By AARON STEVEN MILLER
In the dimness and filtered light of the school-hostel’s front hall, he read the note once more.
Looking for travel companion to hitch hike to Budapest this week. Meet here Wednesday at 13:00. Milku.
There he gleaned it. There it was, in this building with its waxed floor, in a band of daylight tossed from the long enameled windows: his next move. On lined paper posted on this bulletin board amidst the children’s artwork. He gazed at it, read it one more time. The handwriting was looping and firm, but not bubbly. It was welcoming. He read the word Budapest again. It whispered to him. It seemed far, too far. It was tantalizing.
Invasive species: a species that is non-native to an ecosystem and that is likely to cause harm to native species.
The creature had been spotted again, and this time, accounts came from two unrelated individuals. The sightings had taken place between the hours of seven and eight that morning, both within a mile of the New Zeniths building. City officials were at that very moment developing a plan of action. What we all needed to do was stay put. This news was delivered by Claudette Bowery, president of New Zeniths, in the lobby at forty minutes after eight.
Nieuwenhuizen stood on the verge, in the darkness, looking down the street. In one hand he held a brown imitation-leather portmanteau; in the other some small, cold coins given to him by a taxi-driver moments before. The tail-lights of the taxi flared up at the end of the street, and vanished.
Nieuwenhuizen turned to the plot. It was smaller than he’d been led to believe, no more than an acre, and overgrown with tall grass and weeds. The land was bounded on two sides by an unruly hedge, breaking against the night sky, and on a third by a prefabricated cement wall with panels in the shape of wagon-wheels. The fourth side, where he found himself, had once been fenced off from the street: the remains of this frontier—crumpled scrolls of barbed wire, a gate, some club-footed wooden posts in concrete boots—lay all around. He tightened his grip on his change with one hand and on the sponge-swaddled handle of his portmanteau with the other, high-stepped over a tangle of wire, and pushed through the grass, onwards.
Hickory and Joey Bags twitched in their lawn chairs, coming back to life. They’d been zonked on Canadian Ghost for twenty, thirty minutes, long enough that I was starting to get nervous. Nervous and impatient.
We were sitting behind Hickory’s trailer with our feet in the kiddie pool. The beer was running low, and glimpses of morning sun flashed through the trees. It was early, but I could already feel the air warming into another brutal July day, and there was one full cord of seasoned, split wood behind Teddy Whitfield’s place that needed moving. The sooner Hickory woke up to lend me his truck, the better. One cord meant an easy few hundred bucks this time of year, the tourists needing logs for their campfires. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to replace my mother’s Chrysler, but it wouldn’t be nothing, either. At least she’d know I was trying. I’d recently come to suspect the full extent of her disappointment. I suppose you could say I was eager to set things straight.
Your father died before sunrise. On a Monday, the first in January. A morning clutched in harmattan’s tenuous grip. Haze like spectral fingers. Cold as a dog’s nose. But not wet. The grasses outside were an arid brown; it hadn’t rained for months. You’ll never forget these, the disconsolate incidentals of that morning. You’ll remember, too, the black shoes that trailed from the doorway like giant soldier ants in advance. You’ll remember the shuffling feet. And the hovering faces that peered down at your mother. Draped in black. Legs splayed in front of her. You’ll remember tottering in, bleary-eyed and only half-awake, and wondering, bewildered, at the many shoes, the blur of unfamiliar faces, the whispers that rustled across the room. You’ll remember wondering what it meant to have a heart attack.
We took the twelve-thirty train and got into the Biarritz station just after six. There was a bus schedule nailed to the wall, but the train ride had been smooth and I didn’t want to spoil our momentum, so I waved to the first in a row of taxis and offered the driver ten euros, which was quite a lot for me in those days. Probably there was a flat rate to the center of town, but the driver looked at the thin crowd coming off the train and at Katja, who was wearing espadrilles, and said ten would be okay, once he’d finished his cigarette.
On the drive in, Katja leaned against the window and didn’t say too much. The landscape was gray and battered. It was April, but winter still had a grip on everything: the low sun and the farms, with their lean cows, and the roads, which were scarred by fissures.