If you plant bluegrass you get music, and if you plant dogwood you get barking, but if you plant roses all you get is roses, said Stevo the Gypsy. It was also Stevo the Gypsy who once said that there’s only one way to tell whether a gun is loaded before pulling the trigger and blowing off most of his jaw, so he had to acknowledge that he was wrong about some things. “But I am not wrong about Tammy Barnes,” he said. “That girl is a sex grenade.” He waved his hand at all of us, his friends and acolytes gathered in his trailer. “Someone just has to pull the pin.”
Our town lies in the fold of a map. It is small and many strange things happen, and each generation is allowed only one beautiful woman. Tammy Barnes was ours. Her family was Jehovah’s Witness, so talking to her required ingenuity. I made my attempt in the autumn, hoisting a ladder to her window in the night and tapping the glass ever so softly in the hope that she would swing wide the casement and allow me to recite Sonnet 116. My efforts roused their Labrador, and my fingers, frozen in the cold, lost their grip and I fell, catching and breaking my ankle in a rung of the ladder and pulling it down upon me with a crash. Her father, bewildered with sleep, fished me from the snow and drove me to the clinic. I recited the sonnet to him, and he said that I was a nice boy, but that I should engage in some serious self-reflection.
“Self-reflection is all well and good,” said Stevo the Gypsy, “but what you really need is balls. And vision. And Carlos here has both.” Carlos told us his plan to get with Tammy Barnes. He was joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses, marching down to the Kingdom Hall the very next day. “He’s putting his immortal soul on the line,” said Stevo the Gypsy. “That’s nuts of steel.” I countered that it wasn’t such a big deal, that Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness. “You’ve had your chance, Shakespeare,” said Stevo the Gypsy. “Don’t gripe.”
It was the time of the plane crashes, and that winter we were all busy clearing debris and hoarding treasure and finding new coats that fit our thin shoulders. We lost many of our leading citizens. We split our days between mourning and flea markets. Even so we found time to visit Stevo the Gypsy and drink his rusty tap water and wrestle each other on his ratty couch. All of us except for Carlos, who didn’t come around any more. I saw him once, months later in the parking lot of Foodland. He said he had become a publisher of the Kingdom, that he was headed to Uruguay to tell people there about the ransom paid by Jesus Christ, and His heavenly rule on earth which began upon His return in 1914. He asked after Stevo the Gypsy and I told Carlos that he was running for mayor. “I suppose somebody has to,” said Carlos. “But tell him from me that to participate in the affairs of government is to become an ally of Satan.”
“I’ll pass that along,” I said. As Carlos turned toward the bus stop, I asked. “What about Tammy Barnes?”
Carlos grinned. “Dude, she’s been engaged since she was sixteen.”
Stevo the Gypsy said Carlos was a rose, that he couldn’t be anything else no matter what. “But you,” he said, grabbing me by the shoulder, squeezing his fingers through the down of my new coat. “You are a lupine, and if you plant a lupine you get a wolf.” Stevo the Gypsy said that when he was mayor we would plant only flowers of action and flowers that could tell time, like morning glory and evening primrose. That we would then destroy all of the clocks and live again like free men. We would take the lids off of the garbage cans and let the bears eat like kings. We would train every citizen in the art of self-deception to protect them from injury.
“But what will you do about love?” I asked. “And its impediments?”
“Politics has no answer to that question,” he said. “Horticulture neither.”
Then it was the time of gathering signatures. We stood in the parking lot of Foodland and other auspicious places along the bus route, and sometimes Stevo the Gypsy would join us, looking frowzy and shattered with his Jolly Roger tee-shirt and ragged jaw. Even without him around no one would sign his nomination list and thus we all felt contemptible and low. I didn’t recognize anyone in my town anymore. Everyone had left or died and given their places to strangers and cripples. Only the ravens were the same, hunched and croaking in the drizzle like witnesses against us.
When I quit the campaign Stevo the Gypsy said, “You have become an impediment to my rule on earth.”
I said, “Jesus Christ returned to begin His rule in 1914.”
“Well,” Stevo the Gypsy said, “He’s done fuck-all since.”
What followed was the time of fishing. I left town on a power troller that ported out of Elfin Cove, a village haunted by kushtaka and residential fires. My captain believed in Satan and for sport made me ascend and descend the boat-ladder even on the coldest of days. My fingers froze but I never fell and broke my ankle and I never recited for him a sonnet. I engaged in serious self-reflection. I kept my mouth shut and caught salmon. I became a fisher of fish. Humpies and dogs, but also money fish: kings and reds and cohos. I ran the gurdies and dressed the monies as they came gasping from the sea, flicking with my knife the pyramid-shaped hearts of the kings onto the deck for the captain’s toddler daughter to eat raw and grinning as the boat heaved in the swell.
Dog salmon have big flat eyes that come at you like bubbles from the drain of a water fountain. They have no smell at all. King salmon smell like metal, like a wet gun barrel, and they have the jaws of a wolf. But a coho, fresh-caught and muscling in your arms, its scales flashing silver and rose in the sun, smells like a garden, like new-cut grass.
We fished the same drag off of Cape Spencer until our lips cracked and bled and the toddler became her generation’s beautiful woman. Many boys drowned in the sea trying to reach her. From the deck I could hear them wheezing out snatches of poetry until they were swallowed by the waves or shouted down by the screeching gulls.
The time of the plane crashes returned. Will Rogers and Ted Stevens died. Hale Boggs and Nick Begich disappeared into a fold in the map. I kept to the sea and missed the mourning and the flea markets and pulled my jacket close around my shoulders against the wind that grew ever more bitter.
Eventually we are all Time’s fool. I heard that Stevo the Gypsy moved to Coeur d’Alene. I heard that Carlos was hit by a car in Montevideo. I heard that Tammy Barnes had two kids. In the daylight I can’t remember their faces, but they come at me like knives in the night. Then I lie awake and listen to the humpbacks moaning in the murk below, and wonder after we die, and our mark is ever-fixed in the earth, what gardens will remain and what flowers we finally become.