who he is. He would rather die than be anything other than who he is. He feels the weight of waking on his eyelids, and that feels right in the gray, predawn morning. The sand is pocked with small holes dug by fiddler crabs. Tiny mounds of excess mud throw hive-like shadows across the shore cut by the wavy shadows of mangrove roots. Everything will go on living. The roots will thrust themselves, with the slow weight of life, out of the mud and sand will collect around them with each wave, little as they are here on an inland curve of the Intracoastal Waterway. The stern of the canoe between his knees, he wades into the murky water. It seeps in through the cotton of his tennis shoes and hugs his feet. He stares at his pale knees poking out from tan pants ripped into shorts, his dirty tennis shoes distorted under the six inches or so of water. He studies the line between the clear, sharp edges of his calf and the permeable image of his ankle and foot. He will study this line, this distinction, all day in the horizon and imagine it into nonexistence. Mourning doves coo from the shore like tiny owls blurring the line between night and day.

 

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