Read A Friend of the Earth Online

Authors: T. C. Boyle

A Friend of the Earth

BOOK: A Friend of the Earth
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
A FRIEND OF THE EARTH

T. C. Boyle

For Alan Arkawy

Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world, and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then that the world exists for you.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 'Nature'

The earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming …

Tom Waits, 'The Earth Died Screaming'

Contents

Prologue Santa Ynez, November 2025

Part One Bring 'Em Back Alive

The Siskiyou, July 1989

Santa Ynez, November 2025

The Siskiyou, July 1989

Santa Ynez, November 2025

Los Angeles/Titusville, July 1989

Part Two Progress Is Our Most Important Product

Santa Ynez, November 2025

The Sierra Nevada, August 1989

Santa Ynez, December 2025

The Sierra Nevada, May–August 1990

Santa Ynez, April 2026

Part Three Wildlife in America

Lompoc/Los Angeles, September–October 1991

Santa Ynez, April 2026

Los Angeles, September 1993/Scotia, December 1997

The Sierra Nevada, May 2026

Epilogue The Sierra Nevada, June–July 2026

Acknowledgments

A Note on the Author

Also available by T. C. Boyle

By the Same Auhtor

Prologue
Santa Ynez, November 2025

I'm out feeding the hyena her kibble and chicken backs and doing what I can to clean up after the latest storm, when the call comes through. It's Andrea. Andrea Knowles Cotton Tierwater, my ex–wife, my wife of a thousand years ago, when I was young and vigorous and relentlessly virile, the woman who routinely chained herself to cranes and bulldozers and seven–hundred–thousand–dollar Feller Buncher machines back in the time when we thought it mattered, the woman who helped me raise my daughter, the woman who made me crazy. Jesus Christ. If somebody has to come, why couldn't it be Teo? He'd be easier – him I could just kill. Bang–bang. And then Lily would have something more than chicken backs for dinner.

Anyway, there are trees down everywhere and the muck is tugging at my gum boots like a greedy sucking mouth, a mouth that's going to pull me all the way down eventually, but not yet. I might be seventy–five years old and my shoulders might feel as if they're attached at the joint with fishhooks, but the new kidney they grew me is still processing fluids just fine, thank you, and I can still outwork half the spoonfed cretins on this place. Besides, I have skills, special skills – I'm an animal man and there aren't many of us left these days, and my boss, Maclovio Pulchris, appreciates that. And I'm not name–dropping here, not necessarily – just stating the facts. I manage the man's private menagerie, the last surviving one in this part of the world, and it's an important – scratch that, vital – reservoir for zoo–cloning and the distribution of what's left of the major mammalian species. And you can say what you will about pop stars or the quality of his music or even the way he looks when he takes his hat and sunglasses off and you can see what a ridiculous little crushed nugget of a head he was born with, but I'll say this – he's a friend of the animals.

Of course, there isn't going to be anything left of the place if the weather doesn't let up. It's not even the rainy season – or what we used to
qualify as the rainy season, as if we knew anything about it in the first place – but the storms are stacked up out over the Pacific like pool balls on a billiard table and not a pocket in sight. Two days ago the wind came up in the night, ripped the roof off of one of the back pens and slammed it like a giant Frisbee into the Lupine Hill condos across the way. Mac didn't particularly care about that – nobody's insured for weather anymore and any and all lawsuits are automatically thrown out of court, so don't even ask – but what hurt was the fact that the Patagonian fox got loose, and that's the last native–born individual known to be in existence on this worn–out planet, and we still haven't found the thing. Not a clue. No tracks, no nothing. She just disappeared, as if the storm had picked her up like Dorothy and set her down in the place where the extinct carnivores of all the ages run riot through fields of hobbled game – or in the middle of a freeway, where to the average motorist she'd be nothing more than a dog on stilts. The pangolins, they're gone too. And less than fifty of them out there in the world. It's a crime, but what can you do – call up the search and rescue? We've all been hit hard. Floods, winds, thunder and lightning, even hail. There are plenty of people without roofs over their heads, and right here in Santa Barbara County, not just Los Andiegoles or San Jose Francisco.

So Lily, she's giving me a long steady look out of the egg yolks of her eyes, and I'm lucky to have chicken backs what with the meat situation lately, when the pictaphone rings (think
Dick Tracy,
because the whole world's a comic strip now). The sky is black – not gray, black – and it can't be past three in the afternoon. Everything is still, and I smell it like a gathering cloud, death, the death of everything, hopeless and stinking and wasted, the pigment gone from the paint, the paint gone from the buildings, cars abandoned along the road, and then it starts raining again. I talk to my wrist (no picture, though – the picture button is set firmly and permanently in the off position – why would I want to show this wreck of a face to anybody?). ‘Yeah?' I shout, and the rain is heavier, wind–driven now, snapping in my face like a wet towel.

Ty?”

The voice is cracked and blistered, like the dirt here when the storms move on to Nevada and Arizona and the sun comes back to pound us with all its unfiltered melanomic might, but I recognize it right away, twenty years notwithstanding. It's a voice that does something physical to me, that jumps out of the circumambient air and seizes hold of me like a
thing that lives off the blood of other things. ‘Andrea? Andrea Cotton?' Half a beat. ‘Jesus Christ, it's you, isn't it?'

Soft and seductive, the wind rising, Lily fixing me from behind the chicken wire as if I'm the main course: ‘No picture for me?'

