Lost Horse Mine

Kara’s therapist observes that Kara seems more interested in playing games than in making real connections with people. Kara has spent most of their session talking about the man she had sex with last Friday. She hopes he will text her though she doesn’t much like him. The therapist’s office is thickly heated. Beside Kara, a tissue blooms from its box like a fragile white flame. Wind lashes the second story window. For weeks people have been talking about the storm predicted to begin tonight. It is being called the storm of the decade. Public schools have already called off tomorrow.

The session ends. Kara hands her therapist a check for $130.

At dawn Kara wakes to find her power has gone out in the storm. She picks her way along the dark hallway to check her mail. Her neighbor stands in his open doorway, an old Russian man wearing boxer shorts and a stained white undershirt. His dim eyes peruse Kara’s body as she passes. The hall flickers and lurches.

Kara has received a package from a friend whose wedding she attended in May. In her dead apartment she opens the envelope. Matte finish prints from the wedding photographer. She and the other bridesmaids wore peacock green dresses from J. Crew. Looking at the photos, Kara wonders why no one told her to put on a bra.

The bride was Kara’s best friend from high school, the groom Kara’s friend from college. Kara introduced them when they were all living in Brooklyn. The wedding was in Palm Springs. The day before the ceremony, members of the wedding party stood in a crowded pool at the Ace Hotel drinking cocktails and batting at an inflated ball. The unattached bridesmaids took turns flirting with the groomsman who wore yellow swimming trunks. Kara didn’t mention her boyfriend back home, who was five years younger than Kara. She had hired him to cat-sit the previous Thanksgiving, and he simply stayed. He washed the dishes; he made the bed; he took her car to have its brakes replaced.

Because her dress was the only one with pockets, Kara was charged with holding the vows. At the start of the reception, Kara and the other bridesmaids were expected to dance on a stage for the assembled guests. Kara had not been warned of this duty. She danced with grim abandon, the way she might fling herself into a body of water she suspected to be very cold.

The next day, her duties finished, Kara rented a car at the airport and drove to Joshua Tree. The Nissan felt like a flimsy toy, buffeted by high winds on the desert highway. She had rented a corrugated cabin on the property of a middle-aged couple. The key was left for her under a pyramidal rock. The owner approached while Kara struggled with the latch of the screen door. He was a sturdy bald man who said he’d moved to the desert because he didn’t care for California politics. His wife would come by when she got home. She liked to meet all of their guests.

Kara tried to nap. When the bell rang, she didn’t get up, reasoning that for all the owners knew, she was asleep. The wife rang the little bell twice. Then she gave up and went away. Kara felt guilty and relieved.

That night Kara drove to an open mike at a western-themed bar and grill. Dozens of musicians performed three songs each. A gray-haired man sat with her. He was from LA and had come to intercept a guitar from another man. He didn’t know what the man looked like, but he knew the guitar. The guitar never appeared, so the man played a set with an acoustic spare. An old man with a lush white beard drifted over to Kara. He said his name was Sequoia and that she had beautiful eyes. On the drive back to the cabin, Kara buzzed with the vibrancy of this small, strange community. She tried to call her boyfriend to tell him about her night, but service was spotty and the call didn’t connect.

In the morning Kara went to the national park. She took selfies with a backdrop of precariously stacked red rocks. She sent one to her boyfriend. He replied, after four hours, “lol.”

She had brought a guidebook from the cabin and consulted it to find a hike. The guidebook recommended the Lost Horse Mine loop. Kara imagined a horse trapped in a narrow underground passage. The horse would pick its way through the mine, startled by dirt crumbling from the walls. It would grow thinner; its eyes would dim. Eventually it would succumb to the mine. This made Kara so depressed that she bypassed the mine at the fork. She wound through the hills instead, muted vistas that yielded after several miles to sand and gnarled Joshua trees. She took more selfies.

The next day Kara drove to San Diego to visit her friend, who worked as a public defender in El Cajon. They went to the beach, where Kara ate a taco and she and the lawyer discussed the relationships they wanted to escape. That night, the lawyer’s air mattress wouldn’t inflate. They searched for a store that sold air mattresses, but it was after eleven and everything was closed. The lawyer had to get up early. They shared his bed, sleeping head to foot under different blankets.

The lawyer was gone when Kara woke. She showered in his unclean bathroom. Once she had packed her things and driven away, Kara worried she’d left a pair of lacy thong underwear in his room. She pulled into a gas station and tore through her bag. The thong was there after all.

As she waited for her flight Kara and her boyfriend texted about where they would go for dinner. Kara’s boyfriend expressed anxiety over money. The terminal was overly air-conditioned; Kara dug in her backpack for a sweatshirt. At the top of her backpack sat the present she’d gotten her boyfriend, a tiny plant called African Pearls, wrapped in red tissue. The plant comprised dark spiny growths that ended in searching, beaklike mouths. Kara chose it because its label said it didn’t need much sunlight or water.

When he picked her up Kara saw that the boyfriend had gelled his hair. She placed her hand on the lacquered swell and he swatted it away, inferring criticism. They ate at no special place, a dumpling house on the way home. The restaurant was closing soon and Kara and her boyfriend were not wanted. She had thought she wouldn’t tell him she’d slept in the lawyer’s bed, but she found herself doing so immediately. Her boyfriend asked, with hostile indifference, if they’d fooled around. Kara feigned outrage. How could he think such a thing? Because you don’t like me very much, her boyfriend said. The waiter forgot their garlic pea shoots.

Kara cleans kitchen grout by storm-filtered daylight. Night is falling and she still has no power. Rain continues to pour. Downtown has flooded. The African Pearls sit on the sill under rattling glass. Kara’s ex-boyfriend didn’t take the plant with him to Portland. Kara keeps forgetting to water it. She is not sure whether it’s worth keeping alive.

Last Friday, before they had sex, the man had asked Kara if she bruised easily. She wasn’t sure of the truth, so she guessed at the answer he wanted.

Kara moves a wad of damp paper towel over the white tiles. She considers watering the African Pearls. Instead, she lights a candle and carries it into the deepening gloom of her bedroom, where the ceiling has started to leak.  

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