for Kristine Carlson
Before North took a seasonal job
fishing for kings in Alaska
I’d never admitted to myself
that he was my only friend.
For a little income and to cope
with the lonely summer, I rented out
his room at a nightly rate, listing it
online as a bed-and-breakfast
so I could charge more. I hid
all his stuff in the closet, took photos,
and at the top of the post I wrote
eco-friendly, but never explained
what that meant. Evenings
I’d check-in tenants, then leave
on my rounds to various
dumpsters, keeping ahead
of the week’s trash pickup schedule.
Back home, I’d wash
the food I’d found and count
our stocks—staying above a hundred meals
was important to me. Over bacon
and blueberry pancakes
my first tenant told me it was only
after his wife died that he could finally
pursue his lifelong passion
for gambling. Catnapping
on a Monday afternoon, I missed
another call from my mom,
who was retiring soon and wanted
me to hear her preach
one last time. She was good
at justifying my lifestyle, calling it
stewardship of the Earth,
the saving of small parts of God’s
creation. As if she didn’t know
how cheap I was, how greedily
I clung to each free hour
of each free day. Running
the B&B was the most work I’d done
in years, and that was nothing
but living how I always did
plus keeping the lights low
so the sheets looked clean.
July brought windless days, air so thick
you could feel yourself passing
through it. Unprecedented highs,
the weatherman said, sweeping
his arms apart as if to make room
for the heat. All the dumpsters
became ovens, spoiling
the food and plummeting
our stocks below sixty. Whoa,
one tenant said during a Pepsi commercial,
I forgot how beautiful what’s-her-face is.
Even after I started skipping
a meal a day, the stocks
kept dropping, so I simplified
the B&B’s breakfast menu.
I knew I’d lose stars online,
but with North coming back at the end
of summer it wasn’t like I was trying
to build a presence. The end
of the world already happened,
another tenant told me
as I made her a PB&J. Now
the most important thing is to avoid
contact with trees. Think about it,
she said. We mustn’t touch them.
Both of us had sweat rings
in the pits of our shirts, and as we spoke
they spread. I cut off her crusts
and served her sandwich on a blue plate.
She tapped the windowpane:
Watch for unnatural colors
in the sky—that’s the mood ring
God’s wearing. Each week,
another historical record
was broken. If tomorrow
is like today, the weatherman said,
I’ll see you folks at the beach.
Online, a tenant gave me one star
because I didn’t have A/C.
Another, because I had a cat
and hadn’t said so. In August
a salmonella scare fed the dumpsters
and shot our stocks into the black.
Upon arrival, my guests found
complimentary Clif Bars
on their pillows. My stars went up.
I ran out of Ziplocs.
I could have gone back
to three square meals, but I froze
the bulk of it, wanting to impress
North when he got home.
Sometimes I heard footsteps
in his bedroom and let
myself pretend it was him.
On her final day in the pulpit
I took the 17 to see my mom preach.
After the service, members
of the congregation kept touching
my shoulder—I’d been dragged
to enough funerals to recognize
the gesture. My mom
looked tired, her eyes sad
but also full. She hugged everyone.
She knelt down and hugged
the children, her bright vestment
enwrapping all but their tufts
of hair. There was no question
about what mattered or if
she loved me. I excused myself
to the bathroom and cried. In the end,
August shattered all previous Augusts.
I stopped looking at my stars.
My final tenant talked
about a series of inventions
he claimed to have come up with
that would all but put to shame
our current way of life.
Patents are pending,
he explained over coffee and toast.
Now it’s only a matter of time.