Mr. Thing's Genre

Mr. Thing's Genre
a collection
of fantasy/sci-fi/horror
by Kyle Hemmings


I wish to thank my mother

The Last Time I Saw Jackie Gleason (Published in Sonar 4, 4/09)

I got something on the side. I got me a side dish, a cup of sugar I call Alice. After a show, I visit her backstage. To this day, she doesn’t know why I rescued her from a New Orleans massage parlor, a money-grubbing madam. With her funny floppy ears and fat nose, she hardly has the curves or grace of a dancer. What she has instead are big eyes, a body like a flat road. Mickey, she keeps saying, I don’t have what those girls got. No tits. No leg. My little ass is Indiana.

Burlesque is a beautiful art, I tell her, it's all about feathers and flaunting who you want to be.

Her eyes are so big.

Go out there, I tell her, and break a leg. Look 'em straight in the eye.

Sometimes we’ll sit in the dressing room, me, puffing on a cigar, and I ask Alice if she ever heard of Jackie Gleason. Looking into the mirror, she says she heard of him, everyone has, but she’s too young to remember.

Then I’ll do the talking and she’ll pretend to listen. Or I’ll do the talking and she’ll drift. Sometimes I’ll fall asleep on the chair and she’ll nudge me, saying Mickey, time to close.
I’m getting old and heavy.

I first met Mr. Gleason in his cluttered N. Y. office. He sat behind a desk, flicking ashes, missing the ashtray, and twisting his lips into something between a pout and a smirk. I felt stiff and stupid, wearing a suit that made me a hungry twin. My mother placed a record on a turntable. It was a number from the movie, Top Hat, one of her favorites. She excused herself and waited outside. She must have been more nervous than I.

I began to tap, hoping my shoes would snap against hard floor with the jazzy ease of a Gene Kelly. But that day, my feet dragged, had two separate minds. No Singing in the Rain for me. When the number was up, I looked up, feeling sheepish and flushed. Mr. Gleason, with cigarette dangling from his lips, applauded. My mother entered the room. She wore that smile of a thousand butterflies.

“You’re good but the timing was a little off, kid,” said Mr. Gleason, “I think it’s those shoes. They look a little tight.”

He picked up a phone and ordered someone to come immediately to the office and measure my feet. Then he smiled at my mother and said he would use me. I would be dancing on prime time TV. My stage name would be Mickey Sparks. On his show, Mr. Gleason introduced me as a twelve-year old dance prodigy. I was nothing of the sort. But he loved my mother. Behind closed doors, jammed within his schedule, they were having an affair. Maybe it was the glow on their faces whenever they met. Maybe my father's sixth sense that I inherited. His sense of timing, unlike Mr. Gleason's, was always off.
Over the years, I toured with Mr. Gleason and his crew, mostly on trains, and I met celebrities, like George Burns and Art Carney. I spent a lot of time fetching the stars cups of coffee, lighting their cigars. Mr. Gleason hired a tutor for me, so I wouldn’t miss any school. But my heart was always in show business. I had my mother’s twitching heart.

One day, we sat on a Miami train, the compartment, one especially made for him, was designed as his N. Y. office. With his tie loose and slouching against the seat, Mr. Gleason looked haggard, crushed. It was a look that said a hundred different things all converging on the same point--he still loved my mother. He had found out that she had shot her lover, a young Off-Broadway dancer, a love she had hidden from both me and my father. Mr. Gleason promised he’d pay people to keep the story out of the press. But things didn’t look good for her. She would spend a good chunk of her life in prison and empty space. Mr. Gleason had this obsession for lost causes.

Mr. Gleason took a sip from his whiskey sour and asked me if I believed in God, the cosmos, whether there were life forms on other planets.

I shrugged and said I never thought very much about any of it. But, I conceded, there was always a possibility, a hope of something outside ourselves. I wondered why he brought this up.

He asked me if I could keep a secret.

I said he could always trust me.

He told me he believed in flying saucers and the aliens who flew them, who landed here. He said during the war, soldiers on both sides had reported seeing them.

I didn’t know what to make of it.

Sometime later, he took me to one of his homes, built in the shape of a flying saucer. He kept talking about my mother. How he wished to free her from prison, and take us to somewhere far, somewhere safe. There are some people, he remarked, who needed saving.


It was a hot, sticky day. He drove me to an area outside an air base. As we approached a military guard, Mr. Gleason told me to duck in the back seat. I felt the car come to a stop. I peeked up. Mr. Gleason waved to the guard, who let him by.

The room was several floors underground. There were bodies in glass cases. They looked like humans, only their ears and noses were somewhat bigger, floppier. Those are dead aliens, Mr. Gleason said. They look like us, I said, trying to hide the temptation to flee the room. But at the same time, I was fascinated.

“Yes,” he said, “they look like us.”

He then went on to explain the government’s prevailing theory that the aliens came from a planet, perhaps in a parallel universe, a planet with dwindling food supplies. Some, he said, with his low whiskey voice, didn’t make it.

He led me into another room. We couldn’t enter, could only watch from outside a glass partition. There, the aliens were kept alive on ventilators, tubes running from their noses, their bellies. Some, he pointed out, were babies, some were their parents.

“You know,” he said, “it reminds me of burlesque. Some say burlesque is a dying art. But there are a few who try to keep it alive. I always believed that if you rescue something or someone who is dying, you’ll be rewarded in some way.”

Before we left, Mr. Gleason repeated that only a few knew about this location, that it was President Nixon’s secret project.

I promised Mr. Gleason, I’d never tell a soul. After we left, I couldn’t get the image of one of the aliens out of my mind. A beautiful baby alien trying to survive with feeding tubes. She had big glassy eyes that seemed to stare right into me. I would spend years looking for her.

Shortly afterwards our secret visit, Jackie Gleason died.


I didn’t exactly make it big but I did alright. I operated a club, showcasing burlesque and vaudeville acts in a town called Sawville, Indiana. There was no other club like it in town. Businessmen paid money to see girls gyrate on stage, and a few, mostly washouts, junkies, or boozehounds, to see freaks and intentionally inept magicians, to see men dance like old “Bojangles” Robinson. I introduced all the acts, me, too old to skim off the reputation of a child prodigy.

Now every night after a show, I’ll approach the spotlight and look out into the audience--a sea of mostly empty seats--and the stragglers, half asleep. I’ll talk about how I owe what I have to The Great One, Jackie Gleason.

Always, which is the opposite railroad from Never, someone in a back row, hoots and whistles. I can never make out the face. I like to believe that it’s my private dancer, my girl with the fat nose, the memory like a smoke ring. An Alice of invisible curves. But more likely, it's some all-night crasher with gummy hands and sticky feet. But like I said, I can never see the face.


i Wake Up Screaming (Pubbed in Why Vandalism? 2009)

i am standing at the edge of a cliff. i am wavering on the highest cliff overlooking the Santa Monica surf. Listen to my thoughts that rush and swell like the ebb and flow of the sea. And when i look down into the transparent patina of blue, endless swell of blue, i can still see her eye lying at the bottom. A black marble. It will keep staring up at me. Will it someday float to the top? Will it hunt me down with steadfast gaze? That tiger black eye and her Tiger Lily body. Tiger, tiger, no longer burning bright in this world.

My name is Reese Lovejoy. i got about an hour to live. Maybe less. Maybe more. Not much more. I remember the headaches that boomed and obliterated and the lights. The lights would switch on and off, like Venetian blinds, thin rectangles of sunlight. Always preceded the headaches.

i squat down near the cliff’s edge. Look on the bright side, i think--If you have an hour to live, you got an hour to kill. It’s funny; it’s not. That the headaches will stop is a relief but not, no, comes the darkness that swallows one whole, the void in the last thoughts. The void is what can swallow you whole. It’s hard to think coughing up gobs of congealed blood, and the bullet hole, the radiating pain, the burn. A shark-like pain is tearing at my vessels, their lining and then deeper. Don’t look down. You’ll fall too.

i want to set the record straight, Mother--what did happen, what didn’t. There will be a thousand versions in between. i’ll start by saying how i met Betty Yaimei in my Palo Alto office one evening of a warm day, the smell of burning flesh that had drifted down from the north, floated off the streets, a day with a dull sun glaring through orange-green tint.

i want to start by saying that i’ll never wake up again. You’re babbling, Lovejoy. Hurry up. Oh, yes, Mother. It hurts.

It was a day like any other. The front page of every paper boasted how the Truce of Napa had been signed; the Island of Kalifornia would be separated into two sectors: the North belonging to the North Koreans and Pan-Atheists, and the South remaining Free Kalifornia (FK). The Third Internecine Conflict ended and Chairman Han of China jokingly referred to the demarcation line as the 38th parallel. There would be no parade, drums, or bugles. Neither side could claim complete victory.

Slowly, the island of Kalifornia was drifting towards Asia.

i was closing shop, catching up on old paper work, shoving files back into cabinets, sealing envelopes containing bills or typed testimonials. Besides freelance investigations, i worked mostly as a Level II Ossilocater, free floating in an no man’s land of locating nuclear victims, plutonium-burnt bodies resembling shadows, working with lawyers and families to locate the remains of loved ones. i used the latest in R-Isotope technology. It wasn’t a pretty job, but it paid the bills and i whistled a sweet tune on payday. My career as a private dick was coming to an end, planned to retire early, real early, relocate somewhere with all night life, no day life. No sun. My graying hairline, the salt and pepper sideburns, were persistent parasites that marked my waning. i was a big man, muscular, would make someone think twice about deceiving me into secret agendas. Everybody had at least one. Between the sheets.

My secretary, Kandi-O, an ex-morphine addict i rescued from the makeshift shelters caused by crack lines in the earth, knocked. She always wore some dark-knit turtleneck, and her frizzy orange hair puffed out like a huge fuzz ball. She poked her head past a translucent glass door. “There’s a chick waiting outside, “ she said. “A Miss Betty Yaimei. Looks a little Alpha-antsy.”

i adjusted my shades, the ones i always wore to block out the light.

Kandi, i said, looking at my Montezuma quartz watch, holding my forearm in the air, tell her to come back in the morning.

Kandi squeezed her lips in a small circle and said the woman seemed really frazzled, might explode in tears.

I took a pill from my preventative medicine bottle that never prevented: Topeine III, a mix of advanced Topamax, ultra-caffeine, and some other nonsense. I never did see a doctor. I hated how they look into your eyes and shine lights. I looked up at Kandi who threw both hands in the air.

“She’s like it’s the bitter end or something, boss.”

“What the hell. Send her in.”

i dropped another Top III and stifled a gasp of heartburn.

She entered. i rose and stretched out a hand. She ignored it. i pointed to a modular half-chair.

“Miss Yaimei? How can i help you?”

She unzipped her black leather jacket that wrapped tight and clung over her spandex. Wore a black eye patch that i assumed was for decorative purposes, the insignia of the Southern Kalifornia no-hope proto-punk scene so rampant. What disturbed me more was the tattoo of a red spider displayed along one side of her neck. i had seen it before.

The uncovered eye bore through me like some glittering piece of black jade, something feline and angry. She sat, crossed her legs, a peep-toe stiletto rocked in front of the other shin. Its rhythm--the ticking of a time bomb. I thought of the dregs and the dross that lie buried under the nexus of Palo Alto streets, the rusted souvenirs and pioneer bones and whether corpses could whisper flash fire secrets.

“Mr. Lovejoy,” she began, “a man is trying to kill me. He calls me on the video phone, but his face is always blackened out. He knows my name and says he will enter my house and violate me. He describes the horrors of burning my flesh, my face. Mr. Lovejoy, you have no idea.’

She ran a finger across her raspberry lips. The red gloss remained intact.

“i wake up screaming.”

i estimated her age somewhere around late twenties. Wasn’t sure. There was a slight accent to that quivering voice, high-strung, almost melodic. A slight breeze of sulfuric-smelling air drifted in, perhaps from the Del Norte-Humbolt Coast. i wondered if she removed her eye-patch, just what would be uncovered. Would it blind me?

i picked up a pencil, tapped its chewed eraser on a notebook.

“Any idea, Miss Yaimei, who this man is?”

She cleared her throat and paused.

“Yes. Johnny Black. But as you might guess, that is not his real name.”

The name Johnny Black swept me like an undertow. He was a member of the Pomono Six, involved in soul phishing, creating nebula networks, pirating clones, murder by fiber-optic overloading. Johnny was tied to a Chinese mob, had connections to General H. Choi’s North Korean provisional government north of Napa. I had put Johnny away before the war, but some fancy-ass lawyer who reportedly slept with the judge, got his sentence reduced. He was out three months ago.

Rumor had it that he gotten his hands on the latest K-cloning and hologram technology from Pyongyang as well as helping to smuggle North Kalifornia K-clones past the demarcation to infiltrate FK. However, there were glitches in the technology: A dead giveaway to a K-clone is that the eyes turn colors reflecting emotional states. You could always tell a K-clone from the way the eyes change colors whenever the subject of natural parents is brought up. Another glitch: K-clones share memory traces of their aboriginals that they often mistake as their own. They could even feel the aborginal’s sensation at great distances.

Other than that, I ain’t no scientist. Just a dumb private i, moonlighting as a certified public O.

i sat back in the chair and smoothed my two-day gristle with a palm. i wanted her to remove the eye patch. She would be beautiful and tragic, her eyes, butterflies swathed with mascara.

“Miss Yaimei, I’ll give it to you straight. This is out of my league. My cases are confined to ossilocation of nuke victims. Have you contacted the police?”

She leaned forward and her one eye flashed.

“I will not go to the police. They protect men like Johnny. They take bribes. I’ve had bad experiences with the police. And Johnny is very clever. He would play a waiting game.”

i asked her why Johnny wants her dead. It’s a long story, she said. Ain’t it always, i thought. She stared down at the stiletto, the heel slipping off, hinting at the shapely slope leading to an ecstasy of flesh. Her words raced and lent me their fire.

She admitted she was once tight with Johnny, but later, broke free. Pointing to the tattoo on her neck, she said it was the mark of his women, a reminder to stay loyal.

Like i didn’t know.

She had a kid sister, she said, Daiyu. A good kid but got involved with Johnny’s crew. He got her a job as a go-down girl in San Francisco’s strip-a-dromes, stoking big shots, cream in your coffee, sir? That sort of thing. Johnny got her hooked on heroin-G. She fell for a young K-clone from the Napa area who was one of her favorite Johns.

“A clone?” I asked.

“Yes. Reprogrammed and registered to function in Free Kalifornia. Johnny thought he was working undercover for the FK nu-Patrol.”

