I’d been living with my boyfriend for a few days, after the cat I was supposed to be catsitting died—“It’s okay if she dies,” the owners had said before they left. She was just a kitten, but her heart was failing. I spent three days inside with her, then went out to see the boyfriend, and when I returned she was dead. I put her body in a Foodtown bag and the Resting Friends woman came and picked her up.
I’d been planning to line up my next caretaking job during the month of catsitting, but I didn’t feel like I could ask the owners to stay, now that their cat was dead. The boyfriend said I could stay with him, sure. He was the most attractive person I’d ever met. I watched him do things like spread butter on bread. He had played some of Shakespeare’s young heroes in regional productions, had even been an understudy for one of the Henrys in Shakespeare in the Park, but he wasn’t acting much anymore.
I asked him about it. “The parts stopped resonating,” he said. But I had the sense he had been blacklisted; he wasn’t great to women. I missed running lines with him. Missed that little bit of magnificence in my life. He untwisted the language so well I thought he understood things. He said he’d love me forever, and also that I didn’t know how to take care of myself or other living beings. Shortly after I arrived, I broke his sink somehow, the whole thing came off the wall. I fell onto the ground, hit my head, and started crying. The silver hoses to the taps stayed on, but the plastic drainpipe had snapped. “You have an instinct,” he said.
I sent a photo to my friend Dana to show her husband Neil. “Basically they didn’t screw it into the studs,” Neil wrote.
The boyfriend brought me my bag and my shoes. “Baby, baby, baby,” he said. “How can I kiss you when I can’t wash my hands?” I didn’t ask if he was breaking up with me. I would conduct myself like he wasn’t.
i left then, and Dana called.
Once Dana and I had been equal, we were hotel receptionists together, a job about getting yelled at, and then she took the LSAT and went to law school and now she wore gray skirt suits and a diamond station necklace and loved Neil. We’d drifted apart. Maybe she thought I’d drag her down with me, maybe I was too proud, or maybe it was just the way things go when two people have such different schedules. I’d quit the hotel a year ago, planning to upskill or marry someone or move. Meantime, I’d been catsitting, trying to pick up gigs one right after the other, to keep the fewest possible days of sleeping at friends’ or with the boyfriend or, in a pinch, at movie theaters. I never slept at Dana’s.
Dana said, “Want to travel before I can never travel again?”
“I was just going to try to nap in a movie theater,” I told her.
She told me that six months before, the doctors told her to cut caffeine or she might die. She couldn’t even have decaffeinated tea, only caffeine-free. Then they told her that she could not eat gluten.
She could not have dairy. Then they told her that she must adhere to those and also a low-FODMAP diet. Its dividing lines were not intuitive. Oranges were okay, but not orange juice. She could have bananas only if they were green. Her intestines were so weak, she was so intensely sensitive to certain types of food, her condition was so unknown, that she might die if she went off the path, they told her. They couldn’t even tell if she would definitely die, just that she might. She could no longer have the gummy bears and Starbursts and milk chocolate that she loved. I could hear now the clunking sound of the Jolly Ranchers rattling against her teeth. They were the only permissible type of candy.
“It’s easier to talk about, now that it’s a complete wash,” she said. On return, she was going to go to a residential facility for a week or more of tests. She might have Crohn’s or cancer. She might need intestinal surgery, a colostomy bag. She had hoped it was a parasite, but her tests had shown it wasn’t.
“Where are we traveling?”
“Remember my statement for law school?”
I vaguely remembered it was something political. She used to wear Marx, Lenin, Engels socks. Back when we were receptionists, she’d talked to a union rep about our hotel. But there weren’t enough interested employees to make a committee before she went to law school.
“That guy got out of prison and he’s holding a rally. Come with me,” she said. “I got premium economy and the beachside hotel. I got two side-by-side rooms so that we can each have a bathroom.”
“Why isn’t Neil coming with you?”
“He doesn’t approve. We had a fight.”
