My landlord has left a lumpily-rolled joint on my breakfast bar. “Doo-bie mellow!” his note says. I don’t really mind that he keeps barging in. A lean and sporty retiree, he pities me because I have no furniture. Every day I return to something new: a couch, a chair, a king-sized bed.
Here in the Central Valley the air is farm-like, redolent with grasses and fecund wine grapes, cow piss baked into dirt. My new life as a graduate student.
With all that happened between my ex and me, I arrived too late to find an apartment near the university. I broadened my search to the Capitol, thirteen miles west on I-80 from my school. My bed is filled with the books I’d packed into the back of my car when I left L.A. Classes start in two days.
In other words, I am doing okay until my ex finds me.
The day I return to my landlord’s gift and note there is also a series of voicemail messages. My ex is on a business trip, he announces. Then: on a whim, he’s transferred at Bakersfield to a Capitol-bound train. It’ll be great to catch up, goes the third message. He’ll pull in at 6:30, he adds.
Then the fourth: His next call will be from the station. If I am serious about leaving, he says, I need to tell him face-to-face.
I register the forced lightness. He is trying hard to sound as if we were on decent terms. That he has not made efforts to track me down, obtain my number. That our split ended with him wishing me well in my new life.
Despite myself, I’m moved by his effort. He hurt me. Also true: living without him is like somersaulting in space. I lack a significant fraction of every sense. Invisible in this hot and landlocked city, I am an outline of a person.
I’d visited the women’s bookstore and cafe near my apartment with butterflies in my chest — this female-centered bastion was one reason I chose the neighborhood — but had been snapped at to close the door before the cat escaped. Wanting to make it up, I’d made a fuss over the obese feline, but the clerk had ignored me.
Now it is nearly 6:30. I sit at the edge of the pool, smoking my doobie. I swish my legs in the sun-warmed water. The bank of windows faces the pool, so despite the heat I also wear my 60’s-style fringed suede jacket. “The Hide,” my ex had called it in friendlier times. Televisions come on. Manure perfumes the air.
The apartment lights begin to burn yellow. It’s getting cold. I’m hungry. Inside, my frozen dinners are melting on the kitchen counter. But I stay in my bathing suit and The Hide, gently churning the water as though all thoughts have left my mind. That I haven’t noticed the dark. That again and again from inside my apartment, my telephone’s ring punches the air.
Patricia Q. Bidar is a native of San Pedro, CA with family roots in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. She is an alum of the UC Davis Graduate Writing Program and a former fiction editor at Northwest Review. Her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Pinch, Little Patuxent Review, Wigleaf, and Pithead Chapel. Patricia lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her DJ husband. When she is not writing fiction, she ghostwrites for progressive nonprofit organizations.