When Mandy met Blake, she found him standing right in the middle of an environmental rally smack in the middle of Boston, Massachusetts, on the fourteenth of February. She wasn't at first sure whether he was part of the rally or not. They were all wearing hipster outfits made of brown hemp with soy silk scarves and newsboy caps, and he was dressed in a ridiculous shiny suit with a lavender silk shirt and a red heirloom rose in his buttonhole. The suit didn't fit him. He was unshaven and dirty underneath it.
He stared at her. He had deep, intelligent brown eyes, a strong nose, and a creased, misleadingly wise-looking face. Mandy, never one to turn down a challenge, looked him right in the eye and said clearly "Hi, my name's Amanda."
"Hi, Amanda. Will you be my Valentine?" He offered her the rose. She took it.
"If you'll be mine."
She had a tattoo of the Great Pyramid of Ghiza on her right shoulder.
"It's not permanent," Blake told her.
"It's lasted for over forty-five hundred years."
"Global warming's going to destroy the planet very soon. Wait and see."
"And what about us?"
"Nothing lasts forever."
They compared parents. Blake's mother, it seemed, had been on Social Security payments Blake's entire childhood.
"You do what you can to get by," Mandy said tentatively.
"No. She never loved me," Blake said, shaking his head from side to side. "She just faked it to get money from the government. Nobody ever really loved me. You too, Mandy. You're all just faking it, just faking it to get money from the government."
"I'll let myself out," Mandy said.
He let her down all the time. He was never, ever where he said he'd be. Her best bet for locating him was to run into him by chance in the street, or to drop in at his apartment unexpectedly. He took this intrusion much better than any of Mandy's other friends would have. He wasn't the sort of person who maintained a different persona for each person he knew and didn't want to cross the streams. He was just either present or absent. Mandy found this soothing.
Even for Mandy, accustomed to friends with lightboxes and Prozac and Adderall, Blake took a lot of pills. They were strictly recreational. She looked in fascination at all the street drugs in little orange pill bottles lining his kitchen bench, along with the little baggies of PCP and coke and acid, and the weed that he smoked constantly. From the way he talked sometimes, Mandy was sure he'd had one too many tabs of acid back in the day. Then there was Ativan, Halcion, Valium, Xanax, Oxycontin, Dexedrine, and Ritalin. All in an ever shifting collection that seemed to fluctuate like the stock market, perhaps because his interest in the collection was as much commercial as it was personal. Which was not to say that he didn't use. He sampled everything he bought and sold. He had everything.
Everything but his prescription medication. "What do you take?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't take it. I get it on Medicaid and sell it. Q," he said parenthetically.
"Q?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Quetiapine. Seroquel. It's a really good downer."
She googled it that night. Used for bipolar illness and schizophrenia. Well, that wasn't such a surprise after all.
Blake had his own time zone, Mandy discovered. Maybe it came from not working. Mandy's friends would have pulled her up on that one and said that neither did she, but being a statue street performer is a day job. You can sleep in, but you can't be up all night and sleep all day. Two a.m. for Blake is like nine p.m. for normal people. Mandy felt like she was becoming accustomed to switching between the two time zones, EST and Blake Standard Time.
Mandy found Blake in his bathtub, all of him submerged but his nose. She tapped him on the shoulder, and he splashed her and emerged.
"What are you doing under there?" she asked.
"I have become an aquatic creature. We'll all have to be, when the tides rise up and cover all the coastal regions," he said.
She took off her clothes and joined him in the bath.
He brushed her tattoo with one wet hand and intoned prophetically at her. "Egypt will be submerged. All but the highest points. Maybe the tip of your pyramid will be spared." He caressed her shoulder blade. "Sea levels are rising now at 2.8 to 3.1 millimeters per year."
"Should I be panicking?"
"You should be packing."
"Packing for where?"
"What's wrong with Boston?"
"Coastal area. It'll be submerged."
"Alaska's coastal too, you idiot."
"Alaska's colder. Better for huddling together for warmth as the climate regions reach their extremes." He huddled with her to demonstrated. The bathwater, mimicking the rising sea levels, spilled over the rim of the bath.
She arrived at his apartment just as the delivery guy showed up with at least ten heavy sacks of groceries.
"What have you got there?" she asked Blake as he let her in.
"Ten pints of Scotch. A month of frozen meals. A month of toilet paper. One bottle of soda water, for the Scotch. Cat food."
"You don't have a cat."
"It's for when I get so hungry I could eat cat food."
"What are you doing with all this stuff?"
"It's for when I don't want to leave the house."
"And when is that?"
"All the time."
He called her machine constantly. The higher he was, the more he called. He didn't want to talk to her, just the machine. Mandy began to feel like he had a special relationship with her answering machine that she didn't share. She felt faintly jealous of the machine.
"What's so great about Alaska," she asked him the last time they met.
"It's the last frontier."
"I thought that was death."