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September 1, 2009 | Fiction

A Letter to Amandas

Amanda Marbais

A Letter to Amandas photo

My friend Brandon has packed his friend's Jeep with provisions of snowballs, dried turkey, Finlandia. Observing the heaped vehicle, and considering the 2,700 miles to California, I am reminded of the idea that we are like goldfish adapting to our space. My friend beckons with a freestyle stroke as if he is about to marathon-swim the English Channel. In his other hand, he grips a Holga he would rather wear around his neck, in the spirit of "adventuring."

People call him handsome and Scandinavian-looking. It bothers me that there might be an implied relationship between these two ideas. But, he has wide cheek bones and blond curls. He's one friend I can sit with and "share a silence," a relationship-quality people seem to admire. He likes small dogs, especially my pug. Other than this, I like him for reasons I can't articulate.

I tell him about Tarrare, who was tormented by his appetite and pillaged gutter heaps for inedible objects. Tarrare was employed by General De Beauharnais as a courier-spy during France's revolutionary wars. Because of his wide gullet, he was able to swallow a wooden box filled with secret information. This did not help him when the enemy captured him and forced him to wait until his bowels moved. Brandon leans closer for the disgusting part. "Then what happened," he says. He enjoys his clichéd remark. Bits of potato chips fly from his mouth. I continue, but he interrupts me for a pit stop and Red Bulls. He drinks one, talks fast, and is impossible to understand above the wind-roar and gear shifting. But, I focus on the syntax pattern—Noun. Verb. Noun. Noun. Verb. Although, I know it is impertinent and rude to re-cast his ideas this way.

Brandon works at a photo mat in the same building as a laundry mat. The place is called Matt's Mats, and Matt has barely given him a vacation. In fact, he clocked him—in the jaw. But, they're cousins so they made amends. Brandon incessantly recommends The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyesbecause he saw it last week. Then he adds a description of himself leaned over the toilet, burrito revisiting his throat, his passing thoughts of re-scrubbing the toilet. This wears on me. I think about writing an email to an ex-coworker I barely like, and have forgotten to answer. She needs help finding a job, and I'm sort of obligated because she appears desperate and has taken the time to write me. I hate that I feel this way.

I have taken this trip to dispose of my marriage trinkets, affectionately known as Minkets. Brandon says "no," but this will happen in a helluva drunken fire on the desert, preferably at a roadside motel causing the people inside to say, "Oh, what's that?" Brandon's response is obtuse because he adores fires. He wants persuasion.

Victrolas are tinny and stereopticons produce only passable 3-D images. In Victorian England, stereopticons were one of the only forms of entertainment—self-aggrandizing pictures of women playing cards in their living rooms. Pictures I would refer to as obsessive.

Brandon tells me to stop thinking about "intellectual things." He has exploded with annoyance, a behavior I describe to him as pleasantly sexy. I don't tell him, I have emailed Will who lives in California. I have not heard from Will in three years, because we are "that kind of friends." I guess, the silent kind, and the kind who have engaged in countertop-sex—so, not very intimate either. "Hey Will, I am coming to visit. Stop. Please have my favorite chips. Stop. I now know many interesting people, so I have more to talk about. Stop." Though it is not a telegraphed message, I insert the words stop because Will appreciates the obvious. Sex, is my other goal for this trip.

Even though we stayed in a hotel and watched Out of Africa, computers warming our thighs for three hours, I haven't emailed the friend who requested help finding a job. I also realize I am halfway through a piece and roughly two days in fictional-letter-time has passed. I hate that it engages me in a self-involved mental row. When I mention my forgotten letters, Brandon says his ex-girlfriend, whom he still wants to get back with, only trusts written apologies. Even with this key information, he is unable to rouse himself to action.

"I can't believe you brought it," he says. The "it" we refer to sits like a Yeti in the backseat. "It" is a garment bag filled with relics my ex saved—old movie tickets, Halloween masks of the Dead Kennedys, the sleeves for his favorite DVDs. The combined bulk of the letters written on the backs of college posters, advertising his favorite bands like My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, make it un-zippable.

America loves memoir. In fact, it is a part of our forefathers' favorite communication. I blame the early American's need to form Puritanical ways; one might call them 'habits of mind'—something I will never possess. I also blame the personal reverberations in Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. Everyone loves solipsism. Do they see some larger eye following their constructed pilgrimage on earth? Brandon leans out the window and barks at a girl biking on the berm. Colluding, I slow and roll down his window. She says nothing, her face red as we pass.

The first night we spend in the vehicle, we sleep in separate sleeping bags, but when it drops below 50 degrees, he pastes his body against me, spoons, and exhales BBQ-Hot-Fry breath all night. When I ask him about our "lay-together," he says, "what?" At a public rest area, Brandon attempts to kiss a pine tree. Then he humps it. I run my fingers through my sweaty hair. Shampoo. The kind you haven't heard of, in an amber bottle. Hotel shampoo. We should stop. I have another minor thought that in a cave we would shape-shift to our favorite animals.