Neil and I had never gotten along. He was organized, pessimistic, mature, a spoiled child of Montclair; beyond our common love of Dana, I could never figure out a shared topic of interest, and I mostly ignored him.
I wasn’t sure I was Dana’s first-choice friend for the trip. Still, the invitation thrilled me. The best feeling I’d had in years.
it was the nicest airplane section I’d ever been in. The overhead lights were lavender and orange for boarding. The seats were extra-wide, with big, blocky armrests. There were lumbar pillows, quilted gray blankets, over-ear headphones, and little pouches of free things on every seat. Dana was turned away from me, looking at the black tarmac and the city, the shivering, granulated horizon. Neil texted me: “Counting on you to take care of her. Keep in mind, she’s tired of the rules.”
“I can, and I will,” I wrote back. His warning felt patronizing to me, but it made me want to prove myself. No matter what they thought of me, I would impress them both.
I opened my pouch of free things. There was a tiny brochure inside, telling the stories of the chapstick and lotion, one surfer’s passion for the world’s best moisturizers, and the terry socks and the eye mask and the folded toothbrush and miniature toothpaste. I opened Dana’s pouch. The brochures were the same but I read hers anyway. “Can I have this?” I said.
“Sure,” she said, not turning around.
“I’m asking for your pouch of little free toiletries,” I warned.
“Okay,” she said.
The plane took off. Dana wore her hair in a black bob that turned up at the shoulders; I wanted her to turn around so I could watch it swish. I took off my shoes and socks and put on the socks from Dana’s pouch. The travel pillow I’d just bought in the airport was too thick against the back of my neck. I sat there tensing my back and pressing my neck against the pillow as hard as I could, unsure how it was supposed to be comfortable.
Finally, Dana turned around. “Here, I’ll fix it,” she said.
She unzipped the fuzzy covering, pulled out the foam pillow, and began to take huge bites out of it. I was worried she was going to try to eat it before I realized she was just reshaping it. She spat the white wedges onto the airplane floor. She rezipped. “Is that better?”
And it was. I could lean my head back. “What movie should we watch?”
“Something loud,” she said. We watched an action movie of the kind where everyone travels through time and has to hide, in a high-stakes way, from their past and future selves.
The dinner came on ceramic plates. “Bland meal?” asked the flight attendant. That was Dana’s.
“Eat it,” she said. “Eat it, Laura.”
I had the feeling this would be a difficult trip.
It was amazing, a triumph of modernity that one could get as far as I did without knowing how to take care of another person, take care of the body of another person.
I took the bland meal, along with the regular meal. I stacked all of the items onto one tray. The bland meal was long floppy strips of charred zucchini and eggplant, a green salad, plain rice, a fruit cup. I ate her dessert, a crumbly biscuit, and mine, a cheesecake with strawberry-flavored crumbs on top. On our screens, a man in a waistcoat dropped on his knees into the hay, sobbing.
After the flight attendant cleared the two trays, I stretched my feet out among the discarded chunks of foam. I snapped together the two ends of my travel pillow and leaned my head back. Since we were traveling almost straight south, down across the equator, the night would stay dark.
we arrived at the brutalist concrete airport. It was late summer in the Southern Hemisphere and, waiting on the passport line, we could feel the sea air. I watched her. She was less talkative now with her restricted diet. I asked her how she was. “I didn’t understand that movie,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It didn’t make sense.”
“I want to be able to understand one thing,” she said. “Literally just one thing.”
I gave her the cloudy Ziploc bag of peanuts I’d packed into my tote in New York.
Outside the airport, palm trees wagged against the white sky. From the bridge, we could see the rusted slums and grassed-over elevated railways. Men stood in the middle of the highway in flip-flops, selling luminous bags of yellow kernels. We would be staying a week in a twenty-story seaside hotel that Neil had okayed, located in the safest, most prosperous area of the city.
We were extremely nice to the receptionists, then went to our rooms, which were side by side, and we unlocked the interstitial door. Both rooms had a balcony and a massive view of the water. Three soft green islands rose out of the ocean, and far down the curved bay we could see the mountains behind the city. I showered, using the hotel’s body wash, coating my skin in sharp, artificial scent.
