It’s funny what you get used to living in Alaska. Take bald eagles, for instance. When somebody from the Lower 48 comes to visit, they about wet their pants every time they see a baldie. The first time my friend Arbolina — that’s not her real name, she’d shoot me if I used her real name — saw one, she damn near fell into the lake from a seated position, which takes some doing.
As it was, she dropped her coffee cup in.
“Sorry about that,” she said.
We watched it sink to the bottom. The lake’s only about two feet deep at the end of my dock, but the water’s about 35 degrees, so I wasn’t in a hurry to reach for it. I just passed her my cup and went back to watching the sun come up over the Chugach Range. “Baldies’re everywhere up here. I’ve got friends that call them dumpster chickens they’re such scroungers.”
“You do not.”
“Oh, yes I do. Down in Haines. They’re like anything else, just looking for a free lunch.”
Arbolina made a face. “That’s our national bird you’re talking about.”
“In Juneau, the best place to see ’em is the dump. They roost on the posts of the bear fence. Scads of ‘em.”
Arbolina drank coffee and kicked her feet back and forth off the end of the dock. They were about six inches above the blue glass of the lake. “You’re making that up.”
I pulled out my phone, clicked through the contacts, and held it out to her. “Here. Call Mikey. He’s lived there for years. When his family comes up, he takes ’em to the dump to see baldies.”
She shook her head. “Just leave me with my illusions.”
I reached behind her for the Thermos and poured more coffee into the cup we were now sharing. It had a picture of my daughter and me kayaking near Sitka printed on it. “You know they don’t make that big aggressive, screeching sound, right?”
Arbolina didn’t say anything for a second. “You’re not saying that just to mess with me?”
“No. They make a cute little skittering call and another that sounds sort of like a seagull. That macho call you usually hear is a red tail hawk.”
“That’s really disappointing.”
“About the call?”
“Not so much the call. Just that it’s one more case of spin or marketing or bullshit or a bald-faced lie. You know?”
“Oh, yeah. Something like ninety-nine percent of everything is pure bullshit.”
“You don’t seem bothered by it.”
“I guess I just see it as part of the shit I gotta swallow being a grown-up and don’t let it get me down.” I gestured at the lake, the trees, the mountains. “This isn’t bullshit.”
She didn’t say anything for a minute, then she handed me the cup. “I guess.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to get all serious right off the bat. I was thinking coffee at the lake would be a great way to start your visit. When we were walking down here I was thinking about this time when I was traveling in Honduras and I met this really cute girl and we ended up sitting at the end of a dock singing each other our favorite songs and watching the sun go down. I even wrote a song about it after I got back to the States. All happy and poppy. You’d never know it was one of mine.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s mine. I want to believe the lies so I don’t have to face up to what’s really gone on around here. I’m just as bad as the liars.”
She swept her arm in a hundred-and eighty-degree arc encompassing the lake, Alaska, Canada, the Lower 48, everything on down to Tierra del Fuego. “All of it, Mason. Every last inch of it.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so I drank coffee. Arbolina didn’t say anything, either. When I ran out of coffee, I asked her, “What do you want to do about it?”
She looked down at the coffee cup sunk in the frigid water. “Hell if I know. But I feel like I’ve got to do fuckin’ something.”
Prompted by Tree Langdon (eagle, cup, end of dock)
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.