She drives through the desert of frogs in the hot summer night.
The frogs are croaking: ke-kax, ke-kax. They do not like living in the desert but since it is named after them they feel a peculiar obligation.
The asphalt cuts a razor track through the long empty sands.
Her name is Claire and she is not fulfilled. She wears shoes but they do not make her happy. She also has clothing and a car and a pet hawk named Albert.
Albert soars high above, on his car leash. He screams: kea!
There are scrubs and little desert rats that hop just like in that movie about Sting. There is the giant tic-tac-toe board, standing on edge out in the middle of the desert, abandoned seven long years. The sticky felt noughts and crosses have fallen off. Some litter the desert of frogs. Others have been carried away by buzzards to line their nests.
There’s a little coffee shop at the outskirts of Spattle. It has bright neon lights and a sign noting, “NO SHIRT – NO SERVICE” and Claire pulls in out front.
“Yo,” says the waiter, a big burly man in slippers and rough clothes.
“Hey,” says Max.
Max is lean and he’s wearing black. He’s got a notebook and a cup of coffee. The coffee is cold. He sips: klurp, klurp.
“I’d like a cup of coffee,” says Claire.
The waiter sizes her up. His eyes linger on her shoes. Then he shrugs. “It’ll be $2.50,” he says. That’s the kind of place this is: it sells coffee that costs $2.50 a cup. And has little bits of grounds in it. Not much. Just some.
So Claire sits down.
“Nice shoes,” says Max.
“Thanks,” says Claire. She doesn’t really want to talk to Max but she finds herself talking anyway. “I bought them cheap from some exploited Filipino children who were loitering outside my house.”
Max’s voice is interested. “Really?”
“No,” Claire says. “They’re from Nordstrom’s.”
The waiter brings her her coffee. There is also a complementary day-old roll.
“Are you in a funk?” Max asks.
Claire blinks at him. “What?”
“There’s this whole self-referential literary genre,” Max says. “Spattlefunk. People come to Spattle and they’re in a funk. You kind of had the look like you’d read some, maybe, felt a little unfulfilled, thought you’d try it out.”
“No,” says Claire.
Max scribbles on his notepad. Claire sips her coffee, looking increasingly blank and confused.
“What, I mean, why?” Claire asks.
Max shrugs. “It doesn’t really work that way,” he says. “Spattle’s no better or worse than any other city for funks. But they’re good stories.”
“It’s not a theme,” Claire says. “Being in Spattle in a funk.”
“They’re mostly about subverting the dominant paradigm,” says Max. “They’re about people realizing they don’t have to do things the way everyone else does.”
Max pushes his foot forward so she can see it. He’s got fine little hairs on his toes and neatly-trimmed toenails. After a moment Claire realizes he’s barefoot.
“That’s my little funk,” he says. “Not much. But I got Louis sold on it.”
Louis turns away from the coffeemaker and raises his waiter pad in salute.
“Shoelessness,” says Max.
“I’m not really very interested,” says Claire.
Max grins. “Not many are. I mean, you go out there shoeless, you might step on a frog. Or a scorpion.”
There aren’t any scorpions in the desert of frogs. But you can still imagine them skittering on the shadowed ground: kittle-ik, kittle-ik.
“Oh, God,” says Claire, ignoring him. She just realized that she’s eaten maybe half of the roll without even really paying attention to how it tastes. “I shouldn’t eat this. I should save it for Albert.”
“Boyfriend?” asks Max.
“Is it serious?”
Claire laughs a little.
“Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, it is.”
Claire drains her coffee. She puts $3.50 and her empty cup on the table and picks up the last half of the roll.
“See you,” she says.
Out in the parking lot, she thinks about it. Then she grins. It’s kind of a sad grin.
“What the hell,” she says.
She kicks off her shoes. She walks to the car. She holds up the roll for Albert.
Albert screams: kea.
He dives for the roll. He snatches it from her hand. He perches on the car and eats it greedily.
Claire walks around to the driver’s side. On her way there she steps on a frog. It croaks: ke-kax.
Then she steps on a long thorn. It drives deep into her foot.
“Gah!” Claire screams. She leans against the car and puts all her remaining weight on the other foot.
The frog croaks slimily: ke-kax.
The pain is terrible. But Claire is laughing.
It is the freest thing that she has felt in more than seven days.