Then we went for a walk. I led the way. We would walk to the historic city hall, a grand yellow structure with white trim.
For the first few minutes, I tried to explain the plot of the time travel movie. The sidewalk was interrupted by great sheer faces and tall mounds and mountains of pink rock. The rocks dead-ended streets, broke neighborhoods. The streets were narrow and plastered with closed orange trumpet flowers. Nearing the center, we walked down a shady row of art deco buildings blackened by water and moss. Two small brown monkeys ran on the power line. “He shot his younger self, and then he had the same bullet hole,” I invented. I never really knew what was happening in a movie. I just wanted to keep talking.
“I think we’ve walked far enough,” said Dana suddenly.
“I agree,” I said. So we turned around.
We ate dinner at the hotel. Again she didn’t say much. And what was there to say, I didn’t want to hear about lawyering, and she didn’t want to hear about whatever depressing stuff I did to pass my days. “This and that,” I said when asked. We would never again converse as easily as when we could commiserate about guests freaking out about the coffee urn being empty or the weird scent from the AC. We were so unified then. The staff against the guests.
I combed the menu, pointing out things she could eat. Any kind of meat and potatoes, so long as we ordered everything without sauce.
She ordered steak and potatoes, no sauce. I ordered the croquettes that were a specialty of the area. The breading was crisp and deep brown, and the inside oozed shredded chicken and cream. I burned my mouth I ate them so quickly.
“Someday I’ll look back on this,” she said, “and it’ll be okay.” She picked up her water glass and turned it this way and that so that the ice cubes fell against each other.
“I’m having a great time,” I said. “Compared to a family trip? Time of my life.”
She told me my croquettes looked delicious, and I said that they were okay, not great.
i woke up at 5:30 to look at the sunrise—hazy maroon over a still, slick sea. The maroon poured around the green hills rising out of the water, the broken-tooth boulder nearer the shore.
I texted the boyfriend a photo and a smiley face. “What??” he wrote.
The little watermelons at breakfast were guava. The soft dark orange cubes were papaya. The small white olives were tiny eggs of tiny birds. I ate manioc cake and sausages like flat red tongues. Dana could only eat eggs. She watched me drink my coffee.
After breakfast she didn’t feel well. She went upstairs to rest. I took the elevator to the roof of the hotel, twenty stories up, protected from the edge only by waist-height glass barriers. Sitting under an umbrella, I watched the pelicans fly around the beautiful soft lime-colored hills that came straight out of the water.
On my phone, the screen almost black because of the sunlight, I read forums for young colostomy-bag wearers. If you so much as look at a cookie or juice, your bag gets a deposit. You get used to the connection between your guts and your mind. You get used to looking directly into your intestines. For positives, all of them said the same thing: the bag gave me my life back.
I knew that Dana and I were surrounded by luck, as trembling and weak as a bubble.
that day dana didn’t feel like walking, so I went out alone. I visited the grocery store and bought her more peanuts. I walked along the esplanade, disturbing the geckos, until I found a beach. Families were grouped on it, each with their own umbrella and loud boom box. I took off my sneakers. The hot sand was hard to walk in. The surf was so violent that every wave buried my feet to the ankle. Grit splashed even onto my chest. Past sandy-nosed dogs, a woman sold juice. She pressed long reeds in a loud machine. Sugar cane. I bought two cupfuls. The juice was green-brown, light and cloudy. A powerfully sweet taste.
I turned around to bring it back to Dana, stumbling over the squeaky sand. She was allowed to have cane sugar.
But she said she shouldn’t, lying without a pillow on her big white bed. Even though her curtains only had an inch of space between them, the room was bright. The sun was that strong off the water.
“The rally is tomorrow,” she said. “I can’t risk it. I’m not going to eat anything at all tomorrow.”
“You’ll have to eat something,” I said.
