Mary-Veronica sits on the hood of the Hummer like she really, really wants you to spread her legs another two inches, slide her zebra-striped bikini bottom aside, and give her a good, hard reason to stop drinking her tallboy PBR. She looks young. My age, maybe, but it’s hard to tell. The photo reminds me of the first time a teacher taught me how to study a painting. Notice how your eyes move. The light there, you see it first, and then you see everything else in relation to that light. In order, then: legs, bikini bottom, TO SURF license plate, sandals, Hummer, long-sleeve neoprene top, hair, PBR. You can’t even see her face. It’s blocked by the beer can, and I keep looking at her legs.
She isn’t actually Mary-Veronica. First she was Veronica, and then, after I gave her $140 but before she gave me her address, she became Mary. She’s still Mary. Very much Mary. Hi, I’m Mary! Steward of the environment * supermodel * Christian wife * surfer. Mary, host of the Sunroom fit for Super Queens in Port Angeles, WA, $42/night + fees.
* * *
Mary-Veronica answers the door in a towel. “You drove fast!” she says. “I checked the map when you messaged me, and it said it would take an hour and five minutes so I planned on that, but you got here in an hour and—” she pulls the towel higher— “I’m sorry, I just got out of the shower.”
Naked-beneath-a-towel Mary-Veronica doesn’t look like legs-spread-profile-pic Mary-Veronica, and I’ve seen enough of both women to feel reasonably confident in my assessment. The woman in front of us looks older, and wearier. Maybe a sister? A friend?
“I guess we can do the tour now,” Mary-Veronica says. I’m trying very hard to look at her face.
“You can get changed,” Allie says beside me. “We don’t mind waiting.” She’s the one who found this Airbnb.
“Oh, it’s okay.” Mary-Veronica takes a hand off her towel and gestures to a couch. “This is the sitting area—”
“No, really,” Allie says. “You can put on clothes.”
* * *
The Sun Room fit for Super Queens would also be fit for hermits, hobby farmers, or hikers. It sits on three acres of the remote Olympic Peninsula, a few miles shy of Port Angeles and at the end of a long, dirt driveway. You can see one other house from the property. One house, a few mountains, a private pond, and trees.
On the property itself, the main house, a garage, two sheds, and a small corral fit together in a rainy mix of frontier eclecticism. Log cabins and retirement dreams seem to have inspired this place, or at least its first owner. Timber beams and large windows abound. Practicality and new visions have since had their way with it, expanding the deck there, adding a sunroom here, removing a door there. Flowers and fruit trees fill the rest of the grounds and transform the motley buildings in a rural, secondhand estate.
Birds chirp throughout the day.
* * *
“I, too, am in a couple relationship, so I know what it’s like. I’ll stay mostly out of sight and let you have your way with the place.” The loose tanktop flowing around her body makes it very obvious Mary-Veronica isn’t wearing a bra. “Help yourself to the fridge and the tea station. I keep all my food on the top shelf. Most of the condiments were left behind by other guests, so use whatever you like from there.”
Mary-Veronica holds eye contact too long, and she blinks too little. Allie stays close to me as move through the kitchen, or maybe I’m staying close to her.
“There’s only one bathroom, so we’ll share that, but you’ll have the sunroom all to yourselves. It’s really private. They designed this house perfectly so you can’t see into the sunroom from any other part of the house. You can hang these over the windows if you want—” Mary-Veronica waves her hand toward a stack of silk sheets and thumbtacks— “but then you can’t see out the windows, and I think that’s the magic of this room. Don’t worry, I won’t watch you or anything.”
The sunroom has a futon, a lamp, and a chair. I see a few dead plants in the corner. The sunroom sticks out from the house like a glassy appendage, and from any spot, you can see the mountains. A light rain patters on the roof like fingertips.
“This looks great,” I say, and Allie says she loves the view.
Mary-Veronica smiles, but the tour seems to have ended. A script ran out, or maybe she lost interest, or maybe anxiety caught up to her, but Mary-Veronica lingers in the doorway, silent and no longer holding any eye contact at all as Allie and I keep complimenting our 8’x12’ home for the next two nights. Mary-Veronica’s hair is still wet from her shower.
“So, what do you do for work out here?” I ask.
“I’m…” Mary-Veronica looks confused. “I’m a writer. I write here a lot of the time. I’m the type of person who goes into town once a week for groceries. My husband is a pro surfer, so he travels a lot. He’s traveling now.”
“Well, it looks like a great place to write.”
“We’ve only been together about seventeen months, so it’s all very new. It’s… yeah. A lot of new things.”
“Thanks for letting us stay.” Allie smiles and moves toward the door, but Mary-Veronica stays put. “It’ll be a great base for hiking.”
“You’re welcome. There’s a lot of buildings on the property, and it’s pretty far out here… I get scared sleeping alone. The money doesn’t even matter—I just like having someone else here with me.”
“We’ll keep you safe.” Allie points to our car. “We should probably bring our things inside.”
“Oh, yes.” Mary-Veronica steps aside. “You should have plenty of room.”
