by Karla Huebner
From Spring 2018
“This is what I’m going to give Leo for Valentine’s Day,” says Rina, picking up a shiny white cardboard box with a red ribbon on it. We are sitting at the kitchen table eating our spaghetti fast enough to win a world championship, and I am spilling tomato sauce all over Liz Taylor’s face on the National Enquirer.
“But it’s all wrapped,” I say. “You’ll never get it wrapped right again.”
“You can see it just fine like this,” she says, and sure enough the box is built with a little oval cellophane window view. I look, trying not to slop any more spaghetti sauce, and there reposing inside is a lovely little chocolate cunt, all anatomically correct except for the difficulty of making chocolate hair.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” says Rina, giggling in her rather charming way. “It’s bittersweet, too. Isn’t it just perfect?”
It really is. It’s absolutely the best and funniest piece of confectionery in ages. “It’s wonderful,” I say.
“’Dear Leo, I sat on this piece of chocolate just for you.’ Do you think I should write ‘To a twit from a twat’ on the card?”
“Twit for twat!”
We slurp down the rest of the spaghetti and totally eradicate Liz.
“What time does the movie start?” I ask. “Do we have time to stop by the boat and see if Erland’s there for once?”
“Oh, you’ve got to,” says Rina. “And I want you to be sure to go buy one of these and leave it on his doorstep on Valentine’s Day. Just think how much he’ll enjoy it.”
“I love the thought,” I say, but know I won’t. Oh dammit Erland, why the hell are you never home? Never been there once in three months’ worth of dropping by.
Rina puts on bright pink lipstick and forgets to comb her hair; I throw the diaphragm into my purse. Of course, I ought to wear it—sympathetic magic works that way.
“I’ve got the matches, where’s the hash?” yells Rina from the bathroom.
“I don’t know!” I yell and tie my shoe.
“Oh here it is!” shouts Rina. “Where’s the matches?”
“In my coat!” We pick up things and leave them anywhere. I am playing dobro music loud and lively, fresh from the bargain basket at the record store, get a dobro player and cheer up your life… Yes once a time I shared a boat with an enchanting dobro player, Erland was his name. We used to go to bars and smoke each other’s cigarettes by accident; he oft admired the construction of my fiddle and its lovely maple.
“I’ll roll and you drive,” yells Rina. “But where’s my raincoat?” She has lipstick on her eyelids and steps into muddy heels. “Can I make love to your furry coat?” she says. “You left it on the rug and I’m so afraid that Kittiest will eat it for dinner.”
“Please deal with my property as you see fit,” I say. “Just buy me a boat for Valentine’s Day.”
“All right darling, anything to make you happy… I lost my matches again!”
“I have some in my coat pocket.”
“Then give me your coat.”
“Oh no, you get the matches.”
“All right, dear. Kittiest, come to mommy! We’re going to throw you out into the dark to eat rats!” She teeters on her heels. “Kittiest! Darling Kittiest!”
“Can’t you shut off that music or at least put on something else?” cries the Voice of the Landlady from the upper reaches of the house. “I don’t know what you get out of listening to the same damn thing over and over again for hours, I think it must be some kind of meditative thing for you.”
“Yes Mom!” says Rina. “We’re leaving right now Mom!”
“Make sure you shut the front door properly,” says the Voice of the Landlady. “God knows I’ve had to remind you girls enough times.”
“Yes Mother.” We slip out. Slip-slip-slip-sliding away. “Look, there’s the ferry!”
Rina is very fond of the ferry. She used to ride it to work before she bought Rudolph Einstein Cadillac, and she would be impressed to know that Erland used to work on a ferry. Einstein Cadillac is a little red Ford Falcon made of indestructible materials. He will withstand nuclear war with a smile on his little radiator, but we aren’t trying to withstand sub-atomic particles this time, so we perch ourselves among the sacks of plaster in my own inimitable vehicle and fire up the engine.