“Only peanuts,” she said.
“In that case, we need to have a huge dinner,” I said. For a moment I stood and looked at her. Her black bob against the pillow, red pajamas, firm face with liquid black eyes. “Thanks, Laura,” she said. “I’m not trying to be so useless.”
I wanted to grab her limp body and pull her up off the bed. It was amazing, a triumph of modernity that one could get as far as I did without knowing how to take care of another person, take care of the body of another person.
“I know,” I said.
“You’re organizing me nicely,” she said. She took the lid off the sugar cane juice and breathed it in with her eyes closed.
at dinner, i became instantly drunk on the regional specialty drink, which was made with a kind of alcohol she couldn’t drink. She could only have vodka.
With Google Translate, I asked the waiter for vodka over ice and sugar packets. And did he have strawberries? No. Papaya? He did have that.
“Is papaya something I can have?” she said.
I told her yes. She didn’t believe me, and looked it up.
I stirred up the sugar and vodka with my spoon with demonstrative festivity and added papaya cubes on top. “Girls’ night out, woooo,” I said.
She watched me with a sad, patient expression. But she took a sip and spooned up a piece of papaya. “Okay,” she said. She drank the whole thing in two minutes.
“Let me fix you another,” I said.
It was fun to ride the elevator while drunk. Then we looked at movie options. “You feel swoonworthy and teen?” I said. “What about dark and sitcom?” She was laughing.
We chose Richard III with Laurence Olivier and were immediately enraptured by his intensity and evil and huge prosthetic nose and luxurious robes, black pageboy hair, thin legs in tights, his high sneering florid accented voice that made Shakespeare’s lines entirely natural. “Now is the winter of our discontent.” What a beautiful line, I thought, drunkenly. “How beautiful is that line,” I said to Dana.
“Beautiful,” she said. We were both tearing up a bit.
It was hard to focus on the words after that. I was fixated on the large, echoing pastel sets and the medieval women with the trembling scarves atop their hats.
Dana, however, was able to focus and to follow the plot. She liked the long scene where Richard strutted with false piety and his friend talked up his greatness and cajoled the commoners into loving him.
“Did you know he was found under a parking lot?” I said to her.
“Do not talk to me about food,” she said. “I’m experiencing history right now.” She sighed and tilted her head back. The sunset’s scuzzy sherbet colors glinted in her hair.
“What do you mean, ‘was found’?” she said. I read her the details off the internet: they’d found him during an archeological dig under a parking lot. He had been stabbed in the skull, then disgraced after death, you could tell from his skeleton. He was humpbacked. “That’s a very you story,” she said. “A very Laura story.”
“Why?” I said. She didn’t answer.
I said, “Don’t you want to know what it means to be disgraced after death?”
She said, “I’m good.”
It meant that, after his armor was stripped, he had been stabbed in the buttock, the blade penetrating the bowel. I thought about it, lying next to her, her smooth black hair fanned out between us. I thought about it when I returned to my room and stepped out onto the balcony, right up to the waist-high glass barrier that was really too low.
we took a cab to the rally. We passed a neighborhood of colonial mansions with ironwork gates, tall bright shutters, and crepe myrtle and cacti in their gardens. Then we came to the center of town, brutalist office buildings that showed deliberation in their design, and now they were dilapidated, because it had been years since this city had stopped booming and had turned corrupt, then dangerous, then poorer, when the tourists stopped coming. A little trolley exerted itself over a tall white bridge with arches. An aqueduct.
The rally was in an old factory with an elaborate blue-painted cast-iron front. Among the palm trees in the plaza in front of the factory, vendors sold hats with the political party’s emblem and Che Guevara shirts and khaki hats with red stars on them and big red flags with Marx’s face or Marx surrounded by Latin American political heroes. Police sat in their cars with enormous rifles held out the windows, angled upward. The government in power at the moment was far right. “Is this safe?” I said to Dana.
“It’s safe,” she said. She was the one who’d brought me to protests in New York where the policemen all came charging down the street with big white coils of zip cuffs at their waists.
