“What happened to the bottle opener?” I ask.
“What happened to the murder hornets?” he counters. My partner has a theory that 2020 is proof that time travel exists.
“Seriously, though,” I say, pawing through the kitchen drawer. It contains a potato masher with a green wooden handle my mother purchased in the seventies and gave me when I got my first off-campus apartment in the hopes that, I suppose, I would be making a lot of mashed potatoes to accompany roasts meats for college parties, or more likely because my mother has a habit of giving me things she herself no longer has a use for; also wedged in there is a lime-squeezer I bought when I was going through a margaritas phase; a gnocchi-rolling board I explicitly asked for for Christmas last year and have never used; a tiny spoon with an oversized plastic handle with which I used to deposit great dollops of pureed peas into my son’s mouth; a spider I bought in Chinatown for reasons I no longer remember; several bent forks; no bottle opener.
When I glance up from my fossicking, my partner gives me a look that quite clearly communicates I am serious, but throws me a bone: “Try the back porch. Weren’t we out there a couple days ago?” His theory is this: That each unmitigated disaster that has so unbelievably befallen us this year can only be the result of human error on a scale heretofore unseen. That, seeing what happened when the Boogaloo Boys came to power, our future scientists (humanist madmen saviors all) nipped back to this timeline to quash it, inadvertently unleashing the murder hornets. Trying again, dauntless, the would-be heroes came back to annihilate the winged menace only to create cancel culture. And on and on through a global pandemic, kids in cages, the closing of his favorite restaurant downtown, a beloved children’s writer being exposed as a hateful TERF when we all thought she was so wise, the demise of public education. Who knows what 2021 or 2022 will bring?
My partner sifts flour into a large bowl and puts a skillet on the burner to heat. He sets out two plates and our partially-melted plastic spatula in preparation. He is making pancakes for dinner for the third night in a row. His principal piece of evidence is that you never hear about the murder hornets anymore; they seem, he posits, to have dropped out of the timeline altogether. This from a man who used to be a physicist, which is why he thinks I should listen to him.
I shoulder my way out to the back porch, through the door that sticks in the humidity, and look around. I left a Yale sweatshirt out there on one of our plastic deck chairs. An abandoned memoir I have been failing to read for sixteen days is splayed open, cover-side-up, on the glass-topped table. A citronella candle, perched on the railing, is collapsing in on itself in the heat. I pick up the book in case the bottle opener is concealed beneath it, but my action is listless and devoid of anticipation. Bereft, I sink into the unoccupied faux-Adirondack. I don’t even know anyone who went to Yale. I did used to know a trick for popping the top off of High Lifes by employing the bottom of a plastic Bic. I’m not sure I can still accomplish that. Looked at one way, the story my partner is telling is one about hubris. When he tells it, that is the moral arc he emphasizes.
A siren wails up a couple streets away. Two dun-colored little birds sail by on their way to somewhere. Really, though, it is an optimistic tale my partner is spinning. Inherent in this idea is the notion that things cannot be this organically awful. That people by and large want to make things better. That there will always be time to try again.
I sit there for a long time in the gloaming until I start to smell melted butter from inside the house. Eventually, I get up to peer over the edge of the porch, try to spot the glint of a necessary item in the grass below, where perhaps it was accidentally dropped, or anyway fell, so that I can recover it.