Beau Black awoke at seven a.m., but stayed in bed awhile thinking about his dreams. A memory from waking life grew in his mind: Rolling around on the backseat of the car, annoying his older sister, descending over the side of the green vinyl seat onto the vibrating mound on the floor, which separated the two sides and held up the center of the front seat on its short sliding track. There in the car upside-down, listening to the motor’s hum and the sound of the wheels spinning on the grooved road, there had suddenly come to his mind the memory of an unnameable feeling, a feeling of something at his mouth that was sort of like the corner of his blankie, but then again not. When he described it to his sister as being kind of more like a balloon, a strange look crossed her face and then she said, “I think I know what it is. I could tell you, but I probably shouldn’t. You’ll figure it out when you’re older.”
That sense memory feeling was like the nameless, gnawing longing he now felt for his dreams, which were rapidly receding from his waking mind like the tide upon the shore. The chirps of the morning birds outside the upstairs window of his old room and the squeak of the springs in his old bed were strangely familiar, yet long forgotten.
Telltale creaks in the upstairs floor resounded through the house as Beau headed for the bathroom, and by the time he flushed, the house itself seemed to have woken entirely and crouched upon the land quietly watching the morning birds. Across the street his best bud Leif was just stepping out of the house. Beau was used to seeing a woman with a Muu Muu in the yard over there all his life growing up. But she died years ago and the new owners turned out to be friends of Leif Mendel’s wife. Now he was house-sitting for them at the same time Beau was visiting home.
They met out front a few minutes later. The air smelled of the lawn heavy with dew. Leif came up grinning. “Can you believe it? We have all day long to do whatever we want. Now we just have to figure out what to do.”
Seeming to read each other’s mind, they took the dirt road down to the river, cutting into the darkness of the redwood forest where the great arm of it stretched like a rising ocean encompassing the town. On a moss-caked log dank with redwood duff Leif revealed the crumbling condition of his marriage.
“Apart from my being physically isolated from her for the week and a half of house-sitting here, I really don’t know what else she wants,” he confessed, Beau gravely nodding. They had sat on that hillside before. Then the fallen giants reclaimed by the land held fresh bark, deep fibrous grooves providing sturdy footing high over fern and tangles of branches and brush emanating the ever-present threat of being laced with poison oak, and thick with ticks carrying disease. “I hate to think Ada and Gary used Ada’s talking with Pam about me as an excuse to go on vacation. That is what I think though. So I guess I’m like a charity case now. More than usual. But, what the hey. I can’t turn down work.”
“Where’d they go on vacation?”
They went quiet for a spell.
“Well shit,” Leif said, breaking the silence, “I didn’t mean to be such a bummer with that.”
“No, not at all. One thing, though. At least you don’t have any kids.”
“I thought about that. And you’re right.”
Beau brightened after a bit. “Hey, I just had a thought.”
“We should go to the rec room. You remember that old rec room up there at the motel?”
Leif lit up. “There used to be some pinball machines and a jukebox. And ping pong, I think.”
“Plus shuffleboard. Anyway I heard they still have all that.”
This was just the ticket. Trudging back up out of the woods and reaching the road, Beau and Leif saw a black cat which followed them as they took a shortcut through the back of the motel area.
There is something about the redwoods immediately mythic to the imagination. The sheer vertical tonnage commands a new way of looking at the world, for the sight of dark mass rising carries with it a different chemical interpretation in the human mind from, for example, the calming horizontal lines of ocean waves. The vertical expressionistic contrasts starkly provided by the quiet giants did not go unnoticed by the purposefully striding pair. “I shall name you Ichabod,” said Beau to the black cat that followed, “but call you Icky.”
Apparently nobody was up yet on the motel grounds. Beau checked his watch. “It’s just after eight.”
“Well,” said Leif, lifting the latch of a squeaky gate, “we should probably try to keep it down.”
The pool needed cleaning. Badly. The ping pong table, warped, had a couple of paddles with bits of bumpy rubber missing from untold years of people picking at it, and a ball was there with a split along the seam. In the rec room the jukebox was already playing.
Stepping in, Beau placed it. Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” A Roger Moore James Bond movie poster, torn, said, “It’s Bigger…it’s Better…it’s Bond…and B-E-Y-O-N-D.” A stained pool table looked operable. Couple of sticks in a corner. Cases of Mr. Pibb in glass bottles were stacked against a wall. From among hardcover Reader’s Digest compilations several paperbacks lay spread out on some shelves. Helter Skelter. Hell’s Angels. Summer of ’42.