Nu-cops were heralded as the elite of the Free Kalifornia police force, hybrids of human anatomy and digitally-rewired brain circuitry, Boolean tract hypothalamic implants. They were the brain child of the late forensics scientist, Dr. M. Fasinger, the founder of Meta-CSI. Unfortunately, the idea worked better in theory than in practice. Nu-cops often underestimated the complexity of an undercover situation.

She continued. The lover tried to rescue Daiyu to a better life. They found his body, twisted like morning pastry, hands and face burnt, in a Chinatown dumpster.
After Daiyu talked to the police, Johnny had her killed, Miss Yaimei stated dryly. At the trial, Miss Yaimei gave testimony that she saw Johnny and her sister arguing at the edge of a cliff. Johnny pushed Daiyu over. But when cross-examined, Johnny claimed they were arguing and Daiyu lost her balance, fell backwards. Having paid several witnesses to lie, Johnny was acquitted. Miss Yaimei’s version.

I offered her some coffee without promising there’d be no floating grains.

“No, thank you.”

She rummaged through her jacket pockets and handed me a photo of her sister. Raven black hair, wavy and parted to the side. The brimming smile, the almond-shaped eyes, the wishbone nose. Shame. Good looking kid. i handed her back the photo.

“What exactly does he say to you when he calls, Miss Yaimei?”

She fidgeted. Her voice quivered.

“He says how delightful it will be when he enters me. That he will take a knife and score marks across my body. That my thrashing will give him pleasure. When I least expect him, he calls.”

Her head bobbed and she started to cry. i offered her a tissue.

“Miss Yaimei,” I said, pacing in front of my desk, “i can’t take your case. But i can refer you to some very qualified people.”

She rose with the fury of a small child about to smash a vase. She pointed a straight finger at me.

“No! YOU will take my case! No one else. YOU. I read about you after the war. How you escaped that POW camp in Napa. Big war hero. The kind of man I need.”

“i didn’t exactly escape, Miss Yaimei.”

She rose and her voice shuddered with a menacing boom. i wondered when the headaches would attack full blast, the soldiers’ steadfast march that no Top III could stop.

“You want to see what trust is, Mr. Lovejoy?”

She reached inside her pocket and threw down a key across my desk.

“This is a copy of my house key. Will open both front and back door.”

i peered straight at her and refused to acknowledge the key. She then slapped a check on my desk made out in the sum of 25 convertible han-wons.

“It’s not counterfeit, I can assure you. The exchange is equal to 30, 000 FK dollars. I’m a refugee from the North, Mr. Lovejoy.”

“Money’s not the problem.”

She slapped down a wedge of crumpled paper.

“That is my address, my phone number. I have no immediate family in the area.”

“Miss Yaimei, i can’t.”

She treaded the floor in a small circle. The sound of her heels spiked the floor, wracked my nerves.

“Mr. Lovejoy, do me one small favor. Take off your shades. Just for a second. I want to see your eyes.”

I refused.

She walked up to me, stood toe to toe.

She tore off my shades, then, threw on the overhead light switch. i cringed, covering my eyes. You little bitch.

“Turn off the lights! Turn off the lights.”

Mother, please!

She stared at me with a stingy parting of lips. The lights flicked off. She stood a few inches before me.

“I remember reading your testimony in the papers. What they did to you in the camp. You and I both wake up screaming.”

She leered at me. My head still throbbed. She walked to the door, turned around. Her voice, chilly and edgy.

“You know what the name Yaimei means, Mr. LoveJoy?”

“No, ma’am.”

“It means swallow plum. You will save the life of this plum lady before she is swallowed by Johnny Black.”

You gotta love a woman who never says Mother May I?

A queer smile spread across her face. She inhaled deeply.

“How is it, Mr. Lovejoy, that a woman slight as I can learn to love the smell of carbonic acid sky or the barium-dark soul of a lover. It’s amazing what passes for love these days, isn’t it? We are so far from paradise.”

She abruptly stomped out of the room. I listened to the sound of her stilettos hitting linoleum, then fading, bullets in the distance.

Kandi-O traipsed in. She asked if we could close up. Her nervous smile charmed the shit out of me. i pictured Miss Yaimei sitting alone in her house, the still of her frozen eye, the shush of the rooms, the hot apple skin of her thoughts, peeling, falling around her, drowning her. Then, i couldn’t picture her. No longer. Sure, i said to Kandi-O. Sure, close up.


i threw several operatives on the case, including Charlie Grier, whom i always called “Blue.” Blue, i said, over the V-phone, do some research on a Betty Yaimei, a kid sister supposedly dead, and a court trial where Miss Yaimei gave testimony to her sister’s murder by Johnny Black. I called him Blue because back in the Napa camps his lips turned that color after subjected to chemical torture. But Blue was reliable as a bird dog. Always looking for some odd jobs to make ends meet, and he bit the bullet more than once for some rookie nu-cops doing undercover.

i told the team to keep a loose surveillance on Betty’s house, a modest two story colonial near the Romona area. And if she’d leave the house, to tail her and report to me anything suspicious. S-U-S-P-I-C-O-U-S. That word always cracked me up. What wasn’t suspicious?

Over the weeks, i saw little activity around the house. But some developments not to my liking.



She has funny trains.

Betty shops twice a week in a little shop off Forest Avenue in Palo Alto. Walks out with half the store. Can fashion join Kalifornia back to the mainland?

Orange women, lemon twins, Siamese orphans, have a tendency towards SWIRL, and hand paint themselves as victims of a violet terror.

She starts wearing tighter skirts, shorter, white, black, shades of shrinking purple, and some baby doll see-through outfits that could cause Chariman Han to hoot and shout.

Your heart is mango speechless.

Betty dresses and undresses by the second-story window. Her silhouette performs a slow dance, revealing the outline of her plum curves, the possibility of scurrying fingers, moist caverns, dark, you’d shoot the little man carrying the flashlights.

Happiness is a spasm of quicksilver hearts.

During phone calls, her voice imitates the pitch of a younger girl. Sometimes she pretends she doesn’t know me. Then she laughs, Had you fooled, Mr. Lovejoy, huh? I stare at the blackened picture on the rectangular screen of my V-phone until her eye-patch gobbles up my view of her sardonic smile.

Women who scream in the dark never live near fever trees.

She starts parting her hair to the side, a loose wave near the hairline, a surfer’s dream when it was safe to surf.

The emptiness in the rain is the tiger lily’s chill.

My headaches start to increase, and on stake-outs, i squirm in my red Hydro-convertible. i wonder: Is she trying to set up Johnny Black or me?

My gun is quick.

And another thing that bugged the piss out of me.

A bird in quicksand is worth a murder by the bush.

On Wednesdays, she drives a zigzag route all over freakin’ South Kalifornia, up Ventura, past Malibu, but always winding up in Santa Monica Bay, racing along a jagged berm that leads to a tall cliff overlooking the ocean. Gives me the creepers, Mother.

Our hearts are glass-snake fragile.

She walks to the edge of the cliff, stares down at the ocean, its blue glass of calm. She stands there for about an hour. Then, she disrobes into a one-piece swimsuit (hot-pink or flaming flamingo?). She always holds something to her ear.

She has funny trains.


i followed Miss Yaimei to the Santa Monica cliff. There i feasted on the scent of cocoa-butter and salt-spray wafting from the beach. As a kid, my old man had caught spotlin and yellow croakers, barred and walleyed perch. At night, people congregated, waving flashlights, grappling with the slippery silver fish they caught. Before the missile attacks up north that made contaminated fish turn belly up on the shores. Mother.

i crept up to her, not wishing to startle. She was so close to the edge. If she fell, the drop into sea-mirror would be slow, the end, bottomless.

“Miss Yaimei, i’ve been trying to call you. Need to discuss a few things.”

She turned slowly, a mechanical movement of a doll. i tried reassembling the girl in the photo. Betty stopped within a foot of me, then, stepped closer, closer, a slight twist to her hips, coquettish, unnerving. i started to shake, maybe the breeze from the north, the thought of it.

“Mr. Lovejoy, do you think it is wise for us to be seen together?”

i adjusted my brand-name ozone frames.

“Two things. Stop standing so close to that goddamn edge. Or better yet--stop coming here at all. Number two. Stop undressing by your window. You’re calling attention to yourself.”

She stared at me with a vigilante’s cool gaze. i peered down at the seashell she held to her ear.

“Is it the money, Mr. Lovejoy? Do you need more money?”

i stood before her speechless. Imagined her skin honey-warm, her lips, tangerine bitter-sweet. Like the mother you wish you once had.

“No. Not more money.”

Seconds elapsed, as if waiting, the vertigo of crossing a chasm, me, detecting the rush of blood, the stupid lust of insects, my death in nectar dreams. i kissed her. Fell into the vacuum of that one eye, and i thought of caverns, tiny damp rooms, never finding my way back, running from little men with flashlights. My life, short, sweet and my head began to pound. i pushed myself away. You never push yourself away.

“Either we do things my way, or i sign off.”

i started to turn, not wanting to, the overhead sound of white birds flapping their wings. They would dive into their shadows, into the sea’s crests. They flew past mourning, past the ghosts of their contaminated brothers and sisters.

She called out to me. Perhaps in her sister’s bird-like voice. i stopped, turned. Holding out a seashell, she asked me whether i’ve ever listened to one. Do you know, she said, you can hear voices within the conch. They tell you how you died or were never born. Listen carefully.

That was a lie. In the Napa prison camps, i died many times.

i walked away.

i drove my Hydro-Cell back towards home and wondered when Blue would get back to me with his report. The research over my dizzy client.


Blue’s Report
Hey, Reese, sorry for taking so long, buddy, but what the hell. Listen, I gotta talk fast because this V-call gonna cost you a fortune collect. Calling from some bar that serves imitation-Ks off Venice Boulevard. You gotta see their eyes turn yellow when they’re drunk and start crying over the parents who bore their originals. Sorry, can’t stop laughing. Okay. Spoke to some high-ups in the SF squad, and got in touch with a few ex-member of Johnny’s gang rotting in the joint. Managed to work some privileges in exchange for info. Christ, I’m burning up. Okay, listen. No record of Betty Yaimei or a kid sister. No record of this so called trial. But get this. Johnny Black had a girl Friday, named Lucy Simao who kinda fits the description. A war orphan, only child, both parents tortured and killed by North Koreans at Napa. God, my prick is burning. Hooks up with a G.I., manages to smuggle her south. G.I. Joe dumps her. She sells her fuzzy to keep alive.

Johnny takes her off the streets, makes her service high-ranking clients, makes her his mistress, kid’s good with figures, fudges his Excel-400 ledgers, but gets hooked on Horse-G. Lover boy promises to marry her, but instead, shit, gotta see a fucking doctor, shacks up with a sixteen-year old manga cutie pie just pawned from Tokyo. Lucy wants revenge, starts dating a K-clone who gets her rehab, but winds up dead in a garbage bin. The aboriginal sees a photo of his dead body in the papers, commits suicide. Lucy runs away. Johnny worries she might talk to Feds, nu-cops, linears. She travels all over FK, Salinas, Pomono, Marina del Rey, taking odd jobs as waitress, hooks part time, singer for a proto-punk band, even an actress for some loony porn director who shoots movies at nuked out locations to achieve orgasm. Turns up at an LA mental institution claiming she’s somebody else. Reports of seductive behavior. Reports of self-mutilations. Mother of Mao, I want to cut my dick off. Johnny tracks her down, sends her money to keep quiet. Huge payoffs. Maybe a soft spot for the chick, I mean, not whacking her and all. What does the ditsy bitch do? She goes and squeals on Johnny, after he sends her so much money, and after she makes lucrative investments in Pomono real estate, and Johnny lures her back, sends messages that he will make her his queen and dump the little doll he’s shacked up with, takes her to a cliff, threatens her, tells her, she’s a no good tramp who should end her life, she jumps, maybe depressed, well fuck, who wouldn’t be? the body never found, the lady vanishes, nu-cops shrug and call it suicide, even though an open case, but so many girls who wind up like her, hundreds, and who’s gonna find them or care to? Hey, hey, met this hot babe the other day at Malibu, Reese, you shoulda seen her, sitting on the beach rubbing herself with nitric protection cream, her tits floating up at the sun, as if it was yellow like it once was, the tits floating up clouds, Reese, like clouds, and she turned, I said hello, a college kid, red hair and freckles, a Miss Spring Rain Of The Year, and I didn’t say Mother, May I? I must have banged her in the hotel till my dick turned blue. She takes my .38 and points it at my nuts. Playful kid. Let’s do it again, grandpa, she says. I notice this red tattoo of a spider on her rump and now I got the fucking clap. Mother. So, Reese, uh, listen, we get together sometime next week, and I’m hurting for cash, and this goddamn problem with my dick burning. God, I could use three months worth of back rent, and maybe, just maybe, you owe me a last call at the Tipsy Inca? Give the dog a bone, I say. Thanks for taking it collect, Reese.


Overslept my midnight stakeout. Rolled over, flicked the night lamp, squinted at my Montezuma. Fuck. i scrambled out of bed, tossed my head under a quick shower. The phone rang in a splitting shrill. It was Betty.

She screamed in my ear. He’s in the house! He’s in the house! Reese, where are you?

i watched her zoom in and out of focus on the V-screen, crying, as she mumbled something in blocks of Chinese incantations. My heart plummeted like a ten-year old not pleasing his mother. Told her i’d be right there. Told her to call the police. Knew she wouldn’t. Tried calling nu-cop hotline myself, but the operator stated department delay due to brain upgrades. I thought, fuck this, grabbed my .38 flash gun and slid it into my Weber-Uber rig.

I flew out of my chintzy apartment that smelled of sweat-soggy shirts and old newspapers, Flew out of this apartment complex where the neighbors sat up and watched late night LVDs about flying saucers and creatures with one eye.

I jumped into my Ford Hydro-car, reliable as a sweet first love. Sped cross town to Betty’s address. Sped thought red lights on winding roads. My wheels tracked through sand sprinkled streets, under palm trees bent like old women. A nu-cop flashed me down. i showed him my license, told him i was responding to an emergency. In typical nu-cop monotone and slight stammer, he asked the address of the woman. i told him. He said he’d call for back up. It never arrived.

