Breathing in deeply, and fluttering her fingers about as if she were intoxicated by a sweet perfume, Annie queried “What is that smell?”
She inhaled another deep breath, mocking the gentrified purveyors of fine wine and celebrity chefs on TV, partially masking her Long- Island dialect. “what is that vintage aroma? Its like a fine wine. What is that?” Sniff, sniff “That sweet smell of urine.” The U dragged the way she said it to cause the word to sound like ‘your in’. She leaned in and cupped her mouth as if revealing a secret to me, though it could still be heard by all those who observed us nearby. “I think this corner is where they come to take a piss in the moonlight.”
I couldn’t smell the urine from where I sat nearly a foot away, though I’d sat there for a few hours at least. Even if I’d been sitting directly on top of it, I’d probably have missed it; my sense of smell is unfortunately all but gone. I have glimpses of scent here and there, but regret my lack of sensory perception. It is as if half of the world is unknown to me. It cannot be any worse than a lack of sight or hearing though it is often believed to be. Without my sense of smell I miss so much of life. Just today, I’m concerned I ate some bad meat because I could not smell the difference. One takes note of the smells of urine in a place. It may be an indicator of danger.
I observed my friend in her button down lightweight flannel, which she wore above her crocheted bikini, envying her physique. “Your daughters are like a fine wine, they only get better with age,” she’d said quoting her mother’s friend. It’s true. She’d always been lovely with her long silky locks, which were now the color of a red delicious. She wore silver rings on nearly all of her fingers, and was equally bedazzled with rings of silver in her nose and ears. The vagrant bohemian style was not a fabricated look for my friend, but the result of living. She is one of those people who is exactly the person they appear to be. She sugar coats nothing, judges no one, and lives without humility, fear or selfishness. In short, she’s like the modern day Ruby Tuesday. Or Rhiannon. Whichever floats your boat.
Annie and I met in Vermont years ago, when we were both working for a shitty youth corps known as the VYCC. (I don’t mind saying how shitty it was in the hopes that others will actually read this and avoid that hell hole altogether.) She’d come into the program late to work at a state park, and I’d learned of her through reputation. In fact, I’d only heard BAD things about her! As part of the program, kids who worked at her park were circulated into my program for a couple of weeks. They’d given her personality such negative reviews that I was dreading meeting the girl. I thought she might be the meanest person on Earth. I was almost convinced of her being a bitch until I met her. She had a very strong personality that lacked the niceties which most people present upon meeting, and yet I found her refreshing and honest. It was over this horrible experience in which we’d both been marginalized and deceived that we bonded and have remained friends ever since, though our lives have been quite different.
For a time she was living in Boston, and another time she’d been in California. She then did some solo hitch-hiking around the country and suddenly ended up in Central America with a guy she had met at rainbow in the Redwoods. That central America adventure landed her with a little black half pit bull street dog named Juanita whom she managed to just casually bring across the US border. Since, she’d been randomly making a living through Craigslist entrepreneurship and working at a few odd places in Raleigh, NC. She still regularly dumpster dives, finding interesting items that she weaves into a profit or wears as dumpster chic apparel. Once she gave me a bracelet that she found in the dirt at the edge of parking lot saying, “I think this is meant for you.” Its a little silver piece engraved with the word amoré. I think it is a galvanized nail that’s been forged and flattened. Its one of my favorite items.
She gave me some Calvin Klein undies she didn’t want, after I rummaged through a pile of clothes that looked like they came from one of those earthy stores I used to go to in college. You know, the kind that sells incense, flowy skirts made in India, tapestries, and assorted jewelry, musical instruments and drug paraphernalia.
I handed her my painting. I’d been working on a watercolor most of the morning and afternoon since leaving the windy beach. I couldn’t tolerate the sands blowing about my face, and my attempts to render the lifeguard stand were only met with frustration. She took it to herself, appreciating it.
“I don’t know, should I add ink to it?” I asked her.
She held it, turning it sideways and just staring at it quietly. “I don’t know, it’s so soft and pretty the way it is.”
There had been a large black snake that climbed up on the edge of the stairs next to me to observe my work. That’s the second time this week that a snake has approached me while sketching. The other was a water snake that approached me at the edge of a boat. This one was so curious as he stared at me, his tongue slurping my scent through the air, that I had to push my sketch pad into his face to make him back off. He was a handsome little snake. Black with a white underbelly like he wore a tuxedo. He reluctantly slinked off the edge of the steps, as I turned to tell Annie across the plaza. ” Did you see that black snake?”
“He’s right over here beside me.”
