by Gay Degani
WE MOVED FROM Pacific Beach to Ocean Beach leaving behind sunsets dripping flame into the water. What we had now was a weedy lawn, a tiny house, and steep hills. The beach was still out there, we could smell its salty tang, but we couldn’t see it.
When I say “we,” I mean my boyfriend, me, and three of his college buddies, all of us graduated but still in school. Well, I wasn’t in school anymore, I was teaching school.
Two bedrooms, ours was small, but at least we didn’t have to sleep in an alcove behind the washing machine on the back porch which is where we stashed Bert. I know, “Bert.” Who would cling to that name when you’re twenty-three? But he’s a lot like Ernie’s best friend on Sesame Street, kind and sweet with an “I’m up for whatever” type of personality and he is definitely NOT gay. I found that out all on my own. You know. A joint. An empty house. One of those fluffy sheepskin rugs. Don’t tell anyone.
Christopher had the second bedroom with his girlfriend, Charlotte. C&C. That’s what I thought, the two of them like some kind of tough guy whiskey, something hard and fast and brave which is what they both were, really. They crashed around the OB hills on his dirt bike as if they were out in the desert tearing up Red Rock Canyon and we always knew when they got back, all loud and hot and red-faced, grabbing beers and heading into the shower, me sitting in a rocking chair sipping white wine surrounded by essays written by delinquent eighth graders.
Still seemed like a kind of paradise. We didn’t have the sand, but we had a huge scraggly yard with a few twisted trees, a rotting picket fence, and Rusty the dog. No one knew where the Irish Setter came from, but he had his name in black marker on his leather collar. Every night the dog jumped up on the washing machine and climbed into Bert’s cubby. I found them spooning when I got up to make the coffee, first up because I was the only one with a day-job.
Then the weeds began to grow.
I first noticed them when I got to work one day and one of my students pointed at the bottom of my school-teacher black pants and asked if I’d been hiking up at Palomar and forgot to change my clothes. I ignored her smirk and told her to take a seat, then gave them a pop-essay on Thoreau’s “Walden.” I sat behind my desk and started picking off grass, burrs, dandelion fluff, sticky-willies. Thinking when I got home, I would suggest we break out the old lawnmower and give it a whirl.
I found them sitting in the middle of the weeds on low-slung lawn chairs, sharing a joint, Charlotte’s transistor turned up high, Creedence wailing about being born on a bayou.
They all laughed when I said, ‘I think we should cut the grass.’
They booed and hissed.
My guy said, ‘If we clean up the yard, we can’t play Drunk-Dive-Frisbee.’
‘Can’t we play regular Frisbee?’ I asked. ‘You know, when we dive for it, we don’t get ragweed up our noses?’
‘What fun is that?’ said Bert, handing the joint to Christopher.
‘Wouldn’t it be nice to just have a lawn? A real lawn.’
‘No.’ Christopher choked as he laughed, me nodding ‘no’ to the proffered roach.
‘All these weeds,’ I said. ‘We could start a fire.’
‘That might be fun.’ Charlotte took the joint, tapped ashes onto weeds. Everybody laughed.
‘Stop that.’ I stomped my foot, felt my face go hot.
‘Calm down, will you?’ said my guy, waving his empty beer can. ‘Could you get me another one?’
I took it from him and muttered, ‘With five of us. We can do it in shifts.’ But no one heard me.
The dog followed me into house, threading through the mess in the living room and into the kitchen where the sink towered with unwashed dishes and pots and pans crusted over with last night’s spaghetti sauce. An empty burner on the gas stove was set to low like a miniature campfire. I snapped it off and stood still, closed my eyes, felt tears seeping through my lashes, my nose prickling, then dripping. Rusty licked my fingers.
I tightened my eyelids. Saw myself at my desk at school, thumbing through the essays on Thoreau as the students streamed out the door, stopping at the one titled, “A Different Drum.” It wasn’t a particularly good essay, but—
I scratched behind Rusty’s ears, dropped my guy’s empty beer can into the trash, walked through the house to stand in the front door empty-handed. I took a long deep breath, the ocean’s salt filling my lungs.
Yes, Henry David, there is a world beyond this yard.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She has published a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.