Pulled up a block away from her home. Did a cross-eyed scan of it. i crouched low in the backyard, pulled out my .38, grabbed the key she had given me. Looked up. No lights in windows and no sound. i jimmied the key through the back door and cursed. Began groping against the walls, one room at a time, turned on the lights, called out to Betty. Reese? She answered, in the attic. He’s in the attic!

i flicked on the living room lights. The room was decorated with oriental furniture, designed with curling ends of pagodas, a few photos on a wall, one of Betty as little girl back in China, standing in front of her parents (conjecture). She looked so hopelessly cute and small. Fragile as an orange blossom in the rain. A very private rain. i snaked up the stairs. Getting closer. She screamed again. Kept screaming. Closer. The thrill of her cries, needles poking my heart that was no longer or anytime before--an orange blossom.

i stumbled upstairs towards the attic. Crouched low. Pried open a sticky plywood door, caught a splinter in my thumb. I crept in, searching for a light switch. Then. A white flash, the boom of it shattering my ear drums. I fell back, shook my head, started firing blind in the direction of the blast. Silence. I heard the moan, the rustle of a body slumping to the floor (conjecture). My breaths looped in spasms and my heart fluttered. I watched my back, put it to the walls and swung my .38 at each corner. Where. Left. Are. Right. You. Back. Johnny? The stench of internal organs, exposed, perhaps splayed across the room, gutted me.

Managed to find the switch to the string light on my three-barrel flash. It shone against the body, arms outstretched, the blood flowing to my feet, splattered against the walls. I walked over and looked down.

It was Kandi-O.

Her lips trembled as she tried to lift her head, blood streams from one corner of her mouth.

“Guess, it’s the bitter end, huh, boss.”

Her eyes froze, staring out, then closed. Her head fell against the floor. i pulled back her turtleneck--the tattoo of the red spider. i felt like puking.

Ran back downstairs, switching on lights, stooping and turning, i staggered towards Betty’s harsh cries. i swung her bedroom door open. She stood in a flimsy nightgown, an artistic cut of gauze. The gun from her hand dropped. Could you use that? i asked. Would you kill him?

Yes, I could. Yes, I could. . .No, I couldn’t.

You couldn’t?

No. I couldn’t.

Her watery eye stung me from a distance. So did her nipples. Her body throbbed and cringed. The delicate bird woman with chameleon cover. i tucked my .38 back in its home and raised my hands. No Johnny, i said. It was somebody else. One of his whom i thought was mine. My legs trembled. She nodded towards the fine fibers of carpet, Persian and wine-colored, to her silver and black-rimmed slippers. She looked up at me--her eye widened.

“Where were you?” she said. “Where were you!” She screamed a long howl that echoed Napa nightmare.

i stood numbed and foolish, trying to thing of something REASSURING, but my words could only amount to sweet nothings. We stared at each other as if each wanted to eat the other alive, but for different reasons. Please, she said, stumbling towards me, with scared little puppy gait. Please, she said, don’t leave me here alone. I’ll do whatever you want, but stay with me tonight.

i grew raw, so many nights alone with shadows, raw to enter her as a river of sweet narcotic, and i would never wake up. Stay forgetful in a radioactive love.

Her robe drifted down past her shoulders, the whiteness of them. Settled at her ankles. My head pounded, the sonic boom of pain, the expectation of sudden ecstasy. i embraced her, rubbing my hand over her smooth and glossy hair, parted like her imaginary sister’s. Told her how much i dreamt of her, how i wanted her in the night. Me too, she said, me too. i thought of us in daylight lush park, the sunlight stroking her face, that brimming smile of a thousand wonderful deceptions, and my head cradled in her lap. i went picking flowers for my mother, poinsettias and sunflowers. My mother stroked my cheek and said we can never die, so far away from the techno-dogs of class warfare.

i carried her to the bed and placed my .38 under her (ours?) pillow. i slowly undressed slowly dissolved myself of all running pretense. Divest your life of all its acid rain garbage. With eyes closed, i planted kisses on her thighs, and i thought of honey, ran my hands over her breasts, and I thought of the violet secrets of white blooms. i entered her, my head pounding madly, listened to the trill of her delight, tried to ignore the splat of Kandi-O’s blood dripping from the ceiling, across my back. i scoured the pinpoints of light in Betty’s eye, the little men with flashlights that always spoiled your surprise, her wide delicious grin. i sank and rose, so many caverns and dark rooms, but the head, pounding harder, the lights, with Mother screaming no, no, no, to the matchstick men with flashlight eyes, and slowly, i pulled off the eye-patch, wanting to see both eyes in shimmering delight, her, waving her hand not to, reaching for it, but no no no no no--an empty eye socket.

I shrieked, rolled over and placed the crook of my arm over my eyes, destroyed by the darkness of hers, my skin prickling with the heat, the body shuddering.

Mother, do you know me?

She tugged at my shoulder and ran her cheek against my ear. I’m sorry, Reese. He did that. Johnny did that.

i sprung, sat on the edge of the bed, buried my head in my hands, elbows against the fulcrum of my knees. i shook my head several times. Started to cry. Big man, no man. She rubbed my back with her hand, so light as feather. I thought of geese in a trance, the back pool of their silence. She stroked me in V-like patterns. Maybe next time, she said. Next time we will make love with blindfolds. i turned back, tucked myself under the covers, and we slept in each other’s arms, my eyes shut tight, and her one eye perhaps more so (conjecture).


The POW Camp at Napa

i was pushed into a dark, grimy cell, beaten and tortured each night. On several occasions, the commanders of the People’s New Liberation Army (PNLA) sent a short smiling man with round spectacles to draw blood samples for DNA cloning experiments. The soldiers woke me up at all hours, whistling, shouting, banging tin cups against the bars. They would shine flashlights in my eyes and laugh as I tried to cover them. They kicked my head until blood streamed into my eyes. For weeks, i stunk, forced to sit in my own shit, and each day, a woman, perhaps a young farm girl imported from the provinces around Pyongyang, entered my cell and stroked my head. They dressed her in a tight silky dress, floral designs, much like an aspiring prostitute for rich clients. She spoke in soothing tones, and asked my why do i lie for the imperialist techno-dogs, and it was her who would save me and not them. She said she wanted to give me back the joy of living, if only i would talk and be a flower among so many others. She promised that if i revealed the location of FK’s underground nuke sites, she would sleep with me and she explained how flowers could grow all over the world, even on an island such as Kalifornia. She said her name was Maylani and that she was my real mother.

Remember, she said, Mother loves you so.

Weeks later, Saber XX helicopters thundered the skies and the camp was liberated.

At the interrogation in L.A., i sat in a courtroom, listened to “Blue” give testimony to countless human rights violations. He stared straight into the eyes of the captured field marshal Ming Jong. Blue admitted that the worst torture he endured was not the chemical gases that made him vomit or laugh inappropriately or cry without reason or destroyed his ability to write in paragraphs. But rather, he had fallen in love with the woman named Maylani, and that he still dreamt of her. She plagued his thoughts, night and day. Behind my shades, i wept.

Then the FK military committee cross-examined Field Marshal Jong. He admitted that out of 70 or so attempts at cloning prisoners, only 20 “took.” The technology, he told the committee, was far from perfect. Many of Pyongyang’s top scientists were brain damaged from toxic drifts. With a cruel twist to his lips, he confided that the most flamboyant failure was Blue’s case--there was extensive damage to his DNA structure and further attempts were aborted. Some of the twenty clones, he also confessed, managed to escape. They were never located by Jong’s Flashshock troops.

When questioned about Maylani, Jong said that she herself was a victim of American mainland and FK nuclear missile attacks, that half her face resembled “the far side of the moon.” In payment for the brilliant reconstructive surgery by North Korean doctors, Maylani devoted her life to serving the PNLA cause.

Later, I took the stand. I admitted giving erroneous information to my North Korean captors.

In my dreams from then on, Maylani sat at the breakfast table with mom and dad, or watched me from afar as I played baseball as a kid in a grassy field. Sometimes she would just sit and smile. She never spoke. She would rise and walk away, and I’d wake up in a cold sweat. Sometimes, random lines of PNLA manifesto would enter and rake my head.

We are all flowers of the same garden.

We all lean towards love.


i watched Betty Yaimei scramble to her car, her head capped by a blue beret that matched the darkness of the eye patch. She wore a brown leather skirt and polyester high boots. i shifted into first and cruised a good distance behind her. The car radio reported three more people dead from one of the worst carbon monoxide fronts in years.

i tailed Miss Yaimei past posh houses sitting on hills, ones that would soon fall into the sea. I followed her up and down the winding hills, the slopes of the Pacific Palisades, past a sign that read: Slow Speed, Road Curves. After passing under a dark grove of sycamores and a straggle of hillside cabins, i lost her. Sped up, almost losing control of the road. It was that dark. i spotted her Chevy III Hydro, lost and found, never the story of my life. i watched her peek into the rearview. She honked her horn. i leaned back into the seat.

Behind me, i heard the grumble of a high-speed hydrocell engine. i poked my nose in the rearview. Some sleek double T-Bird with H-D halogen beams flashing, hitting me square in the eyes. i winced and bucked in my seat. The bastard honked his horn, kept doing so. i refused to swerve to allow him to pass. Got another look. It could be Johnny (conjecture). i recalled the digital mug shots, his head shaven, that smug look, my bruised analog-old ego.

He kept honking and flashing his high beams. i blocked him and honked back. Beeped to warn Miss Yaimei there was trouble. i thought of my .38 flash snuggled against my waist and i longed for a warm breast.

Johnny (?) started to bang my Ford from behind, love taps that rocked my spine, the high beams making my head buzz. i swerved several times to block him. But he sped alongside me, slamming the T-Bird against my wheels. i forced him back. It went on. This game.

i didn’t see it coming, but the road forked. Spinning the steering wheel to the left, i lost control, the car veered off the road, the fender crashing against jutting rocks, their edges, my window shield cracked. Tiny brain cells jiggled. i overlooked the ocean, felt its heave and yawn. Mother of Mao, have mercy. Shifting the car back into reverse, i cursed. Come on, old granddaddy, i thought, this ain’t Pork Chop Hill. i laughed until i couldn’t.

The engine whined, and i was back on the main road, but no, i had lost them. i searched for signs of an overturned car off the side of the road, imagining the worst. Betty, her mouth, slack and bleeding, her arms, naked, riddled with old track marks. There was nothing.

i headed towards Santa Monica Bay, thought of the cliff there, the one Betty visited. My head hummed. The image of those high beams transfixed themselves behind my eyes. i would not let this case fly.

Parked by a boardwalk and ran past women holding the hands of children, who buried their faces in clouds of cotton candy. Ran past a game stand where a guy in cut-off flannel shirt, a craggy, sallow complexion, kept saying, “Only fifty cents for three throws. Win your girlfriend a prize Panda Bear with vinyl eye patch. She’ll love you twice for it.”

My fists working like angry 21st century pistons, i ran towards the cliff, towards a deserted stretch of beach, far from the crowd, the chorus line of stunted palm trees. Looked up. i made out two figures on the cliff, but at this distance, could be anything. But the thought of getting there too late, a body falling, and i’d wake up screaming.

i climbed and panted, the headache pouncing off the walls of my head. i took no preventative medicine that never prevented. i slid, my face fell against sharp rock. i wiped a smear of blood. At the top, reaching this, i hid behind some rocks, listened to their voices, murky as the sky over Palo Alto. i peeked out, daring it. Johnny was walking towards her. His hair, now grown back, was in a ducktail. He wore dark baggies and some violet silk shirt.

He was saying, “You thought you could trick me. I knew you were still alive somewhere. Inventing bullshit names and stories. Did you think you could get away from me? You ugly piece of shit. This time, we’ll end it. Your life. Didn’t I pay you enough? Put an end to your ugly life. Jump?



It hit me odd, the way Betty cried in a melodramatic way, as if putting on a show for a parent. Slowly, she back stepped towards the edge. My head continued to pound. i watched them through burning eyes. Slipped my .38 flash from it rig. i stood up, crept over, and yelled, “JOHNNY.”

He turned, his eyes wild. i pointed the gun at him, praying straight shooter. i strode towards him in stiff steps, wanting so much the pleasure of shooting him. i ordered him to raise his hands, high, high over his head.

“Miss Yaimei. Walk slowly to me.”

He smiled, refused to drop the piece.

“Well, well, Reese Lovejoy. Big war hero making a living digging up skeletons of nuke victims.” His voice sounded distant.

“Shut up.”

She slid away from him. i trudged towards him. Might have even smiled. Johnny, i said, two choices. Either i shoot you, or you jump.

His face twisted and trembled, the kind of wretched look you’d never expect from a big man who was so SMALL, and the fall into the glass ocean. He must have thought about that.

“Hey, Reese, tell me. Are you one of those sick bastards I read about? Gets his rocks off sleeping with nuke victims who poke out their eyes. You know, the self-hatred thing so much in vogue.”

“Shut-up, scum bucket.”

“That’s real original, Reese. Real aboriginal.”

i stared at him. My jaw trembled. The snicker worming across his face irked me. Who would fire first?

“Take off your shades, Reese. Show us the color of your eyes.”

i fired. The heat bullet whizzed through his shoulder. Nothing. No blood. i turned the setting to L. The laser beam bored through him. He laughed at me.

i realized it was a hologram. i turned around, Where was the projection coming from?

Something hard crashed against my skull, knocked me to the ground. My gun and shades flew a good distance. Recovering myself, i looked up. A blur came into focus. It was Johnny. The real Johnny. He stepped on, crunched my shades.

Get up, he said, motioning with his flash. The red string light from the gun hurt my eyes.

i stood before him. Watched him flip the gun’s control settings.

“You got two choices, “ he said, “ Either I laze the skin off your sorry frame or you jump. If I were you, I’d jump. It’s a good night for a swim.”

Slowly, i backed up, trying to think of anything to plea bargain with. Came up empty. Stood a foot or so from the edge. He closed in on me, smiling. He kept forcing me to the edge.

“Jump, motherfucker.”

Another step back.

“Are you deaf?”

i made a move to turn, but dropped low, tackled his knees. We struggled for control of the gun. Strong bastard, marshmallow me, he pushed me off several times, despite his lanky frame. We rolled over, punched and grabbed at each other’s vitals. The gun slid, fell over the edge. He grappled with my wrists, pinned my head to the edge, forced my chin back--i saw the ocean upside down as if now the sky. i reached for rock close by, slugged him until he was motionless. Threw him over the edge. His face reappeared, levitated over the edge. The dazed look wore off. He hung from the side by two hands.

He pleaded some nonsense, his words stumbling over each other, so frantic. i glanced over to Miss Yaimei, her glazed tears, thought of her slipshod love like a false memory, a room of mirrors, her chain of marigold betrayed lovers. I rose and stomped on his fingers, causing him to scream, to jerk, and for her to wince, to shake Inchon-jittery. My head kept pounding, the lights, the words of Mother. Where was she?

She loves you from the far side of the moon.

As i stood over Johnny, i began to fade out from the headache. His features blurred. i struggled to focus. He held his face up, his snarling face that was mine, twisted, pitted. i kicked at that slap-shocked face. His hands slipping--me--so mango speechless. He hung at the edge by one hand. He wavered and twirled, the eyes rolling back. He had funny trains. No longer.

He fell.


