Tide

Written by Henry Alley

I woke up in a quad in Port Townsend, Washington, a small “Victorian seaport” on the Olympic peninsula. I was alone and in my underwear. My legs were stretched out in front of me, still sun-tanned from my days of painting the duplex I lived in in Seattle, and below I saw ace bandages on each of my ankles. Then I smelled beer. I pulled the bandages off and saw that the insteps, each of them, were slightly swollen from being wrapped all night. I moved over to the left side of the bed, usually unknown territory for me, and smelled cigarettes too, and knew someone must have slept with me. I recalled now a massive hairy chest and a rippled back, as my bare feet hit the floor, but this euphoric recall was immediately followed by a memory of buying a muscular clerical-looking type a Bud at a gay Seattle bar called The Prison and getting one myself. There was a smell of leather and the sound of chains. Also the sound of Pine Street traffic rushing past, even at the a.m. hour. I had relapsed.

I stood up tentatively and prayed my legs would hold up long enough for me to make it to the window. They did. I pulled back the gauzy curtains and looked down a slope to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with full-grown madronas orchestrating the way, like notes in an overture. I started to remember a musical disaster, one which involved a riser, and while looking into the bright August waves, it came to me that I had fallen off a tier during our concert at The Seattle Opera House. I couldn’t recall if our performance had gotten going again afterwards or not. If our Lake City Dove Choir had gotten past the ecological song,

“Don’t Hold the Wind.” We had been singing it when I had gone down, overwrought from proving I could do something sober.

I tried to visualize the face of my tenor section leader, a compassionate Aussie, as though the memory could lead me, through the funhouse hallways of my mind, back to the Seattle Opera House and noon to 12:30 p.m. yesterday. I did remember that I had booked this room at Fort Worden National Park across the water to save money and also so I could tour, today in Port Townsend, Everybody’s Variety Store, a business which was up for sale.

The water color scene of Strait, trees and blue sky—and now of heat-radiating roofs, several of them, stacked with red asphalt shingles, no doubt for the August work crews of the next morning—made me think about lying on a cool beach this afternoon. That would settle everything. To smell seaweed. See the iodine colors of kelp, and then maybe have a little drink again.

But someone was at the door. I walked over slowly, and prayed it would be Sarah, the Director of our Dove Choir, who would give me the chewing out of my life for fainting, and then the comeuppance would be over. I hoped somehow she’d found out where I was, and made her angry journey by ferry over here. I remembered the lenses in her glasses all filled up with glare as I had gone out like a light. But it wasn’t Sarah at the door. Instead, it was a good-looking young man, tanned, with thin, black-rimmed glasses, who had not yet shaven. If he was my boyfriend of the night before, I could have done worse.

“Excuse me,” he said, “we’re next door, and your car is blocking me, and we need to get out.”

“Oh, I’m such a jerk,” I said. “I got in very late.” And then a fear set in. “I’ll just find my keys.” I put my hands down to pat my pockets, and saw I was still dressed in my underwear. “Pardon me a minute. Just wait out there.”

I found my black choir pants, which smelled even smokier than the bed, pulled them on without too much trouble, but a pat down produced no keys. I finally found them in the top drawer of a night stand, a usual spot in sober days, when I would be staying in motels. Wonderfully, I discovered my wallet. “You can come in now. I just need to get on my shoes.”

He walked into the one major room of the quad. It did, still, have the piano I remembered from former days of renting here. My loafers were under the dinette. In the Choir, you were supposed to have oxfords. This was my one heresy.

Peter—he introduced himself—was slender and wiry. He looked terribly familiar. Which made we wonder if that was the reason he seemed so natural watching me pull on my shoes. I even said to him, “Do you mind if I lift my shirt up and you could check my back for bruises? I fell yesterday.”

“No I don’t mind.”

I turned and flapped a bit, dove-like. “No,” he said. “Nothing. What did you fall off of?”

