The suitcase was baby blue and shimmered, like a doll suitcase. It sat open at the curb, rain falling on its collapsible hangers and smart cloth pockets.
“An old suitcase!” I said, checking the latches to see if they worked. “I’ve always wanted an old suitcase!” I picked it up. It swung neatly in my hand. I could put my clothes in it, and toss it into the backseat of my car. Starling McMorning and I headed back to where our bikes were parked, me watching the reflection of my new suitcase in the shop windows. We’d just eaten Thai food, hot green broccoli and chicken that tasted like the freezer, tiny squares of carrot. A matted pile of clouds the color of copy toner was dragging its way across the lid of the sky, and pushing before it a light, stinging rain- a mid-winter spritz. It wasn’t too cold, we weren’t even wearing scarves. I’d convinced Starling McMorning to come to southeast with me before she went to work. It was a perfect day for adventuring. Whenever I eat chicken, it makes me want to have an adventure. All that protein coursing through my bloodstream.
I’d planned on carrying the suitcase on my bike rack, but once we got to our bikes I realized what a dumb idea that was, and looked around for a place to stash it. The corner was all tall fence and peoples’ neat little yards, but next to the curb I found a long, narrow hole in the ground, dug by the city. There was a piece of plywood over it.
“Look, Starling!” I shouted. “It’s the perfect place to hide a suitcase full of money!” I dropped it in there, hoping it wouldn’t get too muddy, and put the plywood back. I could pick it up on my way home, later in the day.
We rode our bikes to the Herb Shoppe in southeast. Starling McMorning had need of a bottle of mushroom tincture and some evening primrose for her pre-menstral dysphoria. The shop had neither of those things, and so we left and I dragged Starling over to Really Good Stuff, which is the junkshop in Phillip’s Story. I showed her the Bins of Worthlessness and Hat Mountain, and we pulled black and white photos out of the metal filing cabinets labeled “cousins” and “uncles” for a while, stuffing them all back in when we realized how expensive they were. I needed a new bolo tie, but I couldn’t seem to find one that didn’t look like it was made by a ten-year-old in 1975. I fingered the ratty fur coats for a moment, and pounded the keys on a tiny piano, then squatted on the concrete floor to gaze longingly into the case that held the tarnished, over-priced pocket-watch chains. Finally we left, after coming to a decision that the accordion was in fact the most beautiful instrument in the world, and fed a quarter into an ancient, hulking, carousel-style pony ride that sat out front in the rain. I rode the pony, and the pony didn’t break. I pressed a hand to my forehead and looked out towards downtown. We’ll get there by sundown, I said.
Starling had to go to work after that, so I said goodbye and biked further south, to visit my friend T-Butch at the co-op where she works. She’d just gotten done with her shift. I bought a bunch of red Russian kale, which I have a fondness for ever since last winter when I lived on a farm, cold and empty, just me in my yurt and two hundred red Russian kale plants in the field. It was lonely, and I pretended it was the end of the world, and I was the only one left, and I’d found all these kale plants. I ate huge salads of shredded raw kale every day with braggs and apple cider vinegar, and grew superpowers. I stood in the rain, laughing, and went running on logging roads that went nowhere, pretending to track coyotes. In the evenings I would chop wood in the dark, watching the split pieces fall into the pool of light from my yurt-window. Above me the stars would glint, perfect and clear and cold, and I would feel like an animal, a present, breathing animal, wild and strong and free.
After I bought my kale T-butch and I sat on a brightly painted cob bench in the rain, and talked about how more than anything, almost, we just wanted to learn how to be really good two-steppers. Like, we wanted to actually learn to two-step, take lessons and everything, so we could turn our partners gracefully and put our feet down in the right places and glide romantically across the dance floor to top-forty country hits, like the older butch women in narrow-belted wranglers and the men in giant Stetsons we saw at gay country line dancing every other weekend. So far we’d go dancing and just sort of fumble and trip over our feet, and try to ignore the tight-lipped fags with sweat-stains on the backs of their t-shirts who could two-step in their sleep.
The rain turned so light as to be nearly invisible, and we practiced two-stepping in the courtyard of the co-op, no music but our own talking– quick-quick slow, slow, quick-quick slow, slow, quick-quick slow, slow, like beating a drum over and over until it becomes muscle memory.
I saddled up my horse (bike) and headed north again, turning on my bikelight in the afternoon dim. As I biked I thought of a baby I’d seen in the co-op, strapped securely into an expensive rocker-thing, kicking its freshly socked feet and waiting in the checkout line with its parents. From the handle of the rocker-thing hung a clean cotton book for the baby to play with, proly full of French sestinas or artful drawings of ethnic children. Something about that baby had bothered me. Who is this baby, I’d thought, to have a cloth book to play with? Why is he so special? Who is he to have an expensive carrier and two wealthy, free-thinking parents? Childhood should be dirty, I thought some more. Kids should wear torn scraps of fabric and half-off socks. Kids should play with sticks and headless dolls, and empty cardboard boxes. I thought of John Travolta’s son, who had just died. When John Travolta’s son was little, he had been super uptight about cleanliness, and had frequently had the carpets in his baby’s room cleaned. His young son had developed a disorder whose two main causes are a mysterious virus and overexposure to the chemicals in carpet cleaner. I don’t know which is more terrible- that we actually use these chemicals in carpet cleaner, or that you can kill your kid this way.
I got to the corner where I’d hidden the suitcase, and the square of plywood was gone. The city had been there, and the hole was filled. The job was finished. OH NO! I thought, and then I saw it sitting there, propped neatly against the fence, getting nice and damp in the rain. I laughed and brushed some of the mud off, strapping it to my bike rack with the old innertube I use as a bungee. I’ve always wanted an old suitcase, I thought, as I biked the last ten blocks to home.