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 hereĀ 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.