“A riser. I was singing in Seattle. Lake City Dove Choir. It was at the Peace Music Festival at the Seattle Center. The Opera House. A competition for groups singing about ending war and protecting the environment.”

He looked unimpressed. “Oh. My father’s into theatre, too,” he said.

At the word “father,” my mind did a glitch as he started in explaining that he and his wife and daughter were up here from Eugene, Oregon, for a Port Townsend wedding at a Victorian bed-and-breakfast mansion. As he talked about the details, I became very lost, and the next thing I knew, I was moving my car, and then getting into his, taking up his invitation to go get groceries with him and his daughter.

“You know,” he said, as he buckled the child he called Tamara into her seat in the back, “your friend last night had quite a car. You don’t see a Continental Mark IV that often.”

He said it in a way which could not possibly deny he knew what the stranger and I had been up to, and I was non-plussed by the liberalness of this, especially in front of his daughter, who couldn’t have been more than four.

“Thank you,” I said, wishing I could tell him I didn’t remember the driver or the car (that must have followed me over) and that I’d love more information. Just then, it seemed like an odd thing to want to say to a complete stranger. Almost instinctively, I turned in my seat and started smiling at Tamara in the back. My brain, embarrassed by all its gaps, was struggling to find some kind of a common ground for the three of us, in the face of a complete and total fuck-up in the past twenty-four hours. I wondered if beer was on my mental shopping list as we pressed toward Safeway, the only real grocery game in town. Beer or wine.

Tamara was red in the face from something previous and was sulky and skeptical as she stared frankly back at me in her car seat. I remembered, now, the frown of her beautiful mother as she stood watching us from their porch as we left. I saw that Tamara had a Golden Book version of The Wizard of Oz with her. I still knew enough from my own daughter to point to this rather than the snit she was in.

“Is that your favorite?” I asked, gesturing.

She nodded, with her eyes slightly more illumined, as she held a blanket against her cheek.

“Who’s it about?”

“Dorothy,” she said in a gravelly voice.

“Do you like Dorothy?”

She nodded again, which made the whole multi-colored blanket—a thick one—shake.

“So do I,” I said.

“She’s with a lion and scarecrow and a tin man. Grandpa gave it to me.”

I liked this kid. She didn’t seem at all offended that I knew the answers to the questions I was asking. When we got to the broad ocean view arc that was Safeway and stood outside the car, Peter had to hand her to me for a moment, while he pulled the treasured quilt from the back. The smell of child sweat and tears was overpowering, and took me straight back to my daughter Sally, at the same age.

“You look pretty natural there, holding her,” Peter said. “You a father, too?”

“Yeah, for a time,” I answered.

My main concern, however, was not to tilt or fall down. I felt overwhelmed by the honor of holding her just those few seconds. As Peter took her again, he
looked at me and said, very suddenly, “You’re father’s friend. Grandpa Harrison’s.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

Harrison, a high school drama teacher in Portland, had been my long-distance boyfriend for nearly a year.

“Oh, Peter,” I answered. “Of course.”

Tamara said, “Grandpa.” And smiled up at her father.

“I remember you,” Peter said, “from that one time. You came and sat in the family row at the high school auditorium. Dad was putting on The Wizard of Oz.”

“Interesting,” I answered. “I sort of feel just like Dorothy now. Maybe just after the roof fell on the witch, and she wonders where the hell she is.”

“I was so impressed at the time,” Peter said.

“Impressed? Why?” I asked.

“You were so out,” he answered. “Taking Dad’s hand and being so sweet to him while we were sitting watching that play. Doing that, even though he kept taking his hand back. You know, he’s never told any of us who he was. Hasn’t since.”

“Oh well,” I said. “I sort of consider him water under the bridge.” And then hoped I hadn’t offended him.

