The last time I saw Ayeela with a man, he’d had braces and she’d thought you had to grab the boy’s ass when you were kissing. His name had been Riyad, a little Turkish boy who always wore a sweater, and sat on a green couch by the sidewalk. Ayeela and Riyad had gone to a movie together, “Split Enz”, I think it was called. They’d kissed in there, and never bothered with each other again.
“Dad,” I say into the phone, “honestly, you have to think about things you want to do while you can.”
“I’m fifty-seven,” he says. “Haven’t been with a woman in a decade. I’m soft down there anyway, what am I going to do?”
I tell him that great moments don’t only have to be about sex, but then he gets into his thing about skydiving or paragliding or climbing Kilimanjaro, and how he’s not healthy enough for that, plus his doctor has threatened to retire to the Maldives if he confesses to having tried any of it. It’s leukemia. It’s the end of life stuff that you wish you could put in a jar and seal tight, leave it in the basement storage room that smells like old water.
“I’ll see you later, I’m going out to see Ayeela. Remember her? She’s got a boyfriend. First time in twenty years, a boyfriend.”
He tells me he’ll be home later in the evening. I put on clothes and try to feel normal about talking naked on the phone with my Dad.
I’ll tell you about Ayeela. She’s five times darker than me, curly hair, eyes so wide, looks great in a skirt, terrible in a bathing suit. She’s like a librarian, but too pretty for that, maybe a race car driver, the first girl one ever, who never wins but doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure we kissed a few times, just to try it. I kissed her brother, too. Now, she’s a lawyer and drives an electric car, has groceries delivered to her condo. Every door in her place is a barn door. They don’t swing. They slide.
She’s wearing a dress as she opens her door. Slides her door, I mean. Obligatory hug. “Tell me about this man of yours,” I say, more excited than I should be.
“You’re going to meet him later,” she tells me, and then bakes me perfect muffins in her perfect oven. We sit on her big patio, looking on the lake, and eat the muffins with cow milk.
“There was Dan,” she says. “And Rickhen. Bolivar, a real guy named Bolivar. Satchel. Mark. Felize. Aluwant. Johannes.” She’s eating her muffin. “Just boys. One and done boys, a dinner, a coffee, a meet in the park, and then I didn’t bother with them again.”
“Like that kid Riyad,” I note, “the one with the sweaters. Remember him?”
She shrugs. As we clean up from the muffins, she tells me that she’s spent five weeks choosing the wallpaper for her office, because wallpaper is in again, especially in professional circles. I wonder what Dad’s doing, and what wallpaper would look like in the house. Fuck off kid, he says to me in my brain. Just fuck off. I’m not wallpapering with six months to go.
“How’s Ollie?” she asks, on the way to the elevator.
But there’s no point telling her about that, so I just say he’s fine. I wonder where Ollie is, who he’s with. I wonder why sometimes, it’s okay to not even tell someone why you’re not going to bother with them anymore. You’re going to float on alone, into the skyscrapers, the underground malls, as though your life actually keeps going after you exit the stage. I texted him. Called. Either he’s dead, or it’s that other thing.
The car is so silent and comfortable. It’s evening, and I want a drink, so I make her stop at a patio so we can chug a beer.
“Where are we going to meet this boy?” I ask her.
There’s foam on her nose, and she winks. “The only good place to find a good man.”
When Ayeela got into college and I didn’t, no one ever brought that up. I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to understand the difference, and what this would mean. But it never came up. She got prettier, better groomed, better clothes. She got accessories. I got a little apartment and three jobs at the same time, a drug habit. And I got Ollie. All of that’s gone now. First the jobs went. Then the apartment. Now Ollie. The drug habit lingers, like they tend to do, but when you’re living in your cancerous Dad’s basement, you can only get away with so much.
I look at her as she drives. The streetlights are an accessory. The music from the bars, too. I want to ask her how this world became hers, an accompaniment, a type of friend that walks around with you everywhere, taking care of you, being with you. Turning the dark stars into perfect love, except for the fact that the stars never deliver you a man. They just don’t do that, for some reason.
