‘Ya baby’ Joe says to himself. Emerging from the forest he wipes sweat from his eyebrows as he slows from running to a walk. Sitting on the bumper of his open trunk, he chugs water and scribbles the perceptions of the tree sap.
On his forest runs, Joe duct tapes tree sap (today it was Blue Spruce) to his forehead, wraps his head with his blue bandana and runs in the forest. As he runs his heat starts to liquify the resin. Joe’s theory is he will absorb the essence, the history and the mineral of the sap. Then he needs the grammar to be able to translate it.
‘Hey bro, I’m gonna take a shower.’ Felipe said when Joe opened the door to their apartment.
‘Wait. What’s your problem? You’ve been in bed all fuckin morning and, unlike you, I have to work. Why the fuck would you need to clean your shitty body right now?
‘Dude, I apologize.’ Joe said after showering first. ‘I was in another space when I arrived because … whatever. I’m sorry.’
‘Ok, Whatever.’ Felipe copied Joe. ‘ Are you off to work now?’
‘No, I am going to make lunch. Are you going to shower?’ Asked Joe.
‘What?! ‘When I got in I thought you were going to shower.’
‘The moment … passed.’ Felipe said.
‘Don’t tell me. You’re hungry for the food I make. But you’re not hungry for the food you don’t make.’ Joe grilled his roommate.
Felipe accessed his go-to guilt mongering moves: slow shoulder shrug, meekly look to the floor.
A month after kicking Felipe out Joe’s new roommate would be a friend of Sarah’s (one of Joe’s first clients). Irena was arriving in town in 2 or 3 weeks. She already had work and just needed a place to live. Felipe only took his belongings so Joe paid to dispose of the mattress but left the desk and chair in the hope of saving the world from another Allen key assembled desk and bookshelf.
‘Here is first and last month’s rent.’ Irena said, ‘Holding out her hand with twelve one hundred dollar bills.’
Walking up with a bunch of clothes on hangers, Irena’s dad locked eyes with Joe, ‘All good?’ Joe nodded too many times, too quickly thinking he had been seen checking out the guy’s daughter.
‘Hey, what are you listening to?’ Asks Irena as she comes in from her night shift and Joe happens to be putting away his grocery shopping (for the last hour).
‘That’s some early The Weeknd’
‘It’s a little whiny.’ Tests Irena.
‘The guy is talented.
Within a week of Irena moving in the apartment smelled so fresh it made Joe think of getting flowers but that would have been weird. He would put down his phone just to hear Irena walk from the shower to her room. Joe didn’t want to jeopradize the reliable rent but his body was crushing with lust for Irena. Joe was slow. Irena had picked up on that signal weeks ago.
‘Irena, I think we both know that I think you’re hot.’ Joe knew now he had to shut his stupid mouth. And wait what feels like millions of seconds. Wait like an idiot or speak like a moron.
Irena’s radiance fills their 2 bedroom apartment.
‘Ya I agree.’ Irena talking tough, delayed a second, ‘ I’m pretty hot.’ Irena demures through her eyebrows; and then they both break out laughing.
‘You wanna go to the Mexican place up the street for a bite?’
‘Who me?’ Plays Irena.
‘No, with my assistant coach from peewee hockey!’
Walking into the headwind on Hitchens Street North Joe hugged Irena to his side.
At times Irena’s shift work coincided with Joe’s night cleaning contracts. It worked when the frolicking couple wanted to be together. Joe surprised himself how he shared with Irena his deepening engagement with nature.
‘While you are working with doctors helping people I am barely learning to work with nature. It’s a whole education. The forest is a university.’ You know what I mean?’ Joe asked.
From the simple lexicon of willingness to love and be loved Irena said. ‘Yes.’
‘Mmmm, I love that pine scent – so sweet, vibrant and earthy.’ Irena inhaled the pebble of red pine sap she rolled in her fingers.
Joe thanked the tree for the sap then pulled a small piece off. He stuck the duct tape with the nugget of sap to Irena’s forehead.’
‘Weirdo.’ Joe said, smiled at her with a cross-eyed look and kissed her.
‘Ok captain.’ Says Irena knotting her pink bandana and pumping her legs. ‘Let’s heat up some of your sap.’
In the autumn afternoon facing the forest, Joe speaks,
‘I have no idea what this sap contraption does but it just has become my ritual between me and the forest.
He stood erect, shoulders back, vision focused deep into the forest for 10 seconds, and with a slight nod of his head, they entered the forest.
Joe is shaken. ‘What?’
‘Why not.’ Said Joe scared shitless to go out into the forest at night.
‘You are awake anyway, neither of us are working so let’s do it.’ Irena said
‘We can take a thermos.’ Joe rallied.
The trees having surrendered most of their leaves to the cycle of the seasons allowed them to take in a wide swath of stars. Sat on a long shelf of river shale they wrapped themselves in the red wool blanket as they cupped their steaming tea.
‘I need to be different.’ Joe said
Irean looks at Joe sideways, ‘Don’t worry buddy, you are plenty different. Which is plenty sexy.’
‘No.’ Says Joe ruining the moment. ‘Irena, my point is I need to not be my dad.’
‘You aren’t. You won’t be.’
‘I can’t do that to you.’
‘We won’t let that happen.’
‘I can tell your dad is a big bad ghost lurking in your past. Still I wouldn’t mind meeting him – so I can know you better. So I can see where he finishes and you take off.’ Irena said.
‘It’s not like I am in a fight with my dad.’ Joe winced. ‘I don’t even know if he is alive.
‘My dad took me on my first fishing trip when I was like 6 or 7 years old. He yanked me out of school and we went up to a cabin on the French River for almost the whole week. My mom was furious he didn’t take her anywhere mid week on the spur of the moment. One night when we finished dinner in the main lodge and got back to the cabin it was pitch black.
‘Where’s your tackle box boy?’
‘I don’t know. Isn’t it here?’
‘I don’t see it. Are you calling me blind?’
‘No, daddy, no.’
Well if it isn’t here where daya think it is hiding?’
‘Did I take it to the main lodge after I tied up the boat?’
‘Damn good question. You gotta keep track a your gear. The fish aren’t gonna’ do that for you.’
‘What do I do?’ asked a trembling Joey hoping his dad would offer to look for it together.
‘You do what any good angler does.’ Joey’s dad stood with his back towards him and said, ‘He finds his gear before someone else does.’
‘Where is the flashlight?’ asked Joey.
‘It’s in your tackle box?’ He lied.
‘So,’ Joe said looking into Irena’s eyes, ‘I walked towards the lights of the main lodge but my tackle box wasn’t there. I was scared shitless because I had to go down to the dock. There was no light. I nearly kicked the tackle box into the water. It was on the dock beside our rented boat.
So that kind of ruined any nighttime wilderness adventure for me – till now. Till you.’
Irena readjusted their blanket and caressed Joe’s hand as she breathed in every ounce of the moment.
‘You know what my dad said before he left the day I moved in?’ Asked Irena.
‘I have no idea. But he did give me the once over when we were unloading your stuff. By his reaction I think he felt you had nothing to worry about.’ Joe said.
Meaning that there was no way a woman like you would be interested in a schmoe named Joe.’
‘Maybe. Or maybe he could tell you weren’t a prick. And that I was safe.’
Joe loved the breath he was breathing, ‘You are safe.’
Irena laid her head on his shoulder and her imagination went to work.
After a few magic minutes, ‘Hey, what did you mean by a woman like you ?
‘A total babe with beautiful brown eyes; not afraid of the dark and not afraid to duct tape sap to her forehead.‘