He fell. i stood at the edge, watching his arms and legs spread apart like some crazy pieces of jigsaw. The pieces never fit, becoming so small. Splash. Never to resurface. Johnny, a dark memory, what the sea could reform by silence, dust at the bottom of the ocean. If fish could sneeze.

i backed away, heard Betty sniffling, clutched her shivering as my own.

Mother loves you so.

i walked towards her, slow, her back to the ocean, the sound of its lapping against rock, the sea of forgetfulness, sealed over, his fate, and maybe soon-- mine, hers. She stared into my face, shrieked what’s wrong, what’s wrong, Reese? What’s wrong with your eyes? They’re turning colors. You have the bad luck eyes of a black cat. A black cat that remembers too much. Those yellow eyes.

Perhaps the moonlight. Perhaps the slant.

The lights beamed inside my brain; doors swung open and shut, the sound of tin cans hitting walls. Maylani fed me small portions of beef and rice.

She stepped back, looking over her shoulder, suddenly, whipped out a hand gun, tucked in her waist, perhaps meant for me all along. Could. Could not shoot me? Please, she said, don’t come any closer. What’s wrong, Reese? Don’t make me shoot.

I stumbled towards her in baby-like steps, waddling. Mother, I began to say, Mother. . . i am not afraid.

No, Reese, please, no, no, no, don’t make me, please get away, don’t want to, please. Her shrieking ringed, arced like mortar shell.

i crept closer.

“It was a pinch, wasn’t it? Johnny knew the real Reese died in those camps.”

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“But Johnny wanted revenge. He found out that Reese had a clone who took his identity. Escaped from Napa.”

“Leave me alone!”

“A ‘K’ who would continue Reese’s work. The work of the aboriginal.”

“You’re making this up. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Maybe you wanted to get tight with Johnny again. You feed me to him, and he gives you--”

“Lies. It’s all lies.”

“--back your privileged throne.”

“No, I swear, Reese, don’t come any closer!”


No, she fired, her body jerked from the recoil, my shoulder thrown from the blast, the metallic impact. i wiped the blood on my palm to taste it. To taste that it was Reese’s, the same salt and plasma, my blood-type. i stopped, then pressed towards her. She fired again, but missing, stood at the edge of the cliff, screaming for me to back up, but no, i said, i don‘t want to hurt you, Mother, and her body froze, her paralysis that was mine, then, trying to aim again, losing her balance--she slipped over.

In the blue room, Maylani squeezed me against her jackrabbit heart.

Her hands dangled over the edge. i grabbed her wrist, so weak, i was, her eye opened wide, her mouth formed small futile movements, opening and closing.

I wrapped my hands around Mylani’s throat and squeezed until she could no longer breathe or talk or smile. The soldiers barged into the room and killed me who would live again. The I who would be copied.

At the edge, she spoke, clutching. i struggled to lift her up. Her head swirled and her one eye grew into a summer night moon, then smaller, yes, the sea star eye of a love junkie.

“Why is it? Why is it? That the people . . . You hate the most are the ones you love the most… I…always heard Johnny’s voice in a seashell.”

“Mother. . .Mother!” I said, staring into the white pinpoints of her eye, “don’t you know me?”

She bared her teeth, worked up a desperate smile, one that mirrored so much more, a prism of myriad colored sea glass, that look of loss, of her bittersweet and crazy love, never meant for me. My mother lied. There was never a promise of butterfly in spring.

Let me go.

She said.

Let me go.

Our hands slipped past each other’s, the palm-sweet eternal slide, whether from weakness or volitions, did i let her go or did she? She fell, fell gazing up at me, growing smaller until she was endless as the ocean, the blue glass sea washing her over. For her, never again the agony of waking up, screaming or otherwise, that blanket of forgetfulness, my headache, a river past. Her glassy eye, her vacuous eye, would stay with me. It would not slink or slide away. Not like the hands.

i struggled to climb down the cliff. I would drive, if i could, back to the office, numb myself with Top IIIs, call the police, tell them how i found and lost Miss Lucy Simao, tell them how she lies still at the bottom of the ocean, how she might resurface again someday. i’d made some final notes. Then I’d walk, maybe back to the ocean, listen to it breathe, take in its jeweled silences, the gaps between breaths, your own love like vapor. It would always lure me. And growing backwards, i’d wander town after town, combing beaches and skulking in bars, leaving trails of my blood-smeared prints, crying in the lap of every downtown prostitute. every shady-eyed Betty--looking for the eyes of my real mother.

Or until i dropped.


When Bill arrived home from the hospital, he didn’t feel a lobe lighter. There, it wasn’t so much a matter of a lexicologist with scalpel classifying word manias and symptoms, but rather, measuring them in milliliters and removing their CT scanned location. There was now a lack of Bill that was complete. No more tantrums with fangs and no more fears with flash-photo eyes. His mother no longer complained of a toenail fungus.

In the house, whenever Bill’s mother spoke he couldn’t see her face because she always stood behind him. Nevertheless, there was that unmistakable tone of someone speaking with staples holding the gut. Bill once imagined his mother gushing paper clips or rubber bands stretching longer than the entire colon.

When Bill was in the hospital, one month bleeding into the next, his mother visited exactly twice, both times complaining of the things she needed or couldn’t get rid of: mop heads, bleach, dustpans, detergents, grease, turgid water in the basement. And money. There simply was none. And the dust, she added, turning her head to a casement window that stayed locked, was piling up. Studying her fake turtle eyes in a compact, she complained that a bus driver had made a pass at her, even with runs in her stockings, or because of them.

Bill lay in bed, smiling up at the ceiling. Later, his words were marshmallow soft and incongruent as train schedules.

But here, now, location was a given in any sense except where he thought she stood in relation to time. She still articulated the notion of hearing something hissing inside walls. But Bill knew that this was her impression of him in the old sense. It was her decision to allow experts to drill through walls. Whenever she spoke to Bill, or about him to his face, her eyes moved like angry squirrels up in trees. Scared squirrels inside walls.

Bill once had a father, but he scurried underground without a paper trail. There was once a county college that Bill had attended, but that stood at the other side of the world-as-green-apple. From where Bill stood, sometimes for hours, he absorbed the change of sunlight from a bright yellow hue into a darker one into something the color of a cavity, a grotto. In this way, Bill could measure time as a continuum. At the hospital, he remembered it as freaked orange, discontinuous shades of it, dawn to twilight, and the sky, white and wistful blue, the colors of his gown projecting upwards. But with the clock, like an urbanized and neatly sectioned sun, ticking minutes to a dinner under a roof of creatures, there was only brown, light brown, sienna for lovers or ghost-watchers, warm fuzzy brown. His mother now spoke as Bill surveyed the backyard from the window.

“You know what I found in the yard while you were gone? Snakes. That’s the kind of luck we got. There are snakes in the backyard. Next, it‘ll be the basement.”

Bill looked thoughtfully at the rich grass next to rows of flattened blades turning yellow. Behind him, there was the whisk of a broom, but the dust was something she brought in. He spoke as now he rarely did.

“You know what kind of snakes they are? They’re garden snakes. They won’t hurt you.”

This was something that Bill didn’t know to be true, but it would make her feel good, and it would maintain his presence in the warm side of the house. The square eyes of windows, the slanted mouths of blinds, opened to the sun. A kind of negotiation, a kind of truce. Bill looked down at his wrists. The squiggly marks across each, where the leather restraints were, could be the movements of small snakes. Snakes passing for worms. The bigger snakes, poisonous but glittering, the ones with multi-colors, twirling, or running perfectly side by side, were somewhere else. Those snakes were uncoiled, quiet, still as a negative of what the cranium no longer housed.

They Don’t Catch Colds in Texas

In the TV room of H-3, Wendell Pikes paced, sometimes stopping to peer out the window, trying to measure the height, the thickness, of the walls of MacKendree Springs. Sometimes he tried to calculate the exact distance the hospital was from his home. About thirty miles from Satchel, North Dakota. The hospital was secluded from towns that stretched out in ever widening circumferences. He could picture vast spaces of plains and savannahs.

He perused the high stucco and brick walls that might have once housed a fortress in the wilderness, protection from Cheyenne, Arapaho. Where the walls stopped, there were yards of wires twisted and a gate that closed after 8 pm with locks and locks and locks. Bolt, chain, key, electronic.

He turned around. Several patients, seated on the sofa, wore dazed looks or stiff smiles, so slight, hinting at secrets, or a power so destructive that even naming it would unleash its fury. Some stared out at a TV as if mesmerized by it — others, as if oblivious to it. Wendell shifted his head back to the window.

So fruitless to escape, he thought. If anyone dared, they would soon offer themselves up to the fields of high corn stalks or wheat, fields of alfalfa, sweet clover. And there were bees swarming in summer that would make you postpone your plans until winter and by winter you might have been sent to sea. In those fields, thought Wendell, no one could remember who they were.

* * *

His appointment with Dr. Li was in twenty minutes. He glanced at his watch, the way he would often glance at it in his first semester at junior college before being taken out in second year. He gave up on the idea of looking at watches because it was an act without consequences. It always made you feel guilty about staying in one spot and breathless if you thought of moving.

For a time, he wore no watches. But his father had bought him one and the act of wearing one did not incur censure, meant nothing to no one on any particular point on the grid. You might as well tell time by watching hot air balloons over the ocean. He did it to please his father. He hated that look of hurt on his face, that look of a lifetime of hurt, hurt, hurt.

“Hello, Wendell. I’m sorry I’m late. Let’s go into my office. Have you eaten lunch yet? Anything good?” It was Dr. Li, mid-fifties and petite, always wearing her pant suits in low key colors. “Yes. I had lunch. It wasn’t bad... Breaded chicken, French fries, peas with corn. There were more corn than peas. Not an exact count.”

“Well... Sounds better than the lunch I had. I had more peas than corn.”

She led him down the burgundy carpeted hallway of her third floor office across H-3, speaking with a slight trace of a motherland Mandarin accent. She cleared part of her desk and sat down.

He eyed rows of textbooks, perhaps full of case studies like his. He squinted to get a better look at one book. Her name was listed with three others on a very fat hardbound. She adjusted her wire thin glasses. “So, Wendell. How are you feeling since we last met? Any side effects from the new medications? Anything?”

“No. It’s been alright.” He gazed at a computer with flat screen and ergonomic keyboard. Approximately 20 inches top to bottom. 16 inches side to side. Why didn’t they make it a perfect square?

“Well, it’s good to hear. And I understand you’ve been doing well on the floor. Any problems?”

“Well... Dr. Li, why is it that men and women here are segregated?”

She threw him a blank stare. She recited the hospital’s code of conduct regarding the safety and privacy of the patients, that it was best to prevent incidents before they happen.

He shrugged his shoulders and returned his gaze to the cherry wood bookcase, then back to her desk.

“Is there anything else you would like to discuss?”

“No. Not really.”

“And the Voices? When was the last time you heard these Voices?”

She took a sip of coffee, placed the plastic cup to one side of a phone.

“Over a week ago.”

“A week ago? Really? That’s great.” He scratched his ear and perused her features, not settling on any particular one.

“I haven’t heard them in eight days.”

“You remember what happened before you came here?”

“They pulled me out of class because they didn’t like my answer.”

“You gave the instructor an answer unrelated to his question. He tried to humiliate you and the rest of the class joined in. You froze in your seat and started punching your face until your nose bled. Remember?”


“So it’s important to be honest. I’ve been honest with you. What did the Voices say a week ago?”

“They told me to go by the window. The girls were coming out of that building.” He pointed with his finger. Dr. Li turned around and pointed also.

“That building? The Cortland Building?”

“One of their numbers was up. No 22, I think. I was instructed to watch the girl walk through the lake.”

“And then what? Did she drown?”

“No. Evens don’t drown. The Voices say they keep walking along a central meridian until they find their husbands, lovers, whose ships were destroyed... Doctor, do you know what happens if you walk along the same meridian until you reach the opposite side of the equator?”

“No. Tell me.”

“Your shadow would face in exactly the opposite direction.”

She tapped her pencil on the pad and leaned back in her leather seat. She smiled, smiled often, showing two perfectly aligned regiments of tiny teeth.

“What does that mean, Wendell? About the shadows?”

“It means that if you keep walking along the same meridian long enough, you can find anyone who was once a part of you.”

“Last time you mentioned a head mistress. What is it she always says to make you freeze?”

“Xyec. She can make the whole world freeze.”

“Xyec. Right. What does it mean?”

“The Voices forbid divulging secrets of the 7th dimension of T. What I can say is that she will count the number of revolutions of a windmill during a storm until it stops on an even number. That will be the number of the girl who will leave that day. She will look for the missing partner of her unit. Boys and girls were not meant to be segregated.”

“Have you been given a number yet, Wendell?”

He looked down at his knees and cleared his throat. He met her curious gaze, head-on.

“No. But we all will have numbers. The head mistress leaves out no one. It’s only a matter of time.”

Dr. Li’s phone rang. Wendell folded his hands and pretended not to listen. She hung up and reached for her white pocketbook. She apologized for cutting their session short. An emergency, she declared while rising from her desk.

“But I have good news for you. I was thinking of calling your family and arranging a weekend visit. Would you like that?”

“Yes. But will my mother answer?”

“I don’t know. Would it be alright if I made arrangements with your father if she doesn‘t?”

“I was hoping my mother would answer. But yeah. You mean home for good?”

“No. One step at a time. I will get back to you about the visit. Okay, Wendell?”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

They stood and shook hands. Wendell returned to H-3 just in time to catch Bart Simpson receive a stern lecture about procrastination from his father on the dayroom TV. A patient with a bad case of the devil’s tattoo tapped his foot annoyingly against a leg of the couch.

* * *

Next evening, shortly before the patients of S-wing would line up for 8:00 meds, there was a buzzing, an echoing in Wendell’s head that was growing louder all afternoon. But now it caused him to pace up and down the circular hall that lined the front of patients’ rooms. Some stood outside their rooms and smiled at him. A woman asked him for a cigarette. The part time floor counselor, Harold, whom Wendell saw only two evenings a week, remarked that he was wearing out the carpet. He wore a baseball cap, was tall and lithe like Wendell, always made up nicknames for some of the patients. He called Wendell “Carrot Top.”

Wendell pressed his back against a wall and his arms and legs stiffened. It was a part of the wall where a schedule of patient activities was posted for the month. For minutes — if minutes could be an accurate measurement of that false dimension of time, a dimension impervious to latitudes — no other staff member took note of him. From the corner of his eye, Wendell spotted Harold striding towards him from the last room on that side.

The Voices struck in full force, struck like hammers. They instructed Wendell to stand still and listen. A storm had swallowed No. 28’s brother. He saw the ship toss and tumble on the waves until its masts skinned across the white peaks of waves, waves in the form of claws.

