OK. Here’s the scene:
You’re helping your family pack up a dead house.
Here’s what you know:
Charlie is your brother-in-law. He was married to your sister for thirty years.
Leland is their middle son who died some 15 years ago. His death spurred their decision to move back to Texas.
Linda is your sister. She is moving back to Alaska. She’s been through some hard times. She’s here.
And your nephew, Ben, is here. You’re getting to know each other.
You are going through boxes of the dead. Faded photos. The ashes of Charlie and Leland.
You find several Zippos. You begin to wonder about the kind of guy that carries a Zippo.
You see him in a cowboy hat, bumping down the dirt roads of rural Texas in a pick-up truck. You see him turn up the radio to a favored classic rock song. You see him thumping out time on top of the cab. As the song winds down he looks out the window. He winks at you over the top of his of sun-glasses, and it makes you giggle.
You pause there for a while. You smell hay and diesel and dust.
Eventually he looks away, pulling a silver Zippo from his plaid shirt.
You think he is genuine. He is committed. He’s in it for the long-haul. He is in it for the simple joy.
This is a guy that expects permanence.
He expects trouble, and expects pain.
He expects growing old.
He expects dying–
but not at fifty.
Sometimes there’s a redhead. Sometimes you share a smoke with her.
You stumble out of a bar. You get halfway to her house before deciding to go back to the car. Then you’re sitting on a bench. By the time you’re in the car you’re reading Bukowski. You both laugh, until Charlie throws that killer punch of his. Now there is silence. She looks away into the frosty light.
You pause there for a while. You watch smoke swirl around her.
It’s a summer day. You’re in the Arb. Eventually you’re on a blanket on a hidden hill. The ground is wet. She is going through her bag, pulling out scraps of words. Practice letters in Spanish, descriptions, budgets, apartment leads, observations. These are dreams. You are charmed. You join the expedition.
You remember her history. You know she misses it. You know she longs to look back at a future that should have worked out.
You see it now addicts and occasional smokers carry plastic lighters. They work, but you don’t expect them to last. You don’t expect pain, you don’t expect permanence.