A familiar has all the properties of a messenger—and it accomplishes things the silent owner cannot. In English lore, a familiar can also shape-shift. Because one animal is not enough and I have mood swings, I long to be a cat-bat. Brandon is completely uninterested in this, but has offered to go down on me.

We end up in this cave on this hillside. You actually have to go down several miles of dirt road. The road appears to go absolutely nowhere, and if you had car trouble you would be fucked. The potholes pop us up to the Jeep's roof. A silo marks the way with a painted wooden sign that reads "Cave," and this sends us both into hysterics. In a field there is a trellis façade, a weed-infested barn and a parking lot. A sign reads Misty Waters Cave, and it is very green and hilly and what some people would probably call "verdant." I walk past the barn and feel him behind me. As he runs ahead of me shouting, "murder, murder," I am irritated. Irascible-y irritated.

The sign on the door reads "closed." Yes, I understand the significance of the cave. But, I view this cave as more of a pool. Not the public kind where you could get a rash or see the different incarnations of human aging, but the kind where your one rich friend goes out of town, and he or she asks you to house-sit. The indoor, Daddy Warbucks kind. If you have a dog, he can jump in too. So this really isn't a pool either, but a gift without attachments. Brandon gets up, walks to the cave, and takes pictures with his Holga. He suggests we lay down right there and make an effort to undo my loneliness. This is both impossible and sweet. How could anything that lasted for five years be undone? But, I don't mention it because it would only make him experience my depression. Instead, I take him up on his offer to go down on me.

Amanda, I am curious if you remember the time we talked of cohabitating platonically. Well, moving into a shared space without windows would be completely depressing. Moving into a space without walls would encourage accidents. I've lived in a space without locks. This is fine if you know someone. I might even suggest it as a future outward demonstration of intimacy. But, with a stranger, it could set you on edge. Then you get pink eye, and what are you going to do? You can drink milk, with drops of bourbon to calm you. Call your mother. Watch the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice to comfort yourself with its codified behavior systems. But, eventually, you wish you had locks.

Because he is energized by awkward tension, Brandon wishes he actually met my ex. He parks the car on the side of the road when we talk. After twenty minutes, he appears bored, pulls out an old derringer and fires at a groundhog. Yes, I was surprised too, given his affection for dogs that are roughly the same size. But, sometimes your friend's behavior is like messages through a string and can, broken-up and unintelligible, leaving you to wonder about the source. The sun is high, and he punctuates the explosions with whoops. He's not aiming.

If I wrote my ex a letter he probably wouldn't answer. I know this because I wrote my ex a letter and he didn't answer. Brandon has scaled the side of a canyon without equipment. At the top, he raises his arms as if he has truly conquered something. I still hold the empty ketchup bottle and napkins from our picnic. Suddenly, I imagine I am 300 pounds and balding, and this makes me want to shape-shift into something fanciful, a dragon perhaps. I move the meaty parts of my arms as if I will, then worry someone will see me. Then I get angry at myself for having these thoughts. "Come up here," yells Brandon. "It's nice." He looks exactly as he did in the car, windblown, god-like and fiery.

As we look out the darkened window, Brandon holds my hand. Despite his sweaty palm, I feel comforted. He leans toward me as we stare at the flickering neon sign and create nocturnal stories about watery, ephemeral places, a Shangri La of sorts, only with naiads, of both sexes, and bartenders to serve us drinks. He softly touches my arm. We are interrupted by a metallic crash outside the door. For some reason, he doesn't get tired of hearing my stories.

We decide not to visit Will. Will will be okay with it. At a 7-11, Brandon runs in and out of the doors to hear the whir and to irritate me. When the 7-11 guy says something to him, Brandon doesn't respond. In Brandon's defense, it is hard to tell what this quiet guy says. "Stop. Don't do that. Figs."

I imagine if we drive too long in one day, the highway will inspire flight, like the concert poster I just released through the open window. A flying, tumbling paper. I imagine a horizon in the darkness, wires, a helmet, mountains and something unnamable, a couple of chairs and a hotel again. Brandon and I break bread, as they say, crackers and dry PB. The wind picks up around the Jeep's door, as Brandon cradles my palm to deliver the food. He points out a sign, a lone message that has been spray-painted and makes little sense.

Instead of a cave, we find a band shelter in a park, unzip the sleeping bags and lay down. The blue paint is chipped to a rust color, the cement floor damp. Welcome pilgrim, thou hast come far. In this case, I have written many emails, which I will call letters, with all the time-commitment and connotation of intimacy. Carefully considered intimacy. I would write: Brandon's skin is soft, his mouth dry. As our lips touch, I think of different words for letters: missives, Morse code, telegrams, sonnets. With him inside me, I say nothing. I lean back and contain many words.

Yours, Dearest Amanda

image: Ryan Molloy


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