People without an app need a map, and I just gave away my last map. Its legend shows a for a restaurant and a for a hotel. The map was in my glove box where I'd never in my life kept a glove.
I'd gone to Home Depot, intent on buying what apparently was our town's last outdoor chaise lounge. I'd called around. The last one in stock, the last month of summer in what was probably the last year of my mother's life. The chaise was for her. To "lounge" outside watching the birds was, at 92, her favorite pastime.
And there it was, as promised to me on the phone, the green-cushioned chaise in the patio section. It looked perfect. Except for one thing.
The man sleeping on it. Soundly sleeping.
Sleep of the dead, I was thinking, staring at the End-of-Summer sale tag hanging eerily near his foot like a toe tag.
We can give him the boot, someone said suddenly.
I turned to see an orange-vested woman tip her head towards the sleeper. Are you the one who called? Her badge read Shirl.
I nodded. Those stains on the man's jeans looked like blood.
Someone else will grab it if you don't, Shirl said.
I believed this. It's for my mother, I told Shirl, buying us time since there was still the problem of the sleeping person. In my mind he'd acquired something like squatter rights to the chaise.
Then out from the Home Depot ether sphere came the store's deus ex machina. Aboard a shiny silver wheelchair. She was an elderly woman who, with her tiny tight gray curls, resembled the elderly woman for whom I was buying the chaise.
Is he real? she asked. Just as my mother would have. The obvious question. The one I hadn't even thought of.
Shirl and I shook our heads in that way that probably looked like no but meant yes.
The elderly woman pushed a button, and her chair buzzed ahead, all shimmery. Then she stopped, leaned down, and tugged gently on the man's shirtsleeve. Time to wake up and smell the roses, she said.
Taking his time, inching his back over little by little, finally he was eye to eye with the wheelchair woman. Roses, he repeated softly.
Then he saw the other two of us a little ways off. Roses, he said once more as he sat up. By the time he'd gotten to his feet, Shirl had nabbed the sale tag and handed it to me.
I paid for the chaise and, as instructed, drove my car to the pickup door. I had just opened my trunk when the sleeping man, now brightly awake, appeared.
Hi, he said, recognizing me, but we were both savvy enough to say nothing about the chaise. I wonder if you could tell me which way the river is. I'm all turned around today.
Sure, I said. In fact, why don't you take my map. Hold on a sec. It's in my glove box.
He watched me walk around my car and dig it out. Glancing up, I saw he was forming words with his mouth but no sound came out.
I spread open the map. The river weaving through our town zigged and zagged in bold blue. We stared at it. I mentioned how it had jumped its bed a hundred times way back when. If that story had been in the map's legend, we'd be seeing here a river, there a river, everywhere all at once a river.
The map was not a fair trade for the chaise, of course, but Here is where we are, I told him, and marked an X for us and There's the river.
And it's still right there? he asked, poor guy, puzzled or possibly still thinking of those roses.
I put my finger into the river next to his. Still here, I said. Still right here. ♦
Nance Van Winckel's ninth book of poems will be out this summer. She's also the author of five books of fiction. Recently retired from EWU's Creative Writing Program, she continues to teach in Vermont College of Fine Arts' low-residency MFA in Writing Program.