Back then, when I would drink, it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a suicide plot and just the daily workings of my mind. Falling down was a habit. Bringing a stranger home drunk with HIV credentials was a habit. Waking up out of a blackout was a habit. It wasn’t always that way. I had been sober two years when my business in Edmonds, a seaside suburb of Seattle, started failing. My mother and father had been dead, respectively, three and four years. In the twilight of their lives, I had moved in with them on the other side of their duplex in the north part of the city: a 70s construction with a stone fireplace and a glamorous tulip tree in the front yard and just forty minutes from my store. My sister, a worse drinker than even myself at the time, agreed I should be the one to look after them, and I decided that the least Mom and Dad could do was give me the second unit rent-free. I guess I got lazy. Up at my business, I didn’t take time to dust the plastic sea captains and mermaids in my knick-knack hardware store. Or really get rid of that Corelle livingware, whose cornflower blue patterns had expired in the early eighties. The whole place was like a ticking time bomb towards going out of style. Besides, Edmonds, as it rose with the rest of Seattle in the giddy euphoria of fast money and dot coms of the nineties, was simply passing me by. Then I started to fail money, or money started to fail me. I had a hard time making my store rent. Whole days would go by when only three or four customers would come in, and my working life would be punctuated entirely by the sounds of the ferry horns coming in or the cacophony of gulls, when the boats would surprise them. I began to bring in, at first, musical histories, like Lang’s Music in Western Civilization, or the long-dead blue 1960s Penguin series which parallel it. When I let my one clerk go, I brought in a pitch pipe and pored over sheet music of the forties and fifties. Even a little of the sixties and seventies. I would sit in the back office, conscientiously watching the front door, but coming out, very quietly, with the tune—a very shy tenor—that was in front of me. I was trying to gain ground on the major in Music History and Technique which I had squandered thirty years ago.

By this time, the family inheritance, to be split between my sister and me, was tied up in litigation, and with money scarce, I rented out the duplex to a dapper stock broker who rode the bus into downtown Seattle every morning. The fortieth floor of the highest building in the city. Even with all these changes, I did not drink, and actually began to feel some life coming back into me. Eventually the stockbroker bought the whole duplex, so that I ended up paying an exorbitant rent even after I had defrayed the bill by doing odd jobs around the place.

Joining the Lake City Dove Choir was my first venture beyond this late-stage depression, or self-pity, however you want to take it, and I was encouraged to do it by all my doctors and counselors—”the team,” as they called themselves in the University Hospital, where I had spent some time in the depression ward. And our choir had been practicing for this Peace Life Choral Festival Competition for months. Up on to the risers we went, with no room for error. Our cerulean blue t-shirts all fluttered with white wings, as I took my position on the third-to-the top wrung. Just once I had tried a look downward, and there seemed muddy shadows in a dance below—vertigo—as though in a toiling August river. So I faced the audience and could see nothing but the spotlights, which seemed to be coming as though from an oncoming car. Our MC introduced Susan, our director, and once her bright, bespectacled and eager gaze took us in, my legs dipped immediately, as I opened my mouth to sing. She was young and demanding and reminded me of my kindergarten teacher fifty years ago.

The kind you don’t want to let down.

As I bobbed there, like a puppet, my Aussie friend and section leader touched me on the shoulder, and whispered, “You’re doing great, Roger. Just great. You’re doing much better than you think you are,” a refrain I had given myself ever since I had stopped drinking. This resonant voice seemed almost enough to sustain me. But then my eyes, adjusting some to the darkness, became acute enough to single out the rows and rows of audience, and I felt, as a crushing weight, the collective feeling in the Choir to put on a good show, their one and only major performance of the year.

At this moment, I thought I was singing, although nothing seemed to be coming out. We were extolling the inexorable power of Mother Nature. A tenor in front, however–tall, blonde and very young–turned and pointed up, to indicate I was going flat. Sarah, smiling, and taking us into the home stretch of the song, noted him and noted me and sent out a second message about flatness by cocking her ear in my direction, and then I remember the whole train of the verse rushing ahead without me on board. And because I was sober I was feeling everything! Then both my legs swooned, with me plummeting downward, and finding myself right on the ground, as though a ladder I had been on had fallen, or a tide had swooped me under. When I look back on it, I wonder if I was just trying to see if someone would notice.

