On the night of Case’s birthday, while Case lies in his tent imagining what it would be like to lose your job on the docks because the warehouse shut down and to have to move because the land where your apartment house sat was determined to be below the impending flood line and all the properties in the hills above the flood line rented for thousands a month or sold for half a million and now you’re left with nothing, with not even a semblance of what your life was before–while he imagines all that, Ira cleans up after the party. She’s surprised they even own that many dishes, as she carries the toppling pile of dirties to the sink.
“You missed a cup!” says Tina, who’s stayed behind to help. “Never mind! I’ll grab it.”
At last they dry the final one.
“I left your wine cup on the table,” Tina says. “There’s still some wine in it.”
“You’ve been such a help!”
“It’s my pleasure,” Tina says.
They sit together at the tiny kitchen table. Tina pours herself a cup of wine.
“You know, I’m always working,” Tina says. “It feels good to take some time to just sit and relax. I like that feeling of having worked so hard, and my feet and hands are tired, and then I just sit, and let it all go. Look! My fingers are dishwater prunes!”
“I’ve never been much of a hard worker,” Ira says. “I’ve sort of just let life come to me.”
“But you’re a big photographer! At least, you were.”
“No, I just fell into that. I took photos of celebrities and sold them to tabloids. Nothing to be proud of, just a way to make some money without really working hard. I have no interest in that any more.”
“What would you like to do?”
“I’m not sure,” Ira says. “Something with art? Something visual. How did you get into the recycling innovation field?”
Tina explains how, ever since she was a little girl, this has been her passion–to find new uses for things and combine them in ways both practical and inspiring. “I just can’t stop doing it,” Tina says.
They talk long into the night, and when Tina finally leaves and Ira heads upstairs to her narrow bed under the west window, her mind swirls with dreams–nothing specific yet, just a feeling. A feeling of being useful. Or maybe, inspiring.
The next morning, Case is up early, eating leftover cake for breakfast.
“Case,” Ira asks, “how did you figure out what you wanted to do with your life?”
“It never felt like a choice,” Case replies. “Individuals are born into a certain time. In that time, there are certain things that need to be fixed, to be changed, to be made OK so that life can be better, or at least continue. I’m just doing what the time I was born into asks.”
Ira is blown away. Her entire paparazzi career, if she could be generous enough to call it a career, fizzles. It was never anything she was called to do–it wasn’t what the time had asked. It was what society had asked, and that’s something entirely different, when the portion of society that’s doing the asking is sick, twisted, and delusional.
She wants to do something different.
She’s sitting outside, letting her mind empty so it can be filled with new visions, when Aadhya walks up.
“How are you?” Aadhya asks.
“I’m inspired!” Ira says.
“Yes! I think I’m on the verge of taking a big step, personally.”
“Well, good for you,” says Aadhya.
In the tiny kitchen, Ira dishes up leftover cake.
“So I guess congratulations are in order, you two?” Aadhya asks.
“What?” says Ira. “We’re not a couple.”
“My mistake,” Aadhya says.
“It’s a common one.” Ira explains the arrangement: best friends, room mates, her needing a place to stay, Case being a generous friend.
Aadhya becomes quiet, but before silence settles in, Tina steps through the front door.
“Tina!” Ira exclaims. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation last night! I’m making up my mind to do something with my life!”
“Really? I mean, you’re already doing something with your life by living, but I mean…”
“You inspired me.”
“I did? For what?”
“I’m not sure yet?” Ira answers. “I mean I’ve got an idea, but I’m not quite ready to put it into words. Or action. I don’t know, maybe the action will come before the words.”
And all day, Ira seems like she’s two-inches-off-the-ground, just floating with a buzz. Her mind is turned on.
“I can be anything!” Case sings. “I can do anything! I am me! I am me!”
And Ira closes her eyes and joins him.
“We can be anything! We can do anything! We can be me! We can be you!”
Quick on the heels of Case’s 33rd birthday comes Ira’s, like a game of tag and now she’s it.
At first, they plan a party for the evening, but that morning, something goes horribly wrong with the composting toilet and it actually combusts.
Ira shrieks, Case rushes in, and before it even truly registered what is happening, he has the flames out.
Or maybe not?
“Don’t stand there!” he yells.
“I-I-I-” yells Ira, “aye-aye-aye!”
“There, OK. It’s out. Or nearly. Put water on it, OK?” Case says.
“Yeah, it’s out now. Nearly. Geez, Case. I think this design needs work. It’s supposed to be a composting toilet, right? Not a combusting one!”
They’re both a bit shook up. Plus, since they don’t have a working toilet at present, they decide it’s probably best not to invite guests over.
“I’m still a bit partied out, anyway,” says Ira. “If it’s just us, my mind won’t get crowded out, and I’m still buzzing inside!”
Case bakes a vanilla cake. “Candles?” he asks. “Or is it too much after this morning?”
“No!” says Ira. “Candles! I’m not scarred! I’m excited! I’ve got to make a wish! Thirty-three, man! This is going to be my year!”
The candles are lit and blown out without incident.
“I think I’m going to skip the grill for a while,” Case says.
They sit out front together as the sky darkens. Clouds have rolled in, and soon, they fall silent to listen to the drip-drips of rain on the awning.
“I’m gonna dance!” Ira calls. “Want to join me?”
She grabs her umbrella and runs out into the rain.
“I can do anything! I can be anything! I’m me! I’m me! I’m Ira! Free to be!”
Case spins in the rain, tilting his head up to the clouds and watching each drop gather and fall, growing larger and larger, falling slower and slower, the silver against the night, spinning, spinning.
Ira stops her dance and looks up with him. “It’s a mystery,” she whispers, as they watch the droplets spin and fall.
“I never had someone watch the rain with me before,” Case says.
“I’m glad I could,” says Ira.
“Not everybody stops to see what might be so amazing,” says Case. “I’m not used to sharing that with someone.”
“Is it OK?” asks Ira.
“Oh, yeah,” says Case. “I’ve always wanted to share that.”
Ira’s quiet the next morning. It’s clear and hot, and she smiles while she sits at the little desk upstairs. Case doesn’t ask what she’s writing. He trusts she’ll share when she’s ready.
She folds it up carefully, slides it into the envelope, and addresses it to University of Britechester. Her admissions application. She applies for two scholarships, too. She’s going to go to college. She’s going to be a real artist. She can do anything. She can be anything. She’s Ira!