by Lance Larsen
I park under the cottonwood in the back, so that no one will nose around in my trailer. Two slots away is a Willys jeep, rusted, its axles sitting on blocks. I'm not worried about being robbed. I just don't like hauling around a burned trailer, knowing everyone is asking the one question I can't answer. I untie a bandana hanging from the mirror and wipe the smoke from my face . Then I change into a clean T-shirt and head for the pay phone to call Dizzie, my insurance agent. His real name is Elmo Sack, but ever since I saw a blonde in a push-em-up dress stick her tongue in his ear during happy hour I could never call him Elmo. "Dizzie, " I say . "How the hell are you?" "Who is this?" he says. "It's me," I say . "Frank." "What happened?" he says. "It's not the golf clubs again, is it?" "No , Dizzie," I say. "It's not the clubs." Then I tell him about the fire. It takes maybe two minutes. When I finish, he says, ''No problem. Take a few pictures, some close-ups. And make a list. Everything-the whole shebang," he says. " You're a real guy," I say. "Wait for your premiums," he says. "Say hello to your mom, " I say, then I hang up and head for the office. The lady behind the desk has curlers in her hair and is wearing a gray dress. I tell her I need a single and she hands me the register. "If I can get you to sign right here," she says. "That' 11 be $22 .95 . Check-out by eleven sharp. If you need ice, I've got it here in the office." She turns around to the key board. ''I' 11 give you twenty-seven," she says. "It's a double, but I won't charge you extra.'' I pay her and she smiles at me with tinted glasses. My room is the last one in the second building. From the front door, I can see the sign out by the highway: DREAM ISLAND MOTEL. The letters are in orange neon, surrounded by small blue bulbs that blink on and off. Coming through town, you pass a gas station and a laundromat, and Dream Island is on your left. In the bathroom the porcelain tub is stained yellow. I soap down twice then use the soap on my hair. From the window I see the river. There are cows on the other side, heads lowered . I rinse off and dress. Next to the TV are sheets of stationery but no pen or pencil. I look in the drawers, but all I come up with is a telephone direc- tory and a pamphlet from Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood. This time there 's a girl behind the office desk. She's helping a paunchy couple. The man is wearing a T-shirt that says "Where the hell is Jackson Hole?" and the lady has on a yellow Aloha shirt tucked into green slacks. The girl is writing something down on a piece of paper. Her nails are pink, the color of faded balloons. On one side her hair is pulled back, the long strands on the left hang- ing across her forehead and down her shoulder. She brushes the hair away from her eyes a couple of times, then just leans her head sideways. When she goes to the back room to get something, I see that she's wearing sandals and flowered shorts that come down to her knees. Her calves are slim and brown and look almost wet. I ask her for a pen and end up with ice cubes, too . Back in my room, I turn on the TV. The picture comes on without the sound . I turn the volume switch up all the way but it doesn't work. I switch channels and finally leave it on a movie with Cary Grant. The picture is black and white and blurry on the edges. I settle back on the bed with a piece of paper and start writing down the things that burned-shirts, sweaters, pants, my stereo amplifier. The guy on the clean-up crew had to lift it with gloves because it was still hot. The heat sinks in the back had curled into each other and the transistors were poking up from melted wire . I write it all down . Three blankets, two sets of sheets, books, an easel, sketch pads. It will all take time-the letters and estimates, the meetings with Dizzie-but for now it feels good to take an accountmg. I keep writing. A boxful of cherry Twizzlers. A dozen frozen pizzas. A case of Hubba-bubba. Six bottles of jerky. Two bottles of Black Velvet. Strawberries and kumquats. A hundred cantaloupes. Teddies-black lacy ones. Three years of Rolling Stone . Bailing wire. A pet parakeet and two iguanas. A cubic foot of peat moss. A stuffed pelican. I think of Dizzie nursing along his fifth Tab and his twentieth claim, then reading mine. It'll get him, it'll get him. I drink some water and lie down . When I wake up, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are running down this alley, and it's night. He pulls her into a doorway and they wait. A man runs past the alley and they begin to relax, then Cary Grant takes her in his arms. It's a little early for dinner, but I'm hungry . I decide to ask the girl at the desk if she feels like Chinese food . I walk past the horseshoe pits to the parking lot. Everything worth saving is stuffed in the front of my trailer. The rest is sitting in a black heap in the back. I unlock my car and get out my Polaroid. I use it on road trips to take shots of things I happen to be painting. It's hell to get half- way through with a cow or a lady under a tree or a tractor and have them move on you. I start clicking off shots, one from each side, close-ups of the ashes. When I'm done I have seven. I fan the film and wait for the colors to appear. I think of what to write. "To Dizzie, with love, Frank." "Wish you were here, Frank." "Next week, the Riviera and Zsa Zsa, Frank." When I'm done I get the extra tarp out of the trunk and throw it over everything. In the office I ring the bell. The lady in the gray dress comes out and I ask her about the girl. She leaves and they come back together. I introduce myself and hold out my hand. Her name is Katrina. The lady in the gray dress is her aunt. "Any ,Chinese cafes around here?" I say . "The Shanghai up the road," Katrina says. "How far?" '' A couple three blocks,'' she says, walking around the counter. She stops in front of the window. "See that sign for condominiums. It's half a block past there on the other side of the street." That's when I get out my wallet. I show her that I sell Amway and that I have a library card. I