Chapter 16: Two weeks A.K.

I didn't do much with the contents of the manilla envelope; didn't do anything, in fact. Just took the thing, numb, shoved it into my top desk drawer, where things go to be forgotten. That was my intention, in a way. To watch passively as everything that tied me to him dissolved. I guess that's what we do with legacies of which we disapprove. Disassociate.

I guess Harold wasn't the worst guy, necessarily. He was just a stranger to me, I guess. I realize that that was my fault, not his. I never forgave him for abandoning my mother, for letting her die. I never forgave him for finding a substitute in a new woman, one with whom I have nothing in common. Maybe those were my problems, not his. People die. He's not god. What could he do? And as far as she's concerned, isn't he entitled to a little happiness? Do I expect him to mourn for the rest of his life?

The answer, of course, is yes, and I feel sort of tricked that he got out of it so effectively, by dying, I mean. Now I'm stuck with the responsibility of mourning them both, mourning two people I never really knew, two people that I am only now beginning to know. This realization, that it was on me, now, I mean, was sort of a pain, but at least it provided some kind of resolution. I started with my mother.

She was easy, once I found her journals, her life became, quite literally, an open book. Except there were parts I couldn't quite make out. Like she was using some kind of code or something. I tinkered with it for a while, but I was never good at that sort of thing. After a while, I decided to come back to it later. I had learned, I thought, enough-- that she loved us, that she wasn't angry about her sufferings, that she had a lot more inner peace than I've been able to muster. On to my father, then. I didn't start with the envelope, but I ended up there.

Chapter 15 - Four years after the key is found

I walked toward the subway station across the ragged brick paths of a Beijing alley. Three men were working on my favorite dumpling shop, cutting in to the plaster of the facade, laying new plywood over the bared concrete. I made a man understand what I wanted from a hot pot cart and ate tofu burning hot in every way from a plate wrapped in a plastic bag. The old man who always stands near the cart offered me one of the tiny folding stools about, but I did not take it.

I boarded the 13 going south to Wudaokou. The flat-screen in the car showed soldiers marching, men drilling in front of those trucks that pull around huge missles. They had an interview with keyman. She might have been chinese. Like all of them she spoke perfectly: no hesitation, no accent.

I listened to an audiobook, I didn't pay attention to the screen. Jack Aubrey staged a midnight raid to retrieve Stephen from the clutches of the French. When they get there, Stephen's alive but his hands are cracked and broken on the rack.

The ticket-gate beeped as I stepped out and saw that it was raining. I bout an umbrella from an old fat woman selling them from a cardboard box, undid the zipper on an impossibly flimsy plastic cover, and walked the three blocks to my school.

I bought a little tube of nescafe from the korean grocery and sweated seven flights of stairs to my floor. I made coffee from the water bubbler in my little enameled mug, and sat down in the classroom. There was a big table in the middle of the room with an inlay made of wicker down the middle. There was no projector, just a TV and a whiteboard.

I spent two hours trying to express how far it was from our vast apartment to the bank.

Chapter # - # weeks after the key is found

The little plastic alarm buzzed on my dresser, I stood up and turned it off, rubbed one foot on top of the other and gathered my things. 

I picked my pants, fumbled around on the table for my glasses, picked up the shirt from yesterday and left the room.

The shag carpet downstairs was dirty and disgusting to walk on in bare feet but I padded to the bathroom and scrubbed my back and shoulders with a loofah under the hot shower.

I turned off the water and dried with a towel vaguely crusted. I dressed, smelling my armpits, applied deoderant under my shirt, and went looking for my key.

From its manila envelope, It slid into my hand with a tiny screeching sound. I took a ballchain necklace from around a liqour bottle on top of the fridge, removed the spent miniature glowstick, and hooked on the key. I hung it around my neck. I left my bike key in my back pocket, though I knew I wouldn't need it again.

The light over the stairs didn't work, but I hit the switch anyway in memory of the time a year ago when it had. Human grease had left a brown line along the drywall all the way down.

At the second floor I walked down the hall, the vynil making sticking sounds. 

I let the ball chain run through my fingers as I approached the door.

The sobbing was still going, and I drew my key as I approached 214.

Chapter 13 - the day the key is found

She handed me an envelope like any other.

A manila envelope with a few coins, a liberty dollar, six hundred dollars in cash, a wallet with some photos of me at thirteen and him and his wife, mainly on a boat I'd never seen.

And a key on a rabbit's foot keyring, a strange straight key like the one for my bike lock.

Chapter 11 - # months after the key is found

China is easier than anyplace else. Do you have any idea how they treat you in the states if you try to buy an international ticket with cash? Australia is worse and Tokyo impossible.

But China is easy for that, and then there's the fact that a good meal can be had for 20 yuan and it's hard to resist.

Anton and I spent our first few weeks just getting our feet. once we left the immense vault of Terminal 3 we never again met a chinese person with fluent english. We pointed to a random spot on a map, and walked for half an hour 'til we saw something that looked like a hotel. It was impossible to identifiy one with our frame of reference, neon was everywhere and little convenience shops had marble facades. The first place where I tried to get a room turned out to be a dry cleaners, the second some kind of day spa that I would later realize must have been korean themed.

