Her flight arrived on Saturday evening. Somehow I was able to get in to the terminal between the arrival gate and the baggage claim. I waited for some minutes until I saw her walking amidst a small group. Then I gathered the gifts in my hands and walked towards her. At first she seemed very focused on where she was going and did not recognize me. When I came closer, she saw it was me and she smiled and turned towards me. Then she saw the gifts in my hands and she became suddenly very embarrassed. She hurried her pace and, when we met in the middle of the wide corridor, she did not stop. She took my arm and shuttled me off to the side before she received the flowers and chocolate and other things I had brought for her.
‘I made this incredibly romantic gesture and you just shove me off out of view!’ I complained later that evening when we sat down to dinner on Melrose Ave.
‘I just don’t like making a scene,’ she said. ‘I don’t like being the center of attention.’
‘Didn’t you ever learn you’re supposed to like that your boyfriend makes a big deal of you?’ I said. ‘Other – normal – women find it very romantic, I’m told.’
‘I know, I’m horrible!’ she said.
‘Well don’t worry about it,’ I said, ‘next time I’m staying in the car and I’ll slow down just long enough for you to jump in.’
‘No!’ she said. ‘I’m sorry. It was a really romantic gesture.’
‘Just drink your drink, will you?’ I said.
After dinner we walked back to Eric’s apartment where we were staying the night.
‘Where did they go?’ she said.
‘To Keren’s parents’ house,’ I said. ‘He said they are staying there for the night.’
She poured water into a vase and then mixed in the nutrient powder. She put the flowers in and then set it down and arranged them. Then we went into the bedroom. It was becoming very good because we had not seen each other for a few weeks but it was over very suddenly when we heard Eric’s voice.
‘I said we were having dinner over there but we would be home around 10,’ he said a few minutes later after we had collected ourselves and joined them in the living room.
‘I heard it differently,’ I said.
‘Anyway, here we are,’ he said. ‘At least you took the guest room.’
‘Drink?’ I said.
We had a drink and then the girls went to bed and then we had another drink.
‘What are they going to think of me?’ she asked a couple hours later when I came to bed after the drinks.
‘That I’m irresistible maybe?’ I said. ‘Anyway, if he was a real friend he’d have kept quiet for just five more minutes.’
She grunted and I turned out the light. In the morning we left Eric’s place and we went to Bobby’s for breakfast. After breakfast, we drove out to Venice Beach so that she could experience something unique. We walked passed the canals and the skateboarders and the people on beach cruiser bicycles, and we passed the tattoo artists and the street performers and the people selling free medical exams. Then we went out onto the sand and down to the water. I stood on the dry sand because my shoes were on but she walked out until she was just close enough to put a foot in the water. She stood where the surf reached the end of its journey. She put her foot out so that the big toe felt the foam and then the water and then it receded back into the surf. As she watched her toe and the surf, she held her sandals in one hand and rested her other hand on her hip. I watched her there absorbed by what I saw: the slenderness of her arm and the angle that it made going out from her shoulder and then back to her hip. I watched the way she stood and it felt very good as though I could see our life in her pose.
A few days later we drove to Palm Springs where my grandmother has a house that was vacant since she had moved into a home. The house is one of many identical units with a uniform color scheme and well-manicured lawn that borders an artificial lake in a gated community. In the lake there was a flock of ducks that dove for fish and sometimes an electric motorboat puttered past very slowly, making ripples in the mirror surface. My grandmother’s house beside the small lake was very nice with high ceilings and tall windows but it had the musty, neglected smell of something that has been used a lot and then suddenly not at all.
When we settled in and I was arranging things inside, she went outside to see the lake. It was the late afternoon and the desert was just beginning to cool after a scorching day in July. When I came to the sliding glass door sometime later she was sitting on a chair on the porch with her feet up. As I watched her, I thought about how I had never managed to be comfortable at my grandparents’ house because they only cared how the furniture looked when they bought it. But she looked very comfortable with her feet on a cushion and a book in her hands instead of the ereader. She was all legs and no cares and it was a wonder to me that she could look so comfortable on that chair.
The next morning we drove to the Salton Sea, which was a popular resort in the Rat Pack days until the water became brackish and then the Yacht Club closed down. The lake looked like an ocean but there was a foul smell and thousands of fish skeletons lined every part of the shore.
