Kyle Boelte

Squatters
February 25, 2013
 

Your mom called. I was walking out the door, heading nowhere in particular. Mostly just to get out of the flat. I didn’t recognize the number, so I answered formally. This is Kyle, I said.
 
It’s June and the days are long. I walk down the stairs and out of the flat, across the street and over to the park. At the track runners are circling.
 
She has ideas for articles I can write. One is about her friend John’s dad who climbed Mt. Shasta years ago in impressive time. A feat no one had matched for years. That was in the fifties or sixties, she says.
 
I haven’t been out of the city for some time. Work mostly. I’ve tired of the flat. The empty white walls. It’s been a wet spring.
 
The other story is of a woman who housesat in Montana for a couple. They left for Florida, and when they came back, the woman refused to leave. It’s happening more and more, your mom says. People break into houses up in the Flathead and then don’t leave. Arcane squatter laws allow them to stay for up to sixty days. The legal fees can be impressive.
 
It’s a good story. One that should be told. I won’t be able to write it though, I say. Work. To do it right I’d need to take time off, drive up there, really do some reporting.
 
I’ve driven across the country with you more times than I can count. Colorado to Oregon. Maine to Texas. Arizona to California. Oregon to New Mexico. Each time the world spread out in front of us. Everywhere a destination.
 
Your mom talked to my parents. She called and told them that of all the people she knows I’m the one who can get one of these stories in the New Yorker. She asked for my number.
 
She asks now how work is, how San Francisco is, how life is.
 
I watch the runners running around the track. I went on a date last week. She was cute; you would have liked her. I don’t think it will go anywhere, though. We met in North Beach. I never go to that neighborhood. Strip clubs and Beat nostalgia and bad Italian restaurants. We went there once, years ago, you and I. We were driving from Arizona up to Montana by way of L.A., Big Sur, and San Francisco. We stayed in Japantown, ate udon at a local shop.
 
Life is pretty good, I tell your mom. The job is good, money is ok. I pause. Things were really tight there for a while. It’s nice to be making a little money.
 
The squatters go from house to house. That’s how they live. A few months here, then move on. A few months there, move on. The Flathead glistens in the summer, the mountains’ reflection swaying in the lake below. In the winter the snow piles up, wrapping the valley like a thick sweater.
 
We might as well have been squatters. We lived in Portland, Missoula, Santa Fe, Denver, London. We lived with your mom for six months. I made beer in the kitchen and baked sourdough, the kitchen warm, snow falling out the window. Your mom didn’t like the mess. I sat in the rocking chair in front of the fire reading the first book of Capital, Penguin paperback edition.
 
It’s June in San Francisco and the breeze is cool. I watch the runners circling the track. A team. Or a group of friends at least. I’ve been running some. On Sundays I step out the door and run alone through the park to the ocean, then above the cliffs at Land’s End. The fog wraps around the coast, insulating the city from the world beyond.
 
Have you been reading any good books? your mom asks. Some, I say. Blood Meridian right now. Cowboys, Indians, ranchers. Violence like you wouldn’t believe. Also a novel by a friend. Two friends from high school are publishing books this year.
 
Remember pulling off the highway in Utah just south of the Idaho border? We drove down a dirt road before stopping, like we often did. Slept by the side of the car near a stock pond and were awoken by the sound of a pickup truck’s door slamming. We quickly packed up and drove off. Laughing, no doubt. That was years ago.
 
I don’t have as much time to read, of course, I tell your mom. But I still get to the New Yorker and I try to always have a book going.
 
You’re an adult now, she says. It happens to us all.
 
We talk some about Glacier. She’s heading up there soon. About a book club she just started. About the death of Susanna. I miss the beer making and the baking and the activity, she says. I miss your active mind.
 
I look out at the track and the runners running. The sun is behind me, about to set over the Pacific. It’s odd to remember oneself and realize something’s changed. My active mind. The road spread out in front of us.
 
I haven’t seen you in almost three years now.
 
Keep in touch, your mom says. I will, I say. Have fun up in Glacier, I say.
 
I hang up and head back to my flat. Up the stairs to the white walls.
 
I’m an adult now. That’s what she said. Happens to us all.

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Kyle Boelte is currently writing a book about fog. Keep in touch at @kboelte.

 

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