We thought it the ultimate frontier. Not for the curbside windshield shards or Thumbelina’s dollhouse—four lopsided floors and a staircase that twirled from one tiny room to the next. Not even for a price tag that could fit inside a mouse hole in the plaster wall. It was not for that but for the vast, unmapped territory our happiness would occupy there; but for the grace of 100 southwesterly miles go we.
We would need special movers for the sofa, the strangers who dined beside us at the Royal Tavern advised. We had only a sagging futon then, purchased from the previous basement tenant. The strangers were smiling too, eating fat, crispy clubs in our new land of milk and honey. When the check arrived, we turned our pockets inside out to find only soft clumps of cotton lint. We charged lunch to the promise of our future bliss.
It was my Saturday open house refrain: Pioneer me, baby, into an unknown, temporal joy.
We loved to get high on fumes off the future, where we stood in scraggly backyards and imagined figures of ourselves doing things we never do. There is a backyard ballgame and a row of beans picked near-clean. In this fantasy we sink rootstalk through the soil. The ether-us plants, tends, rejoices. In our real home, we lived inside rented drywall, under a leaky bathroom ceiling, alongside a jade plant struggling on the windowsill.
All our present-tense joy was spun from what would one day be: across the country or upstate or California, always, California, I’m coming home. Even projections across the street into boxy new apartment buildings were far enough. Inside their wide department store windows, we want whatever they’re selling. A tower Christmas tree in the corner like a winking dollar sign, an expensive sectional, a wooden high chair.
What did our neighbors see through our garden-floor view? In the beginning, it was something so holy, he said, it made him believe in God. When we closed the red front door, we shut the city out, huddled and cozy in a living room we had painted campfire-orange. A nineteenth century prayer whispered over lumbering wagon wheels asked for the fruits of the earth to prosper, oh Lord. Our prayer was not dissimilar. It’s the one in which man meets woman and they’re yoked at the loins, pinned at the heart, pulled together by centrifugal force. Grant us good sex, amen.
We were not settlers, but animals, prowlers of a landscape littered with wavy horizon views in the distance, always up ahead and never here. We argued in metaphor. How do you drive to the Grand Canyon, he asked, and I said Cheetos on the bench seat between us, mix tape clicked into the tape deck and a scenic byway detour to see a ball of twine. Get tied up there for awhile as the dusk sky ripens to a cantaloupe.
But he said floor it, all night if necessary just to see that wild country. Our pilgrimage would pay off with our dreams lined up at the lip of the canyon awaiting our arrival: the panting dog, the swaddled infant, the pile of cash. And since we could not look at the map and agree, since neither eastbound nor west held an X to mark our spot, we became scavengers en route, trying to raise a house from what dry bones we could find. Bitter prairie winds seep through fissures in the mortar, to say nothing of the floods.