- Jungle Boogie
Bamboo! In upstate New York! I couldn't believe my jet-lagged eyes. A flourishing grove of bamboo had sprouted all around the perimeter of my sister's backyard, forming a thick, golden green wall. The stalks—the culms—jutted upward at least fifteen feet and waved at me hypnotically in the summer breeze. Beyond the grove sat my rented car, a blue sedan, long dark bamboo shadows dancing across it. I rested my hands on the wooden railing of the deck behind Dolly's house and gazed out at the car and down at the yard—at the startling bamboo.
"Bamboo!" I said. I hadn't seen bamboo in forty years, not since the war. Not since the days of pogey bait, 'palm, and Willie Peter. "I didn't think it would grow here."
"Oh, yes," Dolly said. She was standing near me, though not quite beside me. "Yes, that damn stuff'll grow just about anywhere. It's like a weed." She drifted closer to me, put her own hands on the railing and studied the teeming bamboo with minimal interest. "Sometimes the trick is to keep it from growing, to keep it from spreading."
Like me, she was on the downhill side of fifty. But unlike me, she still looked pretty youthful. Her shoulder-length hair was brown and lustrous, and her skin was brown too, from all the sunning she did, yet mostly it was smooth and tight. Her face still held together admirably—it didn't bag or sag—and its only notable flaw was the way her mouth tended to set itself into a pout of annoyance or superiority regardless of her mood. She was wearing a pink two-piece swimsuit, larger than a bikini but not much, and an open smock, also pink, that came down to her curving hips and did little to cover her. Across her lower abdomen swirled the motorcyclists' mantra "Live to Ride," tattooed in girlish filigreed letters.
"That's Golden Grove bamboo," she said. "Cliff planted it. So we could have some privacy, is what he said. I guess the neighbors were all gonna gawk at me if they saw me like this." Facing me, she lifted her arms and spread them frivolously. She was pink and brown and clearly disdainful of [End Page 132] her husband's opinion. She shook her mane of hair, and her mouth settled into its usual pout. "Christ," she said.
She'd been giving me a tour of the house, which was actually a nice place. Wood, stone. Some curious angles inside. Apart from the bamboo, however, and a guy named Big Henry, who was sitting at the kitchen table guzzling Old Milwaukee, the house had made only a faint impression on me. I was tired from the flight east and foggy-headed at the news concerning Dolly's husband.
A couple of days before, Cliff had been beaten almost to death by a pack of teenage punks. He was in the hospital now, unconscious. I didn't know him well, but he'd married my sister, and what'd happened to him on the street was barbaric, horrifying. Besides that, he was a brother in arms. We'd shed our boyhood and a fair amount of blood in a mucky Asian jungle; I understood he'd earned a Purple Heart at Hamburger Hill. So I'd decided to excuse myself from my third wife and my downtown office to visit him, even if it meant spending some time with Dolly.
"Let's go back inside," she said. "I could use a beer." She turned, and I followed her. "Paul, how about you? Need one?"
"Sure? We've got plenty."
"No, thanks," I said, watching my tone.
We were both watching our tone, neither of us wanting to ruffle or offend the other. We'd never gotten along too smoothly, even back when we were kids. It was seldom an issue of what she or I had or hadn't done; it was more a question of the chemistry between us. We were like gasoline and oxygen, with a spark of impatience thrown in...