“Give me the matches,” says Rina.
“Oh.” Silence. “Is there a light in this car you could turn on? I just dropped the hash and I can’t find it anywhere.”
“Wait till after the intersection or the cops’ll see you. Oh God, hide it all, I’ve only got one headlight, they’re bound to stop me!”
Scuffles in the dark. “Can we stop for this lady?” asks Rina, gesturing at the bus stop and putting out her joint.
“She looks harmless.”
Rina swings the door wide open.
“Are you going to San Francisco?”
“No, but we can take you to a better bus stop.”
“Don’t mind the plaster sacks, they’re harmless.”
“Yes, we’re going to dump a friend of ours in the Bay with them.”
Myriam is Swiss and from Geneva. All the Swiss I’ve met before were German-Swiss except for the one who was Romansh-German-Swiss and who didn’t know what city she was in. Her car was dead in the Big G parking lot and she thought she was already in SF. But Myriam knows very well what she wants to do. She wants to study business and set up a French coffee shop in the City because in Geneva you have to have a McDonald’s franchise to make money. The girl knows what she’s talking about. Everybody wants a little romance, and McDonald’s is romantic in Geneva; my first romance started at McDonald’s and that wasn’t even out of state.
Myriam trades illicit substances with us and before she gets out we promise to take her out for her birthday. We are crazy about birthdays. People ought to dress up in red on their birthdays and run around drinking and singing and having a good time.
“Goodbye,” we all say. “Adieu. Au revoir.”
“What a nice girl!” says Rina. Oh Erland please be home, my stomach says.
The car in front of me doesn’t know what it’s doing.
“Those are sure some fucked-up people in that car,” says Rina. “All fucked-up on drugs, poor babies.”
“No, I think they’re tourists. OH MY GOD!”
Flashing nimbly past the fucked-up babies, I am running the engine for what little it’s worth. “Damn, do you see that car ahead of us coming out of Big G? That’s him, I’d know that car anywhere!”
“Give it the gas! Give him a run for his money! We’ve got to catch up to him!”
“Well, there isn’t much point in that,” I say. “Either he turns in at the road to the dock and we neatly follow him, or he’s off to God-knows-where and we’ll have to go to the movies by ourselves.”
“Quick! Faster!” yells Rina.
“Where’s the turn… What the fuck, he didn’t turn!” We’ll follow him down Bridgeway a bit, there’s lots of time before the film and Sausalito’s very small. Step on the gas, I’d like to get another look at the old boy before he disappears again– “Shit, he turned on Napa Street!” I’ve overshot the mark, missed the entrance to that other hodgepodge quay and Dunphy Park. “Well, what the hell, I’ll turn around and try to nab him in the parking lot.” Either he wants to visit someone or borrow a bathtub or both, and we’ll never know till we find out.
“How cute!” says Rina gazing at his empty car in the dirt lot. “It’s a little VW with tennis shoes!”
“1963,” I say. “He’s gone.”
“There are lights on in that boat,” says Rina. “Why don’t you knock on the door and see if he’s there?”
“No thanks, my dear.” I haven’t any idea who lives there! “We’ll just execute a swift turnaround in this dirt bank and try not to slug in his license plates in the process.” Dammit, I was looking forward to telling him about my visit to my high school cronies: went and painted Senior Rock into a gigantic pink dick and was nearly arrested. “We’ll just backtrack to Schoonamaker’s and leave a note in case he’s wondering why this familiar-looking vehicle was trailing him around.” God damn fucking elusive dobro player! I should have guessed the quarry would escape again, if only into the wilds of the Napa Street settlement, aka Galilee Harbor. “He’s prob’ly sitting in some lady’s bathtub now.”
“Doesn’t he have a shower of his own?” asks Rina as my car bumps and scrambles through the dirt.
