key west

I WAS ON MY WAY HOME when I passed by the café. There were colorful balloons tied to the awnings and customers out the door and into the streets, drinking coffee and beer and kombucha, and spooning mouthfuls of creamy tort into hungry mouths. Through the glass I could see them hoisting the girl up and down on a chair. “Twenty-one, twenty-two!” Was that how young she was? She already looked different though. Did a few days really age a woman that much? More mature, I suppose. There was something more captivating about the way her dark hair dangled loosely around her shoulders. The young lady saw me briefly through the glass. “Happy birthday,” I mouthed to her, and she mouthed back, “Thank you.” Then I left her alone again, as I had promised myself, and went along my way. Our new house was in some derelict back district, an old tenement building with crumbling brick stairs. The floors inside were just wooden planks laid out side by side. My ex-wife was in the kitchen stirring a black cauldron of stew and listening to a podcast about the end of the world. When I came inside, she told me to be quiet and that she was very busy. I tiptoed across the floor and picked up a sack of books and was out the door. Chan, my editor, pulled up in a jeep with the top down. He was in the driver’s seat as usual, looking like, well, an editor. He wore his glasses and a crisp white shirt. His black hair was combed back and fixed into place. Chan honked the horn and I left the house and got in. Vahtra, an Estonian hippie percussionist, complete with incomplete beard, tribal headband, and bemused look, was also seated in the back. We began to drive and soon we were out of the town bearing down on the Florida Keys. When we pulled into sunny Key West, we cruised past Sloppy Joe’s Bar. There was a shouting match going between some bearded, Proud Boys-looking figures at Sloppy Joe’s and at Irish Kevin’s next door. You know the types, braggarts with Viking rune tattoos and piercings. One pulled out a semiautomatic and began spraying the Irishmen with bullets. An Irish Kevin responded with a blast from a grenade launcher. Chan just kept driving toward the wharf, as cool as cracked ice. He had said there was a boat that could take us to Havana. “Welcome to Florida, boys,” Chan announced, as we drove through the billowing and stinking grenade launcher smoke. “It’s real fucked up.” Vahtra was in the back observing the scene and tapping lightly on a bongo drum. I think he was high. “Why did you even move down here, Chan,” I yelled. “If you don’t mind me asking.” “For the weather,” said Chan.

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