The Beach 7: Death and Catechism

What’s it like to be old?  Tonya asks me.

I give her a dry, poisonous look but say nothing.

She puts a hand to her mouth and says, Oh, I’m sorry.  I didnt mean…

Restate your question, I say.  Something like ‘What’s it like to be sixty-eight?’

Okay, what’s it like to be sixty-eight?

Specify, I say.

Well, uh…

Maybe a good question would be about how your attitude toward death changes throughout life, I say.  At your age death is something that will happen to you someday and is pretty abstract.  When you hit forty it suddenly seems much closer, more concrete, and scarier. At sixty it affects everything.  You may not expect to die right away but you’re forty years closer than when you were at twenty.  And that means death affects your decisions and perceptions about everything.

That gives her pause and we both look down the escarpment where we’re sitting to the Dog River and at the half-dozen or so old men fishing there while she thinks of what to say next.

Were you ever married?  She finally asks.

Yes, I say.

What’s it like?  What happened?

Next question, I say.

How many times?  How long?  U have any kids?

Twice.  Many times I wondered what happened but I dont really know because it was never clear.  No kids.  Never wanted any.  Since this is turning into Twenty Questions, How about U, Tonya?

Never married, she says.  Just boyfriends.  You ever go to college?

College, yes, I say.  Why do you ask that in particular?

You know a lot of big words.  Speaking of death, do you ever wish you were dead?

No, because as long as I’m alive there’s that ahead of me and I’ll take it, even if it’s only another five minutes.

Do you ever wish you’d never been born?

Many times, I say.

She turns thoughtful again and I say, Tonya, what do you do for a living?

What do you do for a living?  She says defensively.

You first, I say.

Trust fund money, she says and her face colors.

Okay.  But why be defensive about that?

I’m not being defensive, she says, raising her voice.

You get the money from your folks in Marietta?

Yes but it’s not that they care.  It’s to keep me from asking them for money all the time.  And the checks arent generous, just enough to live a middle class life.  They know I couldnt even hold down a minimum wage job.  Your turn.  RU retired?

Yes, I say.

Since when?

Thirty years.

You have a trust fund too?

No, I say.  I do odd jobs.  You can always make money doing things nobody wants to do.

I guess I really dont want to know what kind of odd jobs?

No.  You really dont.

A vagrant zephyr redolent of trash cans winnows itself around us.  It makes me sneeze and sets the old men that are fishing to cursing. 

I’ll bet a hundred years ago this part of the river drew a lot more people to sit over there and fish, mainly because there were more people, I say.

So?

So it begs a question, Tonya.  Down where I came from…

From Brunswick?

Yeah, I say.  Did I tell you I lived there?

When we were high the other day, she says.

I think it’s odd that when the world was seriously overpopulated a few centuries ago everybody always seemed to be outside and in each others’ faces because there wasnt much room.  Now there’s a lot fewer people and a lot more room and a lot more food but everyone seems to be in hiding.  Brunswick’s creepy because any time I went outside I could feel that I was being watched.  Several times in this planet’s modern history people have suddenly moved underground into the steel and concrete caves their ancestors built.  But there was no apparent reason for it.  No plague or war or zombies or anything.  People just went underground for a while and later a few ‘heroes’ would brave their agoraphobia and move back into the abandoned cities and the cycle would repeat.  Even the big depopulation didnt seem to affect it.  People got suddenly afraid and no one knows what of.  People are weird.

You think too much, she says.

I know it.  Further on out that way is Cascade Heights, I say as I point west.  And Destiny Road.  It was a WASP version of Eldorado.  Everybody out there was rich. Now it’s a ghost town.

Did you grow up around here?  She says.

This and a few other places.

I always wondered why they named it Destiny Road.  Seems an odd name.

Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.

Or a wife, she says.

Or a daughter.

What did you say your name was? She says.

I didnt say, I say.

 

 

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The Beach 6

I come out of sleep slowly and when I am awake IDK where i am.  Then I remember.  Tonya is sound asleep and snoring lightly.  Not like a chain saw but just enough to call it a snore.  Not something you tell anybody unless they ask and maybe not even then.

