There are mountains here, but you can’t see them.
“Is that all smoke?” I asked as I climbed into the black Ford Explorer in front of me in real life after summoning its avatar form in Uber. The sky was heavy and sick-looking. Kevin’s face was kind and young and apologetic. His flecked sandy hair and beard could have fit well in a number of circles. We talked about traveling and Ireland and religion. He shared his dream to tour around the Isle someday and play his music in pubs to make friends. We pulled up in front of an address he said wasn’t too far from where he grew up.
The front door was left open for me – not sure it’s actually ever locked. I found my bedroom as described. The house was quiet and empty. I moved gingerly first through the common areas – a utilitarian kitchen, open-plan living room and dining room, and porch under a wooden lattice decorated with old license plates and lots of potted plants.
I heard my host before seeing him. His voice was mid-tenor, the Glaswegian accent a novel nostalgia for me. I stood and opened the door, my eyes finding him in the semi-darkened hallway. He was friendly-looking, with a long neck and a baggy t-shirt draped over a shape he appeared not to have cared about in a while. His body leaned slightly, like a tree that had matured in steady wind. A quick hello and welcome and he was away again.
I lay on the bed and tried at sleep. It was elusive. For more than an hour I drifted in and out. At one point, a woman’s voice and a dog bark pushed their way through the door and into my slumber. I think the dog sniffed at my door and my heart quickened. I don’t have the energy for more right now. Leave me alone.
A cardboard box lounged next to the sidewalk that guided me to a supermarket a mile away. I had woken and rallied enough to make a grocery run. “Free pears” was scrawled on a sign. I chose one and enjoyed it over the next couple blocks, taking in each house and residential side street as I passed them. Small, most one-story; many with histories strewn about the lot or skirted with desperately dead patches of what used to be grass lawns.
“Bugs or something flying around tonight, huh?” she proffered with a chuckle. She was probably a little younger than me, walking the other way on my side of the street. I was meandering back to the house carrying a few groceries in a reused UK bag. Her jacket and jeans were both dark and she had a bandaid on her face. “Yeah, it’s weird,” I responded with conciliatory befuddlement, then marveled after she had passed. Ash was falling from the sky in chunks, the sky an eerie tan. Nearby areas were under fire evacuation orders. Bugs? Did she honestly think that? A couple blocks more and I passed another character on my side of the street. He had long hair, skinny limbs, a backpack, and carried a black trash bag full of what sounded like glass bottles slung awkwardly over a shoulder. He moved slowly, haltingly; didn’t make eye contact.
My eyes had been red when Edward called unexpectedly down the quiet hallway. I wondered whether he wondered about it. But as I walked back through the hall and kitchen a couple hours later and was smacked with the new thick scent, I laughed inwardly at myself for the thought. He was likely baked at the moment. He didn’t care (or probably notice) one lick whether I looked like I was on something.