At Safeway, I told Peter I needed to make a phone call outside. He put Tamara in the cart, and hurried off, telling me to take my time. Good thing, because I had forgotten to bring my change, which still lay scattered, no doubt, all over the dresser, and I couldn’t put together the long set of digits for my credit calling card. I had to go in and get three dollars’ worth of quarters and then call Information for our Choir Director’s home number in Seattle. I caught her at church, just before the service was starting. She was on her cell.

“I can’t talk, Roger,” she said, “but how are you? We put you backstage with the ice packs and Ace bandages we had between us, and then you disappeared.”

“I’m all right,” I answered. “I’m in Port Townsend.”

“Port Townsend?”

“It was my plan for afterward. But never mind—I’m sorry I spoiled everything for everybody. Were you able to finish the concert?”

Everything seemed to rest on that.

“Yes,” she answered, “you did spoil everything for everybody, but we did finish the concert. We only came in second, and some say we would have come in first, if it hadn’t been for you, but I say, fuck them. You couldn’t help it. You didn’t fall off the riser deliberately, unless you were drinking. Were you drinking?”
 “No.”

“Well, there you are. Look, Roger, I’ve got to go. Fuck what other people think.”

“Yeah, fuck what other people think.”

“And I’ve got to go because I’m in church and I have to stop saying the word fuck.”

She told me to take care and hung up. Which was I going to think about as I walked back into Safeway? That they were able to finish the concert without me or that I had bitched First Place for them? That they were able to get Second Place or didn’t get First? In the midst of these tugging thoughts, I found myself standing staring with my own pick-up basket out the glass door at some goldfinches bathing in the automatic sprinklers in the grass islands of the parking lot. Bathing and taking sips. Like mechanical golden toys, a flutter of light. The idea, then again, of lying on the cool beach somewhere in this up and coming August heat on this August day was enticing beyond belief, almost more enticing than the wine aisle itself. Finding a beach would be like a ticket out of my life, and I began wandering about the store, getting Tylenol and milk. And as for the wine—I could put that off for the time being.

I met my appointment at Everybody’s Variety store—something that was just window shopping, since my mother’s legacy had not yet cleared the courts, meaning that I was still broke, especially because of psychiatry bills. The store was even more outdated than mine. It had a whole upstairs full of holiday display items, some of them from the fifties—a goblin cookie jar, for example—but still wrapped in unbroken but discolored cellophane. The greeting cards were dusty. Besides, I was still hung over, and back at the quad, I had banged my head on the mantelpiece, reaching to pick up an annoying but wonderful-to-see condom wrapper, while I heard Peter and his wife arguing through the wall about driving to the wedding they were attending. She was accusing him of not maintaining their car so it was safe to drive and she insisted that they stay put until he looked under the hood. He declared it was getting late and they had to go.

So I stopped eavesdropping by driving out to their North Beach and lying down on the sand on one of the standard white towels the park authorities had provided. The buzzing in my head was getting worse, not just from the bump, but also from last night’s beer and rendezvous, from the punishing pains in my butt and ankles. One thing I had noticed about myself is that the aftermath of a relapse usually brings a slow but eventually complete shutdown of my good sense unless I have the next drink. Then it’s completely gone. I knew that A.A. was within screaming distance, but who wants to scream? I just liked this slow August sun at seven p.m., which seemed all the more sharply etched because my stomach was empty. The point of everything seemed lost again, now that I couldn’t talk to Tamara and Peter any longer.

