The Sunshine State
I MAKE a cave
with my hands and blow into them to try and warm them up. We’re outside waiting
for the bus. It’s March and there’s no end in sight and I don’t know what I can
say to Dash anymore.
"It’s colder than Alaska,” I venture. “You know what I mean?"
“Sure,” he says.
Dash has been like this lately; I can only coax one-word responses. He’s a stiff-upper-lip guy in the first place and with what he’s gone through this week, it’s not like I can blame him for not saying much. But still, the silences put me on edge.
“Remember when we worked up in Alaska for those six months?” I say.
“Yeah,” Dash says.
“And you, me and Rusty set up our lawn chairs on the beach in the middle of December, drank a bunch of vodka, and Rusty decided it would be fun to go skinny-dipping. Remember, when he came out of the water, teeth clacking—man, it was so cold—and we asked him what the hell he was doing and all he said was, ‘Welcome to Alaska: The Sunshine State—where are the girls?’”
“That was fun times.”
Rusty is Dash’s brother. He relapsed a week ago. Dash found him in the basement of the apartment they share, on the floor, passed out, flesh blue, cold. He had been sober for 166 days. Dash wrote the numbers on the calendar when Rusty would forget. Dash did everything right—swept the apartment weekly for needles, worked with Rusty’s sponsor, called to check up when Rusty left the apartment looking like he needed a fix. I don’t know how many ledges Dash has talked Rusty down from over the years, how many times Dash has been lied to, stolen from, betrayed. Dash had learned all of Rusty’s tricks, but this time, he was blind-sided. A week ago he told me, “I don’t know where we went wrong.”
The we is what keeps me awake at night.
Now Rusty can’t speak. The prognosis doesn’t look good. I try to remind myself that we’ve been through this routine before, taken this same ride and that things will get better. But Dash has changed. There’s something worse, some resignation in him that wasn’t there before. It scares me.
A bus drives up, but it’s not ours. Some people file out and then we’re alone again. I stuff my hands into my pockets.
I want to tell Dash a real story about Alaska.
And I want to tell it like this:
"Remember Exxon Valdez? Remember all that crude ribboning from the ship? There was a baby seal that swam through it and beached himself, his pelt caked in oil. He was in bad shape when they found him. Biologists, veterinarians and the community cleaned him up, fed him, nursed him back to health, and taught him what he needed to survive. They had trainers and everything. A few months later, after spending all this time and money helping him, they held this big release celebration—balloons, music, local news, the whole deal. They even had a cake with his name on it: get outta here, Hank, it said in blue cake piping. So finally the time came and they released Hank into open water. It was great. He was swimming well and looked perfectly healthy, no sign of anything wrong. Then five minutes in, out there on his own, an orca eats him."
For some reason, I want Dash to laugh at the story. He’ll say something like, "Welcome to The Sunshine State." Then I want to tell him that all you can do is claw as hard as you can, that showing up every day is where the fight is, and in the end, if you are powerless to change someone, then it doesn’t have to be on you. I want it to come out fresh and vital, blood coursing through it. I want it to be different from the tired platitudes Dash has heard before, the ones that I myself have told him so many times, because right now, I’ve never felt as far away from my friend as I do freezing here at this goddamn bus stop.
I picture it in my head.
"Maybe this isn’t the end," I’ll say.
"Oh yeah," Dash will ask. "Where is it?"
It’s when I can’t give him a good answer that keeps me from telling any story in the first place.
The bus is here.
I probably won’t say anything.
But then, fuck it, I just might.
Erik Evenson was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. He moved to Seattle when he was 18 and has stayed there since. He has published fiction in PANK and Specter Magazine, among others.