Saturday, August 19, 2017. Allison felt it unlikely she’d ever see the man previously known as “Dave” again but could not be sure, especially after the voice in her head said, You don’t know Jack. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to laugh.
Allison had taken the second zodiac to cast off from the Amor. “Dave” wasn’t with the group. She figured he took the first panga ashore, but he missed the morning flight out of the Galápagos, so that was weird. Or maybe not. Maybe “Dave” was trying to avoid her.
Allison maintained her vigil in United’s gate at Quito’s international airport, even though she knew “Dave” had little reason to be there. The man said he was going southeast to Peru, not north to Houston. The infamous Mister Wiggs wanted to soar the Andes and contemplate his navel, while she flew home for honest work at sea level. “Dave” would take an Ecuadorian or Peruvian airline, most likely, which was just as well. They were birds of different feathers, obviously.
But opposites attract.
Stop that, Allison told her voice. Kill the clichés. Allison noted she was a forty-one-year-old woman experienced in life and love, not some teenager nursing a crush. She threw a verbal dagger on her way out of the man’s cabin, a stab through the heart via the head. It was meant to be fatal and was. “Dave” was over. It was best not to think about him.
Allison thought about him while boarding her flight to Houston. How to treat the memory of a man whose bed she’d shared for more than a week without knowing his real name? Until a better handle came along, Allison decided filing the guy under Jerks would do.
Good. Now she could move on. Now she could order a drink before dinner. Allison pressed the flight attendant call button and asked for a glass of red wine. During the in-flight meal, she ordered a Merlot. Afterward, she had a nightcap, pulled the window shade, and bid the voice, Nighty night.
Drifting off, she heard Sweet dreams, Allison Eve. Allow me to tell you a bedtime story.
Pachamama told her of a bare girl running along a river’s edge, of hard feet on soft sand, of birdsong cascading through trees. It was the story of a sixteen-year-old living at a time when Allison’s name was Evt’a, meaning Fallen Sparrow. The girl was deftly avoiding washed-up tree limbs and an occasional carcass. The kills were recent, only a few hours old, but the bones had been picked clean. What little meat was left was rotting, which Fallen Sparrow thought best to leave alone. After all, she wasn’t running after food.
The girl had heard a scream followed by a splash coming from upstream. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she’d seen Little Hunter cross the river chasing a large black bird. At least, the naked boy tearing out of the bush brandishing a spear looked like him: blond hair, lanky body, a carefree and careless gait. He was always chasing something—deer, bison, birds. A few years ago he’d chased her, but Sparrow wouldn’t submit, so Hunter moved on to other girls in the clan that were coming of age.
Fallen Sparrow was sure Little Hunter was after feathers, another trophy for his plumage and scraps of pelt collection. In his clan’s lore, taken feathers and skin were a sign of bravery. In Sparrow’s mind, they were signs of idiocy. Her clan was a smarter breed; at least, that’s what her mother had told her. Kill to eat, not to show off.
Yes, there he was, leaping from the river and running toward a lone tree. Little Sparrow stopped to watch his attack, which was anything but strategic. The boy hollered “Ayee!” at the bird, driving it to a high branch. Ha. This should be good, she thought. Fallen Sparrow kneeled behind a thicket to watch the unfolding story.
Ouch. A briar thorn scratched her bottom. Sparrow threaded her way out of the bush and swiped her cheek with her hand. No blood.
Thorns? Wasn’t this the same patch Little Hunter tore through before crossing the river? He had to be bleeding. So careless, so dangerous to himself, that one.
Now came grunts followed by pounding hoofs. Little Hunter had thrown his spear into the tree, missing the bird, but catching the attention of a wooly hippopotamus grazing under the tree’s canopy. The animal must have thought the boy was invading its territory. Little Hunter was defenseless without his weapon. The hippo charged as the boy scurried up the tree.
Fallen Sparrow plunged into icy turquoise waters and swam cross current. The glacier runoff didn’t bother her as much as floating coils of disemboweled intestines. She submerged, hoping nothing was snacking from below. Emerging on the other side, she approached upwind of the hippo’s position and picked up the largest stone she could find.
Little Hunter had scaled two-thirds of the tree, which was another mistake. The higher he went, the greater the effect of the hippo’s battering the trunk. He was getting whip-lashed.
Sparrow threw the rock from behind the hippo, hitting its rump. The animal rotated in a tight circle, only to find no one there. Fallen Sparrow kept inside the animal’s blind spot, and after three spins, the hippo stumbled off, confused and dizzy.
She called Hunter by his name from the base of the tree. A’taam! When he descended, Little Sparrow squealed, “Ha ha.”
Hunter and Sparrow swam back, him in front, her guarding against an attack by something attracted to blood.
“May I take your tray?”
Allison raised an eyelid before lifting the window shade. Thirty-nine thousand feet below lay an ocean teaming with sharks, predators that could smell a drop of blood five miles away.