We entered the factory through a switchback maze of chains. On the ground floor were food vendors. Every last one of them was selling croquettes. The air was full of the intoxicating smell of frying oil. We went up metal stairs to a grand hall with skylights and a tin roof. The political flag hung from the rafters. People cheered in the metal mezzanines, and a man stood on a red dais, speaking. All the windows were open.
Dana had a tendency to give her things away, so I held onto all her stuff. Her wallet, her peanuts, her water.
“Now we wait,” she said. Off one side of the building, there were three levels of balconies. Dance music played. We went out to sit on a wooden bench. The balcony began to get more crowded. A few student-age people came near us to smoke, and Dana started to talk with them, haltingly. I knew none of the language but could tell they were talking about the United States.
The boyfriend texted me a photo of the sink back on the wall. “Landlord mad,” he wrote. “Miss u bb.” He sent a photo of his face, the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. I wanted to write, “Do you love me?” I wrote nothing, because I was confused.
The students were named Flora, Alvaro, and Joe. Dana introduced me. They were laughing, and Flora showed me an image on her cracked phone of a bunch of geese sitting in a car. Sometimes Dana translated for me. They’re talking about Uber. Once a trolley fell right off that aqueduct, it was a scandal. The police killed more than a thousand people this year. I sat there nodding, my mind drifting back to Richard III, shaking in the dark under the pavement. The green hills right out of the water.
the sun had set. We ran up a few flights of concrete stairs, and suddenly we were in an enormous steep standing-room-only auditorium, a vertical hangar full of people singing for the political leader and screaming and waving up at the high box where he appeared. Right over our heads were the dangling bare feet of the boys sitting on the next tier. “Viva Karl Marx!” an old bearded man shouted at us. And even I who couldn’t speak the language knew that he was saying, proletarians of the world are uniting.
A big band took the stage. A dramatic pair of narrators, a man and a woman, gave the context for each song, as Dana explained it. A sign language interpreter translated both their spoken sections and the song lyrics. Spotlights swiveled over the crowd.
Flora and Alvaro were both talking to Dana, but she just stood there with her arms crossed, smiling. Sometimes a blue-white spotlight fell across her face on its weightless journey through the crowd. Her close-lipped, indulgent, thoughtless smile. I’d forgotten it.
The crowd was singing, a throb of sound. I was worried that the galleries would collapse or the police would come in and shoot everyone.
“I need to take a break,” I told her. To my surprise, she came along. She spent a long time in the bathroom. She came out and told me there’d been some blood.
I offered her water. We went out to sit on the balcony. The sun was setting over the palm trees and the office buildings across the wide plaza. Floating lamps had come on above the trolley bridge. “You must be starving,” I said.
“Do not talk to me about food,” she said. “I’m experiencing history right now.” She sighed and tilted her head back. The sunset’s scuzzy sherbet colors glinted in her hair. “Isn’t it so exciting?” she said. “The pink tide. What Flora was saying is that here the left is less pure than in the U.S., because the left has really been in power. They overpromised, they compromised, they lost. But can’t you feel it? Here the left was in power.”
“Is it what you wanted?”
“It’s what you want, too, you just don’t know it,” she said. “Can you feel it?”
I said, “Yes, I can feel it.” Among all these varied believers, the middle-aged women, the teens, the old men who looked like Trotsky, and the families with children, it was easy to feel optimism about a more generous world.
Even from the balcony, we could hear the excited screaming. Flora sent Dana a WhatsApp: “Now!”
The party’s leader had a huge, shining head and a large black moustache. He favored looking down, speaking to the people on the floor below him. I listened to his low rumbling voice. He was torrential in his speech, letting his words build and flurry around him in a dark mass. At every pause, the crowd roared.
I looked around me and behind me at the crowd. I hoped that being present among them meant I was contributing, that by looking I was imbibing some of their ethics. Dana would say, don’t worry about purity, just show up. Ninety percent of political power comes from just showing up. When you so much as look at juice, your guts start working. You can’t look at something without reacting to it. The look is a touch.
