I enter the gift shop to inquire about entry. Dragnet is talking to the attendant. He looks at me.
“I’m Dragnet.” He says.
“Well you are doing a pretty poor job of it.” I reply coldly.
“My job is to protect you.” He comes around the counter to face me.
“I seriously doubt that.” I turn to look at the attendant.
“Where is your little friend?” Dragnet says in a mocking tone.
“She is outside.” I lie.
Dragnet rushes out the door. “Bitao?” He looks around.
“Her name is Phoebe.” I say after him.
“May I help you?” The attendant asks.
“Are residents free today?” I know it is true.
“Yes, may I see your drivers license?” She says politely. “I need to verify your address.”
I pull out my wallet and show her my drivers license.
“Who is Phoebe?” She asks casually.
“Just a friend.” I reply.
“How do you know her?” She presses.
“She works at the coffee house downtown.” I put my wallet away.
“You will need a token to get in. Do you need one or two?” She pulls out some tokens from the drawer.
“Just one.” I take the token and turn to leave.
“The entrance is just across the way. You can walk around the water. That is what I do.” She smiles.
“Thanks.” I exit the gift shop. Dragnet is nowhere to be seen. I walk through the water puddled in the parking lot and enter the garden through the turnstile. I walk up the path to the pond. It is full of mud from the recent torrential rains. ‘The fish must all be dead.’ I think as the filtration system drones incessantly.
‘This place is in bad shape.’ I walk along the gravel path torn open by rivulets of water. The buildings are all in disrepair. I pass an elderly Japanese man photographing the crumbling facade. We do not speak. I pause at a zen garden courtyard. They used sparkly white rock for the ocean. It does not look right to me. I feel sad.
This place was once beautiful. People got married here. I remember taking a field trip here when I was in the fourth grade, laughing and running through the garden with my classmates. Now it is a shambles. Just like my life.
‘I hope they can clean it up by the spring.’ I turn to go and place some money in the donation box on my way out. It is starting to rain again. Dragnet is waiting in the parking lot for me. He is talking on a cell phone. I get into my car and drive away. I think of Bitao. She would be disappointed.
‘I will return in the spring.’ I promise.