“Thanks.” Allison waved her empty glass at the man. “Can I have another red?” She pulled the shade, closed her eyes, and asked herself, Where were we?
Sparrow and Hunter avoided thickets on their way back to camp, but she shoved him into bushes at the sight of fresh cat tracks on sand. Hunter wanted to plow home, but Sparrow wouldn’t let him. Although the river had washed most of the blood from his wounds, he’d cut himself on the inside leg climbing the tree. He was still bleeding.
She made a bandage of leaves and pressed it on his thigh. Then Sparrow found a patch of yarrow flowers, ground them with her palms, and applied them to the wound. Little Hunter winced when the ointment stung, but another part of his body seemed to enjoy the attention, which caused Sparrow to laugh again.
That made Little Hunter angry—and then suddenly amorous. Sparrow dropped the flowers and backed away.
He grabbed her arm and pulled her down.
A year younger than Hunter but as strong, Fallen Sparrow broke free. When he approached, she pushed him over, smiling. When he tried to stand, she held him down by sitting on his stomach. When he tried to maneuver her into a favorable position, she smacked his face and pinned his arms with her knees. Turning red, Little Hunter squirmed to flip her over, but Fallen Sparrow wouldn’t budge. The girl had other plans. If they were going to do this, she figured, it would be on her terms.
“I should have smacked him harder.” Somewhere over Central America, turbulence and a hangover kicked in.
Interesting, said the ever-present voice. You threw a towel at him, not a punch.
I cut him to the bone leaving his cabin, whoever the hell you are. If that’s not a slap, what is?
What are you alluding? That I threw in the towel with this guy? Allison pulled up the window shade again and wondered, Who is this voice? I mean, what kind of hallucination speaks in metaphor? She gazed out of the plane, beyond her reflection, past the wingtip, and scanned the horizon. Oh, she told herself, understanding but not knowing why.
For the next few minutes, Allison watched clouds drift like mountain peaks through time and thought, Yeah, perhaps I should have given “Dave” a chance to explain.
Please. About the fake name. About hiding what he did for a living. Allison had shared intimacy, fear, and pain. What did he share? Nada. Architects should be better than that, don’t you think? So never mind about giving him a chance. Lying was an indignity beyond understanding. Therefore, Allison consigned the last nine days to a fling, a mindless hookup. “Dave” was nothing more than a well-deserved diversion from melancholy, an affair not worth overthinking. A little fun and new perspective, that’s all. It was less, not more, and just what she needed. Earl was right; Allison was coming home a new person.
Descending into Houston, Allison wondered if she was going mad. As of landing at George Bush Airport, the voice in her mind had not replied.
Wall monitors announced her bags would arrive on carousel five. After clearing immigration, she found luggage snaking under two large screens, both displaying her flight number. One of the monitors switched to television news.
Hello, said the voice, apparently still with her. Where did you come from?
Ecuador, Allison thought.
Not you. That.
Allison looked up.
The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on the remnants of Tropical Storm Harvey, located over the central Caribbean Sea, which is now a tropical wave. Environmental conditions are expected to be unfavorable for development during the next couple of days. Stay tuned for the latest weather updates.
You mean the Internet. Yep, we’re back in civilization. How did I survive more than a week without the Web? Allison took out her phone and tapped Uber, but then realized a Baytown architect with a name like Jack Wiggs should be simple to find. She opened her browser and typed. A bunch of Facebook and LinkedIn photos appeared, although none of them “Dave.”
Natch. “Wiggs” could be an alias, too.
Allison then typed David Wiggs—and there he was, David Adam Wiggs, Architect, complete with a progression of photos showing a lanky teenager with blond hair, a college student holding a T-square, and a graying middle-aged man sitting atop a mountain. Allison felt relieved and confused, and empty.
Riding through the night in the back of the Uber, she recovered by reviewing how Dave had misled her, perhaps not in name, but in what he did for a living. He worked for the bloodsuckers, and he hid this little detail despite knowing Allison’s distaste for the fossil fuel Famiglia, the carbon Cosa Nostra, the greenhouse gas goons. Dave said he agreed with her that architecture could save the world, but that was a ruse to bed her. He worked for the enemy. Dave was still a jerk.
Oh, God, I slept with the enemy, Allison realized pulling into her drive. Alejandro only figuratively jumped into bed with Big Oil—and for that, I called him a whore.
Unlike humans, Pachamama knows no anger, harbors no ill will, dispenses no justice. To Pachamama, fire and brimstone are myths. She plans no reckoning day.
But although Pachamama is never judgmental, she is often judged. Some claim her impartiality is cold, that Mother Nature’s nature is unforgiving. They gauge her wind and assume fury. They fear her anger is brutal and eternal. They cry when life takes a natural course.
