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“Basically, yeah. Except for a couple years in my early thirties when I decided that women were such head cases. But it turned out to be a grass-is-always-greener kind of thing because men are head cases, too. And they’re assholes. And their stuff is bigger and takes up all the room in the dresser. And they have penises.”
“I think it’s peni.”
Liza giggled. “No, not really. I made that up.”
“The only thing that men have on women is that they’re better at fixing stuff.”
“I wish Lloyd were more like that.” Lloyd was handy enough, but he preferred sorting out people’s problems with money.
“But now your ghost or guardian angel has followed you back to Tucson,” Jan said.
“Don’t laugh,” Liza said. “The whole thing is unnerving.”
“Maybe you’ve been cleaning things in your sleep.”
“Are you kidding?” Liza couldn’t believe how upset she was, even though Lloyd had suggested as much. “I hate cleaning.”
Liza was reluctant to go home. A handful of other times things had spooked her, and she’d wished she wasn’t mostly on her own. A fire at the house diagonal to hers had killed the old man who lived there. For weeks afterwards, if she wanted to go for a walk, she went out her back door and took the long way to the path that led out into the desert, but there was no detour when she was driving, and it required serious discipline not to stare at the charred lazyboy and cowboy boots that remained in the driveway. Another time, a white pit bull found its way into her fenced yard—she never could figure out how—and killed her cat, Stelley. She told people that she’d had to stand by and watch the whole sickening thing. But the truth was that after she called 911, she crouched in the closet.
The most unsettling was also totally mundane: those times, especially over the past year, when she’d wake with no idea where she was. Nothing looked familiar—not the French wardrobe that she’d inherited from her mother, not the red stool that she used as a bedside table, nor the room itself with windows on one side and a mirrored closet on the other. She’d look at a shape in the wall, wondering what it was. It might be dark or light, depending upon a number of factors. When sense trickled back and showed her that the rectangular shape was a door, she’d puzzle over where it might lead, whether someone might come through it. It was terrifying to feel so disoriented, so in the wrong place. She blamed the house; it had never been quite right.
To kill time, she went to Whole Foods, a store she loved to hate, but as soon as she stepped under the buzzing fluorescent lights and heard “Purple Rain” playing in the background she couldn’t think of a thing she needed. She was surprised management hadn’t done a study that showed that playing Prince so soon after his death was a bummer and dampened middle-aged women’s desire to buy $14 pieces of blue cheese. Was she even middle-aged? She didn’t want to think about it. At the front of the store, a man was giving away free samples of mint-flavored water. It was dumb to use plastic cups the size of thimbles, but Liza grabbed one anyway, took a sip, and promptly spit it out.
“You don’t like it?” sample man said. He had a John Deere cap and one of those big bushy beards that was favored by hipsters. The Sunday funnies were tattooed on his arms.
“What’s the point?”
“Refreshment,” the man said. “Enjoyment.”
It was hard to read his tone: ironic? sincere? “It tastes like cheap gum.”
His beard bobbed up and down as he frowned. “Look, lady, I’m just the messenger.”
“When did plain water stop being refreshing?”
“Consumers’ taste buds have evolved.”
“Boy, you drank the Kool-Aid,” she said.
He looked blankly at her.
“Never mind,” she said, handing him back the cup. “You’re too young. Be sure to upcycle that.”
She left the store with two apples that she hoped would be crisp, a handful of firm red grapes that she knew were good because she’d sampled them, a small block of really sharp cheddar, and walnuts.
When Liza arrived home, she was thinking about how irritated the checkout people at Whole Foods became when they saw that she had not bagged her fruit. They also despised her for using paper bags for bulk and not writing down the bin numbers. (They had to make themselves useful in some way.) But plastic bags were overrated and ecologically hazardous, and what was the point when she could stash the grapes in her crisper or even a bowl with a plate for a lid. Or leave them on the counter because the more she read about refrigeration, the more she was beginning to think it was overrated, too. After she put away the groceries, she poured herself a glass of water (it was filtered water, okay, she wasn’t perfect) and threw herself down on the couch. By midafternoon, she was better off dealing with fictional characters who were more interesting and less predictable that actual people. She couldn’t remember the name of the novel she’d been reading that morning—that happened a lot, it was annoying, she had to write things down—but it was about a man who believed that his wife was poisoning him. They’d had a long and happy marriage, though lately the man, who’d quit working earlier than most (just like she had) and had started building exquisite little wooden boxes in his many spare hours, suspected his wife of having an affair. When she went to the grocery store, she wore a dress. When she came in with the mail, she was smiling. Most damning, she told the man day and night that she loved him. He had no real proof she was poisoning him, only that she’d started serving him soft things like chocolate mousse and lemon pudding for dessert, and his mind often felt fuzzy. It wasn’t Liza’s usual kind of book, but it was entertaining. She had a hunch the wife wasn’t having an affair, and the husband was losing his mind. But that also seemed too obvious, especially since she was only midway through. There had to be a twist. She sometimes worried that Lloyd had a lady on the side. She didn’t really know how he filled his free time up in Phoenix. But then she thought about how much they loved each other, and the idea seemed ludicrous. As she’d grown older, she’d gotten better at wriggling out of the grip of her fears. She sat up to get her novel, but it wasn’t there (on the side table, on one of the three stools she used as ad hoc coffee tables, anywhere where she would have normally left it). Now that she looked around, she saw that all her books were gone. Her novel. The other books stacked in a precarious pile. Vanished. They were library books, damn it. They were overdue, yes, but she’d worked out a deal with the circulation librarian where she brought Mexican wedding cakes, when she remembered, and her fines disappeared. Now what would she do? Tell the librarian they’d been carried off by a mysterious intruder? She called Lloyd.