show her a picture of my mother and one of my brother-in-law Sam at graduation. "You don't know me," I say, "but I hate eating egg roll alone .' ' She looks at me . "Let me see the picture of your mother again, " she says. She looks at it, front and back. She reads the dedication. "What's her name?" she says. "Louise," I say . "She looks nice." She brushes her hair back but doesn't say anything at first . " I eat a lot," she says. " It'll cost you ." I tell her we can take my car, but she says it's a nice evening for walking. On the way there, I tell her about the trailer. Just over Rabbit Ears Pass, someone started honking, so I looked in my mirror and everything was on fire. The tarp was gone . It took me and a guy with a German accent twenty minutes to put it out. Two fire extinguishers and seven gallons of spring water from an old couple's Winnebago, and dirt. I tell her about Dizzie , too. I can tell she likes him right off. "But how did it start? " she says. "I don't know," I say. ''I'm clueless. Friction, hot tar. The cop thought maybe someone threw a cigarette. Could be anything. Maybe it was the ants-too many of them crawling around where I spilled my soda this morning. Maybe they exploded ." She picks a columbine growing at the side of the road, sniffs it, twirls it, and asks me what I do . I tell her the Amway card is real, and that in summer I moonlight by mowing lawns and putting in sprinkling systems. I tell her about my passion for landscapes. We settle into a booth in the back and an Oriental girl in a white apron comes over. She turns our glasses right side up and fills them with water. "Coffee? " she says. When I say no , she places menus in front of us and tells us she 'll be back in a couple of minutes. I start laughing. " What is it?" Katrina says. ' 'I'm in a restaurant called The Shanghai, " I say . " And you' re the only Katrina I know." She smiles and bites her nail. ' 'I'm staying at the Dream Island Motel and I have an insurance agent named Dizzie who you're flipped over and we 're ordering sweet and sour. It seems like it couldn't be any other way." "That's right, " she says. "That's absolutely right." We go down to the river behind the motel. The grass drops down to a sandbar. Downstream the bar thins and the water goes under the bank. I take pieces of grass and throw them at the ripples. They float on top, then get pulled into shadow. She tells me about her cousin Eric, whom she hasn't seen in five years. "The summer when I was thirteen, " she says, "he drove to California with my mom and me. We stayed here one night. In the morning before breakfast, we went out for a walk and ended up going along the river, looking for crawdads, skipping stones, that sort of thing . Then we crossed over on a footbridge and followed a creek. There were ferns and mountain orchids. And after we climbed up some rocks, we found a hot spring that bubbled into a pool . Someone had moved the rocks around so that it was perfect for two . We stayed the whole morning." I pick a dandelion head and flip it into the water. Before it drifts into shadow, there is a swirl and a trout jumps. Katrina watches the water and hugs herself. ''I hiked up there a couple of weeks ago ,'' she says. ''But I couldn't find the bridge. " I start throwing pebbles. " Do you have a swimsuit? " she says. "Not with me ," I say . " Cut-offs or something? We could swim." The pool is behind the office , and though it's not dark yet, the pool lights are on. Katrina's doing the butterfly. I get flashes of skin and blue bikini. I take a running jump and land flat like a racer. I let my body cut through the water a few inches from the bottom. When I come up , Katrina is in front of me treading water. Her hair is pulled back away from her face, and I see there's a tiny scar on her forehead . I touch it. "What happened?" I say . "It was George Gregorias," she says. "He was my boyfriend in eighth grade . Pushed me into a wall when I wouldn't French kiss. '' "I would have too," I say . "He went back to Greece," she says. "So it didn't matter." "He should have stayed and fought it out," I say. "There was baklava to consider," she says. She swims off and I chase . She swims circles around me. I double bounce her on the diving board and she does a one and a half. I do a cannonball . I dry off first then hold her towel. Coming toward me she's got a navel that would make you weep. I invite her to my room to show her my Polaroids. I get my key out and unlock the door. "You left the TV on," Katrina says. "But there's no sound." "It doesn't work," I say . "Why didn't you tell my aunt?" "That's all right, " I say . "It's better without the words." I look at the screen. There 's a guy in a courtroom walking back and forth in front of a jury. He puts his hands behind his back and walks toward the judge. He holds out his hands and points to a chair where a small man.is slumped next to a policeman. The lawyer starts pounding the air with clenched fists. I sit down on the bed. "Here they are," I say . She takes them and sits down next to me. She looks at each one, then flips them over to read the backs. She leans back on the bed and starts laughing. "These are great," she says. She reads out loud . " Fiji is dreamy, bring your own comb, Frank." "They're not enough," I say. "I need something that will knock his socks off. ' ' That's when I notice the birthmark on Katrina's calf. "I could paint you, " I say. "On the trailer, leaning out, waving. Dizzie's a bikini man. It would drive him nuts." Katrina laughs. "What do you think?" ''I've never posed,'' she says. "You're a natural," I say. "Pin-up material." She smiles and sits up . " If it goes big, I want a cut." We walk across the grass. I can smell the river. I get my easel set up and paints ready. That's when Katrina starts posing. "Not enough thigh, " I say. "Try it on top of the speaker." She gets up there and hangs one leg over the side and leans her head back, so I get cleavage and neck. "That's it," I say. "Freeze." Behind her the sun flashes on the ripples, and the water pulls at creeks and springs. I get out the Polaroid in case she can't hold the pose.