Dana told me he was talking first about hospitals and health, then about the disdain that working people faced.
the crowd surged out of the factory into the plaza of palms. The three new friends shouted at us to go with them to a restaurant they liked. “I’m worried,” I said into Dana’s ear. “Don’t you need a break?”
“You don’t have to nanny me,” she said.
“I told Neil I’d take care of you,” I said. For a moment we looked directly at each other and the crowd went swerving around us.
I wasn’t the same as Neil. I trusted her. So I told her we could go.
We passed under the aqueduct into a cobblestone neighborhood of nightclubs and purple neon.
I hung back, walking slower than the others. I remembered back when Dana wanted to organize the workers of the hotel, an effort to which I lent cautious, self-preserving support. We used to take breaks on busted sofas in a back room, eating leftover breakfast. She used to love any kind of gluten, dairy, and sugar; croissants with several types of cheese, yogurt with Froot Loops. I remembered lying on the pilled red cushions, crumby in the piping and worn smooth where everyone napped, listening to her talk about how if we all worked together, we would be strong. What can they do, fire all of us? And everyone laughed at her and said yes, they would fire all of us. I never saw her get frustrated. She never asked more of us than we could give. Instead, she just moved on.
Flora waved to me from the threshold of a restaurant. The restaurant had bright red walls and a red tile floor and yellow metal chairs and sold only croquettes.
“Have you had one of these?” Flora was speaking English now. “They’re typical of this region.”
“I’ve tried them,” I said. “They’re very nice. Dana, though, sadly—”
Dana started speaking the other language but what she was saying was clear enough. She was excited to try them.
Flora ordered eight of the chicken and breadcrumb kind, which were shaped like little pyramids. They came bleeding their grease onto the paper. We would have to eat them with our dirty bare hands.
Dana was smiling and carrying on her conversation and reached for one.
“Dana,” I said.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I’m hungry.”
“Don’t make me physically stop you.”
“Here, actually, Laura, will you come outside?” Dana stood.
My heart began to pound.
“Just for a minute,” she said.
The three friends watched us.
The night air was hot and smelled like frying and the ocean. An orchid grew on the trunk of a tree, clinging with parasitic white tendrils.
“Stop,” said Dana. “Stop behaving this way.” She looked out at the street and let her dark hair fall over the side of her face. “You want some kind of weird revenge on me.”
“It’s your health,” I said.
“Is it about Neil? Are you mad that I liked the rally? That I believe in something?”
“I’m not jealous of you at all,” I said. “Sorry.”
“You baby me.”
For a moment I looked at her through the glass, my beautiful friend whose misfortune had made me happy.
“I’m not babying you,” I said. “No one is babying you.”
She dropped her hands. “I can’t do it anymore.”
“I know,” I said.
“You truly don’t.” She looked at me now. Her face was swollen. “Listen to me. I’m eating whatever I want for dinner.”
“You might perforate your intestines,” I said. She didn’t seem to hear. I still felt calm and commanding. What did I think? That reasoning would stop her?
“Right,” she said. And turned back to the restaurant.
“You might die,” I said, “You might die! You might die!” She paused and half-turned back to me. I took a breath and spoke again in a calm tone. “You know what, go ahead.” At first, I meant it as a tactic. “What’s the point?” I said. “There’s no point. Feel free.” I raised my hand outward in a gesture of kingly generosity. “Enjoy.”
“I might die,” she said uncertainly.
“Go eat some croquettes,” I said. “They’re delicious.”
She gave me a startled, animal look. She slipped back inside and let the door close in my face. For a moment I looked at her through the glass, my beautiful friend whose misfortune had made me happy.
She finished eight croquettes—enough for four people. Flora, Alvaro, and Joe couldn’t believe it. They teased her.
We took a cab back. It seemed to take hours to get around the long shore to our tall bright hotel on the water. Both of us were half asleep, just waiting.
in the middle of the night, she yelled for me.