Harold shook Wendell several times, looking into his eyes which Wendell felt were glued motionless in their sockets. “Carrot Top. C’mon. What’s wrong?” Wendell said nothing. The counselor ran to the nurse’s station. A nurse with heavy calves covered with diaphanous white came out running.

“Wendell! Wendell! What’s wrong, honey? Talk to me. Talk to me.” She was a stout woman with thick glasses, never wore make-up, somewhere in her early sixties. She swept back a flurry of whitish hair.

“I have to talk to Dr. Li. Where is Dr. Li? They’re sending for No. 28. The Head Mistress is saying it’s her turn because her brother drowned.”

The nurse held Wendell’s arms and crouched before him.

“Wendell, Dr. Li is on a two week leave. She had a family emergency. Dr. Benson is covering for her. I can call Dr. Benson. In the meantime, I’m giving you your meds.”

“I’m not taking any meds until I talk to Dr. Li! Dr. Benson is not my doctor. He doesn’t understand the meridian. No. 57 is dead. No. 28 will be called. I have to talk to Dr. Li!”

Wendell watched the charge nurse run to the medication cart and pull out several drawers. She instructed a clerk to call the supervisor, stat, that they might have a Code Strong on Pikes soon. She yanked out more drawers, saying she couldn’t find his damn Haldol. She placed a palm to her forehead. She berated herself, announced that Li changed Haldol to a newer drug.

The supervisor arrived on the floor, spoke briefly with the charge nurse and walked over to Wendell. “Wendell, can you hear me? Can you hear me?” she said. He said nothing. He felt his eyes were marbles sinking in the ocean.

“Get me Li’s private number,” said the supervisor.

“It’s in the rolodex. I have to give him his meds,” said the charge nurse, holding a paper cup of pills.

Wendell refused the meds.

The supervisor walked away from Wendell, then returned, walking cautiously towards him. “Wendell, I have Dr. Li on the phone. She wants to speak with you. But you have to take your meds first.”

“I’ll take them after I speak to her. I don’t know you. What you’re up to.” The supervisor guided Wendell by the arm towards the nursing station. She pointed to a chair where he could sit and handed him the phone. For a few moments, he said nothing.

“Hello? Dr. Li?”

“Wendell, what happened?”

“They can’t seem to understand down here. No. 28’s brother drowned today. They’re going to call No. 28 next. Do you know who 28 is? It’s my sister. She’s my sister!”

He cleared his throat over the phone while one hand shook.

“Wendell, listen to me. They won’t call your sister. You know why? You know why, Wendell? Because you’re not dead and your sister is only 14. She’s too young for the Argus. They said 38, not 28. I heard them say it.”

“I knew I would find you on the meridian, Doctor. They don’t seem to understand anything down here. So, I‘m not really dead?”

“No. I already took care of it. I cleared it with the Head Mistress. She said you may live.”

“You’re not lying to me, are you? It isn’t funny... I have to go home this weekend. I have to go home! Have to check on things. Her. If I don’t go home, you know what I’ll do!”

“Wendell,” she spoke in soothing tones, “I’ll do something for you, if you do something for me. I will try to arrange a home visit this weekend and you may call home tonight. But you must take your medications. And if you hear the Voices again, you must promise me you’ll inform the nurse on duty to call me immediately. I can contact the Voices. They listen to me. A deal?”

For a few seconds, there was silence on either line.


“Do you feel better now?”

“I think so... Doctor, I hope they never call your number. It’s almost winter and you have to be careful. And never look into the eyes of the Head Mistress; it’s bad luck. If you do, someone you love will drown and your number will be called.”

“Okay, Wendell. I promise. Now put me back on with the supervisor.”

Wendell handed the phone back to the supervisor and washed his pills down with a Dixie cup of water. He walked around the station to where patients lined up for meds and heard the supervisor tell Dr. Li that they were extremely short to post a 24-hour watch in Wendell’s room. “They don’t like S-wing around here. Okay. I’ll try. It’ll be like trying to find dollar bills in the rain.”

Wendell returned to his room and sat on his bed with both knees drawn to his chest, arms encircling them. He hadn’t turned on the light switch.

Well past change of shift, Wendell rose from his bed and poked his head out of the door kept ajar. Wendell’s male attendant in the room was snoring.

* * *

That Saturday morning, Wendell’s father was buzzed in to the ward. He smiled at Wendell, who was waiting by the nurses’ station, his red hair slicked back and still wet from a morning shower. A nurse kindly informed Mr. Pikes that Wendell must be brought back to the floor by 8:00 pm Sunday evening. Wendell followed his father out, suppressing some kind of joy, as if possessing front row passes to a Knicks game.

They rode in a flatbed truck and Wendell tried to picture what the fields of sunflowers and young wheat had looked like during the previous summer. They drove up an endless stretch of dirt road and past a ridge where Mr. Pikes waved at the driver of a red Mustang. It was Pete Sully, owner of the town grocery and to whom Mr. Pikes sold several pounds of fresh honey every summer.

“When did they say you could come home?” asked Mr. Pikes.

“They don’t know. She told me it’s gonna take work... So is mom home?”

“She’s gone for a couple of days. She didn’t know about you comin’ home.” Mr. Pikes turned on a station playing bluegrass music.

“Don’t lie to me, Dad. She’s taken off again. Why not just say it?”

“Now don’t go losin’ your head over it. You know she ain’t right upstairs and never has been. Bonnie misses you though. She was gonna call you one night, but I told her not to bother you.” Mr. Pikes switched off the radio and turned up a long drive leading to their one story ranch house. They entered and Bonnie, standing on a foot stool by the pantry window, jumped down and ran up to her brother. She threw two scrawny arms around his waist. Her blonde hair had grown long since he last saw her over the summer.

“Wendell! Wendell! So you’re home for good, huh?”

“No. Just till tomorrow.”

“Why? You got no broken bones. Your nose looks healed. Why?”

“Bonnie,” said her father, gently nudging her, “he just can’t, that’s all.”

* * *

Groggy from the meds, Wendell napped in his bedroom. He awoke. A bird flew past the window. A white one. He entertained the notion of Albatross. But that he knew was implausible because petrels don’t fly that far inland. Not in this kind of country.

There was a knock on the door. His Dad. He apologized for interrupting, sat on the edge of the bed and handed Wendell a letter. It was from the Lindstroms whom Mr. Pikes always referred to as “the Swedes”.

The summer before last, Samuel Lindstrom and his daughter, Gertie, stayed at the Pikes’ for the entire month of July. Mr. Lindstrom was a migratory beekeeper transporting hives from crop to crop. He pollinated each farmer’s land and delivered up to forty pounds of fresh honey to their doorstep.

“There’s no such thing as pure honey,” Wendell remembered Mr. Lindstrom saying, “because bees will work with whatever they can: sunflowers, alfalfa, wheat.”

The letter said that Gertie had just graduated college and the past summer had been a particularly successful season. He was doing well now with honey selling for a dollar and a quarter per pound and their hives were being shipped to California to be cleaned. There was no mention of Gertie’s upcoming marriage. He invited the Pikes for a stay at his place in Crowfeet, Idaho.

Two summers ago, Wendell and Bonnie watched the Lindstroms don white cotton jumpers, similar to the kind fencers wear. He watched Mr. Lindstrom poke and reach in the hives, where hands were not invited. Then, he used a smoker which would disrupt the bees’ pheromones, shaking them up, chasing them away. While he rarely broke for lunch, the other three did. In the tall lush grass, Wendell enjoyed lunch from a paper plate while Bonnie chattered incessantly, scurrying back to the house for more napkins or soda. Those interludes provided Wendell with immense relief from classmates who always teased him, joked about how he spoke in a dry monotone.

He found Gertie easy to be with. There were long periods of silence where the three just sat watching the motionless tufts of grass. She was in her third year of college, she told him, a college in Austin. And it seemed strange to Wendell that even though he had never been there, he could describe its roads, its shops, its demography.

“What’s in Texas?” he asked. “Wouldn’t you miss your bees?”

“Oh, everything is in Texas,” she said while Bonnie chewed and listened. “Open skies, steer-horn cattle, miles of prairie that never quit... And yes, they have bees too in Texas, all kinds like here, queens, workers, helpers. Bees too.”

She had mentioned a fiancée from Akron. But Wendell suspected that she was lying because Akron did not lie on the meridian. And everyone had a secret lover on the meridian. Everyone had a secret lover they never talk about. And Wendell knew there were windmills in Texas she didn’t mention. There were windmills everywhere

“What’s the matter,” she said, “you’ve never been kissed by a girl?” She ran her fingers across his chest like little men with stumps for legs.


“Then why are you shaking?”

“I’ve never been kissed by a girl.” He turned his face towards Bonnie who was laughing at him, spying from the tool shed. Pushing a blade of sharp grass to her teeth, Gertie espoused her theory of honey being the stuff of life itself. “Demand exceeds supply. It’s just never there when you really want it.”

Wendell lay back and massaged the back of his head against the ground. He wondered how long bees, like people, could stall off intrusion by remaining in honeycombs before their floors crumbled. He conjured an image of a honeycomb sagging in a storm, the same honeycomb repairing itself in the morning dew.

Wendell, shaking, kissed Gertie on the lips. Her hair smelled like oranges, so pungent, the kind imported from places like China or maybe farther. She said she would think about him at school. She rose, brushed herself off, and smiled down at him. “Are you walking on clouds now?” she asked. “At least tell me you are.” The sun glittered in her hair.

He said he was walking on clouds.

* * *

That Sunday afternoon, Mr. Pikes drove Wendell and Bonnie to Raynou Park, a place known to be pregnant with orange blossoms, gardens of snap dragons and black-eyed Susans. In another season. Bonnie and Wendell walked along a stone hedge fence while she snapped brittle twigs in her hands.

Wendell smelled the scent of Juniper lingering in the air and where it came from he had no clue. His father, whom Wendell occasionally glanced back at, stood against the rickety truck, smoking a cigarette, chugging down a beer. The sound of the can hitting the ground made Bonnie wince.

“Wendell, ” said Bonnie, scraping the ground with her twig, “do you remember Gertie? Her father wrote us a letter.”

“Yeah. The one who loved Texas so much.”

“Well, I was thinking. Maybe we could convince Dad to buy a farm in Texas. Because maybe what you got is a cold. And people up here are always catching colds. Dad and I would look out for you. You wouldn‘t have to go back to that hospital, if that‘s what it is.”

“What I got ain’t a cold, Bonnie.”

“No. I mean, maybe that’s all you got. The weather, Wendell, that’s what causes it. It’s different down there. They got sunshine people down there. Sunshine people never get sick. They don’t catch colds in Texas, Wendell. The weather there is like honey and it will make you smile. That’s why bees fly there. Gertie told me. And they got places with windmills that ain’t even on a map.”

Wendell squeezed together the edges of his denim jacket.

“People never smile up here. They walk around like they’re dead,” said Bonnie.

She stopped suddenly and studied Wendell’s face. “I hate the Head Mistress,” she said. She gritted her teeth and her eyes grew wild, turned a shade of darker blue.

“Bonnie,” he said, “quiet, they can hear us.”

They continued to traipse further. Bonnie announced she had to pee and it was too cold to do it in the bushes as her father would suggest. They drove back and Mr. Pikes reminded her to say good bye to her brother because he would get a head start taking him back to MacKendree Springs. Less than halfway home, Bonnie explained there was no need to head home; she said she felt a warm trickle down one leg. Her father ignored her comment.

They pulled to the front of the driveway. Bonnie refused to leave, saying she wanted to stay with Wendell at the hospital; she wanted to know just what was wrong with him. Wendell kissed her good bye; she turned her face and looked down at her sneakers. “See you, Wendell.” She opened the door and waved at him, then skittered up the driveway, tugging at the leg she had wetted.

By early evening, Wendell spotted the flat rooftops of MacKendree Springs situated high on a hill, a hard outline against the sky. The roads were becoming more tortuous and Wendell’s father downshifted into a lower gear.

He hoped to see Dr. Li, hoped she had cut short her leave of absence. He expected to be interrogated by his roommate, a young medical student who tried hanging himself at home in his bathroom. Wendell could see him sitting on his bed, asking how everything went, what Wendell did. He was up on computers and world events. Wendell wished to avoid an unbearably lengthy discussion long after the lights were turned out. They were less than a quarter mile from the front entrance gates.

“Wendell, “ Mr. Pikes said, “ I’m no one to give advice, but I don’t want you thinking about her. Your mother. What’s done is done. If I had been any kind of man, I would have thrown her out long ago.”

Wendell knew his father’s strict Methodist upbringing discouraged divorce.

“Forget it, Dad. Like you said. What’s done is done.”

“God knows I tried but she’s like a bad cold. Once you think you got rid of it — it comes back again. And when it comes back, it’s a flu or somethin’ worse. If I had known the kind of damage she would cause, I would have...”

“Dad! Please. No more. It’s done.”

“If only I had come into the house sooner that day.”

The incident Mr. Pikes referred to occurred somewhere by Wendell’s ninth year. His mother had promised to take him along shopping in town, but just when, she did not specify. Tomorrow or later or soon, she said, piling on globs of make-up. He heard a man‘s voice upstairs, figuring it was his father who had come home early from work. With fresh clothes, he waited for her downstairs on the couch. After calling out several times and hearing no response, he ran up the stairs, attempting to conquer them in sets of two, almost falling backward at one point. He whisked through his room and into his parents’. A stranger was in bed with his mother. The man jumped up, naked as a cuttlefish, and screamed through yellow-stained teeth for Wendell to leave them alone.

Wendell froze, too frozen to cry. She struck Wendell with the back of her hand, delivering a hard slap to the cheek that caused Wendell to fall back on his mother’s recliner, one with designs of sunflowers.

Mr. Pikes did return home early and said hello to his son sitting on the couch in the living room. Wendell was simulating bizarre sounds while staring past his Dad. It was not the first time, but never did Wendell imitate these grunt-like noises. These same sounds were echoing from the old pinewood ceiling. Mr. Pikes made a dash for the stairs.

Wendell rose abruptly. “No, Dad, no!”

There were similar incidents later, but Mrs. Pikes took the precaution of ordering Wendell to stay locked in a closet until she came to get him. It was a secret ritual the two kept from Mr. Pikes for years.

They drove up the long ramp leading to a visitors’ parking lot. Mr. Pikes turned off the ignition and gave his son a perfunctory hug. Wendell pulled up on the door handle and stepped out mechanically.

“And remember,” said his father, leaning over the passenger side, “ I want you home by next summer. You ain’t home; I’ll kidnap you myself.”

Trudging up the slope that led to H-3, Wendell noticed the red and orange shreds of cloud settling over the horizon. An elderly man in uniform swooped to pick up scraps of paper, cups, debris, stuffing them into a black liner. Wendell turned and noticed his father’s truck become infinitesimally smaller until it disappeared past trees.

