Lunar Days – Joseph Worthen
August 11, 2021
When Shane is high, he will sometimes talk about a geodesic dome he saw during the summer of senior year.
“I don’t know who built it, yeah, but I understand the ethos that guided them. The dome is the ultimate residence of any futurist leaning libertarian. It’s energy independent. It can bare incredible weight. It lends itself to an attractive open floor plan. Plus they look about as space age as a rocket to Venus. It is easy to see why Bucky Fuller was so hot on the dome.”
Casey holds a Bic under the neck of Shane’s pipe, exercising a kind of omnidirectional patience that feels saintlike. Saint Casey, saint of listening to dudes speak about things they read on the internet for as long as they want. Saint of melting unseen meth out of the neck of this pipe. Casey momentarily feels like a conduit for all virtue but the feeling passes.
Shane’s younger brother John is hanging at the duplex as well, wearing a sweatshirt with both Shaquille O Neil’s disembodied head and his golden signature. He is three years younger than Shane and he looks like the made up quarterback of a TV football team, wholesome and artificial. He is so weirdly attractive that Casey finds herself staring at him sometimes without noticing. She finds she is staring at him now. He glances at her and she glances back down at the pipe which she holds through the fabric of her thermal shirt. Disengage, she thinks.
“The dome is knit from triangles, which are typically fitted with solar panels, which is how the energy independence comes to be. Washing machine, microwave, toaster, all running on light. That’s what’s good about solar, man. It’s the only decentralized form of energy, man. You buy the panels and that’s it. There’s no hydroelectric dam, or nuclear plant, or monthly billing statement. You just team up with the sun and do whatever the fuck you want forever.”
Shane is still looking pretty good too, though he is now twenty five years old and a lot of his outdoorsman’s muscles have gone soft. He used to do pull ups with just his fingertips on doorframes and Casey doesn’t see that happening again soon. Also, his skin seems translucent, the complexion of an ultra-thin condom. But other than that, his body is sort of a miracle considering she hasn’t seen him do anything except drink beer and play Mario Kart since she came down for the funeral.
“Had to be a dude with means and vision. Maybe a marine biologist. Maybe an astronaut or a NASA engineer. Maybe one of the cast of Dawson’s Creek built it in the 90s when they were shooting on Cape Fear. Someone put their dome on the intracoastal. Yeah, it can be seen from the water. But it’s way, way up there. Getting pretty near Emerald Isle. Only made it far enough to see it the one time, but it was pretty cool. Like the future was coming through after all.”
The resin melts. It appears suddenly, like salivation, and runs down the neck. A moment ago there was nothing left and now there is a pool collecting. Casey stares at it. Her patience is paying off. Everything is coming together. Casey moves the Bic down and hits. The smoke from the resin is almost tasteless and the rush feels more pure, more instant.
“Woah, dude, it worked.” John is looking at her like she just split the atom. She passes him the pipe. How is his skin still so good? How much younger is John than Shane? They looked the same age at the funeral, in their black blazers, but now he seems much younger. He makes eye contact with her. Casey gives him a short, uncomfortable smile and looks away. Disengage from this now, she thinks. Saint Casey, saint of probably not sleeping with her ex-boyfriend’s little brother. Saint of just thinking about it.
The duplex is cluttered with empty bottles of Miller and black cords which converge thickly on one power strip. Three N64 controllers sit like gray fruit on the glass surface of the coffee table. Casey lifts her bare foot up and wipes the hair and little bits of popcorn off her sole. She wasn’t able to cry at the funeral but she could vacuum this apartment.
“What’s a geodesic dome?” John asks. And they were almost past it.
“It’s a dome dude, like what they got at Tomorrowland. At Disney.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“At Epcot at Tomorrowland at Disney at Orlando,” Shane says. John shrugs. “Dude, you’ve never seen a geodesic dome?” Shane asks him. Casey sees where this is going and tries to derail it by telling John to just “look up a picture on his phone” but she is ignored. Shane already has a plan to kayak out to the dome, to show his little brother. Casey knows that she won’t be able to tempt them with vacuuming now. She considers just driving back to the upstate, the funeral is over, there’s nothing keeping her here. But she doesn’t want to be alone yet. Also, there’s the matter of the guilt that brought her here in the first place. She doesn’t know if Shane remembers, because it was a long time ago, but it was Casey who scored the first quarter from a dude who unloaded trucks at Costco. It had been Casey who pulled up the YouTube video on how to smoke it.
She’ll go with Shane to see the dome. After that she’ll leave. She won’t wait for another score. She won’t spend another night. When Shane calls her drunk at 2 am, she won’t pick up. The next time someone she barely talked to in college dies, even if it is kind of, from a certain perspective, her fault, she’ll never know.
