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Authors: Daniel Orozco

Orientation (18 page)

BOOK: Orientation
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In an efficiency studio high up a tower block in Bakersfield, or in an upscale-ish condo on the fringes of a dicey neighborhood in Inglewood, or in an in-law unit wedged beneath a house that clings to the Oakland Hills, or in a loft or duplex or railroad flat in Rio Linda or Citrus Heights or Gilroy, you are watching TV.

You are sitting in a leather club chair in the middle of an otherwise spare room. You are home early from the office, having feigned a headache worse than the one you really do have. You are drinking a beer, watching the local news anchor read. Her name is Wendy Something, and you have a crush on her. You moved here only months ago—from Cedar Falls, from Monroe or Meridian, from Canton, Grand Forks, Eau Claire—and you have yet to make friends. The weekly drink with coworkers has drifted into a less occasional gathering, then none at all, as you’ve gradually discovered you have little in common, and you get along well at work anyway, so why even bother? People are hard to get to know out here, inside their bubbles, with their benign, almost tender indifference toward you and their studious gestures of intimacy—the banter that is devoid of subtext and the How-are-you! that is never a question and the See-you-later! that simply signals the end of conversation. It has been lonely. You come home in the evenings and eat a take-out burrito over the kitchen sink and stroll through your half-furnished rooms, with books in alphabetized stacks on the floor and unpacked boxes as end tables and nothing on the walls. You have pondered this metaphor for an unfinished life—or better, the beginning of a new one—and you remind yourself why you moved here, why everyone moves here. And you may be lonely like this forever, but out here at least it
transitory—a step on a journey, a blip on a timeline, and all that.

Joists groan overhead. A window frame stutters in its casement and is shot open. A kitchen chair is scraped across a floor. Movement above you. The sound of other people.

The sun will set within the hour. It is a time of day you love, between the room growing dark and you turning the lights on.

They crow about their light out here. In the early twentieth century, artists came in droves to paint in California light, adjusting color schemes and developing a choppy brushstroke and applying the paint quickly so as to capture on canvas the fleeting quality of the light—the “temporal fragment,” the “instantaneous view.” Out here they go on about how the light chisels, how it polishes and defines the edges of whatever it falls upon and imparts a dazzling clarity. They go on about how the light comes down around you in curtains or how it pours and spills like honey. It gleams and glints, it sparks and flares. The light has weight, it has density, it is palpable. Sometimes you can even hear it, zinging metallic and bright! What crap. When they aren’t steeped in the clichéd golden hues of a shampoo commercial, the skies most days are an insipid palette of white and bluish white and yellowish white. Every vista is dull and bleary, a sun-bleached smudge in the distance. And nothing is chiseled. Everything you look at is foreshortened, flat and common as a souvenir poster. Although there can be days—those mornings of unseasonable fog when the sunlight is filtered through a fragile veil of cloud that renders the air itself luminous as milk; or the clear, cloudless afternoon when you’re walking under a canopy of trees or through the lobby of a building downtown, and just before moving out of the shade, you take off your sunglasses and stand there a moment and anticipate entering the world of sunlight.

You take a swig of beer. You catch the whiff of a cigarette—the woman above you, smoking out of her window. You’ve said hello to her. She’s said hello back.

On the TV, something is up with Wendy Something. She stops mid-sentence and looks off camera. You feel a bump beneath you, then another. The ceiling joists begin to groan loud and steady, and all your windows are rattling like maracas. Wendy is hanging on to her bucking desk, that on-air equanimity of hers that you love pretty much gone. She is looking right at you, and then the screen goes to snow and the TV tips over. There is a pounding like the fists of giants against the building you live in. There is a muffled cry from the woman above you, and you finally apprehend what is happening. You take a breath, chug your beer, toss the empty bottle over your shoulder. You hang on tight to your fat, heavy chocolate leather chair—your gift to yourself for finally making the move out here. You hang on and you think:
The shaking will either stop or keep going. Life is lived from moment to moment.

On a grassy knoll overlooking an ocean view in Pacific Grove, two lovers on a blanket sip wine from plastic cups, reveling in a silence between them that goes on and on. A rice farmer, shin-high in flooded fields, stops brooding over weed infestation and a late harvest to watch the sunlight shatter and re-shatter on the surface of the waters. A tiny old woman seated on a crowded bus barreling along an express lane peels a tangerine with the gravity and precision of bomb disposal. A grill cook on break from a hellish workday lolls on a bed of flattened boxes in an alley, and with absolutely nothing on his mind—hellish day gone!—watches a queue of mare-tailed clouds file across a slot of sky high above him.

