Raúl Ibañez blew into his hands, standing outside the condominiums that had once been his elementary school. His head swam with nicotine.
My kindergarten teacher is dead, he thought, and fought the urge to sit down on the pavement. Someday I, too, will be a condo. We will all be condos.
He held the cigarette too tightly in his right hand, awkwardly flicking the ashes and watching them escape like fireflies into the inky predawn sky. It was both too late and too early, and so was he.
Here in the street, he gave in and sat gingerly on the curb, elbows on knees like a boy, measuring what remained of his old neighborhood. It all looked so square now, so new. Like the opposite of real life, he thought. Real life is wear, rough edges and holes, patina and rust.
He had nowhere to be, but he had to be somewhere. The lake. Raúl Ibañez glanced at his watch, which was broken. He wore it to remind him that he was master over time, that he could keep it frozen. If only I knew how to make it go forward, just this once, he thought. He stood and cast his cigarette butt on the pavement, rubbing it out with a toe the way he'd seen it done on television.
Raúl hit the button to lock the pewter Infiniti JX35 and started down the street to the lake where he used to swim, on arid summer nights. The air was alive with an ammonia sting. He felt it push on him, willing him to move, to go somewhere and do something. He kept his eyes down, watching his feet to avoid the cracks in the pavement as he had done as a youth.
He reached the shore of the lake, the predawn light illuminating the surface of the water against the dark trees. Ducks muttered and fought unseen beyond the reeds. Raúl Ibañez walked out on the dock, ignoring the warning signs: Park Closed at Dusk, Water Unsafe for Swimming, Sinkholes from Local Wildfire(!). The wood was worn, being as old as he was, but it was the peach-colored new boards that stood out in the view and made the dock ugly.
He stood at the end of the dock, staring at the constellations of porch lights from the lakefront homes, mockeries of stars, while a single jet played the comet. At the far side of the lake, a single radio tower flashed a red strobe endlessly, a satire of Gatsby.
His feet fell heavy on the wood as he returned to shore, hunting in the darkness for something else, anything to tie him here. He wanted to upturn the garbage cans and sift through the trash. He placed a hand on a picnic bench and, for the first time, felt the urge to carve his own name into the rotting cedar, to name something and take it for himself. If he had an old set of keys he would have done it, but the Infiniti's square key would make no mark and he was being an idiot, anyway. After all, my signature's worth something, he thought bitterly.
Patina and rust. We work so hard to create something, and work even harder to maintain it. And despite it all, it all falls apart. We all fall apart.
Raúl Ibañez took one last glance at the lake, tried to recall the smell of the water in his nostrils when he dove from the shore thirty years ago, gauged the growing pale yellow on the horizon for signs of morning. He was at the shore, learning forward, his body ready to leap. Then his eyes were pulled by slim shadow of a bat breaking the twilight, seemingly falling in all directions, ruining the moment.
He laughed at himself. He was tired, his legs hurt, and he was being an asshole. This wasn't my lake, or my park bench, he sighed. This wasn't my story anymore, he knew, thinking of everything. It was someone else's story. He shivered and turned away toward the road. It's not much of a story, either.