My buddy Dakari and I drink boxed wine and walk down Southside. It’s 6 PM, the moon is full, visible, and chases us as we stumble along the boulevard. The goal is to drink and walk and not to stop until we finish each of our wine coolers. Wherever we end up, that’s where we’ll sleep tonight. He pitched it to me after we left my car, broken-something, in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven.
“Where’s your girlfriend,” I say.
Dakari’s from Queens. He doesn’t like the heat. He adjusts his Knicks cap before he answers. “She’s somewhere around here. Trivia night.” He’s in a white tee. The collar is stained with wine because we haven’t figure out the right way to drink from these things. He might be halfway through his. I’ve just gotten started.
I’ve never met Dakari’s girlfriend. Her name is Megan. They met at a CPR training after his ex and his daughter died taking the Merrill exit too sharply. This is what he’s told me. Sometimes CPR training is Riverside is the beach bars is his sister’s birthday party. He and I met working at Firehouse Subs.
In college we used to snap pictures of each other in our underwear, one foot elevated on a chair, armrest, or ottoman, hands on our hips. We’d post the picture to Twitter, add it to a running blog on Tumblr, and caption it #CaptainsLog. It was our way of sharing with the world our uniquely captured happiness. We did this consistently for three years, but in our older age, our descent into parenthood, and career-oriented lifestyles, we’ve stopped all together. It’s been probably five years since we posted the last one. Dakari brings this up, laughs at the couple of gray hairs sprouting from my chin, the few just behind my ear. Maybe we need a reversion.
We pass the shopping complex with all the sports bars and hit a stretch of flat, underdeveloped lots. There used to be trees here, but Jacksonville is in a boom, and condos go up every week it seems. We wander into the lot, piss in holes we didn’t dig, and side-kick a few bark scorpions, then find ourselves stepping through the small wall of remaining forest and into a clearing with a retention pond. There’s a greenish Honda half-submerged that looks like it’s been there for years. I’ve heard about this place. My students talk about it.
Dakari punts his empty wine cooler. I realize mine is mostly full, that I’ve been talking too much about my father, how one time, in South Carolina, the motor on his boat died, and he hopped out to push it or something, I don’t know, but a bed of oysters nearly sliced his entire toe off. I’m not sure the degree to which that is real, I was a kid. I only remember my grandfather laughing himself out of breath. How did Dakari finish his so quickly?
When my grandfather died, my father overcorrected. He pined for South Carolina in a way that felt like a caricature. He says the ghost of my grandfather fucks with the volume on his television, just for fun. He’s still in Maryland, and every day I get a text that says, “I got to get south.” I believe in his nostalgia, but the turn… I don’t buy his ghosts. There’s little to lead me in that direction.
It’s difficult, chugging boxed wine, and much of it ends up on my shirt. I remove my shirt, fold it into a seat.
“This is where that mermaid’s supposed to be,” Dakari says. He’s brought us here on purpose. I see that now. “Pepsi’s her name.”
“What do you want with her?”
“Megan says she grants wishes.”
“She’s a mermaid,” I say. When he asked me out tonight, I believed it was to find new footing, bridge the distance carved by age. The sun is gone. A few things leap out of the pond. When I look at Dakari, his eyes belong to the pond. He paces along the edge but doesn’t lose his gaze. “She’s some bullshit made up by every-day Duval ghouls,” I tell him.
Across the water a few teenagers vape and crush PBRs. They punt their cans into the pond before they leave. Dakari squints. The water is still, except for a few turtles sliding off the Honda and into the water. A door to the backseat is open, cracked enough for a body to swim through. I wonder if it always has been.
There’s a small splash and I see that Dakari’s stepped into the water. He shuffles a little further in, until the water’s at his knees. He bends over, pets the surface with a couple fingers. “Pepsi!” His shout bounces off the trees on the other side, almost knocks him on his ass.
“You’re going to get tetanus.”
Dakari’s the most patient man I know. It’s his greatest weakness. He shuffles a bit more into the water. The geese nearby leap from the water and fly elsewhere. I think I see the flash of a picture from the woods.
I unbutton my jeans. I pull them to my ankles, around my shoes, and shake them off. I pile them atop my folded shirt and empty wine cooler. I raise my foot, rest it on the mound, and place my hands on my hip. At this point, the moon’s lost us. “Quick,” I say. “Snap the photo.”
He’s still wading, lost in the resolve of the pond, so I interrupt my pose and approach the edge. He’s out of reach and when I step into the water, something thin and alive slips into my shoes. A few steps in, I sock him once in the arm.
“Take the picture.”
Dakari turns, takes in my position, and laughs. He wipes his face with his hands, hiding himself. I can only hope he’s smiling.
Back on land, I return to my pose. He pulls his phone out, snaps a few at different angles. “Now let me get your good side,” he says.
We look through the photos, find the right one, upload it to Instagram. #CaptainsLog. When we’re done, Dakari’s face finds the water again.
I’m dressed now, lying on the grass, empty wine box below my head. Dakari collects the bottle caps peppered near the pond. He drops them in his Knicks cap and I hear them clink against each other when my eyes shut. This Florida heat keeps us cozy in the night. The wine’s awake, and my chest grasps for… something. I envy the spiritual, their symbols are so clearly defined. I’m almost asleep when Dakari pats my shoulder.
“Let’s go home,” he says. “No reason to sleep here.” In the night, the years are more visible on his face.
I’m on my feet, and there’s this loud smack. We both jump. The back door of the Honda is shut.