Of course we had fucked.  It wasnt what I had in mind when I went home with her but we got just stoned enough that it seemed natural but now seems merely inevitable.  I have spent the night with someone young enough to be my granddaughter and I am still half asleep and do not know how to handle this.  That makes me a dirty old man but it makes her…IDK.  Something worse than just a dirty old man.  Depends on her.

I hate sexual politics.

I get up and dress quietly in the kitchen.  I had asked her to talk to me for a while and I would pay her.  Since I dont remember whether i gave her money I assume I didnt and put more than I owe her on the kitchen table.  This feels awkward.  I want to leave before she’s awake but I dont want her to feel like a whore.

I decide to leave her a note.  But what do I say?

I write, ‘Thank you for everything.’

But that seems stupid.  I dont want to tell her my name.  So I sign it ‘Me.’

Maybe a smiley face?

You’re an idiot, I tell myself.  I just leave her the note and the money.  I am about to leave when I see her at the kitchen door.

Hey, she says.  Were you about to leave?

Yes, I say.

Do you have to go?

No, I say.  I’d rather be with you.

Then stay, she says.  What’s that?

The money I owe you and a love letter.

Let’s see, she says, stumbling across the floor in bare feet.

I hate people who walk anywhere barefooted.

This is too much, she says, handing some of the money back.  What kind of a note is this?

I didnt know just what to say.  Do you eat breakfast?

Yeah, she says.  But I’m not cooking it.

I’ll cook it, I say.

Then here, she says, giving me back some of the money.

The Beach 5

Heading north on I-75 toward Macon.  The steep, rugged hills and the preponderance of heavy forest with its riot of green makes you think you’re in the north woods and the red clay soil makes the ground look like it’s bleeding.  My destination is not Macon; too many mean rednecks and rusty memories of the Allmans.there.  Not Atlanta either.  Just a satellite little city I’ll call X City.  It’s like Atlanta used to be.

Off the interstate at the Destiny Road exit.  But why name it that?  Maybe somebody had a dog named Destiny.  Or a wife with a face like a dog.  Down Avon Street to Lee street.  There are a lot of people here for this day and age.  Lee Street goes downtown where things always get interesting but not always pleasant.  I park the car in a secure lot, leaving my luggage in the car.  Then I start walking.

This neighborhood used to be a WASP El Dorado where the rich and privileged lived.  But I am appalled at how the place has deteriorated and become a  high crime and street drug and infected needles place that isnt safe to walk around in even in daylight.  Homeless people and pimps and pushers and I should go back to the garage and drive someplace else.  But I cant quite make myself do it.

I stop and wait for a bus.  There are street people here and a girl who is not so skuzzy that  belongs somewhere else.  I wonder if her parents kicked her out or her boyfriend kicked her out and she doesnt know how to live on the street.  I decide to talk to her.

Hi, I say.

Hi yourself, she says.  What do you want?

The pleasure of your company.

I’m not a prostitute, she says.

I didnt think so.  Where you from?

I used to live with my folks in Marietta but that place is…Shaking her head.

It isnt safe here, I say.

Yeah, I noticed.

Look, i’m lonely and just want some company, that’s all.  I’ll pay you to spend the afternoon with me.  That’s all.  We can do whatever you want.  Do you have a place to live or…

I have a hole in the wall apartment but it’s home to me.  Just me.  What did you say your name was?

I didnt, I say.

After a pause she says, Okay.  I’m Tonya.

Pleased to meet you.

How old RU anyway? She says.

Old enough to be your grandfather.  Does that bother you?

You’re not serious, she says.  You’re in your thirties or early forties and I have no problem with that.

I’m sixty-eight years old, I say.  Word.

Show me an ID, she says.

I hand her my driver’s license and she looks at it, then at me and at the license again before she hands it back to me.

It must be you have great genes, she says.

I must have something.  Will you spend the afternoon with me?  Your bus is coming.

To hell with the bus, she says, yawning and stretching.  I dont feel like going anywhere. Can we just go to my place?

Sounds good to me, I say.