Ames looked out the window of Ghirardelli Square as he spooned his hot fudge sundae, out to the fog-shrouded bay where the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz loomed in the mist, past a container ship inching across the water, past the bare heads of swimmers free styling closer to shore, past the 45 years when he had first come to this very place with his friend Eddie and they’d stayed with Ames’ older sister Kay who had shot out of Ventura the day she turned 18 and zoomed up the 101 in her maroon ’66 Mustang, landing a job at Howard Johnson’s in Mill Valley, and scoring an apartment with her gay roommate on Church St. across from Dolores Park.
Ames and Eddie had saved their money from mowing lawns and painting addresses on curbs and bought plane tickets and crashed on Kay’s living room floor. They were fourteen. The City was Fantasy Land—wide open and filled with color and exotic enticements—the Carol Doda sign on Broadway with barkers out front and porn newspaper stands with outrageous photos and advertisements that feminist groups sprayed pink so the covers were obscured.
There were exotic steamy dishes in Chinatown. Firecrackers and switchblades. Clanging cable cars they hopped aboard and rode for free, hanging on with one hand as they chugged up impossibly steep streets, laughing. Banana splits at Ghirardelli and a stunningly real Al Capone in wax at Madame Tussauds. It was a new world for them, as if a rock had cracked open to reveal new dreams and strange pleasures and freedom without limit. Or parents.
Ames sipped his coffee now and scooped whipped cream off the top of the sundae dusted with nuts. The cherry lay on a napkin to the side. Some things never changed. But so much did. So much.
For 49 years Eddie had remained his best friend, through marriages, divorces, deaths, and differences. Ames smiled as he watched the street artist below playing violin on the corner of Beach and Larkin. He remembered a black man in a hat with a big smile and a cardboard sign that said I’m not a stranger just a friend you haven’t met yet. Ames and Eddie had quoted that sign to each other for years. That was how they remembered the city by the bay.
Ames wondered what had happened to Ed. He knew where he was and what he did and what he believed and the way he had become. But he wondered what had happened to that boy who could laugh at himself in Spanish class as he stumbled over pronunciations, who smiled when Ames teased him about misspelling the word muscle, who was there for him when Ames’ mom had died. And his stepfather. And his sister, Kay. What had happened to the boy who became his best man? Who had been kind and understanding?
Now Ed was an insistent evangelist, adamant that Ames would go to hell because he wouldn’t buy in. Now Ed owned tractors and guns, supported the NRA and lived by the flag though he had never served. Loved Trump. No matter what. Even though his second wife’s family came from Mexico.
A group of Chinese teenagers laughed and shared a banana split at the next table, looking at a map of San Francisco spread out before them. Ames savored the last spoonful of his sundae.
He gazed out the window, where Alcatraz was almost lost from view now behind the fog. The Rock. He thought of Ed and his rock of belief. The rock of anger and fear. Closing in on 60, Ames knew he could never lift it, even if he wanted to.
The maraschino cherry shone bright red on the white napkin. Ames finished his coffee, crumpled up the napkin with the cherry he never liked and never would, cleaned up his place at the counter, and walked outside to the city he loved, a city he’d called home for a long time now, a city so far from where he had come, a city he never grew tired of, a city whose beauty and fog and fresh sea air still invigorated and enchanted him.
Violin music filled the late afternoon. He slipped a folded five into the street player’s tip jar. The violinist smiled without missing a note. A cable car clanged as travelers climbed aboard.
teaches “low fat fiction” and is the author of four collections of short
Grace (KYSO Flash Press, 2019), Soundings and Fathoms: Stories (Finishing
Line Press, 2018), House Samurai (Iota Press, 2006), and Parts &
Labor (Thumbprint Press, 1992). His stories have appeared in dozens of venues
including Carve, daCunha, Flashback Fiction, KYSO Flash, Sea Letter, Third
Wednesday, and Exposition Review, where he was twice a Flash 405 winner.
In 2018, his flash was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology.
Born in the Chihuahua desert near the Mexican border, Guy grew up on a stingray in
Ventura, learned to write in the Peace Corps during a civil war in Guatemala, honed his
craft pulling weeds and planting flowers as a gardener in San Francisco, and later
received his M.A. from San Francisco State, where his teaching career began.
He’s been a creative-writing midwife since 1991.
Guy lives on a houseboat with his wife and a salty cat, and walks the planks daily.
It’s all true, especially the fiction.
Author’s website: https://www.guybiederman.com/
This Day Afloat: Reflections of Life on the Water,