bed and breakfast, friendship, hunger, environment, mother, son, religion, climate, summer, time, work
for Kristine Carlson
Before North took a seasonal jobfishing for kings in AlaskaI'd never admitted to myselfthat he was my only friend.For a little income and to copewith the lonely summer, I rented outhis room at a nightly rate, listing itonline as a bed-and-breakfastso I could charge more. I hidall his stuff in the closet, took photos,and at the top of the post I wroteeco-friendly, but never explainedwhat that meant. EveningsI'd check-in tenants, then leaveon my rounds to variousdumpsters, keeping aheadof the week's trash pickup schedule.Back home, I'd washthe food I'd found and countour stocks—staying above a hundred mealswas important to me. Over baconand blueberry pancakesmy first tenant told me it was onlyafter his wife died that he could finallypursue his lifelong passionfor gambling. Catnappingon a Monday afternoon, I missedanother call from my mom,who was retiring soon and wantedme to hear her preachone last time. She was goodat justifying my lifestyle, calling itstewardship of the Earth, [End Page 124] the saving of small parts of God'screation. As if she didn't knowhow cheap I was, how greedilyI clung to each free hourof each free day. Runningthe B&B was the most work I'd donein years, and that was nothingbut living how I always didplus keeping the lights lowso the sheets looked clean.July brought windless days, air so thickyou could feel yourself passingthrough it. Unprecedented highs,the weatherman said, sweepinghis arms apart as if to make roomfor the heat. All the dumpstersbecame ovens, spoilingthe food and plummetingour stocks below sixty. Whoa,one tenant said during a Pepsi commercial,I forgot how beautiful what's-her-face is.Even after I started skippinga meal a day, the stockskept dropping, so I simplifiedthe B&B's breakfast menu.I knew I'd lose stars online,but with North coming back at the endof summer it wasn't like I was tryingto build a presence. The endof the world already happened,another tenant told meas I made her a PB&J. Nowthe most important thing is to avoid [End Page 125] contact with trees. Think about it,she said. We mustn't touch them.Both of us had sweat ringsin the pits of our shirts, and as we spokethey spread. I cut off her crustsand served her sandwich on a blue plate.She tapped the windowpane:Watch for unnatural colorsin the sky—that's the mood ringGod's wearing. Each week,another historical recordwas broken. If tomorrowis like today, the weatherman said,I'll see you folks at the beach.Online, a tenant gave me one starbecause I didn't have A/C.Another, because I had a catand hadn't said so. In Augusta salmonella scare fed the dumpstersand shot our stocks into the black.Upon arrival, my guests foundcomplimentary Clif Barson their pillows. My stars went up.I ran out of Ziplocs.I could have gone backto three square meals, but I frozethe bulk of it, wanting to impressNorth when he got home.Sometimes I heard footstepsin his bedroom and letmyself pretend it was him.On her final day in the pulpitI took the 17 to see my mom preach.After the service, membersof the congregation kept touchingmy shoulder—I'd been draggedto enough funerals to recognize [End Page 126] the gesture. My momlooked tired, her eyes sadbut also full. She hugged everyone.She knelt down and huggedthe children, her bright vestmentenwrapping all but their tuftsof hair. There was no questionabout what mattered or ifshe loved me. I excused myselfto the bathroom...