The pinball machines were kaput, though two still remained, Kiss and Playboy. For no particular reason, Beau stood in front of the Playboy machine, put his hands on the flipper buttons (there was no spring to pull back, just an empty hole) and, with Leif standing next to the machine, arms akimbo, pretending to be fascinated by the imaginary game he was following, Beau wildly flicked the flipper buttons. Suddenly some spiders popped out of the various aspects on the game board, sending both Beau and Leif over to the pool table.
The image of his sister’s old toy rubber spider flashed before Beau’s mind’s eye, and for a moment he couldn’t help but wonder if that sense memory feeling he’d had as a kid wasn’t of his mother’s breast, but of his older sister stuffing the rubber spider in his mouth when no one else was looking.
Leif pointed at the table. “Nice rack.”
“All ready to go, too. Shee-yoot, and two cues.”
“What is it again that makes you think we can be here now doing this?”
Beau shook his head in a manner increasingly befuddled. “I don’t know—I don’t think I ever said—this used to be where us few local kids over on this side of the town used to have, I don’t know, some sort of tacit understanding with the manager that we would sometimes rake leaves to earn a swim in the pool, and otherwise, what with all the quarters we plunked, shit yeah, I think that gives me visitor’s rights. Absolutely.”
“Well, if you’re breaking. Just…break casual. It’s still pretty early.”
The jukebox, apparently on autopilot, quite low, was playing Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” now, and Beau had just hit the break, sending all the orbs in motion, when a woman appeared at the rec room entrance and stood there for what seemed a long while staring at Beau.
Beau stared right back. For him it was like seeing a ghost. She had hardly changed. He knew it was her before she even spoke.
“Are you…?” She recognized him, too. He could tell by her face that she recognized him after all, even after so many years.
“I bet you think I hang out here all the time,” he said. “I can’t believe it. What are the odds? How long are you—are you even—this is my friend Leif, Leif this is Liliana—is it still…Reeve?”
“My goodness,” said Beau as she came to him. They held each other. “I can’t believe it,” he eventually murmured into the dark river of her hair. “You really must think I hang out here all the time.” Beau pulled back, looking Liliana squarely in the eyes. “I swear to you. First time in many, many years. Haven’t set foot in here. We just got here a few minutes ago. But, I mean, I don’t even live around here anymore. I’m only visiting.”
“How’s your family?”
Leif spoke up. “I don’t live here, either. I’m house-sitting.”
Neither seemed to hear him. Beau could barely restrain himself, Liliana was so stunning. And youthful. The weather being comfortable, she wore shorts, and her golden legs literally shone.
“Leif, you remember Liliana, don’t you? All through high school, that beautiful brunette who lived so far away, but always wrote me. I saved those letters, too. Every one. But you didn’t come here just looking for me.”
“Of course I did.”
“Yes, really. I’m not staying here at the motel, though. I’m staying with my brother in Laibrook. He’s been there only a few months. I’ve been wanting to see you for so long! I even wore this”—here she indicated her little white shorts outfit with an endearing blush—“because it’s the closest thing I have to what I had on when we first met.”
“Whoa,” said Beau. “That is really kinky. And you know I want to hear anything kinky you might have to say, but I notice some stirring around over there coming from the manager’s office. We should go.”
It was amusing slipping off like truants, being sure to keep the rec room between themselves and the manager’s office. All three could hardly keep from bursting out laughing, and the snickering sounded almost painful until they left the motel grounds on the north end and exploded in hysterics on a field of scrubby yellow grass in a still empty lot.
“When I was a kid, I used to play ball here all the time,” said Beau, getting back his breath.
“I remember throwing the Frisbee here a bunch of times, that’s for sure,” Leif nodded, looking at the other two. “In fact, I think I should go try to find that Frisbee right now.”
It almost seemed like the end of an episode of television. Beau and Liliana beaming. Any second, Leif half-expected to see them walking with a hand in each other’s back pocket. But Liliana, parked nearby, headed over to her car after saying thanks to Leif and telling him it was a pleasure meeting.
“I really appreciate this,” said Beau, carrying an unnecessarily conspiratorial air. “I feel bad about bailing on you, though.”
“Don’t,” Leif assured. “I totally understand. You have to. We should reconvene by phone if you want to do anything later.”
“Sounds good. I’ll call you sometime between five and six.”
“All right. Have a good one.”
A sports car purred over. Liliana in her midnight blue Karmann Ghia called. Beau climbed in. “Funny old world,” he said. They all put on their shades.
“Funny old world,” Leif concurred, waving as the Karmann Ghia roared off.