She meandered towards me, as another young guy rushed over to observe. It was then apparent that everyone in the little park of swings and palm trees was keen to know what we were up to, and had been listening to our conversations. It’s like that when you’re doing something, … anything at all.
She reached for it, as she had done with the corn snake we’d seen the night before while walking the dogs through the gated community. She reached for it, and gave up as it lurched towards her, then she reached for it again only to be met with another arm throwing of failure and resignation. Before leaving, she stomped and shuffled the sand towards the poor creature as it disappeared, slinking beneath the wooden boards of the platform.
“Are you an artist?”
Every time I looked up from my sketch pad that day someone was watching me curious to know what I was up to. It was the little girl in the pink bathing suit on the beach. She’d been watching me play in the waves, and Annie rolling about in the wet sand on the surf. We were two adults who acted like children, and even children couldn’t help but notice it. I noticed the little girl. I thought she’d ask us to play with her, but she didn’t. She must have been about 11, the same age as my niece. I could see myself in her. She was inquisitive, and excited about things. She was playing with some sort of toy and crashing about the waves and the surf on her own accord.
I thought about it for a second as I looked up to her inquisitive eyes. She had a forced smile that was caused by squinting against the sunlight. I studied her back squinting and smiling back beneath my aviators, and then I owned up to it. “Yes, I’m artist. Would you like to see some of my sketches?”
I’d finally finished my watercolor of the palm trees and the path that leads to the beach. I set my water jug atop the paper so it would not blow away while I went to the ladies room to check my diva cup. My diva cup overfloweth.
After a few graphic spins in the toilet, I returned to my work and noticed some water on the paper. It had destroyed the painting I’d been working on for hours.
That night, we’d gorged ourselves on pounded chicken and scallops. There was lasagna, and there was Stromboli, and there was olive oil, and there were mozzarella sticks. It felt like I was in an Italian home which made me happy and nostalgic. I’ve missed my friends from the north whose heritage all seems to stem from some recent generation of European immigrants to the states.
The news was rife with constant updates on Irma. I watched the national news with one of those douche anchors that speaks in an inhuman newsy voice. I imagined his life while I watched the constant replay of the hurricane simulations. I thought about the path he took to become a newsman. It something I had dreamed of ages ago when I was still a teenager.
He was a handsome man, dark full hair, a strong jaw line, straight teeth and lines in all the right places, like his cheek bones, or his dimples or maybe even a few on his brow. Perhaps he got touch ups here and there with Botox to reduce wrinkles on-screen. And perhaps his true passion was acting, but he’d recognized the longevity of a career in soap operas was not as feasible as a potential in broadcasting and had switched careers later in life. Somehow I doubted his legitimacy as a journalist, but felt profoundly his narcissism. He was covering the situation in Miami as the last flight out had just left, as he casually spoke a few sentences in Spanish to connect with and interview the local Latinos. Oh how they must have loved his multiculturalism! How it connects diverse viewers to his handsome delivery!
If that was the last flight out of Miami, I couldn’t help but imagine the private jet or helicopter that the network sent him and his staff in to get there. What would it be like to be the camera guy (cause lets face it, I’m in a career that is, and always has been – male dominated) on that flight? I imagined a helipad on the roof of a skyscraper at night, and the sound of whirring rotors overhead, the mic’d communications of the pilots radio traffic as they hovered, and then suddenly he was exiting the chopper; those well manicured hair implants blowing fratincally against his forehead as he made way to the penthouse suite below already prepared with aftershave and hot towels for his evening pleasure.
I fell asleep with a full belly to awaken to thoughts of pure anxiety. I imagined myself marooned in the wasteland of South Carolina, with only a cannibal rednecks house to seek refuge…or even worse, somewhere amongst the traffic of I95 Northbound with a few million cranky souls, babies crying and elderly people dying of heat exhaustion like it was the apocalypse.
On the news they’d kept showing scenes of cars abandoned on the highways as traffic gridlocked bumper to bumper headed north to escape the impending storm. I imagined a tsunami the size of the empire state building hitting the shores, and the waves driving into the every structure that once existed there. I imagined a tornado approaching as I ran towards the cannibal trailer on the back roads, or sat dumbfounded waiting for the end. It was like the walking dead.
I couldn’t sleep with thoughts of it, and gave myself mini panic attacks imagining the worst. I could barely eat a few pizelles for breakfast, and gave myself the shits with anxiety. I accidentally woke Annie who seemed un-phased, as usual. But then, she’d been smart to ignore the news. She reassured me her mother might have some Xanax lying around and went back to sleep. I popped a few magnesium and hoped for the best as I lay there in the dark, attempting to calm my breathing against the impending doom I imagined awaiting me on the ‘outside.’