Finally our passports were photo-copied and we had our "deluxe fashion room." The concierge, even the concierge, spoke little or no english, and Anton had yet to pull his bloody trick with my key, and so we had to point at the room list, point at our eyes, then mime walking up to it.

I don't remember that room too clearly, we muddled our way to an english language bookstore about a week later and realized that the prices printed on the official list, actually a brass plaque the size of a pizza box affixed to the wall next to the counter, always listed prices at least twice of their real cost. I remember the girl seeming blushing as we paid, I thought it was because she'd studied english at one point and was embarrassed at being able to say littloe more than "hello" and "now you can pay."

The constants remained, for my china years. So many buildings were new in Beijing, but even a year later it seemed they all still smelled of new paint, and no ever seemed to engineer the showers just right. Plumbers or whoever it is who glues showers together it is must have been in short supply that decade. they always made a big puddle, which when Anton took his lingering showers in that endless hot water of natural gas fired flash heaters rolled outward till a patch of the carpet by the door was soaked.

Chapter 10 - many years after the key is found

Summer is coming to an end, and I am keeping busy. It is hard to decide what to do around this time of year: the food is plentiful and the animals bold, stuck with the same problem as I have, getting fat for three months of lean times. I'm drying blackberries and piling up cabbages in a hollow trunk with an alder-bough roof, tomorrow I may try for fish or just bundle and hang greens upside down from my roof for dry salad additions.

At this time of year at least herbs are hard to find, but I worry I can no longer taste rosemary, a sprig in every pot and a few leaves tucked between meat and bone with every roast.

Thankfully this is Oregon and even at this elevation it won't snow for more than a day, and it won't stick.

That was the excitement, so many years ago, that was what you'd call your friends over: go and look outside, it's snowing like crazy and it's sticking.

Often, 'sticking' was loosley defined: if it frosted the grass then it was sticking, even if the sidewalk was just dark and wet.

I had hopes of making arrows this winter for my compound bow, but it proved a bust even with the aluminum-shaft shots from the sporting goods store.

It was a mistake: several years ago the deer grew impossibly numerous, mowing down all greenery in their path and I nearly took down one with my skinning knife, so reluctant was it to run from my blueberry bush.

In that time I neglected the gathering of kale, cabbage, and the blackberries to dry to take the deer down full time. I shot carefully but still spent nearly a box of bullets, and in the end I didn't cure the meat poperly and much of the meat went bad.

Even so I ran out of my vegetable food quickly, and was reduced to nothing but acorns and deer for the first month of spring. I ended up stuffing down mouthfulls of grass just to be able to shit.

Now the arrows do not pierce the deer's hide from more than 25 yards, and they have grown skittish and less numerous.

If humans, other humans, walk through this part of the world still it is clear they have lost their old prejudices. Bedtime stories do not trouble these new men, and wolves are not trapped and killed indiscriminately.

I have seen them, stalking beneath my treetop home. My breath was a cloud before me when last I saw a pile of their bloody leavings.

Wolves have no interest in people but they will strip the hills of deer within a few years, and with them my only source of meat will be gone. If I were dying I could eat wolf, but I am not dying yet.

The time of innocence is gone, the time of bullets is ending.

The air is getting colder every day and the time of the wolf is creeping over my woods.

Chapter 9 continued - three days after the key is found

Anton, long a lover of technology that can acually improve a life, had with him this little thing that makes your ipod plays through powered speakers, and we took it to a park a few blocks from us. For some reason I got stuck with the job of lugging the bocce set which despite being the cheapest one at the store where I'd bought it the day before was encased in a wooden crate.

Bocce balls of course are all a standard weight.

The last time I took LSD, my brother said, we went out to this restaurant? this hamburger place? And what occured to me is that restaurants are really weird. We're all sitting very very close to each other, but we're not eating together, we're all supposed to ignore each other, even though if I were looking at his mouth, we could be having a conversation at a party.

Yeah, Anton said, if you go with a big group of people you're probably sitting further from your grandma than you are from some stranger, and you're yelling so that she can here you, but that guy can go ahead and talk about his sexual pecadillos and you're just ignoring him.

It's called disattending, I said, where you're all agreeing that someone is ignoring you, it's like in a taxi, you can talk about whatever you want, that guy is always not listening, it's called being a professional disattender, like elevator operators used to be

Cambridge has these mean curbs, granite with sharp angles, high, the kind of thing that'd snap your rim if you tried to bike down it. It's true all over, even in the run-down parts of town, or over in Jamaica Plain, the curbs are sharp and proud. As the four of us tried to move in a group down the brick sidewalk to narrow for even two to walk abreast, I thought about the time I was out here, with Dad, and saw some men fixing a sunken spot in the sidewalk.

I thought it was mad, they were pulling up the bricks with a shovel and revealing that underneath was nothing but a bed of sand. Their solution to the sinking bricks was to pour more sand in underneath until the sidewalk swelled up a little there.

I must have been 20, but still I relied on my father to know the answer, he said that anything else would just freeze during the winter, and that they only had to do it every 10 years or so. The stranges thing was how they weren't treating the whole street or even the whole block, just pulling up the most sunken spot at this moment.