In the afternoon, I was usually lying in the hammock reading Don Quixote while avocados fell on the roof and the grapefruit tree blew its scent around the yard. Bougainvillea and jasmine grew on all the walls, and several varieties of palm snaked up in the sky. The medians were a riot of rosemary. I remember oleander and trumpet vines and sidewalks littered with jacaranda blooms. Hibiscus and giant agaves. Bella donna. There was a tree that made wooden flowers; I have one still, years later.
The laundry droned in the shed. A sprinkler ticked over a patch of seeded dirt. The backyard neighbor parked his Jaguar safely in the alley; I remember his smile, but not his name. Sometimes our landlord drove down from the hill and parked his Jaguar there, too. Our little Nissan was in front of the house with a smashed side window from where the car stereo and our CDs had been extracted. Lovely Laura from upstairs sat on the front porch with her long legs stretched in the sun, cackling on her cordless phone while Skip, her husband, slalomed down the street on his board. The neighbors made plans to rob banks.
Oh! Everyone was getting rich in tech! People my age were getting rich in tech. We heard the Internet coming, but we didn’t think it was for us. I was planning a novel about my amaryllis. My boyfriend was at school for music. I could never rob a bank! I was writing poems and waiting for the world to take note. I was working downtown at the hall of records. I printed birth certificates on official security paper. I opened up the big ledgers and copied out old deaths. I photocopied hand-drawn property maps labeled casa, camino, arroyo, ojo de agua. I printed off the beautiful scratch and dust marks on the blank frames at the end of the microfilm reels, sometimes in negative.
The Pacific shimmered. I remember standing on the cliff where the wooden steps went zigzagging down, so many steps—and the ocean an endless silver dish that held the sun. We were tan and glossy with sour cream. There were no angles on us! At Super Cuca’s the sour cream was put on with a caulking gun, and the burritos were big enough to hold lesser burritos inside.
What a paradise!
The guy who lived in our apartment when we went to look at it had great furniture and a subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education. We were romanced by his furniture, but after we moved in, our friends were embarrassed to use our bathroom because it had no door until I sewed a curtain, and then it had only a curtain.
I would never rob a bank, but I had to admire the neighbors’ courage. The bravest thing I did was smoke a lot of cigarettes. The craziest thing I did was drink too many gin and tonics. Once we made piña coladas, and they were delicious, and suddenly I remember in my body what it felt like to lie inert on a low-pile acrylic rug with liquid limbs. I don’t remember how I got to bed, but I didn’t have far to go—the whole apartment was only a few body-lengths long.
The sun shone, the rain slicked the Saltillo tiles downtown. I slipped in my huaraches. Sometimes we went to grad student parties in salty, damp apartments. The worst thing I did was give in to despair, but I never robbed a bank.
I lay in the hammock in the soft air, reading Don Quixote, listening to the avocados dropping on the roof, afraid that my life would never get started and then it would be over too soon, while the sprinkler pattered down on the grass seeds and the neighbors planned their bank robberies.
One day I saw their picket fence swagged with police tape. Perhaps my boyfriend was still in class that afternoon, or teaching. Men in FBI jackets stepped over the tape. I heard they were looking for a gun.
The landlord said they’d paid their rent in cash. Someone said the boyfriend had a heroin habit. I heard they hit ten banks. The boyfriend’s notes to the tellers said he had a gun. The girlfriend was the driver. It was said they never got more than two thousand dollars from any one bank.
The sun sparkled on the Pacific. El Niño shredded the banana leaves.
I think about that girl driving the car. Twenty years old. Accomplice to her boyfriend. I followed my boyfriend, too; now we have kids.
The ocean chewed away the cliffs under the student apartment buildings. I saw palm leaves torn from the trees. The gutters filled with muddy water. I remember how I laughed when I heard the neighbors were robbing banks. At last someone was taking matters into their own hands! As a solution to the problem of being twenty years old, it was at once so elegant and so stupid, a cartoon.
I swayed. Oh, I swayed from side to side in my net while I waited.
No heavy lifting.
I swayed and I smoked and I sniffed the frangipane blossoms.
Rose Gowen is an American writer living in Montreal. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including the American Poetry Review, Night Train, Kitchen Sink, Bridge, Pindeldyboz, and Opium, as well as online at McSweeney’s, the Rumpus, and LitroNY, among others, and in several anthologies. She once had a very short play produced in Brooklyn.