In the Garden
Lulu holds out her hand to Palmer to show she wants another cigarette. He opens his pouch of Drum and starts rolling one for her.
“Guy’s movie is going to be about something tragic,” Lulu said. “Some dying artist shit. Watch and see.”
“Don’t be silly,” Guy says. “It’s about a dying insurance executive.”
We all get a laugh at this and everybody takes a drink. We’re having a lot of fun.
“OK, OK,” Guy says. He says, surprise, his movie isn’t about dying anybody. It’s an old movie, Streetcar Named Desire.
“Stella!” Lulu starts to yell. “Stella!”
“What’s in it for you?” I ask.
“I just like the name,” Guy says.
“Desire!” Lulu yells. “On a streetcar. I like it too.”
“No,” I say. “I don’t think it means having sex on a streetcar. It’s about going through life like you’re on a streetcar. And the streetcar is your desire for things. Lots of things, maybe. I don’t think it’s even about sex.”
“No?” Lulu asks. “Then what’s Marlon Brando doing in there in that T-shirt? Christ on a crutch!”
Guy says I have to give my movie now and I say an old one too, The Searchers.
“Good!” Lulu says. “Captured by Indians.”
“No, that’s not why,” I say.
“What’s in it for you?” Guy asks.
“That they look for the girls the Indians took and never give up. That’s all they can think about. I mean, I know they are confused, partly, but they never stop looking.”
“Quaint,” Lulu says. “Too bad they don’t have a streetcar, they could get there faster.”
“OK,” Guy says. “Let’s get this over with. Palmer?”
Palmer says some World War II movie he saw as a kid; we’ve probably all seen it but none of us can really remember it. Even Palmer can’t remember the name.
“What’s in it for you?” I ask.
Palmer says he liked the part about the soldier who got separated from his company and who survived alone in the winter woods with just a knife and an overcoat. The soldier survived by building himself a shelter with pine boughs. He figured out how to trap birds and roast them on a stick.
“That was boring,” Lulu says. “OK, game over. Now let’s have a rant-fest. I’m first. Can you believe the people down the road from us came to the door and wanted us to buy tickets for some PTA thing? Christ, I never thought I’d end up someplace where they actually had the nerve to come around and sell stuff for the PTA.”
“The people that bought the blue house have a baby,” I say. “It seems like there are lots of kids around all of a sudden.”
“Was that a rant?” Lulu asks.
“Good,” Lulu says. “Because it wasn’t much of one.”
Lulu says she doesn’t really expect any good ranting from me and I’m out, so now it’s Palmer’s turn.
“Fucking Bruce,” Palmer says.
Palmer is drunk. It’s strange because he doesn’t usually get that drunk, or if he does you can’t tell.
“Him and his bull shit,” Palmer says. “Bragging about some B.S. of a supposed movie.”
“We don’t know that it’s B.S.,” I say. “It could be good. The Depression is interesting, I think.”
“It’s B.S.,” Palmer says. “A guy like him writing a movie. How far do you think he’s going to get? Give me a break.”
“I don’t know how you know it’s B.S.,” I say. I must be drunk too because I hardly ever talk to him like this.
“Maybe it’s good,” I say. “Maybe it’s as good as that movie about the guy lost in the woods you love so much. That guy who was so happy wandering around by himself killing birds.”
Palmer looks at me like I have gone crazy but at the moment I don’t care. Anyway, he seems to have gone crazy himself.
“I don’t see why we can’t be happy for him,” I say. “It doesn’t hurt us, does it? We don’t have to go to LA. We don’t have to have an agent. We don’t have to let somebody make a movie that we wrote. We can just sit out here in the bushes fighting slugs. Even though the slugs are winning by the way. Even though the slugs know what they’re doing a hell of a lot more than we do. ”
“Rant!” Lulu yells.”
“It’s not like he was stuck-up about it,” I say. “He was just happy. He told us because he thought we would be happy for him.”
“Happ-eee!” Lulu yells out. “We’re happ-eee!”
“We’re just jealous,” Guy says.
“I’m not jealous of that jerk,” Palmer says. “Speak for yourself, buddy.”
“Speak for yourself, buddy!” Lulu yells. She kind of falls off her chair and Guy grabs her. She puts her head down on his leg. He smoothes her wild red hair and picks up her silly glasses.
“I want to go home, Guybaby,” she whimpers. “Right now.”
Guy gets her on her feet and tells us good bye and he half carries her off to the pickup. They’re pretty drunk but they only have to drive down the road to their place so they are probably OK. There aren’t many other cars. That’s one good thing about living here on the island; you can drive around drunk without much problem.
Palmer and I keep sitting on the porch after they leave. The bottle of gin, I notice, is just about gone. I put it down on the floor where we can’t see it.
Palmer, I also notice has started to cry. He does cry sometimes when he drinks and starts to think about his brother Mel. It’s complicated because it’s not just that Mel died. It’s also that Mel, by dying, saved Palmer from the draft, and left Palmer free to do whatever he wanted. It’s kind of like Mel died for Palmer.
The only thing Palmer knew to do back for Mel was to stop playing the violin. I never understood exactly how that worked, but that’s what Palmer did. Wouldn’t Mel have wanted you to play, I used to ask. But I haven’t asked that for a long time. This is the decision he has made. In fact, sometimes I almost think Palmer decided not to do anything, just in honor of Mel. I never used to think this, but now I am starting to.
We sit together on the porch. I can feel myself starting to sober up a little. It feels terrible.
We sit until dark and then keep sitting. Every now and then Palmer rolls another cigarette. He can do it in the dark, just by feel.
I should go make something for us to eat so we can get back on track, a little, but I can’t seem to get up and go in the house.
“Palmer,” I say. “What are we going to do? We’re going crazy out here a little.”
He laughs a little at that. I can hear him blowing out smoke.
“How about we load up the bus and just go,” I say. “Take off. Like we used to. Remember how we used to feel. Just driving. Never knowing what we would find by night. ‘Each day is it’s own life,’ you used to say. Remember that? We were happy then. Happier.”
The tip of his cigarette glows red for a second.
“Sounds good,” he says.
But of course we both know we can’t go back to doing that again. I don’t know why. We just can’t.
“Maybe we should join the Peace Corps,” I say. “We could go help people in Africa or somewhere.”
“Maybe we should have a baby,” I say. “That would be something. Think how we would love it. We would love it so much we would die for it, without batting an eye.”
He laughs and I do, too. Obviously it’s a dumb idea to have a baby just so you could die for it.
At the moment I don’t have any more thoughts for what we could do.
“You know what I hate?” I say.
“I hate all that glass down in the garden. It doesn’t stop the slugs anyway. It just mangles them up. Some die but the rest keep coming. They still eat up all the lettuce. Glass or no glass.”
Palmer laughs a little.
“Kamikaze slugs,” he says.
“Why don’t we go right now and try to get that glass up?” I ask him. “I don’t know what I could have been thinking to put a bunch of broken glass in a garden.”
Palmer says OK. He goes to his shop to get his big flashlight. He gets a canvas sack and a pair of heavy gloves and we go down the path to the garden. I hold the flashlight and Palmer puts on gloves. He starts scooping up the shards of glass and dumping them in the sack. After a while I put on the gloves and scoop up glass while he holds the light. We’re both kind of drunk so we aren’t too efficient but we do get a lot of the glass scooped up.