* * *
Mary-Veronica doesn’t appear on the fridge—not as Mary, not as Veronica, and not as either the near-naked woman on Airbnb or the near-naked woman in the room next door. A dozen other people, do, though, scattered among magnet-pinned photographs, wedding invitations, and various papers. I snoop. A Paul and a Cheryl crop up in a vacation photo, then in a wedding photo, then in a letter from the Port Angeles veterinarian concerning a dog called Petey. Paul works as a geologist, or at least he graduated with a Bachelor’s in geology and has an affinity for rock magnets. All the wedding invitations on the fridge are addressed to him and Cheryl, the most recent one dated six months ago.
* * *
While making tea at the tea station that night, I realize I can see Allie through the window above the sink. She’s reading, lying belly-down on the sunroom’s futon with her feet in the air. I can see her through the sliding glass door, too.
* * *
An old, squat dog named Petey shares the property with us. I call him Turtle in honor of Mary-Veronica’s two names; I don’t want him to feel left out. Turtle chases the car whenever we return to the estate. He’s old and slow, and he leans against me whenever I stop to pet him. He barks at Mary-Veronica, though; we hear them outside as she straps a surfboard to the top of her car.
“Petey! Sit! Sit!”
Turtle keeps growling.
Allie and I pretend not to watch from our all-window sunroom. Mary-Veronica grabs a pitchfork and backs toward her car as Petey continues to growl. He inches forward to maintain the distance between them until Mary-Veronica drops the pitchfork, jumps into the driver’s seat, and drives off.
When Allie and I leave the sunroom half an hour later, Turtle wags his tail and escorts our car down the driveway.
* * *
The second night, post-hike and post-shower, I find Mary-Veronica in the kitchen. She zips up a winter parka and stomps into knee-high rubber boots.
“Preparing for a blizzard?” Allie asks.
“No, I need to feed the ponies. Did you see the ponies?”
I had seen one pony. One pony and three donkeys in the small corral, but Mary-Veronica only calls them ponies.
“They were rescues,” she says. “They were going to be slaughtered, so I took them. I’m a big animal rights activist, and it broke my heart. That’s why I’m vegetarian.”
“Did you grow up with horses?” Allie asks.
“Umm…” Mary-Veronica smiles as if stalling. “Yes.”
* * *
“I think she’s a pathological liar.”
* * *
“Maybe she killed the owners and took over their Airbnb.”
“Maybe she’s going to kill us, too. Forty-two bucks a night is way too cheap. She’s gonna kill us for sure.”
“You’re the worst.”
* * *
“Maybe she’s crazy.”
“She’s definitely crazy.”
“But what type of crazy?”
* * *
“How was the trip?” a friend asks.
“Really good. Great hiking, even with the rain. Our host was… hold on, actually.” I type into my laptop and slide it across the table. “This picture. What impression would you say it gives?”
He laughs. “In a word? Sex.”
I monologue about Mary-Veronica, and as I do, I notice a name in the corner of the photo, first and last.
* * *
A surf and portrait photographer, traveler and journalist. A few links take me to a picture I recognize, and that picture takes me to more pictures, and those pictures blend legs-spread-profile-pic Mary-Veronica with naked-in-a-towel Mary-Veronica, and those, finally, give me the name, I’ve been looking for. With that, I find everything. An Amazon author page, an IMDB page, and a Facebook page with 73,611 likes. I stumble into dozens of interviews and YouTube videos. Harvard’s Supermodel Activist of the Decade, winner of 2016’s Documentarian of the Year, and co-recipient of a Special Humanitarian Award for an environmental documentary she made with Leonardo DiCaprio. “The world’s most televised surfer,” I read. “Veronica, the Queen of Surfing.”
On her Vimeo account, next to clips of award ceremonies and interviews with ABC News, I find a bio: She basically spends her time thanking Source for having saved our Earth, and also spends a lot of moments in deep meditation remote blessing those who have salvaged the environment because studies from the Real Mind Power Secrets System and ARVARI Academy of Remote Viewing and Remote Influencing show we can subliminally influence someone’s behavior while they sleep. Thank God via deep meditation and projecting the green ray of Christ consciousness, the blue ray of Ascension, activating our Merkabas and enveloping us with the Violet Flame. The only viable weapon is love.
I text Allie.
* * *
After my rain jacket has dried and my feet have recovered, I find a review from Mary-Veronica on my Airbnb profile. Super cute, calm, quiet, CLEAN, couple who went over and beyond the call of duty when it came time to checkout as they demonstrated (unnecessary) consideration and thoughtfulness by removing sheets. Have to confess this is our very FIRST EVER guests staying here and they set the bar nicely. Namaste!
I wonder briefly about the condiments, and then I reciprocate the review. Airbnb mandates it. Comfortable room on a beautiful property, I write. Even during a cloudy few days, we could see the mountains. Mary provided tea and answered all our questions about the area.
NPR called Josh “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” after he wrote about his 7,000-mile, no-money hitchhiking journey through the United States. Since hitchhiking, he’s found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He builds websites as the director of Branded Look LLC. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.