a short story in two parts
Richard for long, Rickie for under the bedsheets, or just plain Rick in a heartbeat: my life, my everlasting love, my companion for all the times needing companionship. How I would just shrivel up like a sun dried plum into a pitless prune if he were absent from my routine, rather awful, existence. His spiky, cropped brunette cheveaux, his endlessly green eyes, his smashed-against-glass nose and lips, his bottle-neck zipped up in a Gore-Tex, his meaty fingers swinging at his side with a pendulum frenzy: this is what I spy of my Rick from a corner of an eye as he faithfully follows me along this precipitous path on the coast, just south of nowhere.
Well, actually, just south of Tillamook, along the Cape Lookout headland trail, en route to a spectacular vista overlooking the Pacific coastline with Cape Falcon, near Manzanita, to the north, and Harts Cove, just off Cascade Head, to the south. It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re off to spot majestic gray whales make their annual migration to the south, the whales chasing farm-raised Coho salmon back to the hatchery. I’ve hiked this trail ever since a little lady, perched on my Dad’s shoulders, to witness one of nature’s enduring traditions.
This is Rick’s first time whale watching.
I think he is in awe at coastal Oregon’s limitless greenery, himself originally from El Paso, because he hasn’t spoken for the past half hour. But no matter, I can hear his long, deep breaths, loud enough to be the wind pushing me onwards, quickening my steps and, though it may be my own lack of physical conditioning, my heartbeat.
Even so, I turn my head to lay eyes upon my husky love-monger (perhaps I’ll offer him some water from my Nalgene) when I see that he’s, give or take, ten paces back.
I stop and wait for him to catch up.
The trail, eroded on the downslope side, the result of a recent landslide, leaves a steep, washed out fan funneling to a cliff, dropping to tide-sculpted seastacks and a churning punchbowl of seafoam some three-hundred meters below. It is at this most serious, deadly, portion of the trail where Rickie, my darling, decides to stretch his hands behind his head in a motion as if to throw his hood over his head—as if it is raining (which it is not), as if this action of pulling something over his head simply could not have waited—which causes him to lose his sweet balance, pitching his entire torso akimbo, arms flailing, one leg lifted off the ground as if he’s going to pee, doggy-style, on the trail he walks on; the pee river inevitably causing a mini-landslide sweeping this pathetic pea-brained person onto his worthless ass, sliding him in one split-second into the void over the ledge, landing with an unspectacular sploosh in the devil’s cauldron below where he belongs.
Rick—oh plain Rick—if only, in this proscuitto-thin slice of time, you weren’t acting like such a stupid, stupid fool (It wasn’t going to rain! The sky is a solid white-gray: clouds running on empty, mon petit ami!) I would, as sure and quick as a beam of light (a beam of sunshine!), dash to your rescue, wrapping my crosscut grip around your fleshy, pale hips, pinning you to solid ground (the ground you so much insulted with your hasty hubris).
No, in this time-slice, let it be said, I hesitated.
I paused to watch you, naked, with unadulterated eyes, writhing in your own skin, quaking (listen to you yelp!) at the thought of mortality, at the thought that stupidity will be your very end. And, looking into your eyes, finally opened and quivering, vulnerable and submissive, I have only one memory of us that I would like to replay in your mind over and over as gravity tips you to your messy but not wholly unsalvageable demise: you, me, exactly one year ago today, Valentine’s Day, lying in your bed, in your dorm room, kissing with the lights off, on the top bunk, roommate with his own on the bottom bunk, you telling me to get on top, me twisting around on your narrow bed, you throwing your arms behind your head so I’d have full view of your hairless chest, your arms bumping my elbow, my elbow being my only support, me falling off your bed clumsily, disgracefully, a pile on your cold concrete dorm floor, your roommate and his thing chuckling in drunken buffoonery, me looking up at you, searching for a reaction on your face, not seeing your face, not seeing you, just hearing you, chuckling too.
Hiking, apart from that performed alongside the noble and gracious horse, is for hucksters. These jaunts with Shari give me blisters. I should invest in some hiking boots, but what’s the point? She walks too fast. She won’t stop and look around—and if she does it’s out of some meager courtesy for me.
Irritates the hell out of me.
I mean, I’m no roadrunner, like so many willing Oregon State coeds, but a good portion of my week is spent lifting weights and maybe swimming a few laps in the pool if I remember my trunks.
Besides, I’m on Benadryl.
Shari was getting a little too snuggly and shit last night in the sack, and, well, I need space to sleep, so I popped a couple of pink pills. Not really sure if they were Benadryl or Shari’s birth-control, but either way I was out cold in, like, two minutes, maybe three.
I woke with an ear-splitting headache, fished for some Advil or Motrin; Shari gave me candy-hearts as some form of sick joke. We had to get a move on—Shari said the prime time to see the whales was in the early morning—so I popped some more pink pills and blacked out for an hour as we drove the winding, rolling highway to the coast from Corvallis.
Now I’m thinking those pills weren’t Benadryl at all, or any other over-the-counter get-well shell. My brain throbs, eyes water, nose runs. My spine sags, knees droop, feet burn. My skin crawls with tiny, invisible gnats, mosquitoes, spiders, aphids, no-see-ums, things that bite. I itch, flinch, and bitch under long drawn breaths.
I’m trying for Shari. I’m trying to just put one foot in front of the other and get the hell to this lookout thing-a-ma-shit. I don’t care for whales, or the ocean, or flying flocks of fucking seagulls. All I care about right now is pleasing Shari.
Shari — who I met in agricultural anthropology, some lower division Gen-Ed course taught by half-Professor/half-robot — she shared her notes with me, shared her never-ending stock of snacks in her backpack during our grueling two-hour evening course, a course starting before and ending after residence hall dinnertime. Shari—I live for her endlessly long lashes, her rants in languages I don’t know (she only yells at me in French), her nibbling on my ear, her willingness to play tackle football on Thanksgiving.
Shari…I will, God willing, make you happy this Valentine’s Day…this happy fucking holiday.
Shari is pulling away from me now, speedwalking so fast my swollen eyes can hardly look up from this rain-soaked mud-river path in time to glimpse her loosely braided almond hair, swaying in time with her hips, line-dancing into infinity.
This itch on my neck burns like a sonofabitch…
…if I could just reach it.