Don's Year
Peter Lavelle

There were seven different times that year when Don came home drunk and then realized he had no cigarettes, and then went back out to buy some at 7 Eleven. Four or five of those were in the warm months. One of the cold times, he ran into Elva, his old landlord, who was also drunk. She was in the 7 Eleven buying gum, kleenex, matches, floss. They smoked a cigarette together in the cold outside. All he would later remember of this was her joke about smoke, which stayed with him for the rest of the winter. Elva said that since you could see your regular breath in the winter, there was no way of knowing whether cold weather didn't also turn smoke invisible. Now this couldn't really be true, since Don could see smoke coming off his cigarette when he shielded it from the wind (he checked). And also: smoke breath looks different from regular cold breath. But still, for the rest of the winter, he thought about it when he was smoking, especially when he was smoking while walking home drunk.

The town had sodium streetlamps, or nickel lamps; he was never sure because at some point in childhood he'd mixed up those words. Anyway, the town had sodium streetlamps, and whenever Don was walking home late, thinking about Elva's comment while he drunkenly walkingly smoked, the occasional lamp along his route would turn a few snow crystals into little interferometers, and Don somehow felt there was a link between the sodium-nickel light and the crunching sounds of the plowed snow under his boots, which was the only sound, so muffled that it barely reached his ears. I mean he felt there was a link, as in: he never consciously thought it, but if you said it to him, he would know what you meant. Don was not stupid, but you wouldn't think of him as being particularly bright. He wasn't good at articulating his thoughts at times, but they were still there, and some of them were pretty good.
Three months after their conversation, Elva moved away, unbeknownst to Don. She moved to Spokane, Washington. Don didn't ever see her again, and he didn't think of her again until the next winter when the temperature changed his breath again, by which time he'd already moved away too. So any time Elva popped into his head, even four or five years later, he imagined her still living in the old town, being nice to people, chatting to former tenants while drunkenly talkingly smoking outside a 7 Eleven or a gas station, probably at night. He didn't feel any kind of nostalgia for the town, or for his casual friendship with Elva or any of the other people he knew there. He liked her, but didn't feel strongly about her one way or the other. If you told him that she would appear in a story about his year, he would be surprised. She's not that significant in Don's life, and yet her name appears six times in this story, and Don's name a mere nineteen.
At least a dozen times that year, Don went swimming. He was 32 that year, and he'd filled out slightly around his stomach. He was self-conscious about it, but again this wasn't something he thought about, more something he felt. I could say he wasn't conscious of his self-consciousness, like he was unconsciously self-conscious, or even self-unconscious, except that would be making a mockery not only of language, but also of Don's inner life during the moments when he took off his shirt at a pool party and jumped into the pool right away (so people wouldn't be able to scrutinize him that much). His girlfriend didn't care that he was putting on weight, but he was more worried about what her friends thought. He would get out of the pool at the part of the pool where he'd left his towel at the side. This was the same towel they used to have outdoor sex on the summer before, but the summer of Don's year they only had sex outside once, and that was actually on pine needles, and was arguably not even sex, because it didn't last long at all (because of the pine needles). There was penetration though, for about a minute, so it would count as sex on a technicality, by Don's standards. That was when they'd stopped to smoke a joint at a picnic area on the highway once, but it was a Wednesday afternoon in August and there was nobody around, just the picnic tables with the bees around them. "Why do bees still hang around when there's obviously no food?" [Don]
Hard to say how many times Don slept that year. He'd usually get a decent rest, between 6 and 8 hours on average, probably. But if he was really drunk, the quality of Don's sleep would be poor. Sometimes he would wake up several times in the night, but these wakeups were usually so brief that it's debatable whether they should count as true interruptions, or if it's just one uninterrupted sleep in spite of the break. On the one hand, he'd woken up for a second. On the other hand, when a really tired person blinks, and during that blink they fall asleep for a fraction of a second without even noticing, does that count as sleep? It seems the same standard should apply to Don's little wakeups. But he did take naps during the day whenever he could, and those would definitely count as sleeps, definitely. But what about as Don falls into a nap and skirts sleep for half an hour or so, which he liked to do, dipping in and out of a deeper state like a flying fish, never quite breaking either edge of the slipstream between sleep and waking? Does that count? Not easy to quantize sleeps, it turns out. Though this is our problem and not Don's.

Peter Lavelle writes stories. He wrote this one.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Demetri Mouratis.

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