A Riverside County sheriff loops through the parking lot of the Oasis Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park. The center is closed, and the lot is empty except for a silver Honda hatchback. His last stop before going off shift, the sheriff idles in the middle of the lot inside his beautiful new-issue Chevy Tahoe. The sun moves behind a row of fan palms, their long shadows reaching for him. It is windless and still. He lingers in this anticipatory moment, then punches the gas and cranks the wheel and hangs on, going around and around, reduced to breathlessness and gooseflesh from the thunder of 240 horses in his bones and the delicious centrifugal tug on his innards and the darkling hills and mustard skies of a desert dusk streaking and smearing all tilt-a-whirl around his head.

Three miles to the southeast, the owner of a forgotten Honda hatchback lies at the bottom of a ravine. He is very thirsty. His skin is sunburn pink. A line of shadow slices his body in two, and in the shaded half it’s cold already. His ankle swells inside a boot he can’t reach to untie and take off, and his right knee is big as a cantaloupe and awful to look at. Plus there’s something wrong with his elbow; he can’t move his arm. All in all, a shitty day. And then the earth begins to move. The rock debris in the talus he is lying in shimmies and shudders and shoves him around. Scree chatters down the slopes of the ravine. He is pelted with stones and submerged in a cloud of desert dust. The quake subsides, the cloud settles. His eyes are cut and raw from grit, and his mouth is filled with sand. He hacks and coughs, igniting his legs with pain, and his heaving soon gives way to sobs. He is desolate and alone. He is so dehydrated that tears do not come.

And hours from now, after the sun has gone down, when he is shivering from the cold, when the cold is all he can think about, something remarkable will happen. A diamondback rattlesnake will home in on his heat trace and unwind itself from the mesh of a creosote bush and drop to the ground and seek the warmth of his body against the chill evening, slicing through the sand and sweeping imperiously between his legs and turning into itself until coiled tight against his groin and draped along his belly with the offhand intimacy of a lover’s arm. He will watch its dumpling-size head in repose on his sternum go up and down with his breathing, its eyes open and indifferent and exquisitely wrought—tiny bronzed beads stippled black and verdigris. And his breaths will soon come slow and steady, and his despair will give way to something wholly unexpected. He is eyeball to eyeball with a rattlesnake in the powdery moonglow of the Mojave Desert. He can hear birds calling back and forth—birdsong!—in the middle of nowhere. He can look up at a night sky that is like gaping into a chasm boiling with stars, as if the celestial spigots were opened wide and jammed, and he can remember nothing of the life he’s lived up to now. And he will shake, not from cold nor fear, nor from any movements of the earth, but from some vague and elemental conviction about wholeness or harmony or immortality. He will shake, resolute in a belief in the exaltation of this moment, yet careful not to disturb the lethal snake on his chest.
How cool is this!
he will think.
Wish you were here!
he will think.



This book has been a long time coming and a lot of people helped. Thank you, all. Thanks for waiting.

Mitzi Angel

Sarah Burnes

Eli Horowitz, M.M.M. Hayes, and Ben George

The MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, and the Idaho Commission on the Arts

Robert Wrigley and Kim Barnes

Susan Hutton and Michael Byers

Ann Joslin Williams, Angela Pneuman, Jacob Molyneux, Malinda McCollum, Andrea Bewick, and Bay Anapol

Tobias Wolff, Elizabeth Tallent, Gilbert Sorrentino, and John L’Heureux

Janet Silver, Lois Rosenthal, and Will Allison

Maya Sonenberg, David Shields, Lauro Flores, and David Bosworth

Molly Giles and Michelle Carter

Lionel Ivan Orozco



Daniel Orozco’s stories have appeared in
Best American Short Stories
Best American Mystery Stories
Best American Essays
, and the
Pushcart Prize Anthology
, as well as in publications such as
Harper’s Magazine
Zoetrope: All-Story
, and
. He was awarded a 2006 NEA Fellowship and was a finalist for a 2006 National Magazine Award. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Idaho.


Faber and Faber, Inc.

An affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

18 West 18th Street, New York 10011

Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Orozco

All rights reserved

First edition, 2011

These stories previously appeared, some in slightly different form, in the following publications:
(“Only Connect”),
Harper’s Magazine
(“Officers Weep”),
(“Somoza’s Dream”),
Mid-American Review
(“Temporary Stories”),
The Seattle Review
(“Hunger Tales,” “The Bridge”),
(“Shakers”), and
Zoetrope: All-Story
(“I Run Every Day”)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Orozco, Daniel, 1957–

Orientation : and other stories / Daniel Orozco — 1st ed.

    p.    cm.

ISBN 978-0-86547-853-4 (alk. paper)

I.  Title.

PS3615.R5883O75 2011



eISBN 978-1-4299-9521-4

First Faber and Faber eBook Edition: May 2011

BOOK: Orientation
6.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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