My neighbor wants to know about the fish tank, whether it still holds water. I want to know the same about the river running along the highway. There’s a lot of agriculture upstream, a lot of fields to irrigate. It’s midsummer, the sun is merciless, and the snowpack is gone.
He rubs his finger on the glass, looks at it, and wipes his jeans. I need more money than I can make from this yard sale, and I think he knows it.
“So what did you keep in the tank?” he asks.
“A better place than this.” I kept tropical fish—a huge waste of money—but the tank was beautiful, and my job at the distributor didn’t have an end date. I grew coral and had LED lights that made them glow. It drew your eyes from across the room.
He nods to the hose against the siding of the house. “Do you mind?”
“Be my guest.” The man wears his jeans like a rancher, but his T-shirt is a size too large. The giveaway is his hair—it has the kind of sheen and lay that you can only pay for. He’s playing local. He has land that gets the water from the river. I know it. He heads over and turns on the water and starts filling up the tank, all the way until it spills over the side. He could have believed me, that the tank was fine, but I understand. A leak can appear from nowhere, at any time, and before you can mend it, everything inside is gone.
He comes back, the tank dripping. “Checks out,” he says. “You leaving town?”
“Greener pastures,” I say.
The things we all say are the things that have all been said. Any conversation is confined to the form, like how a river may swirl and eddy, but it’s always beholden to the banks.
“You and everyone.” He nods to my cell phone in my hand. I’m waiting on calls for some jobs I applied to in the city. There’s no job here that deserves me; I hope never to have to reconsider that comment.
“You know,” he says, “I was talking to a guy at Albertson’s the other day, and he told me that if your cell phone drops in the water, all you need to do is put it in a bag of rice for an hour, and poof, all of the moisture is gone. That simple.”
“I’ve heard that,” I say, and it’s true. I’ve heard it before a dozen times. What makes the comment surprising to people isn’t that rice will soak up moisture—that’s what rice does—it’s that it will soak it up even from a piece of technology.
“So what are you going to use it for?” I ask, nodding to the tank.
“A snake.” He laughs. “I know. But once you capture it in glass, it’s easier to believe it loves you back.”
“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” I say. He looks at me like he’s lost. We’re more alike than he’s pretending we are. “I tell you what,” I say. “How about you name your price and we’ll go up from there?”