He heard a rush of air past his ear. He looked across the far ends of the grounds. The windmill had stopped.

“You’re late,” the Voices said.

She appeared at the bottom steps. The Head Mistress. The girls soon followed, filing down the steps in neat partitions. The Voices warned Wendell to step back and not look into her eyes. Standing with feet spaced well apart, she took a deep breath, her face plastered with make-up, looked ready to crack a whip. “No. 28,” she said.


The girl, a perfect image of Wendell’s sister, moving soundless as dust, walked stiffly towards the water. Upon reaching it, she turned her face towards her brother, an eerie look of calm that shook him. “See you, Wendell,” she said.

The point on the meridian, his grandmother had told him, was called Thalessa. His grandmother loved to tell that tale passed through generations in her own family. That there were ships en route there that had capsized, destroyed by typhoons. And there were the wives, lovesick over their lost mates. They claimed they could see through the eyes of white birds.

And there was the queen of Thalessa, who weeping for her husband lost at sea was changed into a white bird herself circling over the water for her husband. Once the white bird had seen the shadow of its paired number, the spell of grief was broken, a peacefulness at that point over the meridian where the waters were calmed by the Argus of Sleep.

Sooner or later, grandmother said, everyone will circle over that point.

“Do seashells really whisper back the names of those drowned sailors, grandma?” asked Wendell.

“Yes. In fact, I used to lock your mother in a closet until she could pronounce every one of their names.”

And the thought that kings and queens, brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, could reunite at some distant point on the grid was as incredulous, as absurd, as the thought of windmills behind closets or a little boy imprisoned in them, a boy with arms growing stiff as blades, or his mother wearing her mother‘s long nightgowns, selling her body like a jar of honey to strangers. After opening the door, her arms stretched out like vanes of a windmill. They would stare at each other for seconds the distance of light years. Dumbstruck. Then she would speak.

I am the Head Mistress. I am your mother.

And not funny at all, Wendell thought.

White Snake

Upon my travels through Asia, I stumbled upon her—White Snake—whose other name was Ahi, who earned a livelihood by fascinating tourists. Her arms and legs were long and elastic, capable of wrapping around and mercilessly constricting. Her body was scaly, but she had the hollow-eyed face of a woman of human misfortune. Along with human teeth, she had erector fangs.

I paid her owner a moderate sum of money, as I was a promoter of freak and magic shows. In another life, I preformed over a hundred botched abortions upon women too poor, either morally or financially, to afford a new life. I was and will always be a quack of some kind.

On the voyage back to England, Ahi made few if any recognizable human sounds. But what struck odd was that she duly regurgitated most of the food served by the steamship’s foul-mouthed cook. An idea struck me. I paid several of the cabin boys to go below and see if they could fetch some rats and mice. They did, and Ahi swallowed each one whole. The secret to winning over a cold-blooded woman, as my father once told me, was through fine dining.

As an integral part of our traveling show throughout Europe—The Wicked Alice Wonderama—Ahi became a popular attraction, amazing people from all walks of life. Then, over the course of months, I found myself envious of Ahi, her ability to take the spotlight away from me, her trainer and master. A strange attitude developed among her female admirers. They treated her as if she were some sort of goddess trapped in a freak show. Soon I was besieged by hate mail and angry cries—Free Our Sister! She Has Other Lives to Live!

Hating Ahi, and perhaps myself more, I entered her cage one evening. Her dark unblinking eyes met mine as if we were both crippled lovers. I drew a sword and began to hack away at her legs and arms, as if each a childhood memory of being bullied, tormented. But each part grew back again, and then for the first time—I heard her voice. Please Master, I love you!

I ran from the cage.

I gave up on show business and returned to my old flat in London’s East End. With the savings accrued from White Snake’s act, I spent money recklessly, on women of the night, offering them extra gratuities for biting into my flesh.

And during this time, I obsessed over Ahi, as if I had swallowed her venom.

One night, alone in my room, a woman’s head burst through the door, then the freakishly long arms and legs. She stood before me and said: Why did you leave me, my love?

With her immense jaws she swallowed me whole. In her body, in that constricting tunnel, I became lodged in a many jeweled chamber where I saw only reflections of myself—bleary-eyed, bulbous nose, hooked lower lip.

A fitting punishment-I would keep my reflections eternal company. So many of me.

Ghost Towns of New Jersey

I can’t take you with me. I can’t because I must find that girl, the one who robbed us of our lives, our futures. It might take me a day. It might take me years. But since I’m dead, time is all I have. I will plead with her to give us back our lives. Whatever the cost.

Are we really dead? Is dead even the correct word. Or are we in another dimension, where no one can hear or see us? I can see them now, so many like us, drifting spirits, tortured souls, longing to be made flesh again. I imagine they, like us, are her prisoners.

When we were undead, we had a history, didn’t we? Our childhood paths ran next to each other. I remembered how you loved to explore the old ghost towns with quaint names in South Jersey. I can remember everything up until it happened. I recall the sensation of being thrown through glass, of flying a short distance through the air. And when I woke up, I was no longer myself.

I remember her taking a photo of us.


In this a photo we were three cool and carefree dudes visiting Ong's Hat, 1976. That's you with that smudge of a nose and awkward smile, one arm draped over the curve of Jacob Ong's graveyard slab. A town named after the legend. He snubbed a young lady and she stomped on his hat. He flung it to a tree, where it lodged on a branch. What a pitch. What a coincidence. From that, a triangle on a map appeared--Ong's Hat. It was before the advent of chaos science, pirate computer networks, Enigma code breakers.

That's your younger brother, Tim, a glutton overdosing on attention, standing between us with a sleeveless jacket, showing off his sinewy arms, one marked with the tattoo of a former girlfriend, Barb. A girl, whose love was ephemeral as a morning bowl of Rice Krispies. Mine attended a small college in Kansas, and in letters, her paragraphs grew more sparse each month.

On shimmering July afternoons, Tim pitched a wicked curve ball, and I'd hit a homer sooner or later. At night, you and I sat in the bleachers, talked about our lives as if they were evolving universes, and our thoughts floated up to a strain of stars I did not know the names for.

And there's me with long auburn hair and handlebar mustache, the face smooth and my dreams still hard as slate. Deceptive as quicksand. A sexy smile for the camera. I remember the chick who shot the picture. I remember driving down Highway 70 with the windows open, ingesting the scent of briny and salt water from the ocean, a breeze pinching my face, spilling a bottle of Heineken in the back seat. Fucker, you yelled, clean it. The smell. The old man will shit bricks.

No sweat, dude.

On the radio, Grand Funk Railroad blared, Mark Farner crooning "Sally." Everybody knew a girl named Sally back then. Sally tried to sell us bad pot. Sally cheated us of years. Sally married a dork named Bill. Sally stopped partying with us.

On the way down, we stopped at a beer and shot joint. Tim made out with a girl with long stringy hair and pimples on her chin. When you asked her what her name was, she stared at you blankly. She said she was the daughter of Jacob Ong, the one who died in childbirth.

I looked at you and could read your expression. Either she’s putting us on or she must be on drugs. We almost broke out laughing.

We invited her to our table and bought her beers and shots of whiskey. The beer was warm and flat. She took a long gulp from her glass and licked her lips. Adjusting her orange halter, she scanned our faces and asked if we each had some money. If we did, she said, she’d give us a good time in your car. You and Tim smiled and shook your heads to mean no. I told her I had a twenty. She excused herself to go to the restroom.

You pulled me aside.

You an idiot?


The right one will come sooner or later.

How soon? I only got one lifetime.

When she returned from the restroom with a fresh coat of make-up, I told her I changed my mind. She was pissed but she agreed to come along for a ride to some old gravesites. There she took a picture of all of us standing next to the tombstones.

When do we get a copy, I asked.

Someday, she said.

We drove her home, a half-mile from the grave site. A town called Wade's Edge. I had never heard of it.

After we had dropped her off, I heard the crazy chick yell, cheap assholes! I thought about the two of us coming together in a shriek of spilling delight. I thought about the dark secret of her flesh and how I would never taste it. In the car, I felt a good buzz.

Well, that's us posing next to Ong's grave and behind, another of a Tory, who lost his head to an errant cannonball. You laughed whenever you told the story.

Funny, dude.

Later, we explored an old ram-shackled house, not far from a creek and a woods of skinny diseased trees, their crowns slouching towards the soil, brown and yellow rings marking their trunks, stamping the passage of time.

The house had broken windows for eyes, and a mist covering them, maybe like cataracts. There was a smell of old sawdust inside, chipped tables with scraped varnish, chairs with torn cushions, flower-patterned. Springs exposed. Over thin floorboards, our feet clomped, echoed those of giant intruders. In the attic, a yellowed photo of a family on a mahogany chest, the picture, maybe circa 1880. A family: mother, father, little girl. The father's mustache twirled up. A little girl's rows of curls repeated themselves in perfect tunnels. The mother, in white frilly dress with a cameo pinned near her bosom, stood pompous like some mistress to a Russian czar. Their eyes froze like dark stars. Did someone or something steal their lives? If only they could talk.

We trudged downstairs. You flipped on a flashlight, the one used for car emergencies. Always so pig-headed and guarded and careful. In the cellar, weeds grew between the cracks of walls, between rotted, infested wood. Watch your step, said Tim. There were puddles of muddy water, their fetid odor oozing, and your foot splashed in one. Fucker! you yelled. I yanked your arm.

You okay, man?

An old wood stove sat in the back, overturned. On the broken floor, a rusted ax, awls, a plane, a construction bench, a wooden rocking horse, some painted ducks. You turned and shone the flashlight in my eyes. Neat, huh? you said. I winced at the light.

I'm hungry, said Tim.

Again? you said.

Then, a sound, a crying. I quickly turned in the direction. You approached a corner of the basement, shining the flashlight over crevices and nooks. The ceiling above us seemed to breathe.

“You heard it, right? I said.

“Yeah. Sounded like . . .”

“No. Don’t say ghosts. I know you’re going to say ghosts.”

“Sounded like a baby. A baby crying.”

We scouted the basement with Tim following behind us. We could find nothing. Later, I spotted an dust-covered book on a round colonial-like table. The title screamed at me: The Legend and Myth of Jacob Ong.

I picked it up and rustled through its pages, while you held the flashlight. My eyes froze upon a certain passage.

. . . There was a series of superstitions surrounding Jacob Ong’s first daughter, Marietta, who died stillborn. Some claim she wonders the earth disguised as different women. Others make a further claim that she propositions men and that having sexual relations with them will grant her life as the flesh and blood daughter of Jacob Ong. Any man refusing her request will be turned into a spirit condemned to be her prisoner for eternity. To date, no man has ever slept with her. She continues to wonder the earth searching for an accomplice to help her fulfill this secret goal.

I looked up from the book and gazed into your face. “Is that freaky or what,” I said.

You smiled sheepishly. “Did you rest? Her prison is matches the description of this basement.”

“Holy shit.”

And then, my memory turns smoky, my brain ram-shackled like that old house.


We drove up the ramp onto Highway 70. The car swerved. You okay to drive? I said. You sneered in the rearview and said the beers wore off. A little groggy, you said with a slight shrug but can handle it. I offered to drive. Same shape as me, you said. Fuck you, I said, I’m not.

Tim napped up front. You scouted for an exit, a sign for a diner that sold universal cheeseburgers. You needed to take a leak. The exit, a charcoal pit stop, coming up on the right.

A flash of high-beams. I saw it coming. The screeching car wheels. Hers. Ours. Both. The girl from the bar was driving, the one who called herself Osiris, the flash of her snake-eyes behind the window shield . The sound of the collision hit like the instant of black, our bodies jumbling like puppets pulled on a string, the car veering off the road, fractured words from your bloodied mouth, and then...a silence. A thought of hollow trees was my next to last thought. The string cut loose. Stillness. Stars. Hollow trees. Black.

And now, pushing back the weight of so many stones, digging myself out of the packed, dense dirt, I brush off my jeans, work towards the house. I’ve lost count of the years that have passed by. Was I in a coma? Was I in a tunnel?

It is early evening, always early evening. The house sits like a silent, bleeding mother. There is a grove of old birch trees in the distance. Do they remember my name? I'm older and no wiser. I have rings of memories that are more like scars.

Stepping on creaking floorboards, I eye the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, layered like silk. Climbing to the attic, I pick loose chips of old paint from the walls. I enter the long, narrow room--dark, dank, hot.

I stand before you, sitting in a straight wooden chair, perhaps Shaker. Your glassy eyes stare past me. "What's taken you so long," you say. Your voice sounds like mine, the way I’ve always imagined it, and perhaps I have stolen yours. You rise slowly and I suspect you have gone partially blind. Your eyes are filmy and frozen. Let's go home, you say, I'm hungry.

So tired, you say, of living in this caved-in house of dust and heirlooms and diaries.

Daylight can't be a lie, you say. It's still daylight, isn't it?

How long, you ask, how long, and your words trail into the spaces between these shaky walls.

No, I say, stay where you are. Stay where you are.

Want to go home.

No, I say, this time, I can't take you with me.

On a dusty chest, I spot a photo of us at Ong's Hat.

The photo, I ask, the one the girl took. How did it get here?

Your eyes do not roll, and a slight smile travels to one side of your face. The same smile you wore that night, minutes before the accident.

She gave it to me sometime between now and before never.

I bite my lip. I can feel nothing.

Where is she?

She comes and goes, you know. We’re all prisoners. Me. Timmy in the basement. But you. Maybe she’s waiting for you. Maybe you will be the one to free us, to give her what she wants.

Are we dead, I ask.

We're living in a photo, you say, the one she's taking. Right now. A photo is timeless. You can't see her, but she's around. But that-- he says pointing to the picture. That's not a photo. A window... to stillness.

I want to go home, you say.

Tottering, I step towards you, try to embrace you, prodigal brother, but you are nothing, less than a wisp of air, you disappear, vanish, only the image of you, of us in that photo, looking out from a world of stillness. Still as the bark of those skinny trees by the creek, and over the hill.

The Nixon Tapes: Part II

(Pubbed in The Dream People: Issue 34)

We met in a desolate area of the inner city that resembled a subway that was endless in length and width. We were camouflaged as rap stars: saucer-size dark glasses, holes in the jeans, holes in the sneakers, T-shirts that read Dr. G and O?YN.

Me, I was Richard Nixon's illegitimate son. My mother was an ex-Carmelite with hemorrhoids. My code name was Chuck E. Cheese.

"Did you score?" I said to my contact, R, whose real name was R.

