A Daytime Moon
Isa Calder is a high-school dropout and former runaway turned tarot reader in New York City where she lives with her investment banker boyfriend Merce. Hesitant to call herself a psychic, she nonetheless has occasional visions - a stranger’s deceased husband, impending environmental disasters, Merce’s future wife. When Isa’s half-brother Cole convinces her to return to the desolate California desert that she left, Isa is forced to reckon with the wounds of a youthful prank that killed her twin sister, the grief Cole has carried since, and the secrets of a mother she never got to meet. Isa must also say goodbye to Dane, the terminally ill man who raised her. Back in the Salton City of her youth, Isa is instantly swept up in her former life - late-night desert drag races, tacos and beers with the locals, and haunting reminders of her artist mother. When Dane passes away, he leaves a letter with the name of her biological father, propelling Isa on a search for the family she never knew she had. Her search takes her up and down the California coast with deepening urgency under a persisting vision of her own death and as environmental catastrophes intensify the feeling that time is running out, in more ways than one.
Something's driving the Pacific gray whales to beach in record numbers. Their fifty-foot bodies wash to the pounding shores from Baja to the Arctic like ancient debris or something from the astrological phenomenon that burst the universe wide open. The biologists call it stranding, which misleadingly sounds alive and seeking, and say it could be from a contamination in the food chain or simply not enough supply to sustain their hungers. And there are more, they say, the ones that don’t bloat on the sandy banks, but instead sink to the deepest depths of the sea. There they rest like shipwrecks, forty tons of rib cage and cartilage.
I dream about their descent. The bodies sinking like something weighted, a push and pull of gravity driving to the center of the earth and the phenomenon of a murky up thrust. I feel the suspension myself and wake to the weight of a soft landing, more of a resting than a drop, and I think they should call the other whales, the ones that don’t strand, they should call them resting instead, which misleadingly sounds alive and sleeping.
Mondays start with Merce reading the news, perched at the rounded wedge of granite that separates the kitchen from the living room in the Lower East Side apartment that is my apartment too but was his apartment first. It still feels like his apartment with its techy gadgets and oversized leather couch, the flat-screen TV that stretches across half the wall. His blue light glasses slip down the bridge of his nose, hang on the dark skin of his nostrils. I push them up with a stray fingertip as I walk by, and he smiles, grabs for my hip and I enjoy the way his arm wraps around my waist, clinging like it belongs in the crook there. I glance at the laptop to see what he sees, columns of charts and graphs, numbers with pluses and minuses, stocks. A Bull Market Charges On blares at the top of the New York Times page. Its aggressive font stresses me out as much as the words that are foreign to me. I could ask him what a bull market is, but I’d rather imagine a charging animal rushing a pile of money.
“At least open a bank account,” he urged me when we first started dating. He’d never known a white girl who cashed her paychecks at the bodega. “It’ll be some proof that you exist.”
“Aren’t I proof that I exist?” I asked.
But he shook his head, told me, “Not really.”
The stocks are like another language, and when he tells people that he speaks French and Spanish, I think he should say, I speak stocks too.
“Good or bad?” I ask him now as I plunge the French press that he’s sweetly prepared for me. It’s one of a handful of possessions that has been in my life longer than him though it has housed a few new glass cylinders in its time. I shift my heavy hair from one side of my neck to the other while I pour a cup.
He doesn’t look up, but mutters, “Depends,” lost again to the lines and angles. He’s already dressed in a pressed white shirt and gray slacks, loafers and the watch his grandpa gave him a decade ago on his twenty-first birthday. It’s a shiny thing, silver and bulky, and it still looks as nice as it did when I first met him because Merce keeps his things nice and neat. When I moved in here, I was like a tornado trying to contain itself, drawing a hopeless circle around me and my things, never splayed out too far, never too much. Except for the French press, his things always won out over mine since his were nicer. Who was I, after all, to drag the air mattress I’d been sleeping on into this nice place.
His attention is fully back on stocks, so I leave him in the kitchen and try to shake the groggy feeling that lingers from my dreams – again, I haven’t slept well – but the weight of the whales is like a real thing, a heaviness in my spine. The coffee is medium warm because I hit snooze twice, something Merce has never done in our seven years together. But it’s helpful since I can drink it quicker this way. Even with the caffeine, the morning drags me reluctantly through it. In the shower, the razor slices a grimace on my ankle. In the kitchen, my bagel that pops twice too soon then burns when I forget to watch it. In the hallway, my black Keds are still wet from a walk in last night’s rain. They squish unpleasantly between my toes when I slip in my feet. If the day was an expression, it would be a sigh. I should have stayed in bed, at least a little bit longer. But this is our ritual. On Mondays we leave together because Merce’s mom firmly believed you should always walk out into the week together. And every time we do, I picture little Merce and his sister Juno and Mom and Pop Evans in a string holding hands outside their Bed-Stuy brownstone. “Technically, the week starts on Sunday, you know, with church,” Mom Evans said with a smirk when I told her we uphold this tradition.
Outside, Merce gently shakes some life into my shoulder, a buck up camper kind of thing since he can sense the sigh. I tilt my head back and force a smile. He follows me to the bank where I get forty dollars in fives from the checking account that proves I exist, and then I follow him to the subway where he kisses my cheek and doesn’t tell me what he plans to do with his day because he says I get a glossy look when he talks business. And I think that’s because stocks is not a pretty language, like French or Spanish. It’s a language of men and suits and money. I watch him descend the F train stairs until he becomes another body in a sea of bodies eagerly pushing by one another on their way to work. Our Monday ritual means I might get to the shop earlier than I need to be, so I take my time instead. I pass by two Starbucks and tuck into my usual spot. This place says of itself that it has a European vibe, but I’ve never been to Europe, so I take it to mean the salmon-colored exposed bricks, the globe lights, antique mirrors and the piled trays of croissants and pastry. To me it looks like most New York City cafés, but maybe most New York City cafés are meant to look European.