The service had been small. Most of Zeke’s family hadn’t come. There weren’t many people from college there either and the ones that did show up Casey didn’t remember. When she thinks about it, like she did, sitting in that folding chair two days ago, she can’t really remember much about Zeke either. He lived with Shane in a shitty apartment near the football stadium and when he was drunk he would take his dick out. He liked to take it out and put it on the beer pong table. It was uncircumcised, which was a novelty to Casey at seventeen but significantly less interesting in retrospect. Zeke also played as Luigi in Mario Kart, which was kind of aberrant. No one mentioned these details at his funeral. Really, it could have been a funeral for anyone but it was a funeral for Zeke because he couldn’t be patient and wait for his man to get back from Myrtle Beach so he caught a quarter with some fentanyl in it. She wonders if he was taking his dick out right up until the end or if he moved on. Three years is long enough for a person to change, though none of the rest of them had. Casey felt bad at the funeral but when she examined the feeling more closely, she realized she mostly felt bad for herself, and a little bit for Zeke’s mom.
Casey is thinking too much. She focuses on cutting her paddle perfectly into the water, creating smaller and smaller splashes until it enters the water with no splash at all. Don’t judge me on my actions in this life, she thinks, judge me on this immaculate paddling. Got to find a little thing and do it right, Casey thinks. Got to definitely not do meth again for a long time, probably.
Shane bobs next to her in his kayak, checking the tide with an app.
“We’ll be against the tide for an hour or so, but then we’ll have it for a long time,” Shane says. Casey doesn’t understand how tides work exactly though she spent four years down here for college. Shane seems to intuit her lack of comprehension because he goes on to say: “The tide goes in and out twice in a lunar day.” She stares at him. “A lunar day is just a little bit longer than a day, by fifty minutes.” Casey glances up at the row of channel side apartments. Their empty windows. Siding the color of little candy hearts. Oh well, they are now passing into the phantom intervals governed by the moon.
“You still do web design?” Shane asks her.
“Sort of,” Casey says.
“I might have some work for you,” Shane says, squinting mysteriously.
“What?” Casey says.
“You remember Prepwatch?” He says. And Casey is suddenly trapped in the last conversation she wants to have. Shane started a website called prepwatch.net in college, which was all about strategies to survive the apocalypse. The forum discussions were mostly people arguing about hollow tip bullets and the gold standard. Shane had revealed Prepwatch to Casey after they’d been dating for a month like it was a perk she had earned through sleeping with him. “It’s making some money now. Soon we might be able to work on it full time. We’re getting near a seventy-five thousand unique page views a month. Got a deal with a canteen company. Got a deal with a company that makes surveillance drones that run on solar. Got a deal with a survival backpack company that makes backpacks that hold 250 unique survival tools. They are little deals, but they’re accumulating.” Casey repeats exactly what she said at the moment he’d first showed it to her.
“Don’t you think the apocalypse is, like, a stupid thing to want?”
“It’s not that I want it,” Shane laughs like this is a simple misunderstanding. “It’s that it’s coming, Case. If not in our lifetime, then the next. Got a nuclear Korea. Got Russian subs off the coast of Massachusetts right now. Got fucking a global economic structure tied to destabilized fiat currency. It’s not a question of preference.” He has entered his doomsday prep voice, which is totally flat and psychotic.
“But don’t you want to use all 250 tools in the survival backpack?” Casey asks.
“We are going to have money for a front end redesign here soon, if you need the work,” Shane says, ignoring her. “In five years this website could support us.” It seems like cognitive dissonance, to Casey, to be planning for both the apocalypse and financial stability. But the truth is that Shane isn’t really planning for anything. Five years is too long for anyone to conceptualize, Casey thinks. Planning for anything seems so misguided and sad.
“Where my dome at?” John yells. “Where my fucking dome at?” He is already way out there. A golden “Shaq” hangs in the mist like a light that will guide them.
They pass into a part of the intracoastal which is covered in a thick yellow foam. It drifts across the surface like tiny icebergs and sticks to their kayaks. John traces an arc with his paddle and the water is visible for a moment before the foam comes back in.
“You think this is, like, a natural foam?” Casey asks quietly. No one answers her. She pats the foam with the flat of her paddle and it jiggles but retains its shape. She had heard once that in the real Little Mermaid the mermaid turns to foam at the end but she can’t remember why. She either loved the prince too much or too little. At the end of the Disney movie the little mermaid loved the prince just enough and so the god of the sea gave her some hot legs and all the fish sang a song about it.
Casey reaches into her hoodie for her cigarettes and feels a package of what she suddenly remembers are wasabi peas. She begins to paddle more slowly, letting more foam fill the space between her and the boys. She pops the bag open and begins to quietly eat.
“What are you doing back there?” John is looking over his shoulder, his paddle frozen above his head.
“Mind your fucking business,” Casey says, trying to cover her mouth with her hand, dipping the bag of wasabi peas back into the kayak.
“Casey is eating some shit,” John says to no one particular. He keeps paddling. The peas make Casey feel much worse; they sit in her stomach like gravel. The flavor powder coats her mouth and she can’t swallow it away. Still, she paddles up to John and brags about how rejuvenated she feels. When he smiles at her and asks her if she brought enough to share with the class she paddles away from him again. Disengage, she thinks.
The foam recedes eventually, matching gray water again to sky. The intracoastal is wide here and, in the shallows, a small fleet of abandoned construction equipment sits in two feet of salt water. The yellow paint on the excavators is rusted into leopard print, huge shovels hanging limp from hinges overhead.
