Davis called, told me he was dying.
He said his case was—here was essence of Davis—time sensitive.
“Come visit,” he said. “Bid farewell to the ragged rider.”
“You?” I said. “The cigarette hater? That’s just wrongness.”
“Nonetheless, brother, come.”
“Who was that?” said Ondine, my ex-mother-in-law. I kissed her cream-goldened shoulder, slid out of bed.
“A sick friend. I’ve known him twenty years, more, since college. I might have to leave town for a while.”
“No,” said Ondine. “You’re leaving town for good. The occupation ends today. It’s been calamity for us, for the region. Go to your friend.”
“He’s not really my friend.”
“All the more reason to go to him,” said Ondine. “Jesus would be in Pennsylvania by now.”
Ypsilanti was easy to leave. I wasn’t from there. I’d just landed there. The Michigan Eviscerations had begun in Manhattan. Martha was a junior at NYU, heiress to a fuel-injection fortune. I was the cheeky barista who kept penciling my phone number on her latte’s heat sleeve. Cheeky and, I should add, quite hairy. Martha finally dialed the smudged figures on the corrugated cuff, cavorted in my belly fur. The woman never exhibited any qualms about our economic divide. After all, she’d remind me, I was a Jew. One day I’d just quit mucking around with burlap sacks of Guatemalan Sunrise and start brewing moolah.
“You can’t help it,” she said. “It’s a genetic thing. You weren’t allowed to own land in the Middle Ages.”
I wasn’t allowed to own land in Michigan either. We got married, but her folks bought the Ann Arbor house in her name. Martha enrolled for a master’s degree at the university. She demanded I concoct a passion she could bankroll, a “doable dream.” What would it be? Poetry journal? Microlabel for the new jam rock? Nanobatch raki boutique? I mulled these and other notions, but mostly focused on my favored pursuit: grilling premium meats. I grilled grass-fed beef, saddles of rabbit, bison, organic elk. My mulled projects moldered. I’d always pictured myself the genius in the journal, on the label, not running the damn things. Moreover, wasn’t there bookkeeping involved, basic math? No matter what Martha believed about my inherited numerical wizardry honed on the twisty streets of Antwerp, or maybe Münster, I could barely count.
I grilled until the grilling season ended. Around the time the first shipment of Danish birch arrived for my new curing shed, Martha kicked me to what in this municipality wasn’t quite a curb. She’d met an equally hirsute Scot from the engineering school. His name happened to be Scott, and his people had the twisty brain, too. Besides, our sex life was a wreck. We were down to those resentful tugs and frigs. She’d said the stench of burnt meat put her off. I figured it was also the weight I’d put on, the perpetual slick of cook grease on my chest beneath my loose kimono.
Ondine, an old beauty with hair the color of metallic marmalade, was historically attuned to her daughter’s fecklessness. She took pity, rented me a unit in a shingle-stripped Victorian she owned in Ypsilanti, let me slide on the rent until I found a job. I never did, but she seemed satisfied to visit a few times a week for my attentions. She called my style of lovemaking “poignant.”
Still, even before Davis called, I could tell she was getting bored.
“I’m getting bored,” she said.
It came to her suddenly, unbidden, the way it might strike you that you hadn’t gone candlepin bowling, or eaten smoked oysters, in years.
“You bore the piss out of me,” she said.
I stood, started to dress.
Ondine reached out, pinched my ass fuzz.
“Don’t be sensitive. Lots of things bore me. Things I love. My husband. My house. My daughter. My Native American pottery collection. It’s not an insult.”
But if not an insult, it was a signal. Now, weeks later, I headed east in one of Ondine’s several Mazdas, a parting gift, along with a generous cash severance and a few keepsake Polaroids of her in aspects of the huntress.
The dashboard robot in the Mazda goaded. Beneath its officious tones I sensed confusion, a geopositional wound. Had some caustic robot daddy made it feel directionless? Meanwhile, the comics on the satellite radio joked about their dainty white cocks. Such candor was supposed to prevent the race war.
My neck ached and I bought an ice pack, wedged it up against my headrest. My tongue was a mess. I still tasted Ondine. Deep in Pennsylvania I ate a coq-au-vin quesadilla. It’s what Jesus would have ordered, and it was delicious.
I had to drive fast, before I ate too much road food.
The ragged rider, David had called himself, but I couldn’t parse the phrase. I was naturally undetective.
Clues clenched me up.
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Waris Ahluwalia, Walton Ford and Ryan McGinley
Davy Rothbart, Human Snowball