Luc lay atop the sheets of his bunk bed, staring at a dim patch of light on the ceiling. To summon sleep, he cataloged the odors wafting through his window: roasted almonds, fermenting grapes, fertilizer, mud, dust. Pine sap and pool chlorine, together, two narrow bands of scent. Sometimes he wondered if he was the only one with a nose.
The Merrills next door were throwing a party, and just when Luc felt himself on the brink of sleep, someone would burst out laughing or say something curious, and he would bolt awake. He could reach out the window and touch the fence. House, narrow side yard, fence, narrow side yard, house—block after block of this was Madera.
A moth alighted on the ceiling, wavered, and flew away in search of brighter patches of light. Luc smelled a cigar. He heard what sounded like water draining out a downspout. He turned over to look outside. It was not raining. A tall fat man with muttonchops stood in the Merrills’ side yard, peering into his window. No, not peering into his window. Merely facing his window, peering down at his pee. Luc could not recall ever having seen a grown man urinating outdoors.
The cataract subsided to a trickle; the man sighed, went up on his toes a moment, zipped, and raised his eyes to meet Luc’s.
“When you gotta go, kid, you gotta go.” He winked.
“Yes,” Luc said. “Like a bird.”
“Exactly,” said the man.
“Not exactly,” said Luc.
“What are you doing in that window?”
“This is my room.”
“Are you watching our party?”
“Now I am,” said Luc. “Are Mr. and Mrs. Merrill very drunk?”
The man smiled and nodded, eyebrows twitching. Drunk people were like other people, only more obvious.
“As drunk as you?”
The man held up both hands. “Stay here a moment, will you?” He jogged down the side yard onto the back patio and into the Merrills’ house. A partygoer said: “Slow down, Hector.”
Luc craned his head out the window. The party was mainly indoors and out of sight, but a few smokers had ventured onto the patio in twos and threes, backlit by the toothpaste-blue glow of the Merrills’ swimming pool. Beyond the smokers, beyond the pool, a shadowy apron of ice plant ran all the way back to the fence. A thousand shadow-tarantulas, sleeping, or dead. Waiting for Luc. His older brother, Etienne, had taught him how to handle a tarantula, how to let it crawl all over his hands as if it was nothing, so it wouldn’t bite.