“No, he’s got a heater but when he asked if he could run a hose out to the boat the management said they couldn’t allow that or people might start washing their bodies with it. Naturally this was what he had in mind anyway.” Pull up to a stop. “Hey, don’t get out yet, I have to write this note in the light.”
Schoonamaker’s is beautiful at night. Sheds and junked cars all over the place and three little antique gas pumps. The gate is open for the first time in living memory so we don’t have to squeeze between the locked posts.
“So this is where you used to live,” says Rina. “It’s wonderful.”
We round a corner talking loudly. “Shit!” I exclaim. There before us is the VW. “How the fuck did he get back here before us? It’s only been a few minutes!”
“Maybe we saw the wrong one before,” says Rina.
“That’s ridiculous. How many pale gray VW’s with roof racks and black and gold plates and red hubcaps can there be in this town?”
“That’s true,” says Rina.
“In fact, he’s home!” I say, temporarily disregarding the apparent dual existence of the car. “He’s got his lights on in the boat. Come on.”
“I hear seals,” says Rina. “That’s what that is, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I say, tromping down the dock like a happy bloodhound.
“Listen to the seals!” says Rina. “There really are seals out there!”
“There are definitely lights!” I say. “Watch your step on the ladder.”
“Oh dear,” says Rina, “I think you’ll have to go on without me. I don’t want to drop anything in the Bay.”
“Don’t be silly, take your shoes off.” She goes practically everywhere barefoot anyway, and I want her to meet Erland; she complies.
“You wharf-rat! This is wonderful. Here we are in our very own little movie…”
“Yes, well wait until I get off this plank before you get on. I think this is the one that doesn’t take two people at once.”
“What a trip! I can see why you want to live on a boat.”
Up up and over the rails: “Holy shit, it must be my fate in life to step on cats wherever I go!”
“I can’t see where I’m going at all,” says Rina.
Fortunately I’ve crossed the deck of this boat several times in the search for Erland and his dobro. We want to start a company that sells mouse-shaped suppositories; he wants to build a house with a gigantic silver-walled guest bathroom, equipped with free-standing central toilet and lit only by lava-lite. Enough to send them running for their chamber pots! But even the chance of realizing this dream in its full splendor wouldn’t be enough to lure him into living on the land for more than a few months. And quite understandable, say I, after spending three months washed up into a very pleasant little home.
Yes, once upon a time I shared a boat with an enchanting dobro player, Erland was his name. Where has he gone? His lights are on, but no one’s sitting in the galley, just a table full of dirty plates, an open bottle, and the typical closed curtains in the wheelhouse cabin.
“Go knock on the door!” says Rina.
“Don’t be silly!”
Yes, once upon a time I shared a boat; we used to go to bars and smoke each other’s cigarettes by accident, we used to go to cheapo restaurants and talk about mouse-shaped suppositories.
“Go knock on the door!” says Rina.
“Why should I make a pest of myself?”
“It’s up to you. I don’t see anybody there so you might as well find out.”
There’s just a table full of dirty dishes and an open bottle; curtains to the wheelhouse cabin have been closed. And once upon a time I shared a boat: “Come out if you want and don’t answer if you don’t want.” Once upon a time I shared a boat.
“’Nobody’s answering. Let’s go.”
O once upon a time, O once upon a time, O once upon a time. We examine the VW as we walk out.
“There can’t be two like it in a town this size.”
“But how did it get here ahead of us from Napa Street when we didn’t even get out of the car there?”
“Are you sure that it was the same one at Napa Street?”
“How many of these are there running around with red hubcaps?”
“It’s the same one.”
Once upon a time I shared a boat with an enchanting dobro player, Erland was his name. We used to go to bars and smoke each other’s cigarettes by accident; he oft admired the construction of my fiddle and its lovely maple.
“Well I wrote this song with a vamp in the middle
And I knew when I wrote it that I’d written it for the fiddle.
Play, fiddle, play…”*
Dear Erland, I sat on this piece of chocolate just for you.