‘What do you want, Andrea?'

‘I want to see you.'

‘Sorry, nobody sees me.'

‘I mean in person, face to face. Like before.'

Rain streams from my hat. One of the sorry inbred lions starts coughing its lungs out, a ratcheting, oddly mechanical sound that drifts across the weedlot and ricochets off the monolithic face of the condos. I'm trying to hold back a whole raft of feelings, but they keep bobbing and pitching to the surface, threatening to break loose and shoot the rapids once and for all. ‘What for?'

‘What do you think?'

‘I don't know – to run down my debit cards? Fuck with my head? Save the planet?'

Lily stretches, yawns, shows me the length of her yellow canines and the big crushing molars in back. She should be out on the veldt, cracking up giraffe bones, extracting marrow from the vertebrae, gnawing on hoofs. Except that there is no veldt, not anymore, and no giraffes either. Something unleashed in my brain shouts, IT'S ANDREA! And it is. Andrea's voice coming back at me. ‘No, fool,' she says. ‘For love.'

I am a fool, a fool in a thousand hats and guises, and the proof of it is that I agree to see her, with hardly any argument and the paltriest spatter of foreplay, the old voice banging around inside my head like a fist with a gnawed bone in it. And how long has it been – exactly, now? Since ‘02 or ‘03, anyway. We used to climb mountains together, dance till the music went deaf in our ears, fuck till the birds woke up and sang and died of old age. Once we spent thirty days naked together in the Sierra Nevada, and even if it wasn't exactly like
The Blue Lagoon,
it was an experience you could never forget. And, yes, all my working parts are still in order, no Viagra Supra or penile implants needed here, thank you very much, and I wonder what she looks like after all this time. She was eight years younger than me, and unless the laws of mathematics have broken down like everything else, that would make her sixty–seven, which from my perspective can be a very interesting age for a woman. So, yes, I am going to see her.

But not here. No, I'm not that much of a fool. I've arranged an assignation at Swenson's Catfish and Sushi House in Solvang for six this evening, despite the torrents and the washed–out roads, because I've got Mac's 4x4 and whatever she's got or how she's going to get there isn't exactly my problem. Not yet, anyway.

She'll be there, though – you can bet on that. She wants something – money, a place to crash, clothes, a nice bottle of wine, my last can of Alaskan snow crab (now extinct, like everything else that swims or crawls in the sea, except maybe zebra mussels) – and she always gets what she wants. I try to picture her as she was back then, in her mid–forties, and all I can see is her eyes, eyes that took hold of you and wouldn't let go, as hot and hard and punishing as a pair of torches. And her breasts. I remember them too. I don't think she ever went out of the house a day in her life in anything that didn't cling to them like a fresh coat of paint, except for the month in the Sierras when she wore nothing but bug bites and dirt.

Andrea. Yeah, sure, it'll be good to see her, even if nothing happens – and as I say, I haven't gone over the horizon as far as sex is concerned, not yet, and even if I haven't actually participated in anything remotely sexual since Lori died in the
mucosa
epidemic that hit here three years ago, I still think about it all the time. I look at the women Mac's bodyguards bring in and reconfigure how they're built under their rain clothes, and I watch the lean–legged things in khaki dresses wheeling their carts around the forlorn aisles of the supermarket when I take the 4x4 in for kibble and whatever they've got by way of half–rotten vegetable matter for the spectacled bear and the peccaries. Sex. It's a good thing. Even if I don't think I could stand it more than maybe once a month, and only then if all the attachment that comes with it – the hand–wringing and nose–wiping, the betrayals and shouting matches and the animal intimacy that isn't a whit higher on the emotional scale than the licking, sucking and groveling of the hyenas – is strictly exiled from the process.

Love,
she said.
For love
. And despite myself, despite everything I've learned and suffered and the claw marks etched into my back, I feel myself soften for that fatal instant, and I know she's got me.

I'm standing there gazing into Lily's pen, all the rain in the universe dripping from the brim of my silly yellow rain–hat and the jutting overgrown humiliation of my old man's nose, when a windblown shout comes to me across the yard. It's Chuy, lit by a fantastic tendril of lightning that brings me back to my tie–dye days, blotter acid, strobe lights in a dance club and Jane, my first wife and first love, but Chuy isn't
Jane, he's Chuy, who has no surname because he can't remember it since the crop–dusting accident that took his hair, his manhood and half his brain and left him as jittery as a cockroach on a griddle. He's dragging something, a bundled wet rug, old newspapers, the rain intercepting him in broad gray sheets that are just like the flung buckets of the old comedy routines – like special effects, that is.

‘It's a dog,' Chuy says, panting up to me through the ocean of the air, and sure enough, that's what it is, a dog. Two, three days dead, bloated a bit in the belly, collie–shepherd mix, never seen him before and at least it's not the Patagonian fox, because that's all we need. ‘Found him dead in the bushes, Mr. Ty, and what I'm thinking is maybe he is the kind of something Lily can
comer,
no?'

Me, judicious, old, scrawny, rain–beaten: ‘Poison? Because if it is – '

BOOK: A Friend of the Earth
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Can Anyone Hear Me? by Peter Baxter
She's Got Dibs by Nuest, AJ
Push the Envelope by Rochelle Paige
River's Edge by Terri Blackstock
The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Incitement by David Graham
Shadows of the Keeper by Brown, Karey
Undermind: Nine Stories by Edward M Wolfe