Gil got the call late that afternoon. Johanna wasn’t crying. She spoke in a flat voice, telling him about the fight she had and that Hawley was drinking again. Gil himself had already tipped a few, but he listened and clucked his tongue, acting appalled. Afterwards, he got the keys to his car, then retreated back to the bathroom, gargling with mouthwash in case the cops stopped him.
He drove his old Plymouth out of the trailers park, past the little tract houses that filled the valley, towards the foothills. Twenty minutes later, he was stubbing his toes on rock and roots, wandering through the tall eucalyptus trees, looking for Hawley. The summer light was fading now and every long shadow looked like the outstretched legs of a drunken vet who couldn’t listen anymore to his girl-friend tell him how worthless he was. She said Hawley didn’t even argue back. He just drank more and next thing she knew his truck was gone.
Gil climbed higher up the slope. This was where Hawley and he like to sit and drink. From here they could listen to trains rolling out of the Concord Naval Weapons stations and bullshit like generals about where the weapons were going and what they might do. Gil enjoyed Hawley’s conversation even if he wasn’t very keen on fresh air. Hawley hated the same things Gil did, even if he didn’t shoot his mouth off as much. Where Gil would go on for ten minutes, Hawley would just say, “fucking bullshit.”
A breeze rose up, rattling the bark of the eucalyptus trees. Leper trees, Gil used to tell Hawley, their barked peeled like the dead skin of lepers. He looked up and froze. Against the light of a rising moon, Gil saw the outline of something long and skinny hanging from one of the branches of the trees. He edged closer, squinting, that sick feeling growing in his gut and his feet weighted with lead. It wasn’t until he was right underneath it that Gil saw it was just a long piece of bark, hanging from a branch.
“Johanna send you?”
The voice came up from someplace higher on the slope. Gil climbed toward the voice, still stumbling on the rocks. When he found him, Hawley was seated crossed legged, like some yogi, looking down at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Gil sat down beside him and Hawley handed him a bottle and Gil took a long swing.
“See, many trains?”
Hawley took the bottle back. “One’s too many.”
Gil nodded and let it go. He wasn’t going to talk him to death tonight. His friend had enough arguing. He buttoned up his jacket and tucked his hands in his pocket and listened to the trees shaking, staring at the little lights of warm, comfortable suburbia spread in the valley below, just happy his friend corpse wasn’t swinging from some tree.