“Remember when Zeke punched that dude’s biscuit at Bojangles?” John asks. Shane laughs. “Yeah,” he says. They definitely talked about this last night, but it seems insensitive to not let them talk about it again.
“That frat dude saw his panthers hat. That’s what it was. Said ‘Cam Newton sucks dick’.”
“Bad idea to talk about Cam Newton like that in front of Zeke.”
“No doubt. So Zeke went up to their table and punched the dude’s chicken biscuit as hard as he could.”
“He flattened that biscuit out,” Shane smiles.
“They didn’t know what to do about that,” John laughs. “The dude with the biscuit looked like he just about shit himself and the other one tried to get up and Zeke pushed him back down.”
“Yeah, Zeke was not playing dude. And he loved Cam Newton,” Shane agrees.
“He flattened that biscuit out,” John says, shaking his head slightly, suddenly lost in thought.
They pull out on a barrier island so John can piss. John wanders over the dunes and sawgrass. Casey and Shane cross to the ocean. It stretches out in front of them all at once, choppy and gray.
“Thanks for coming down, I guess,” Shane says.
“My pleasure,” Casey says.
“Do you think Zeke was a good person?” Shane asks.
“I don’t know,” Casey says. Casey doesn’t know if taking your dick out and being belligerent in a chicken restaurant add up to a legacy of excellence. But then, there are things she has done she wouldn’t want to be judged on alone. “I guess I never saw him do anything unforgivable,” she said, “but then I didn’t know him well.”
“You were the last serious girlfriend I had,” Shane says. Casey can’t figure out how to respond to this.
“Sorry,” she says.
“I need to get back out there.” It has been so many years now. What has he been doing in the meantime? She suspects he may be downplaying his dating experiences. Maybe she should give him some advice.
“You shouldn’t bring up Prepwatch to girls. It is the most unattractive thing a man has ever done with his time.”
“What do you know about what girls like?” Shane asks her. Casey snorts and applies chapstick. “Dude, you had a crush on Johnny Knoxville all during college. When the dude was already like 40 years old.”
“Johnny Knoxville is cool,” Casey says.
“Are you fucking kidding?”
“And he can skateboard.”
“Does that really mean something to you?” Shane asks. “Do you really think skateboarding is a good thing to be able to do when you’re 40?”
“I don’t know,” Casey says, feeling completely empty and remorseless. She would love to walk into the ocean and dissolve like one of the mermaids. She would love to turn around, walk to the kayak, and paddle back. But she thinks how stupid that would look. Her slowly getting smaller and smaller. So she stares at the ocean, daydreaming first of Johnny Knoxville, then of Bojangles chicken bouncing off itself in slow motion, then of simply her bed, unmade, three hundred miles away.
John finds them staring at the waves, Shane standing, Casey squatting down, feeling the surf with her fingertips as if reaching out to a stray dog.
“We keeping on?” John asks.
“Might as well, while we still got the tide,” Shane says. Casey nods.
Over the next few hours it begins to drizzle freezing rain, the cold finally wins out over Casey’s racing heart, and she crashes. If feels a good kind of awful and she’s so grateful for the exhaustion that she kind of wants to cry. Looking at the endless curve of the water before her, the brothers moving slow across the surface, she wonders what will happen to all of them. No one brings up the future anymore, not really. There are the apocalypse scenarios, yeah, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what is going to happen when the apocalypse fails to materialize. A long term plan. For her own part, Casey hesitates to consider anything farther out than a week or two. Sometimes she gets a wedding invitation which forces her to make plans a year in advance but then Casey doesn’t even get many of those anymore. Maybe because she rarely showed up. Maybe because when she did she brought strange men from Tinder who got drunk and seemed to undermine the entire concept of romantic love just by eating hummus in a certain way. Maybe because everyone is married already. God the rain is so cold. She can’t feel the individual raindrops but she feels it beading on her skin, dripping from her earlobes, the tip of her nose.
John drifts back towards her. She prepares to disengage but he drowsily pivots and she sees his eyes are closed. His paddle is balanced across the cockpit, his mouth slightly open. He looks pale and ill, like everything caught up to him at once. He drifts away from her and slowly disappears into a bank of fog. Shane remains in the distance, paddling towards the dome. And she knows that she can’t apologize to Shane. No apology is ever going to fit the blame. But she might be able to catch up.
It seems to take an hour to do it. The Atlantic waves hush against the other side of the barrier island. Casey’s body is barely responding to her. Her eyes keep closing as fast as she can snap them open again. But she finally comes abreast of the kayak and he turns to her. His hair is slicked back and wet, like he just climbed out of the pool. Even though he’s plainly exhausted, he looks just like he did. And she’s exhausted too. They’d come down together so many times, curled together in bed with zero serotonin between them. These were the times she felt closest to Shane, those afternoons of mutual defeat. Now, she sees that he’s wearing John’s Shaq hoodie. And he’s smiling with John’s teeth. And John says: “I’m not seeing any dome, dude,” and Casey turns to look back but can only see the fog, which has followed her across the surface of the water like a great veil.