Sunlight cascaded through the monolithic trees, dizzying, riotous, sublime. Memories associated with houses passed by, and not having to watch the road afforded Beau the opportunity of glimpsing into the past. Here a place where a kid lived for a year or so with whom he had sometimes played. There a place he’d egged with another kid one Halloween. Just the temporary home, the one that got egged, of some goddam asshole, he mused without too much malice. Even they lived on forever in his memories and dreams.
Now he looked at Liliana and saw the threads she wore were foxy; her funky little top shimmered with a shamrock sheen. In pockets of the rolling mountains on the other side of the river and over the alluvial soil crawled the creeping fog. A preternatural glow tinged the air, as subtle as the purple pearl swirl on an abalone shell. Beau was stoked. All was boss. The whole world copasetic. Kaleidoscopic numinosity abounded.
Although less so when he thought of Leif and Pam. Leif and Pam and their crumbling marriage. At which point Beau began to feel the growing heft of guilt sitting in the passenger seat, next to a woman so beautiful, so desirable, that it was actually shocking. Her raven hair whipping around in the wind, whipping with the top down. And then he thought, hey, we’re adults here. What’s so wrong with two old friends catching up?
“Let’s take the back roads out to Laibrook,” Liliana said, slowing for the road off the Avenue, a left hand turn prior to the south bound merge with the highway.
After chugging up some winding hills and meandering along fairly level terrain for awhile, Liliana pulled into a pullout. They were above the redwoods now, among fir and oak and madrone, and had ascended over patches of fog which seemed to cling to the tops of the trees.
“We need to talk,” she said.
It hadn’t worked out between her and the ex. They had been divorced now for years. The ex had re-married, and was now living off somewhere else. She had thought about calling Beau over the years, but just never did.
“Not even once?” he said.
“Are you sure?”
“Because one time I remember I picked up the phone, and only heard breathing.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“I say you’re a liar.”
And then just four months ago, her brother moved to Laibrook.
Beau wracked his brains. “Your brother—did he have a busted bottle rocket one year?”
“Yes. And he kept following you around being a pest until eventually you hit him.”
“I did, didn’t I?” Beau could see it. Behind one of the corner units at the motel, Liliana’s little brother, face beet-red, tears rushing, shirt all balled-up in Beau’s fist. I warned you, I warned you….
“So,” she said. “What about you?”
“Me? Oh yeah. That all sounds pretty familiar.”
“In what way?”
“Well, the divorce.”
“Two years. I don’t live in the area. I’m way out northeast. I’d love to get back here. It’s too remote where I am, too isolated.”
“Listen, Beau. I want you to know that, those three summers, and all those letters, I’ve never forgotten. I always kept your picture. I always kept you…inside my heart.”
Beau thought about that. Eventually he said, “I can’t believe this is happening. It’s so great. You’re so beautiful.”
Liliana smiled. “You sure turned out good.”
He put his left hand on her right shoulder. The seats were bucket, though.
“So where are you staying?” she said, taking his slowly retracting hand in her own and holding it.
“You know,” he said, “it’s funny. Really weird, even. I can’t believe you saw me there in the rec room. I’m actually staying at my parents’.”
“That’s great. They’re still in town there?”
“I hope I’m not pressing. Most people aren’t overjoyed at having to reveal the personal details of their lives,” she said, “especially to people from back-when. I stalked you. I didn’t give you any warning, just came along and took you from your friend. I’m sorry.”
At first he thought she was pretending. But now she really was crying.
“Come on, don’t cry,” he said. “You look like your brother.”
“You must think…I’m totally crazy.”
“No, no. Maybe a little desperate. Look, I’m starving. What do you say we jam over to Laibrook, get done with whatever you’ve got there, and then I take us out to brunch?”
That made everything okay, and the magic day was back on track. But brunch never happened.
It was dream-like pulling into Laibrook, a day surreal with serene beauty. He was glad they took the long way, not just so that they could be alone and really talk, but because it was nice not having to see all the sketchy people in town. It’s easier to support the sketchy from a remote, isolated distance than it is when you have to see them every day. It was only the day before when he was leaving the store in Bargerville and a couple of sullen slackers sort of backed away, because on the outside Beau Black looked like the very sort of person that they would not like and who would not like them. Yet if they only knew, there beat in Beau’s breast the heart of a Hippie. But did the dreadlock-sporting white guys, lacking shoes, lacking shirts, any semblance of service, consider at all that the fifty-ish woman trying to walk along the sidewalk to the store without having to run a gauntlet of begging or body odor might not feel so comfortable in passing as Beau? No. So he was glad they took the old road to Laibrook, bypassing Bargerville, which, he had to admit, was something he had rarely ever done . . .
AVENUE OF THE GIANTS