“The orange-breasted hummingbird?”
“What?” he asked.
She was silent.
“I can’t hear you,” Lloyd said.
“It’s the ghost,” she said. “Why would I call you about the hummingbird?”
“Because you would,” he said, “and you have. It’s a cool bird.”
“I have a ghost, and you want to talk about a hummingbird.”
“Calm down,” he said. “Open a beer.”
“At 3 p.m.? Do you not know me?”
“You’ve been known to drink a beer at lunch. Or after hiking.”
They kept arguing, first about Liza’s drinking habits and second about Lloyd’s desire to solve everything until Liza began to cry. She rarely cried. The last time had been Leprechaun Canyon. Lloyd immediately offered to drive down after work, even though it was a Wednesday, because Liza would be too afraid to go to sleep. What if she heard something in the middle of the night? She didn’t believe in anything, except that luck was blind, and when you were dead, you were dead.
“I’ll be fine,” she told Lloyd, blowing her nose into a paper towel. “No need to burn a boatload of fossil fuel just because the house is getting cleaner.”
“I have a Prius, sweetie. Remember?”
“Oh, right,” she said. “I forgot. That’s weird.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“No, I meant are you sure you’re okay.”
“Of course, I’m okay,” she said. “I’m so okay, I’m spiffy.”
That time she’d been stuck in the Leprechaun, after an hour or two had passed, she thought that maybe this was it for her. End of the line. There were plenty of places where the canyon divided. She was certain she’d been going the right way, but being right wouldn’t matter if Carl or Jim had headed down another branch. Maybe their way would peter out and they’d turn around. Maybe it wouldn’t. She tried to distract herself by singing but could only remember marching songs, and it was too depressing to sing about moving when you were stuck. What if it started to rain and the canyon flooded? Then, her mind swung around, and she wondered how long she could survive without water. Her mouth got dry. She thought about how Native Americans danced for three days straight without food or drink. Jan had done some ritual like that once. That was the thing they tiptoed around—spiritual shit. Jan, for all her pluck, was a believer. Maybe Liza could last six days if she wasn’t moving or sweating much. It was lucky she wasn’t claustrophobic, or she’d probably perish from fear. What if something came along and attacked her? A mountain lion. A bear. A snake. Bees. It wouldn’t matter if she survived then. She’d lose it, go out of her mind. Could she literally be stung to death? What if nothing happened? No one came, and nobody found her.
“Hello, Nobody,” she said in a quiet voice. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nobody, this is No One,” she said, “No one, this is Nobody.”
The ground was starting to get cold, and her left leg tingled with sleep. Her arms ached from being stretched out in front of her. She tried to shimmy forward for the hundredth time but her shoulders were too broad. Then she tried to push herself backwards but she couldn’t lift her arms high enough to get any leverage.
She screamed and tried to struggle, but there was not enough room. Her hip stung as though she’d scraped it. Maybe she was bleeding. That was not good. Fresh blood would draw animals. Even bugs. If she felt something crawling on her, she would seriously freak out.
“Stay calm, Liza,” she said and hummed a bit. Her voice, vibrating at the back of her neck, was friendly and soothing. Stay calm. Calm, Liza. Calm. Stay calm. If she lost her nerve, that would be the end of her. She thought about making decorative boxes, one of her hobbies. Measuring the cardboard. Cutting it. Measuring the paper. Covering the cardboard with a thin layer of paste, applying the paper. She put the pieces between wax paper and placed them under tall stacks of heavy books. She constructed little hinges. When the boxes were finished, she lined them up on her bookshelf, each one empty, each one waiting to be filled. This was one of the few things, besides climbing and canyoneering, for which she had the patience to be precise.