Dipshit Years

Solon was rich and young and handsome and didn’t have the sense to pour water out of a boot. He went a-drinking in the tavern in the town and got roaring drunk and shouted praise to every woman in the bar, except for Quiana, and when he woke up he had a raging hangover and was powerful in love with Quiana.

“Huh,” he says, and sends his servant to her house to make his case.

“So, uh,” says the servant, whose name isn’t relevant to this story, despite getting a few lines. “He wants to know if you’ll marry him.”

Quiana laughs and laughs.

“He seems pretty set on it,” says the servant.

Quiana laughs harder.

Solon is incensed when the servant tells him about it. There’s rude, and then there’s rude, surely. “Hard-hearted Quiana,” he says to the servant. “I’m fixing to die in the merry month of June, that’ll show her,” he adds.

Quina sees his funeral passing as she’s looking to the east and looking to the west, and she’s struck with remorse. “Gosh,” she says, “he was serious after all.” She goes home, weak at the knees and stuttering at the chest, collapses in her uncomprehending mother’s arms. “Sweet Solon died for me today, and I’ll die for him tomorrow!”

Her mother is unimpressed. “I’m not makin’ your bed, darlin’.”

Nasty Things, Orchids

Boy Meets Girl
They have desynchronized, more than ever before. Solon is barely 18 when he meets Quiana in her 90s, which raises a few eyebrows and gets them run out of a few towns before they resign themselves to merely lying. She is his aged grandmother, which isn’t even a lie from a wide enough perspective, he her doting grandson. “The poor boy,” they say, the incurious townies in the yellow brick houses on the plains, “to carry so much responsibility so young.” Who cares what they think, honestly; they don’t know.

Boy Loses Girl
She dies in April, he buries her in May.

Boy Gets Girl Back Again
Solon ages. Past youth, past adulthood, past middle age, past retirement. He is himself 90 when Quiana appears again, fresh and blooming, male and newly bearded, leaning against the door of the greenhouse insolent with youth, a long lean torso in a nautical sweater. He twitches the rug tucked in around his legs and waves away his granddaughters irritably. “Come in, come in,” he snaps, “I’ve got a job for you.”

Quiana smiles.

A Good Cigar Is A Smoke

They’re drunk and angry and not talking, so they start pulling books off their shelves to keep yelling at each other instead of just going to sleep.

“UNDERGROUND/POOR/FRIEND,” Quiana needles, wielding a collection of Dostoyevsky.

“RATS,” Solon responds, leaning on O’Brien.

“SPIDER WOMAN,” she threatens, with Puig.

“THE CHEESE AND THE WORMS,” he blares, nonsensically weaponizing Ginzburg.

She pulls two books, one by Aftel and one by McAlevey, to accuse him of “FRAGRANT SHORTCUTS.”

This goes on for hours, just a disgustingly long length of time, book after half-read book pulled from the shelves and shoved into each other’s face, moving from vitriol to half-joking game back to vitriol as the night wends on. They expand into other rooms, further shelves, dragging lights with them on cords that never seem to come up short. It takes longer and longer to find their way back, one minute, five, fifteen, half an hour, tracing the cord through a vast maze of hazy shelves; eventually Solon stomps off in a fury into the distant rooms and doesn’t return. Quiana stews, then worries, then decides to go yell at him properly. She takes his cord and paces through room after endless room, past books written by unknown authors with impossible titles. PERNICIOUS MUMMY by Jeromy Gride? TRAILING THE SNAIL by Bobson Dugnutt?

Eventually she finds herself back in their bedroom, staring down at the outlet, at the unbroken cord in her hand plugged into the wall, and at the empty bed, now cold.

That Dog Won’t Hunt

“I go where you go,” Solon tells Quiana, before she tips him over the side and watches him disappear into the flume running underneath Deception Pass. One hundred and seventy seven feet down to the water, and a fierce undertow sucking him out to sea; if they find him, it’ll be as a lone foot in a sneaker washed up on a rocky beach somewhere. It’s a grey day, dark as they all are in November, and raining if you can call it that. She’s soaked through by the time she gets back to the car where he’s waiting for her, a blank space in the fogged glass, ironic eyes full of sky, trees, sea.

She drives home hounded. They never find him — there are enough bodies sunk in the Sound already — but it doesn’t matter. She’s never free of him. He’s a heavy weight at her throat, a stone in her stomach, insubstantial hands dragging at her shoulders when she beats the sun out of bed. His voice, heavy as cream, clotted in her ears: white noise. She is full of rage, at him, at herself, at the world that gives her no traction to push back. “The worst is already happened,” he tells her, rain drumming on the roof, “the fall is still happening, the water is still coming.”

“Damn you,” she says, and suffers through an eternity of meaningless days, eating little, drinking much, waiting for the short summer to return and break his grip, just for a while, just long enough.

A View From Below

Discovered at last they are ruined, or think they are: a suicide pact. Falling from the thin ribbon of the Cascade highway, Solon strains instinctively to beat wings no longer there; Quiana just falls, laughing.

Death is a city under heavy guard. Soldiers at the gate are half-painted, half-flesh, and do not speak. The gates are open, spanning a river purple as wine; their fellow dead rush in, whickering like the tide. They are pulled apart. The last he sees of her is the shadowed mouth of an alley and one elegant wrist reaching out. He strains his eyes for some landmark, but the city has him. He falls down the throat of the crowd.

Weeks later, maybe, and he washes ashore: his heels worn smooth by the endless hurry-hurry click down on the pavement. The newly dead wash over him. Their currents have left him lighter by a name, a history, a life. He knows the city from gutter to skyline, a map traced on the pads on his hands. With no idea else he sets out searching where flotsam is sold: the middle third of a word, 12% of a Tuesday afternoon, noise and scents. He takes what he can, trades what he can, waiting for something to fit his hand, one grain of sand on a submarine beach.

One stall over, Quiana is searching. They pass into and through each other, still looking, still needing.