The People We Meet: Art & Fiction by Peter Donahue and Robin Nelson Wicks

“Miscellaneous Friends”

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My friend Katie is a psychic and cryptozoologist. As a cryptozoologist, she doesn’t stalk the typical variety of elusive, randomly sighted, unverified cryptids—your Sasquatch or Nellie or Jersey Devil. No, her quarry is far more ethereal, and apparently much tinier. They don’t inhabit deep woods or unfathomable lakes, but rather commonplace neighborhoods, typically in the suburbs, the way raccoons and coyotes do these days, but far less accountable than these creatures. She admits she’s never seen one and doesn’t even know what they’re called, but she knows they’re there. “And they like us,” she tells me in a whisper so I’ll lean in and really listen. “They’re our friends. So trust them.” I then think to myself, You mean like you and I are friends? Like I trust you? And without blinking an eye, she says, “Exactly like,” and straightaway I’m a believer.


I remember my troubled friend Patrick, who became my friend when I was a teenager and died when I was still a teenager. We hung out in New Jersey and a lot in New York. He was one of the most gaunt guys I ever knew. Did tons of drugs and drank ferociously. But always wore a jacket and tie, and smoked Newports, those nasty menthol cigarettes. He was Catholic, attended Don Bosco High, and had a Silesian priest who gave him money for sex. A week after Pat climbed one of the towers of the George Washington Bridge and got arrested, I hitch-hiked out to Seattle. When I heard not long after that he’d died driving his beat-up old Volvo into a lake, I stayed. And even though Pat never made out it to Seattle, I see him sometimes walking the wet, glistening streets.

My friend Zan says he’s slept with 31 women. For some that’s a lot, for others not so much. Zan makes glass marbles in a studio he shares with other glass artists in Pioneer Square. He sells his marbles at the market. They range from $10 to $250 apiece. At the end of the day, he heads to the bar in the Athenian and throws back three shots of cheap vodka. Then he saunters down to the waterfront and catches the ferry back to Bremerton, where he lives in a house with a calico cat, a boxer dog, and an albino ferret. Not too long ago I set him up with my sister, a radiology technician at Swedish Hospital, and so far so good. There’s no mention of marriage, though they seem to get along just fine. In the meanwhile, Zan keeps making marbles.


No one could dangle her hand like my friend Dorothy. She lives in the Marina neighborhood, in San Francisco, where she spends most of her time at the corner Peet’s. When another friend and I moved her new couch into her apartment, I busted a knuckle on the doorframe. Later, when the couch was in, Dorothy laid down on it and dangled her bejeweled fingers, softly caressing the oak floorboards. I wanted those fingertips tracing my forearm. The next time I saw Dorothy was at Peet’s. She was wearing a frayed Buddha t-shirt beneath a black silk jacket. She had a big book about portrait photographer Julia Margaret Cameron in her lap. She also wore four more rings than usual, including one on her long second toe. I could have kissed that ring. That Dorothy, she’s a real wonder.


I met Breson, my French friend, in San Quentin. He’d been in a long time. He taught us North Block inmates a lot of French phrases, like On y va and Imaginer c’est choisir, which means “To imagine is to choose.” He worked in the canteen, which usually had hour-long lines, and that’s where he used On y va, which means “Let’s go.” He’d mean it, too, and once got into a fight with an inmate holding up the line, which was how he lost his front tooth. He replaced it with a shiny gold incisor once he got out. Then, when they released me, he and I would meet in the Presidio and drink port wine. Breson loved port wine, said it fortified him. We’d watch the fog race in from the ocean through the redwood and eucalyptus trees as we drank. Then we’d amble to the corner store run by Ma and Pa Zhang, buy some beer to wash down the port, and stroll through the Palace of Fine Arts. La vie est belle, Breson also liked to say.


Peter Donahue is the author of four works of fiction, including The Cornelius Arms, Madison House, Clara and Merritt, and Three Sides Water (forthcoming, May 2018). He is co-editor of Reading Seattle, Reading Portland, and Seven Years on the Pacific Slope, and his Retrospective Review column on Northwest literature appears quarterly in Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History.

Robin Nelson Wicks is a photographer, painter, and sculptor. She is a graduate of the Cocoran School of Art and Design and the University of Washington. She teaches art at Liberty Bell High School in the Methow Valley and was recently named Artist in Residence at the Confluence Gallery and Art Center in Twisp, WA.


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Curated by Kaila Allison.


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