Walker takes out the sourdough Donna keeps in the refrigerator. He makes a sandwich of mayonnaise and mustard because there is no meat. He chews the first bite, and then spits gummy hunks of bread out of his mouth and into the stainless sink.
“Walker, you look constipated,” she says. He walks back to the fridge and stands with the door open.
“Oh Donna, why are these bananas in here? Everything else tastes like them now.” The cork from last night’s leftover chardonnay has rejected its bottle and jumped into the door shelf. Now it lies on its side.
“The cold stops their progress. I was going to make banana bread.”
“You already did.” He thinks he can see the edge of her mouth aim upwards. He crouches and moves his head side to side, up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of a smile.
“I have to get a haircut tomorrow,” he says, giving up search.
“How exactly does she style your baldness?”
Walker drives the deadened road to beyond the upside-down shopping cart resting in the ditch. He parks and walks across the graveled cul-de-sac to the gate marking the start of the trail. He spits a barely-sucked cough drop into a metal barrel garbage can. It thuds softly as it sticks to the side.
He climbs hard to reach the first plateau. There, next to the flag indicating wind direction, he finds a worn woman sitting on a rock that is too small for her rear end. A light layer of dirt covers her exposed dry skin. She lifts her head from its horizontal position and flips her fine hair behind her neck with the back of her hand.
“Do you have any water?” She holds out an empty milk jug. Submerged bumps cover her extended calves.
“No, I don’t usually need any when I come up here,” he says. He keeps walking, thinking that will give him the distance he needs.
“Will you go get me some then?” she asks. He stops.
“You want me to go back down the hill?” He walks in place, mixing the dirt with the soles of his shoes. “There’s not even any water there. I’d have to drive somewhere, or else knock on a door.” He hadn’t expected to be so bothered.
“I’ll give you a dollar,” she says.
“No.” He stops pausing and moves on. There aren’t any bends in the trail, so he knows she will continue to stare after him. When he stops at the concrete letter, he’ll still be in her sight. There is nobody for him to talk to about the crazy woman he has just met, so he tells an abridged version of the story to the next sizable rock he passes.
“You’re Walker, the one teaching the class?”
“You must be Bill.”
“Am I the only one?”
“I guess so, is that a problem?”
“No. I’ll get more attention this way, right?”
Walker maneuvers Bill into a waltz and leads him through the steps. “What made you sign up? Most people who called thought I would be teaching dances of hill tribes.”
“I’m going to Switzerland soon, and it is important to be able to negotiate the terrain.”
The slope is softened by the weight of the concrete letter. Nobody remembers what the “W” stands for anymore. Every step of the men’s feet is felt. When they accidentally locate a pressure point, the relief smells of wet weeds.
“Why are you clearing your throat so much? Are you trying to tell me something?” Walker tilts his head to double-check. “I didn’t sweat that much on the way up here, so I don’t think I smell.”
“No, no, that’s not it. I just got rid of the hiccups after thirteen days.”
“They just went away on their own. I did go to the doctor after the first week. She jumped out from behind a wall when I was at the water cooler getting a drink, but I wasn’t that scared.”
“Did you have to pay for that?”
She sits on her rock, stretching her legs, watching the men dance. An injured coyote emerges from the gully, headed in the other direction. It turns to see if she plans to follow, but she is too thirsty to go.
“So, basically you’re just teaching me to be less awkward on a slope?”
“Yes, that’s pretty much it. You think I should do more?”
“Look at those light bulbs Walker, they have fingerprints all over them.”
“Does it matter? Nobody is going to be looking straight up at them.” Donna stares into the recessed halogens and starts rubbing her eyes, hands swollen from all of the scrubbing.
“I will.” Icebergs float through her green irises.
A squirrel chats on the wood pile.
“There was barf in the parking lot at work this morning,” she continues. “If it happens again, I’m going to make them look at the camera footage. The tech makes it sound like such a big deal to retrieve it.”
“What if something bad happened?”
“The worst part is that nobody cleaned it up. It just baked in the sun all day.”
Walker retreats to the bathroom, emptying out his stomach into the stainless toilet bowl. She is taking small steps in a circle on the laminate floor, just outside the door.
“Ding dong,” the doorbell interrupts. Walker pauses in front of the mirror.
“I’ll get it then,” she says from the hallway. Blinds rattle against the door’s window as she opens, then closes it.
“Who was it?”
“Just kids selling candy bars. I got one. Do you want to split it when you get out of there?”
“Maybe I’ll save my half for later.”
The bathroom plumbing develops a secret leak.