"Down to clockwork," he said, infusing his words with a White House intern's vigor. "It's set for tomorrow night. We're bringing down the government. We start with the senate, then the house, work our way to the heads of fast food franchises. Each gets a blot of acid, invisible. All it takes is a thumbnail and you go hee haw. They won't tell Saigon from Cypress, Wendy‘s from Egg Foo Yong."

The pain in my gut was getting worse, going through tortuous tubes and upstream, slipstream, causing a filibuster for the Malox. Maybe my peritonitis was going perpendicular, hedging in the bicameral.

"Wasn't it Plato who once said that democracy would never work," I put forth, "everybody is every one else's Vietnam. Anarchy. We need a king. We need Elvis."

"It's amazing what we got on the needle feeds," he said, "who controls the nebulas, who tweets the networks, who runs the Barbary Coasts. Who's addicted to Do You Wanna Dance."

"So the caucus decided on Prince Andrew running this country from a remote?" I asked

"No, we decided to stay patriotic. A local boy. We agreed on Arnold Schwarzenegger. He agreed to go populist if he‘s elected king."

"You mean we'll be stuck with watching Terminator reruns for the next fifty years?"

"Hey, it's better than Life with Bonzo."

Just then, my esophagus felt it would burst. My jaw suddenly dropped open. Out came the claws first then the whole turkey. It landed on the ground, shaking it's head.

"Do you always eat your turkeys whole without cooking them." it said in a near hysterical high-pitched voice. It reminded me what Tiny Tim must have sounded like during a domestic squabble.

"What did it look like down there," I said. "Tell me. I am curious and not yellow. Tell me or I'll stuff you on the spot."

"Dark, scary. Looked like Pittsburgh during a blackout. Thought I heard some carrier pigeons east of the aorta. Kept my eyes closed most of the time. But your tubes need some litigation."

"I'm sorry, I said, "but you really don't have a say in any of this. You're not a citizen."

"The hell, I ain't, gobblegook. Maybe I can't vote, but I can bite. You can take that to the bank."

The bastard pecked at my shin then shitted on my left sneaker. I always believed turkeys were slow, but this sonofabitch was a real revolutionary, wobbled out into the street. In my head, brakes kept screeching.

"Okay," I said, "let's get out of here. Too much attention. Suppose that turkey rats us out. Suppose it heard everything in the chambers of my duodenum."

My contact and I ran in different directions: he took Jersey; I took upstate. I had to avoid Jersey. Twitter feeds were claiming something raucous in Secaucus.


Strip Malls of New Jersey

The BP medication for His condition known as “Grandiose Homunculi” isn’t working. Plus, it’s giving Him fuzzy vision and steering wheel jitters. On some days, when it’s raining toothy blow-jobs for a buck, he feels like a defunct Rambo under a starry night. He turns off the turnpike at Exit 16A, envisioning the perfect mall, a city unto itself, a dreamy Grand Mal Mistress causing Carpenter ants to seize under His skin. He doesn’t give an organic bacon if her heart is cheap labor metal or if her tongue is synthetic seaweed made in Hong Kong. As long as they can invent the giant Whooper Open-mouth 0 Burger that will cause His arteries to spasm like kids playing with firecrackers. He’s been infected by the beautiful glass witch witholding the perfect toy.

He’s the CEO of Brothers-in-Arms Conglomerates, LTD., a company of hand-picked staff-o-matics specializing in mock surveys, squirrelly red-ink tongues and cheeks, and hostile takeovers. It’s the sixth mall today on His highway odyssy riding on the fresh tar of Jersey’s tributaries that branch only onto each other. On any other day, with credit card and proton pump intact, He can seduce an overspent housewife with His seersucker suit and a hint at His raven-mysterious connections.

The last trophy He brought home stole His checkered polyester robe and bunny slippers and brought them home to her husband getting around in a squeaky Hovercraft. She still calls whenever she’s on the lam from cartoon lawyers. In bed, He imagined her eyes as Tiffany multi-color glass or opaque as the one in his sugarbowl. Her breasts were beautiful in tango and Monroe-tragic. Post-orgasm pop, falling eight miles high, He felt like a spent balloon.

Turning off the main road, another town wilth more history than the previous, He spots a mall He’s never seen. It’s for children only with a brazen logo fifty feet up in the air: CHILDREN ONLY. The parents wait at the gates. Now He vaguely remembers. The mall was built by his most stubborn competitor, J. S. Fergus, a man who wanted to give back to the community. As a boy J.S. was nurtured by the donations of strangers, one of Jerry’s kids.

Putting his life in Park, He steps out. He feels dizzy, His heart now pumping like a cocktease and not a self-assured whore. Ink drains from His mouth. Falling to His knees, yet He can crawl. He loosens his tie, squints at the children standing behind glass watching Him. Some reach up and pull down giant floating faces: Mickey, Minni, Daffy, Daisy. A huddle of these children, stuck in one-way embrace, press their noses against the glass. They must think: He’s somebody’s uncle. Or maybe He’s one of us. Look. He’s shrinking.

Tasting His own ink-blood, trying to swallow it, He pushes against an electronically closed door. The guard tells him: Sorry, sir, this is for children only. Do you need an ambulance? The guard smiles and walks away. The air is a sea of blurry heat.

What He wants: to connect every mall in Jersey, to construct from scaffolds and window displays a new Miss America in the shape of His mother, who gave herself fully to his younger brother, stricken with Trisomy 21 and a bad case of cross eye. Meanwhile, as a chld, He was choking on plastic spoons. At night, He dreamt of rock candy houses with walls that rang of child-tenor echolalia.

Some ten years later, at a facility on the outskirts of town, cited for abestos and short staffing, His brother became a bump in the night, while He believed He was suddenly possessed by the ability to bend spoons.

What He hears now in the distance: Lady MawCaw belting over the loudspeakers in the parking lot. “I want a Devil Island lover who can French like a convict. I want me a Spanish Fly in this eternal alphabet soup.”


With six months to live, Wendell visited the first house he lived in. A white Victorian in the style of French Second Empire. As a boy, he’d cut construction paper into spaghetti-like strips, glue glitter and sparkles to them, paste the ribbons to his bedroom wall. He did that to remind himself of rain, hoping that it would never stop. He liked the sound of it against the bay windows, the patter on the verandah. Coming in from the rain, his father always hung his Homburg on a living room coat rack. The father was a creature of habit. He always brought in the rain.

For weeks, he drove around the block the house was on. It was vacant. Over the years, he had approached the various owners, asking them questions as if expecting them to know him. With each one, he thought, “Are you the one who stole the rain?”

He broke in through the back door and became a squatter. Over the weeks, he furnished his old bedroom on the second floor. It smelled of lemon and dust. He thought: this room is a part of the house. Then, he began to cut construction paper into strips, leaving a trail of them from his bedroom, downstairs to the kitchen, the dining room and the living room, which was the most spacious. In this way, he could connect all the rooms.

When it did rain, he could hear the house breathe. At night, he thought about dark moist spaces like the one under the tongue.

Upstairs, in the house’s rounded tower, he watched as the last owner drove around and around, at first, getting out of his car, taking a few steps on the front lawn, then scurrying back. Eventually, he moved back in. Alone. He slept in the mother’s old bedroom, Wendell’s, never complaining about the chill. At night, Wendell heard him speaking to someone who did not answer back. Wendell imagined the wispy voice of his mother under the covers.

Then the first owner moved back in. And after him, the second-to-last. In the afternoons that lingered forever, the four of them would sit in the living room with dust on their tongues. Then the first owner broke the silence, offering to make some tea. The last one volunteered to order some new furniture. The second-to-last owner said they should get to know one another better, after all, he said, they’re now a family. They all nodded their heads in unison. They were just beside themselves.

At night, the last owner got the fireplace to work. The house grew warmer and the rooms shrunk.

One evening, the first asked why Wendell looked so pale. The second-to-last owner said Wendell reminded him of his son’s ghost. The last owner said that Wendell might have something contagious, the very disease that killed his wife and daughter. Wendell smiled and gave each man his prognosis. They would all die with various symptoms of fever and dehydration. Weakness. Confusion. A fast, thready pulse. The very pneumonia that took his mother. One by one, the three men moved out.

At night, Wendell listened to the rain leaking from the roof. The house was now his own room. This didn’t last long. The house expanded into something that was both his and not. The house had more connotations than walls. The house expanded while Wendell contracted. In summer, the house smelled of mildew and toasted air. In autumn, the house smelled of the absence of old strangers. By winter, there were three knocks at the door. Wendell couldn’t move. The rain had turned to ice.

(note: the next four stories are from my chapbook at Silkworm Ink--Fantasy Girls

Women of Straw

I always hate it when Mamika-san smokes in bed. She just sits there so languid and impassive, a cigarette smoked to the filter, dangling between her cherry-colored lips, the ashes littering the top folds of a golden bedspread laced with designs of peach boys and Karakuri puppets. Each night, she performs the same ritual--counting her thick wads of cash. She reminds me of a spoiled empress waiting to be served tea.

As I sit on the bare floor across from her, I stare at her beautiful kimono, heaped pell-mell on the floor. It makes me sad.

It makes me sad whenever I think of how lovely Mamika-san once was a child, lovelier than a Hina doll. In fact, that is where we first met, at the doll festival or the Momo no Sekku. She had hair smoother than honey and her eyes were perfect as marbles. Her skin was the color of willow-wood.

That was when Mamika-san cared about me and my sister, Mayako. In the cold, she would wrap me in a warm, thick blanket, pretending I was her child. How things changed. I wish we never left the snow country of Honshu for the bustling streets, the smog-dense air of Sapporo.

But Mamika-san screamed at her parents that she wished to be free, that she would make it on her own. In a rage, she killed my sister, flung her across the room and pulled off her arms and legs until she resembled a Kokeshi doll, just that large head, eyes staring out over a small cylindrical body. I could never forget the way her eyes stared at me. I could never forget her last words to me, “aishite'ru yo"--I love you. But there was little I could do. Mamika-san never replaced my batteries.

Then, Mamika-san packed her clothes and kidnapped me. I can never forgive her for killing my sister. Just like I can never forgive her for selling her body to the strange men that enter our apartment every day. And even though I still love Mamika-san, the way a daughter still loves a deranged mother, I hate her too.

I do not know how a precious child can turn to a woman of straw. What I do know is that a woman of straw can burn very easily. I wish Mamika-san would stop smoking in bed.

Today, a regular customer, Mr. Hayashi, a businessman with kind eyes and always dressed impeccably, picks me up and says to Mamika-san that his daughter would love a doll like me. “Does she talk?” he asks.

“She does,“ says Mamika-san, “but I haven’t replaced her batteries in years.”

I don’t think it is right for her to give me away so freely. After all, I’ve always been a loyal doll. They say that sometimes a doll acquires the sins of its owner. If that is true, I am cursed forever with the fact of not being loved.

The next day, Mama san greets Mr. Hayashi, who then opens my back and slips in two batteries, size A. Slowly, I rise, begin to walk towards him, and say “kon'ya a, taiyô ga noboru”--the sun rises at night.

Mamika-san’s eyes widen.

Mr. Hayashi scratches his face and says this is a very strange thing for a doll to say. Mamika-san tells him that it’s an old saying from the snow country, a promise of revenge. She tells him that maybe I didn’t say that.

“Say it again, stupid doll.”

I stretch out my arms, fix my gaze upon Mr. Hayashi and say “Take me home."

He smiles and says again that his little daughter will adore me.

Standing in a corner of Mamika-san’s cramped bedroom, I watch as the two of them make love, listen to her faked cries of ecstasy. Then, silence. Mr. Hayashi rolls over, heads to the bathroom to shower and freshen up before bringing me home.

Mamika-san lights up a cigarette, sometimes eyeing me suspiciously. “What did you say, stupid doll?”

I say nothing.

She turns, pulls the covers over her, and naps. I listen to the spray of water from the bathroom, its hisses and wheezes.

Slowly, I walk forward, climb upon Mamika-san’s rumpled bed, making sure I do not disturb her nap. I reach for her matchbook and light a stick. And since I am made partly of wood, and like my mistress, partly of straw, I set myself on fire, burning so easily, the flames spreading to the bed, to Mamika-san who is still sleeping.

The sun rises tonight are the last words I will utter. Now this is for what you did to my beautiful sister, Mamika-san. Never will we be like mother and child. Never again will we see the flakes of snow dousing the hills of Honshu. And never again will you ever smoke in bed.

In the Heart of Aube

When she was small, the house seemed so very large, a womb that could accommodate her
expanding thoughts and breaths. Within that womb, light was allowed in but Eponine was
forbidden to go out, never to be delivered. An only child, Eponine made this promise: I will
never grow old or stunted. The house had three endless floors and for each story, Eponine gave
a name. Morning. Afternoon. Night. Years later, her mother, who lost her husband in the Battle
of the Sommes, took her upstairs to Morning. She said, My beautiful flower. . . Never love a
man. Men build houses made of shit and imprison you. Then they destroy everything and deny
the existence of shit.

During the next war, Eponine lived alone in that mansion in the heart of Aube, Champagne‐
Ardenne. Her mother was killed during bomb raids while shopping in a tiny village. The house
was built of stucco, hipped roof and flared eaves. The windows were multi‐paned and clear.
From the window of Afternoon, Eponine could see as far as the old windmill past the vineyard.
Somehow the bombs didn’t touch that or her house.

In that house, Eponine, caramel‐colored eyes and dandelion‐soft flesh, seduced German
officers on Ugni or Sauvignon Blanc. She knew it was against code. During sex, she imagined the
windmill spinning and little girls throwing off their bonnets, the hats becoming weightless. Then
while the officers slept, she stabbed each repeatedly, dismembered them, saying Why did you
kill that little girl? The best of those lovers, the exquisitely endowed, she kept behind the secret
walls that connected arched doorways, the half‐timbered ones in her mother’s den. In this way,
her intruders, light‐of‐foot, would never leave.

After the war, she continued to feed the hungry house. There were the American businessmen
who hustled her to bed after the first dinner of venison seasoned with hyssop or tansy. They
joked about N.A.T.O.. There were the Australian investors asking so many questions about her
family’s vineyards. With them, she often alluded to the freshwater pond out back that held
carp, tench, or bream. She admired their strong slender fingers, slip‐stream manners. And there
was the fellow from Toyes whose body felt as precious as rapeseed. He never flinched during
sex. Riding his flesh, she felt the soar of an eagle. After a false climax, Eponine scattered his
parts to Night.

But she kept a tiny specimen of each man’s semen in a glass jar. Some day, she thought, the
world will grow flowers again.

More lovers came, becoming affixed memories of the walls. And around this time, Eponine
thought of the house as a conglomerate of all the personalities it contained, the men who once
breathed and conspired and lied about the true nature of love. She felt the hallways squeezing
as if a sphincter. Or the eye of the windows watching her disrobe, the curtains allowing a
breeze, swaying like young wheat. How the walls caved in or curved outwards, old soft bone.
And the floors. The floors had ears and were envious.
The house became her.