She was panting, bedlocked. She said she could not move. She was in perfect, total agony. She said, “Don’t do anything. I just wanted you to know. Please leave now.”
“I’ll take you to the hospital,” I said.
“Please leave right now,” she said. And so I did. As I crossed into my room, I heard, “Laura? Don’t tell Neil about this.”
back in my bed, I unzipped my travel pillow and touched the foam divots where her teeth had been. Half an hour later I went to check her.
“Don’t check on me,” she said from the bed. I imagined her guts swollen solid with blood. That was what the doctor had said was the problem.
An hour later she was asleep. I went out on the balcony of her room and looked out at the slightly different view. The islands waited in the sooty ocean.
she was alive in the morning. The doors to her balcony were slid all the way open, and she was sitting on a chair in front of them, with the curtains moving around her. She was combing her hair.
When I came into her room, she gave me a silly smile. “Sorry about dinner,” she said. I felt happiness rock inside me. Taken, possessed by happiness, the islands floating in the blue like gods.
“You look good for someone who poisoned herself,” I said.
“I’m all better.”
“The pink tide is fun,” I said.
“It’s so pink,” she said.
Her vagueness was concerning. I tried to remember what I could do other than compliment her, what would delight her. I said, “We don’t have to go anywhere.”
She said, “That’s good.” And then, after a pause: “Thanks.”
I went down to breakfast alone. I cut up papaya and brought it to her room, but she wasn’t ready to eat again.
Instead we went to the rooftop. We laid some of her peanuts out on the patio by the pool. No pelicans came for them, but crows did, snapping them up in their thick beaks.
A nap. Then going to her room to watch Henry V with Laurence Olivier. I took out my saved bag of Jolly Ranchers for the occasion. A bag of all blue, her favorite.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” cried Henry to his thronged soldiers. I was distracted by his sweetly blinking white horse with its red garlands.
Then dinner. Now she ate solid food again for the first time. A big plate of fries. Then drinks on the roof. Vodka and sugar and strawberry for her. I mixed it. I texted Neil a photo of Dana with all the yellow lights in the hills behind her.
We spent the remaining five days of the trip mainly lying in our beds in our separate rooms with the door open. Flora, Alvaro, and Joe wanted to visit, and she texted them no. Even when the blackout curtains were closed, so much light came in under them that you could read. Every day rain came and fell on the green hills and steamed up from them and vanished into sun. Those days made my heart feel like a golden web.
In Henry V, she most liked when, the night before the battle, he went in disguise among his men to encourage them. In those scenes, I focused on the medieval army tents in the field at night. Their waving walls. I looked them up; you could buy a single-mast pavilion tent for $700. You could order one with tassels. I thought of the boyfriend. I remembered now that this was the Henry he had understudied for, while playing a minor role—I tried to figure out who he was, one of Henry’s brothers, maybe—but he never watched this movie, or any Shakespeare movies. He said that he didn’t want it to influence his performance, but I knew it was also because he was not an appreciator of the arts. He was a performer. He could embody it while knowing so little.
This time Laurence was younger, had short brown hair, not long black. His men’s arrows fell like brutal rain. The play was propaganda, Dana said, liking it; and the film itself was propaganda, made during World War II.
Henry V was perfect and did not change. But that other king, Richard, in his pouch beneath the asphalt, traveled from then to now with his persistent injuries, his wormy spine. And when they dug him out, that was where the legend touched mundanity, like the wing against the air, the nothingness the bird zooms against, the pliant nothingness that keeps it afloat.
We didn’t get to take the famous cable car. We didn’t go to the gilded café with its ornamented cookies. We didn’t climb the neighborhood mountains. We didn’t go out into the countryside, the jungle, or the beach. We didn’t go to the Botanic Garden even, we didn’t finish our walk to the city hall.
“What’s the point of any of it?” I said, many times a day.
“What’s the point?” she said back.
The birds spun very very high and very very slow. So slow they looked like they would just drop.