We walk a pathway through the park. It’s dark. I don’t dare suggest we share a joint.
“This is pretty strange,” I admit.
“He’s right around the corner.”
“Does he have a name?”
In my mind, Alec is Black. He’s six-foot-four, muscled, kind, unhaughty, definitely not a lawyer, but still a professional. He’s the type that goes to art museums twice a year, every year, hates football, likes to throw around a frisbee. He dabbles in alcohol, thinks about having kids but hasn’t done anything about it, and is allergic to fish. I tell myself not to fall in love. Just don’t fall in love with the guy, that’s all. Keep your hands away from him. Don’t smell him. Don’t dream about him, don’t text him, don’t make plans with him to throw a surprise birthday party for your friend.
We get to a clearing in the park. There’s four lights shining down on a statue of a man sitting on a pedestal, with his arms around his knees. He’s looking at the trees, tapping his fingers, his mouth open like he’s about to say something, or sing. It’s made of stone.
“Don’t see anyone around here,” I tell her.
She smiles and touches me on my hand, like we’re the same type of friend that we were back then, when we were on equal footing, and the world liked us in the same way. She slips off her dress, and in seconds, she’s naked. I stare at the beauty of her. She’s not perfect, anymore than anything is. But she’s loved. By the grass under her bare feet, by the wind that’s in her hair, by the lights shining on her dark skin, and her wide eyes.
I breathe. There’s a funny thing you tell yourself when you have no other way of explaining things, why her instead of you, why here instead of somewhere else, why this instead of something that you can explain. It’s funny, life, and it’s funny what you do with it sometimes.
I don’t even bother saying anything. She goes to the statue and gets on top of it, puts her lips on its, her hands on its back. She looks at me now and then, and smiles, like she’s bringing me a gladness that I need, and maybe she is. Maybe there is a gladness that I need. Hands, fingers, softly on stone, skin moving, slipping on the side. She’s listening for the statue’s heartbeat, laughs as she finds it. Insert obligatory sex scene.
I can barely watch. I can barely think. Under the moonlight, it’s a kind of perfection. A type of accompaniment to a girl that I once knew, now I’m not sure. What brings a person to this, I wonder. What brings me here, or anywhere, anymore.
It’s 3 am, and Dad’s at the kitchen island. It’s full of paper, like he got a brainstorm and finally started writing. He’s drinking wine.
“I figured out where the Maldives are,” he tells me. “I’m going to take a vacation down there, Dr. Singh be damned. What did you think of Ayeela’s boy?”
“She’s fucking a statue in the park.” I pour some wine and look through the sheets. “You can’t do all of this. It would take a full lifetime to do all of this…”
“And I don’t have that? That’s what you’re saying?”
“No, Dad,” I tell him. A hand on his. “You don’t.”
He shakes his head, puts down the pen. There’s so much paper on the island, neither of us knows where to begin. He’s breathing like there’s a problem in his lungs. A huge problem that neither of us can do anything about now. He’s going to cry. I know it. Before he does, I take the pen and start circling items on the pages, things he could realistically do. Things he could do with me. Visiting Canada. Learning to skate. Climbing that tree in the backyard of the house where he raised me, all alone. Visiting her. Saying hi to her. Asking how she is. Telling her how it is now. Moms and Dads growing old together, that’s a fantasy that belongs to a perfect life that I read about once, in a book.
When we’re done, we finish the bottle of wine, and I have to lead him to his bed. He collapses, asleep in a second.
In the basement, I find a joint and smoke it in the bathroom with the shower running and the fan on. I don’t know why. I sit on the floor, as the air gets humid and warm, like this is a different country, and I think that this would be a perfect time to let something out. To just cry, and be human. The smoke and the steam mix together, writing messages on the mirror that I didn’t know I’d put there. Let it out, I tell myself. But as hard as I try, all I can think about is how close dawn is, and how perfect life can be, no matter how hard we try to wreck it.