Through slitted eyes, I could see a few people packing up blankets and a pink-striped cooler on a distant log, and the curve of the moistened part of the beach was developing a texture like the back of a gray seal. I was faintly aware the tide was coming in. Suspended above me was a wild cliff of thorns, spent wild rose, sea grass, and madronas made aberrant in their gestures by unmitigated winds. I knew I wasn’t safe and that if I didn’t get to some place like A.A .or a coffee bar, I could wake up back in my quad with another empty pizza case and Rainier bottles and double pains in my ass. And maybe no condom wrapper. But I just wanted to give up and sleep. And besides, if I did go into complete danger, who the hell would care? There was no mark to my existence anymore. Item—the Lake City Dove Choir went straight on ahead to get second prize without me. Item—missing sister who, in earlier days, had made it her mission to look after me, but could still not be found. Item—both parents dead. Item—daughter unheard from in British Columbia, despite numerous cards and letters and attempts at phoning. Item—loss of Harrison (he thought I had too much of an “alcoholic lineage”; he had enough troubles with that in his own family). Item—missing “come-fuck-me-gorgeous” lover, who had “ferried” over with me the night before and then hightailed it back.

I was awakened by cold water. The tide had reached my feet. The night sky was clear yet fogged, just slightly, by some decorative mist. The moon was full and Cole Porter like, with just a hint of orange. I stood up in ankle-deep waves that were completely unlike the sky, unfriendly and insistent, and although, surprisingly, I had no trouble standing, I could not orient myself, even in the moonlight, in relation to the path which led to the North Beach parking area. I had the vague sense it was to the left, but as I moved, my ankles, already stressed, wobbled on a water-covered log, and I went down again, crashing my knees on the wood in the darkness. My butt kicked in again, and my head started making stars like in those cartoons, and I realized that although I was sober, it had been for only twenty-four hours.

My lumbering journey in half-soaked jeans brought me to follow a rim of sea grass, grown to hedge size. I was no longer stumbling on the drowned logs. I had been dozing so far back on the beach, there was no dry sand left to walk or even crawl upon. I was flat up against the foot of the cliff. The hedge stood atop a jutting-out point of the rock and clay, but going around the point demanded that I inch forward into the ocean, and two steps in that direction brought me into water up to my thighs. A long survey of the beach to my right yielded, in what I could make out, another jutting piece of land just like this one, except a mile or so down. The stars in my head were beginning to pick up speed, and I had the sense now, in just this short time, that I could be drowned against the cliff in rising water, if I decided to stay here too long and ponder options.

I turned and looked up the bluff. I had shale, briary roses, and Scotch broom in the moonlight. I took off my shirt, which was not yet wet, and using it to cover one hand, while the undershirt covered the other, I gripped the twin thorny rose bushes and got two feet off the ground. I flattened myself against the shale and rested. Then I reached for some Scotch broom and made another few feet. My footing was better there. Getting my pants out of the water made me realize how warm the night still was. I could take my time. Was it eighty degrees still? The feeling was coming back into my feet, even though I could be plummeted back into the drink at any moment. The truth is I don’t know how long it took me to grapple up that cliff, until I could find a beneficent but stunted madrona tree whose reaching arms landed me safely in the thicket at the top. I do know I noticed the movements of the moon for the first time in my life while resting at various points on that climb; it was setting. Exhausted with each effort up, I thought ironically of the song, “Moonlight Becomes You.” Also of all the environmental items the Dove Choir sang—about the power of Mother Nature. Well. There were moments when the moon would glint green off the impossibly deep water. This, I thought wryly, is the real Emerald City. Sometime in the middle of the night, I reached the thicket and, taking off my clothes and using them as a blanket (the towel, of course, had long sense floated off), I lay in exhaustion again and slept. My body seemed to have detoxed itself going up.
Morning brought me to take an inventory of my injuries, as the sun rose, as promised, in the east. My knees were bruised but workable. My ankles were actually less swollen, perhaps because of the soak in the cold salt water and my butt was mediocre because the night on the hard ground caused a cancelling pain in my lower back. My watch had stopped because of the brine. It was probably sixty to sixty-five degrees and I realized I had been cold for some time. But I was jubilant beyond belief I was still alive. Besides, the buzzing in my head was gone. I pulled the briars out of my shirt and undershirt and put them on. My underpants were still wet, but I could put on my jeans for the sake of decency, even though they were cold to the crotch. My shoes without the soaked socks were manageable.

