Just awake. Yesterday, at 10:52 p.m., unbeknownst to me as I sat admiring a haphazardly mustachioed Quilty eat a cheese sandwich (right? Was it?), somebody sent me an email saying that my prior message to him was “nice but doesn’t tell [him] anything.” He pushed right past my niceness like it was a floor-to-ceiling segmented curtain separating him from a pen he’d lent me, he slapped it away from his face like he would a cobweb, like it was me leaning in to kiss his angry Wyomingite lips and leave a fusty gloss on them. I wrote him back a minute ago but won’t send my message until tomorrow, when I am restored to my impenetrable den of niceness and cannot be seen to be reading emails at weird hours. Right now there’s an 85 percent chance that my reply will agitate him so greatly that he will storm out onto the streets of Cheyenne, BlackBerry in hand, and cast that impassive messenger at the nearest reminder of the nebulous pleastantness that I embody and he eschews, so maybe I’ll rewrite it in the morning. If you hit a living thing in a High Plains state with an electronic instrument, they shun you for one month. You’re sent out onto the most lonesome snowmobile trail with a hand axe and a sack of apples and you wait. The snowmobilers are told to avoid the trail and it’s mined, just in case. Sometimes at dawn you’re awakened by a distant blast, as you’ve wisely retreated well away from the access paths and their buried dangers, but even out there you can hear it when some unthinking Canadian sneaks out of the lodge before the trail markers are replaced (at night kids steal the minefield signs) and rides past the last redemptive turnoff onto a bad spot and goes up in a dull puff of ski-pants stuffing. It’s a crazy horrible waste, sure, but this is how society is maintained.
After a month you can come back and for every apple you have left the state’ll pay you a thousand dollars. Most people who saved them keep them, though, handling them like talismans inside the too-big jackets they’ve been given back, offering up the hand axe instead, saying don’t you want the axe, I had to cut a toe off with it in the second week, an ugly frostbitten toe that looked ready to drag me after it like a black beetle towing one hundred times its own weight across the soft dry crumbly earth toward a burrow you don’t return from, but the state won’t take an axe back.