They do not know her. But Allison did and had for 200,000 years. On that day, though, she did not remember. Her day of reawakening was yet to come.
Sunday, August 20, 2017. One of the delights of a glass house immersed in a wooded site is an unobstructed view of the environment from any room. Since designing Maison de Mom in college, and then building the house for her mother after graduation, Allison watched hawks nesting in oak trees, herons and egrets along the banks of the bayou, and deer foraging in her backyard.
Living with nature also had downsides. Earl once found remnants of a small animal in his backyard, a raccoon carcass with bones cleaned by buzzards. Over the years, cats disappeared, and dogs tied to outside tethers went missing. And yet, even though Allison knew there were alligators in Buffalo Bayou, in all her jogging and kayaking, never saw one.
More problematic to living with nature was what to do when nature called. Allison had planted saplings on a rise near the master bedroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows, a privacy screen that grew more impenetrable every year. In the bathrooms, she designed windows that started five feet above the floor. Any part of Allison’s body worthy of peeping was, thus, either obscured or hidden from the neck down.
Her first morning home from the Galápagos began in sullen communion with the cosmos, which she could see from her bed and made necessary because her voice was incommunicado. Was it possible to insult yourself to the point you were no longer on speaking terms? She thought about the possibility.
From her bathtub, Allison watched Venus rise and the moon fade. She made soft splashes with her finger listening to birds roused by the sun. Robed and raisin-toed, she dragged into the kitchen head down, feeling the effects of the flight and yet again too much wine. Another restless night. Yellow socks, she suddenly decided, were ill suited to polished granite. She could slide, but the cold bled through and numbed her feet. Had anyone ever designed a modern house with a sand floor? She added the thought to her possibilities list.
Allison opened her refrigerator, a door concealed as an oak-paneled wall, and reached for the last two eggs in the carton. From inside her head came a sputtering image of tree limbs and a nest. She felt souls stirring, so Allison returned the seeds to their aerie and made oatmeal instead, adding a side of morning TV.
Data from an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter mission this morning indicated the remnants of Tropical Storm Harvey do not have a well-defined center of circulation.
Sitting in the dining room with carpet now underfoot, she peeled off her socks and went through the mail, finding, at last, a smile. Gloria and Otto had signed her agreement—Allison had her first commission as a recovering solo practitioner.
A|or|A Architects were no more, but who cared? Alejandro would rant about feeding employees, especially those with growing families. Oh, the pressure, he’d complain. Oh, the dramatics. But Allison enjoyed “the grandkids.” A|or|A preferred hiring graduates fresh out of architecture school, leading to small people populating the office on weekends and after dinner. Once or twice a month, nursing newborns or toddlers playing with Eames’ House of Cards took over the studio. Alejandro would grow dark and lock himself in his office. Allison illuminated and got on fours. In her new practice, she promised herself to again be surrounded by young minds and little feet. Until then, Allison’s mission was nurturing Maison de Mom into the world headquarters of Plinth & Associates Architects. She obsessed over a new logo, designing a stylized version of a woman’s face with leaves for hair and foliage growing out of her mouth. Allison walked to the referenced terra cotta head mounted near her refrigerator and planted a kiss. You can be my first associate, she told her inner voice.
It was time to find Earl and thank him for his sage advice. Out of habit, Allison looked through her dining room window, as if her old neighbor still lived next door. She pictured herself a six-year-old squeezing through twisted wood planks to sneak into Aunt Ruth’s gazebo. But Earl and Ruth’s house was long gone, and the wooden planks replaced while she was on vacation by a corrugated metal fence.
Jesus, there goes the neighborhood.
Allison dressed and walked outside hoping a yard sign would tell her what was going up. She found a new sidewalk and a driveway made of open concrete pavers, and little else. Grass was seeded to grow through square holes, which was comforting. She’d used the same precast blocks for her driveway. Concrete was a vertical material, she remembered telling Dave on the Amor. It was suitable for walls but icky to walk on. Grassy infill made it tolerable, though. He half agreed, saying sealed interior concrete could be stained to resemble marble, which made it beautiful.
Dave, oh, Dave, oh, Dave, where are you now? Allison wondered if he was thinking of her high up there in the Andes. Nah. Fat chance. The man was stealing artifacts from Incan ruins, smoking cacao, and planning his next climatic assault for the oil barons.
Peering through a gap between the construction fence and a sliding gate, Allison could see cleared land, but no slab for the house. Good. The project was at least nine months from completion. She prayed a McMansion wasn’t in the offing but feared the worst. Eco-friendly driveway or no, in this neighborhood, ostentatious was costume de rigueur. Allison hoped it was still possible to influence the project and prevent a disaster. She needed the owner’s name and phone number—and fast.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Part 3 of the series is here. Allison Rising is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Sojourn: A Novel Theory of Architecture. Featured image of Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston, by the author.