I started to look for a way out of the thicket. Sober, now, by an additional night, I could actually realize that the North Beach must be north. And with the sun coming up the way it was supposed to, I figured that going down the hill from this thicket would place me in the more tamed part of the Fort Worden grounds which these cliffs were a part of. I wound down through, going west, shaded all the way by the gesticulating brown boughs of the madronas and stirred by the exciting pungent odor of the still green leaves, stiff as parchment sometimes, as stimulating as smelling salts. There was a dappling of sunlight as I turned the corner at the base of a tree trunk at the bottom of the hill. One crash through Scotch broom and I was on a hiking trail. I followed it in the direction I considered westward again. And was suddenly passed by a male runner, all in white, who took me by such complete surprise, he swept by before I could stop him. But he was going west, too, and so, in the hallway of trees, I continued to walk gingerly up another path until suddenly all the evergreens dropped away, and there was the beach again, and the parking lot. Believe it or not, my keys were still in my pants. The runner, a high school kid, pencil thin with a shock of sandy hair, stood on the asphalt, panting, and saying good morning. It was only then that I considered that if I’m the kind of man who can drop off the face of the earth without anyone noticing, then I’m also the kind who can come back without a ripple, also.

“Where the fuck were you?” Peter asked heatedly, five minutes after I got back to the quad. I now knew, from the clock in my car, that it was eight a.m. “You look like you’ve been thrown off a steamer.” He was standing on my porch, waiting to be asked in.

“Peter, I’ve done another stupid thing, so let me just get a shower. I’m still cold from being out all night.”

“I imagine. Mr. Continental again?”

“No, not exactly.”

“All right, you take your shower, but then get your ass over for breakfast. I need you to come, man. You can stop a running argument. And also I’ve been worried sick about where you were”

As I limped into the bathroom and stood under the water, I could hear another scene on the other side of the wall; this time Peter’s wife had locked herself in the bathroom, with Peter pleading with her to come out. Evidently they had solved yesterday’s problem of one of them wanting to go to a wedding and the other not wanting to by dividing their efforts and Peter going ahead on his own, taking Tamara with him. His wife was screaming at him through the closed door for coming back with a still faulty car and not having it looked at.

“But I’m going to have it checked before we leave town.”

She then accused him of drinking too much, and he accused her back. He was, in fact, scheduled for a treatment eval within the next few weeks, something she didn’t mind yelling at him.

“Forget that for now, and just come the hell out,” he said.

“Yeah”—I could hear Tamara say, taking sides in that croaky child’s voice. “Come out.”

The hot shower was thawing my body. The bruises would be gone in a few days. Here and there I squeezed myself, just to affirm what a miracle it was I was here. After getting dressed—and more than in my underwear this time–I went over to Peter’s, to discover that his wife, although coaxed from the bathroom, had taken Tamara in a tirade and gone, leaving him stranded at this obscure fort, turned public park, in Port Townsend, charming Victorian “seaport” on the
Olympic peninsula.

Peter was making pancakes, and looking at the primitive stove with that blank look again. “Are you leaving today?” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, sitting at the table. “If I can get myself together enough.”

“I hear you.” It was then Peter noticed the bruises. “Where the hell were you, anyway? I hope you weren’t with somebody rough.”

“The tide,” I answered. “For guys who are really into rough trade.”

Then I explained.

He made a loud, looping whistle. “Shit, you’re almost as bad off as I am.”

“Was, yes.”

He scooped under the next pancake, flipped it high over his head, like Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut. A perfect landing in the iron skillet, too. Appealing man in loose striped sport shirt. I could see his Fred Astaire father in him. “Well, do you think you’re up to having us come with you into Seattle? We’ll figure it out from there. My wife and I were originally going to go as far as Portland, where my father is.”