‘They are tilapia,’ I said as we stood there. ‘They were introduced and they’re not native. They die en masse based on the weather.’
Then we drove past the Salton Sea to the far end where there was a strange trailer park and Salvation Mountain.
‘He was crazy maybe,’ I said a few steps from where we parked the car. ‘Anyway he decided to build a monument to God.’
‘I don’t understand it,’ she said.
‘God is love,’ she said, reading the giant words that were molded and painted on the hillside.
It was midweek and it was deserted now but there were fresh footsteps in the sand and I knew visitors came occasionally. It had a very low profile for a mountain but it was very noticeable for the gaudy colors and bizarre formations and short religious phrases all over it.
FOR GOD SO LOVED THEM
YOU ARE LOVED BY GOD
FAITH LOVE JOY GOODNESS MEEKNESS PEACE TEMPERANCE LONGSUFFERING GENTLENESS
Also, the word ‘REPENT’ was written in many places, usually as the first part of a phrase without punctuation:
REPENT JESUS I’M A SINNER PLEASE COME UPON MY BODY AND INTO MY HEART
The only object in the place that was not painted in gaudy colors was an ancient cot that was covered in a old blanket and hung from a swing set under a trellis roof of destroyed cloth. She sat and swung back and forth gently, not lifting her feet from the ground because she did not trust it. When she saw me focusing with my camera, she looked away as though it would make the photography stop. Looking away from me like she could not be bothered, she was perfect in that place in that moment. It was a pose that told you ‘God is love’ and ‘Repent sinner’ and ‘come upon my body and into my heart’ as much as if you had never known Salvation Mountain.
That afternoon we drove into Joshua Tree and, when we arrived at the campground, we made a circuit to know the layout and what was available. After surveying several good campsites, we selected one that we liked. It was backed against a sloping crag and surrounded by scraggly bushes so that it was secluded from the car park and passersby.
‘We’re sure that we’re sure?’ I said.
She did not give another glance around. She had decided. I unloaded the car and then I drove back to the entrance to place the payment envelope in the collection box. When I returned I saw that she was gone and that she had left the things where they were. I looked up and saw that she had scrambled up the crag beside the campsite. It was past sunset and the fading light was behind her from where I looked up so that she was entirely in silhouette. She stood there atop the crag tall and slender and entirely motionless against a blue and violet sky. Her pose was perfect for where she was and she was perfectly made to make that pose.
‘It’s really small,’ she said after she had descended from the crag and I had erected the tent.
‘It’s made for one person,’ I said.
‘It really is,’ she said.
‘I warned you,’ I said.
‘Yeah, we’ll make it work,’ she said.
We prepared dinner in the twilight and we ate by the glow of a headlamp that she set out like a lantern. After, we scrambled up the crag to near where she had stood before and laid our sleeping mats on the cool granite. It was nighttime and the desert was very cold now so that we had to lay very close to keep warm. For a long time we lay beside each other – at first talking about many things and then becoming silent as it began to feel – though it was actually not – very late. Soon she fell asleep and I was awake looking at the stars.
When she roused, we descended with our things and we readied for bed. Then, we stuffed our mats and sleeping bags into the tent and then we stuffed ourselves in afterwards. It was very nice to be so close but soon that moment came when sleep is more attractive than your partner. Then we turned away and we fell asleep. In the middle of the night I woke and adjusted and then fell back asleep. Early in the morning, I woke again and this time she woke also.
‘You have nothing to worry about,’ I remembered she had said when we talked about her moods, ‘except for when I am tired or hungry or thirsty or hot or cold…or when I need to be alone.’
‘So only those situations?’ I had said.
‘Yeah, only those,’ she said, ‘or when I’m cycling or when something else is going on with me.’
Now, it was very early and the space was very tight and she was very tired and I could see she was very miserable.
‘I’m getting out,’ she announced suddenly.
She fumbled to unzip her mummy bag from inside and then bolted upright.
‘I’m going to sleep outside,’ she said. ‘It’s too cramped in here and I’m feeling claustrophobic.’
‘It’s ok. I’ll go,’ I said.
‘No, I’m going,’ she said impatiently.
‘Better that I go,’ I said, ‘or I’ll hear about it tomorrow.’
‘You’ll hear about it anyway,’ she said. ‘Just hope I don’t get bitten by a snake.’