I woke up because I had to piss again.
I was pissing before I went to sleep, pissing after I went to sleep, pissing after I was done with sleep; I’d piss ten times in a day because I had a micro-bladder. It was annoying, but nothing new.
When I woke, I was naked, as I often am, on top of my sleeping bag, as usual, with the tent unzipped. And I cussed at my stupidity, as I often do because a gnat buzzed near my nose. I huffed to blow him away. A booger must’ve hit him because he stopped bothering me. I look around the tent for my boxers but they were gone. Maybe they were buried at the foot of my sleeping bag. I got out a fresh pair.
There’s this misconception that if you die in your dreams, you die in real-life. I’ve imagined my demise a thousand times, slumbering or other and I’m still alive. People are stupid. They have silly beliefs and no amount of evidence to the contrary would convince them otherwise. I once knew a girl who thought sleeping on her left-side would squeeze the blood from her heart, so she slept on her right-side to avoid death. I dated her for a year; I spent the night at her apartment and slept on my left-side and woke up the next morning; she even admitted to waking on her left occasionally. But the fear persisted.
A spider plotted from my boot. Legs poked between the loops in the shoestring. Fangs that curved like a slide pointed at my jugular. And a long back-end with weird markings on it twitched.
I retreated from the tent, clutching my clean underpants.
I always wondered about the markings of animals. Humans must have gone through enough natural selection to rid us of it. Or perhaps freckles counted as markings.
I don’t know. But I whacked the nylon of the tent to scare the creature. I whacked it till my tent collapsed. “Godfriggindammit,” I muttered. I stomped the ground in front of the tent to destroy the camouflaged spider. I blamed it for my tent’s downfall.
It took me a few hours escape the woods. I hiked slowly up hills of mud and branches. I slid downhill trying to keep upright but often getting a muddy bum. The natural light radiated between the leaves. The breeze jostled the branches. The shadows shimmered. A fallen log bridged a valley and it saved me the trouble of going up a hill, so I scooted my butt across.
My 1992 BMW 525i was in the parking lot by the ranger station. A wet maple leaf pressed flat against the windshield. Another covered a scratch on the hood. Sap worked its way into the paint, but the paint was already old and peeling in places. It was an old car. My parents had picked it up for 3,000 bucks and my dad and I did the repairs on the suspension ourselves. I had the money for a new one—I was a professor of English literature and creative writing. That wasn’t my dream though. I kept my Lincoln because as a junior in high school I had said I’d get a new car when I was out of college. But I loved Lucy just the same—when she worked.
I drove Lucy home. We stopped for gas and then a couple tacos which I ate in the parking lot. I stopped again to pee though I had gone at Kum-n-Go gas station. It was a three-hour trip without stops. Today took more than four. I pulled into my neighborhood around 7 PM.
The cool blues and purples and even dull pinks surrounded the sun radiating behind the clouds. The windows of houses facing Savannah Dr. reflected the colors of sunset. Daylight would fade in an hour. Streetlights weren’t on yet, but my house lights were. The shades were open and I could see the TV in the bedroom was on and the other upstairs was also.
My key scratched the lock as I missed the hole. Before it was inserted, the door swung open. Molly stood there in shorts, using a towel for a shirt. She was a bigger girl—not fat, but softened from the sedentary life of an adult. She called herself fat though. She said she felt enormous in the mirror and often hid my scale in the sink cabinet when she went into the bathroom to pee. But still, her clothes were youthful, tight, revealing. These shorts were—as one of my students described them in a conversation I overheard—booty hangers, where they don’t cover the entire rump. Her face was still pretty and I often told her so.
“Hey, Molly.” I set my hiking pack on the floor by my mom’s old turtledove doorstoppers.
“I can’t get anyone to call me Amalia.” She went into my kitchen, opened my fridge, and sniffed some cheese, and deciding it was bad, she threw it out. “It’s my given name and I’d like to be called by it. But no one wants to make the effort to change.” She stared into the fridge. Nothing looked appetizing except cool whip. She sprayed it in her mouth. When she tilted her head back, I could see the black cavities on her top molars. “Is it so hard to call me Amalia?”
“Fourteen years of Molly—it’s a habit by now. Neuropathways and such.”
She hung on the fridge door, still looking for food. The hinges creaked. “I don’t believe in that. Now don’t look.” Before I had time to look away, she stripped her towel and rubbed her wet hair. Her chest was pointed my way. It jiggled as she dried off. Droplets spattered the hardwood. Her hair looked dark now, but it had natural highlights when dry. It was always frizzy because of the Midwest humidity. She put the towel back on.
“How was your weekend?” I kicked off my boots and set them in the sink over the garbage disposal. The other side of the sink had dishes with spaghetti sauce caked on. Where the sink was wet, the dirt on my boots got muddy.
“Long. I couldn’t do anything when I was home because Dr. Autumn popped in with her wife. She’s looking to adopt. She’s not even out of her residency yet. Dad spent all of Saturday looking stuff up online. I’m sure a few sources aren’t total liars, like government stuff, but they were looking on Google. I said something—I said ‘I work at a university. You can’t just Google that and expect accurate info.’ Autumn did it anyway. She’s such a flake.” Molly was a secretary for the English department. I recommended her for the job and convinced the department several times that we needed a secretary, though most days the student-workers did more than her. While they copied handouts or transcribed lesson plans for professors unable to type, Molly posted animal pictures on Facebook with captions like ‘Wish I could afford a pet.’ “No one was excited I was home, so might as well not be home, right?” Molly lived an hour away from her mom in Decatur. She was there more than she was at her own apartment. She went home every weekend and her doctor was still in Decatur so if she had a doctor’s appointment on Thursday at three, she’d take off all of Thursday and then call in sick on Friday so she’d have a four-day weekend at her dad’s. She got sick a lot too. When she wasn’t at her dad’s or work, she was often here, at my house. She still had a key from when we used to live together.
“So I came here.”
“I don’t mind.” I scratched my arm and dirt rolled into bits that I flicked to the carpet.
“Thanks.” She found one of my work shirts in the laundry room. She only did the top two buttons. The washer was turned on and the basket of dirty clothes had frilly bras and bright thongs—they weren’t mine. I tossed my soiled socks on top.
I got a Diet Coke from the fridge. I popped open the can. I sipped it. When half was gone, I said, “Hiking was nice. Relaxing. I’ll probably need to go again during the semester. Want to come?”
We went into my bedroom where the TV was. “What do ya need to relax for? You make a good salary. And you’re basically just a babysitter. Kids show up, tell them to discuss last night’s reading, ask them what they discussed, then the hour’s up. All that caffeine’s got you stressed, not your job. You ought to get a new TV, just a small one for the living room. What if company comes over?”
“No one ever comes over.”
“Then I guess we won’t be interrupted.” She got on my lap, facing me and undid those two buttons. She nibbled my dirty, sweaty neck and immediately stopped. “But first let’s get in the shower.”