I drank some scalding coffee he had made. “I was going to ask you to come anyway—if I get too rattled when that ferry comes up, maybe I could ask you to take the wheel.”

“You’ve got it,” he said.

“I could take you as far down as Seattle Greyhound, if you want.”

“That would be great,” he said, piling four pancakes on my plate. I wanted as many as possible; I had become starved during the ordeal. “Or as my father says, ‘the cat’s pajamas.’”

“Boy, that really dates that queen,” I said under my breath, but by this time, Peter had rushed off, to throw things together in the bedroom. Through the open door, I could see that his wife had taken most everything. Peter began stripping the bed, as per Fort Worden style. It wouldn’t take me long, either, to get my stuff together, even though the night before I had been rolled over by the tide. For the first time in months, I was actually starting to feel a little optimistic. Maybe in Seattle, I could persuade Peter to stay over, and we could watch the 2004 Olympics together which were presently being recorded on my VCR. We were due for the men’s marathon today. And in Athens!

But we had hardly gotten out of town–only ten miles south on Highway 20, just where it meets 101—when we found his wife, pulled over to the side of the road, hood up, flashers blinking.

She broke into tears when she saw us. Tamara was crying too.

“It just plain stopped,” his wife—I learned her name was Alison–said. “I’ve been here an hour, and no one’s even looked like they might pull over. You,” she said to Peter, with some accusation coming back into her voice, “ended up with the cell phone.”

Peter patted his shirt. Found it in his breast pocket. “Sure enough. Guess you didn’t want to tear it off my body, when you went storming out.”

She looked sheepish and didn’t answer, while he phoned information for a tow.

That evening we all watched the Olympics at my place, with plans for everybody to be bedded down in the various rooms. It had been very late by the time the Vernon garage six miles down the road replaced the fuel pump in an 89 Honda, and what we had before us now was a recording of the Men’s Marathon. I had gone to an AA meeting and then stopped off at the store for some ground turkey, and for a moment, as I drove up to the duplex with everyone inside, my magnolia looked like some magical medley of light, taken from the groves of The Wizard of Oz, in all its white porcelain blooms. I remembered, too, the assemblage of those golden birds I had seen in the Safeway parking lot. The three of us, Tamara, Peter’s wife Alison, and I, just sat in front of the TV and ate our healthy turkey spaghetti while in the bedroom Peter telephoned his father down in Portland, “Yes, we’re at Roger Vance’s house,” I heard him say. “He’s been kind enough to put us up. What do you mean? You know Roger. He was your boyfriend. Yes, that’s what I said. B-o-y-f-r-i-e-n-d. As in gay. G-a-y.”

Meanwhile, the landlord/stockbroker knocked at the door. The moneyed gentleman still in his Van dyke beard. “Very sorry to bother you while your family is here”—Tamara was giving him the dirtiest look imaginable—”but if you don’t get out there soon and get that yard work done, I’m afraid I’m going to have to give notice. You know what our agreement was, and you’re way behind.”

“Right,” I answered. “It’s just that I had a little mishap in the past couple of days—”

“We all did,” the beautiful Alison called from the living room, already feeling she belonged to my conversations.

“Well, I’ve heard that before,” Mr. Simmons said, still standing on my doorstep, as though he were selling something. “But I’m going to have to see some results by tomorrow.”

He turned on his heel, and I went back into the living room, darkened for coolness, sitting beside Tamara, who, perfectly at home on the couch, was reading her Wizard of Oz again sideways.

“Don’t you worry,” Peter called from the bedroom, his phone call over. “We’ll lend you a hand before we leave in the morning.” In another moment, I could hear him in the kitchen. The refrigerator was opening. “Well, great to see you don’t have a thing to get drunk on. You’re totally de-boozed.”

“Why did you have to look in the first place?” Alison asked dryly.

As we watched that part of the marathon where the madman apprehends the frontrunner from South America but the athlete continues anyway, Tamara fell asleep. On the side, I started going through my mail for the first time in weeks.