As days forgot themselves, Eponine stared into the pond behind the house, at the fish
squirming below, the reflection of myriad colors‐‐ the green of spinach and leeks, the yellow of
saffron, the red of certain sunflowers. And she thought: Am I growing old? The reflection of the
sun wavering eclipsed her face.

Then one day a short inspector, with a fat striped tie, appeared at her door. He was the first
man she allowed inside since her desiccated lover from Toyes. Pardon me, Mademoiselle, he
said. Some questions. Inside he recited a list of men’s names, potential predators for her estate.
Eponine feigned a solemn countenance, offered a stingy space between the lips. Yes, she
replied, I’ve met some of them once or twice. But their business proposals did not interest me.
He smiled, a quaint twist to his lips, and said May I take a look around? After he left, the house

But he returned several weeks later with that same quizzical smile that confessed everything.
He said hardly anything at all. She made him a roast swan sewn back into its skin, feathers
intact. Alone, it would taste awful. She filled the skin with the minced and seasoned flesh of
goose, so much tastier. Like her own self, a paradox of perfume and gangrenous thoughts.
After dinner, she took him to bed. Small animals scurried above the ceilings and the windows
frowned. With him, she made love recklessly as a car screeching over a rocky coast. She kept
holding on to that stump of a body, almost memorizing every hair and bump. When they
reached a stop sign, he was a lifeless soldier and she returned him to his wife, a woman she
imagined as meticulous about her rues and espagnole. Eponine told him later that she had
given him all she could. He resigned from the case.

Years later a severe storm swept from the North Sea. The house shook; the windows hissed.
The heavy rain entered Morning through Night, flooding what was left below. A door wheezed.
One by one, the walls wept, shuddered and collapsed. Eponine sat impassive in her mother’s
chair, thinking about windmills and bees. She had grown old. There were no more lovers with
blue sea eyes.

At her funeral, her sole visitor was the inspector, now with grey hair and walking cane. A

mystery, one of the few she did not feed to her mother’s interiors behind spaces. His house,
she once thought, was not made of shit .There was something about the gleam in his eyes, his
refusal to see past her walls.

The Laughing Skeleton

Inspector Mesh, a Cyclopian with one roving eye, red and bleary, sitting in the center of his forehead, approached the house. Ascending the driveway that was really a bald hill, moss overshadowing the sides, he smelled the foul stench, imagined the bacteria and
the fungi, the gram positive and negative, the rods and the spirochetes, as if his roving eye could shrink everything to two-dimensional refugees, unwelcome hosts.

In fact, the house, the sole spinster of a Georgian for miles, was nicknamed Limburger Hill.

He had received a telephoned report from his boss, a man he had never seen and was known as 24 In Doubt, that workers renovating the house discovered a corpse inside a rum barrel. How 24 In Doubt came upon this information, Mesh had no clue. As was always the case.

The man inside the barrel was suspected to be the artist Marco Evaristti, an artist who gained notoriety for serving meatballs fried in his own body fat and pasta cooked in his own blood. 24 In Doubt had briefed Mesh that the owner of the house, an elderly woman, Eunice Olfrygt, was in her youth obsessed with Evaristii, of whom it was rumored to have bore two penises. Evaristii was often referred to by several of his ex-loves as “the double snake.” When the police questioned these women in regards to Evaristii’s disappearance, they were often greeted with a sneer and a twitch.

Mesh rang the door several times. “Who might you be?” asked the old woman.

“Police,” he said.

The door creaked slowly. She stared at his eye forever. Wishing to break the fascination, Mesh said,” May I come in.”

“Never met a Cyclopian face to face,” she said.

She invited him to sit and have some gumbo with fishtails and opossum bones.

Behind her and under an old wicker chair, a mouse was eating a dead bird. Another
made faint squeaks.

“I must search your house, Madam. I will start with the cellar. We have. . .”

She cut him off and asked what he heard about her.

His huge ball of an eye steadied on her slight frame. That same eye caused many a woman to thrash in bed from nightmares. After coupling with Mesh, they stood alone or apart, always that glassy look in their eye. Some drifted into a laughing self destruction.

“I remember reading about the famous Morins case. Your great-uncle. You had discovered his skeleton in your closet many years after he molested you as a young girl.”

“Very good, Inspector.” She served him the gumbo but he didn’t touch it. “I see you have done your homework. You may proceed to search. But I must warn you. What you will find, you will never keep.”

He tilted his head back and regarded her queerly.

She hobbled into the kitchen and returned holding a large egg in front of him.

“This, Inspector, is an unbroken duck egg. If you put your ear to the shell, you can hear
the songs of three live minnows. The question is, Inspector, just who is imprisoned by

Her smile lingered. Her eyes glittered.

Mesh excused himself and labored to the basement. There were all kinds of
malodorous smells, noxious gases, old work benches, Russian dolls and ragamuffins
covered in dust, yet smiling. He lit a match, chancing an explosion. After all, he couldn’t

The room remained dark except for one area of the wall. There, a shadow seemed to
beckon him, almost dancing. Mesh walked over cautiously.

He palmed sections of the rough wall, groping along crevices and indentations, hoping
there was a trap door of some kind. Sure enough, the wall turned, and there, nailed to
the other side was the barrel, covered by fleas and mosquitoes. Mesh suddenly pivoted
around at the sound of her voice.

How did she get down without making a sound?

“It’s true, Inspector. I killed him many years ago. I loved him with the fawn’s heart of my
youth. He bewitched me and betrayed me.”

Mesh steadied his roving eye upon her figure, almost regaining the fluidity and charm
of a much younger woman.

“Do you know how many mosquito bites it takes to drain a man of his blood,

He said nothing.

“1.2 million. I made those mosquitoes very rich. I have a way with things. Now you may
arrest me, such a foolish old woman.”

Mesh lifted the skeleton from the barrel. Many of the bones came apart in his hands.
He wrapped the bones in terry cloth and tucked them into a gunny sack.

He drove for days. He drove north. He drove to a part of Canada where the gravity was
lower, where there were tall trees, endless, reaching up, up, up, and beyond that,
tundras and icy lakes. There, he took the skeleton from the sack, reassembled it, and
commanded it to return the old woman’s heart in exchange for freedom.

“I was once like you, Evaristti, delighting in the murder of women’s hearts. But what I
tried to keep, I could not.”

Slowly, the skeleton rose, swaying slightly in the forest, then levitated.

As it rose, the skeleton laughed.

“And you cannot keep me either,” it said.

Mesh watched the skeleton rise until it was beyond the clouds. Beyond all laughter.

The Bird Woman

She says her name is Garuda and that she misses the sun. You think she is odd, but you ask no questions because you are homeless and where can you go?

The backroom smells of dust and feathers. It is crowded with wire bird cages, feeders and knickknacks, ceramic or porcelain figures of little girls wearing pinafores, the boys, sailor suits, feeding starlings or carrying them on their shoulders. You squint. On the far wall, you can't tell if the portrait is of Jesus or St. Francis. But then, you figure, Jesus didn't wear a monk's robe. We only use organic, she says.

Something about the room makes you sad like the thought of men playing garmoshkas and people throwing them pellets instead of coins. Across from you, she scribbles fragments of what you give up. The fingers of her writing hand are dried petals. Occasionally, the old woman peers up and asks, if it's Katherine or Katy. You shrug and say either will do. You notice she never looks directly at you. You tell her you are good caring for sick birds, really, all animals, but you hope she doesn't ask for references.

She wanders away, opens the door to a small refrigerator, draws some clear liquid through a dropper. Come here, she says, and help her find the one-quarter milliliter mark. The birds must be given their medicine twice a day, she says, once in the morning and in the evening.

Everything, she says is labeled.

She leads you into the outer room, the one where customers bring their exotic birds, damaged, victims of mishaps, and points out the Macaw with the one eye that won't open, the Toucan with the broken foot, the Cockatoo with a torn wing. She has names for all of them, like Millie or Gretchen or Spencer. She turns and asks how old are you.

You are tempted to say it's on the application because you can't remember what you put down. Nineteen, you tell her. And that's about as close to the truth as the woman who once beat you and gave you away. At least, this one doesn't ask for references.

You are wandering about because wandering is something you do well. You are happy that you landed a job, found a temporary nest. One of nature’s requirements is that all birds either eat or starve. You look up and notice a strange bird, bigger than any you’ve seen, one that flies alone. If you knew more about birds, you would give it a genus, or at least, a name.

In this strange city, you skirt its parameters, the streets becoming narrow and sparse, the voices, low, speaking in another tongue, and somewhere behind windows, you conjure a thousand unblinking eyes that can no longer navigate beyond a safe distance. You take in everything and you drift.

In the coffee shop, you negotiate a price with a man wearing a pea coat, who asks you if you'd like another slice of cheese cake, pineapple or cherry. Anything you want he says with an over-confident smile.

For some reason, he reminds you of the sea, a gray eternity of water, of men with rough-hewn faces, spending hours knitting their fingers through gigantic nets, dreaming of the bodies of silver and sleek fish that only danced for a few seconds. His skin is white, whiter than your stepfather's, and the winkles in his face are tiny streets leading to the center of some town you wish to escape from, but know you'll keep returning to. You imagine spending years returning to the same town, only with different names. Birds, you think, have a tendency to return to places where they were either fed or chased away from.

He plays this game with you. Every time you mention a city, say Moscow, he tells you he's been there before all the big changes. He mentions a street or a building that you never heard of, or don't believe to exist.

In the motel room, he stands stiff in his silly pair of boxer shorts, asks how old are you. What he's really demanding, you conclude, is to tell him a lie.

Nineteen, you say, do you want I.D.?

Smart-ass, he says.

You notice his wrists, thick, hairy, the big boned hands of men who spend lifetimes trying to wash the smell of cod oil from them. You hold back a sneeze.

He asks you to massage his back, and then, he falls asleep. You grow claustrophobic in the room, so you take his money and leave. You return to the city's graffiti walls, its mark-downs in windows, its intersections where people wait, but for some reason, you never see them crossing.
What will you tell the Bird Woman if she asks you where have you been?


In the city park, you sit on a bench before a giant statue of Saint Francis. In his right hand, he holds a dove. You study this, the exact turn and crease of his garments, the tilt of his head, the gentle smile, the bird with outstretched wings perched in his palm.

You rise, excited, the way you became when called upon to play a part in a school play, when you were young enough to believe that pretending to be somebody was actually being that somebody. You stand before Saint Francis, now larger than anything brass or metal, the way statues can come to life in movies or commercials. With eyes closed, you ask him how is it you get these birds to fly back to you?

_It’s second nature_, he says.

Recovering your practical self, the self that demands clean sidewalks and safe landings, you think: It's getting late. I must return to the Bird Woman.

It makes you sad to imagine that someday Garuda will go totally blind. Who will take care of her or her birds? Why does everything fly back to the sun?


She points to an old cot, fold-up, and asks if you brought your clothes. You tell her they're in the knapsack. It's not much, she concedes, but it's all she can give to a guest. Never once does she use the words, straggler or runawayor sanctuary.

She says the bathroom is on the right and if you have to get up in the night, whatever you do, for God's sake, don't disturb the birds. You can tell she is losing her sight by the way she tilts her head at your silence, stares past your hands that are empty cups. You suspect she has a sixth sense about things, your past, the short life span of non-indigenous birds.

Then she heads to her own room, no larger than a cubicle, mumbling something about how people never care for their birds and the world is upon her shoulders.

No radios, she says, her voice growing distant, somewhat muted behind thin walls.

In the middle of the night, you awake. There is a strange growling in your stomach. You haven't had anything since that stranger bought you ham steak and cheese cake. If only there are some crackers somewhere, even a crust of bread will do. You begin to tip toe out the room, ever so careful not to wake up the Bird Woman or her birds. The outer room is pitch black. You imagine the birds, their bodies, the outline of dark spaces, their deformities, your most intimate secrets.

You stand before the Macaw, the one with the one eye shut, only now, it is both eyes. The thought amuses you: at least one thing you and this bird have in common is that you are both breathing. And the world cannot hear either of you.

The grumbling in your stomach is growing louder, demanding to be heard. You turn, your feet barely off the ground, your thoughts morphing into strange untranslatable frequencies, in this dark space of a room, quiet as a feather floating behind your eyes.


Months pass. One night you step lightly into Garuda’s room. She is lying stiff in a small cot, and you cannot wake her. Even though you haven’t known her all your life, you want to cry because after all, she’s been your mother for these past months. You are startled by the sound of flapping wings somewhere behind you.

You creep into the outer room and spot the huge bird, the one that’s been following you for weeks, beautiful with blue streaks, standing on top of an empty cage. And because you are on the same wave length, you can hear her thoughts. This bird says she is Garuda. Its eyes glisten a shade of topaz.

She tells you to unhinge all the doors and let the birds fly out from their cages.

You approach this beautiful bird cautiously.

With hands outstretched, you ask, how? They are sick birds.

She tilts her head towards you.

They will follow me, she says, I‘m taking them home.

You do as she says. At first, the birds stumble in their cages, some flitter, but eventually they all fly out. You now open the door to the store because Garuda has asked you to.

The flock streams out into the jet-ink sky of the night. It’s a miracle. It’s a secret. It’s your secret.

Now you know why you were put on this planet. Now you have a mission. You will continue Garuda’s work. You will take in the sick birds of strangers. You will nurse them back to health. And when the day comes when you are too old and wounded, when no one cares whether you’ve been fed, when your vision is too feeble--Garuda will come back for you. You’ll see. You’ll see.

The Man with the Crocodile Eyes

On some nights, I crawl into the warmth of the front seat of the old Cadillac, owned by the man with the crocodile, reptilian-like eyes and the crooked arm. I was worried you wouldn't show up, he says, letting the engine idle, turning down the radio to the volume of a whisper. In the rearview, I check my make-up, mascara, and adjust my cotton blouse. We always meet in the back of Rite-Aid, an hour after closing. I was thinking about you, he says, and I missed you.

He runs his good hand through my silky black hair, smelling of strawberries, or as he puts it—a girl covered with jam—as I work up a slow, nervous smile. I like his hair, which is long and black, too. It reminds me of the bass player in Ten Minutes To Death, the cruel, sexy twist of lips, the distant gaze, even though my driver is a grounds keeper at a cemetery and not a rock star. There's something dangerous in the scar he shows me, below the left ear, a pink flat worm he caught while in jail. A girl's body, he says—his sigh is a tiny mist that settles on the window.

There's something dangerous in his breath that reminds me of prickly nights and swamp flowers; the crocodile in the swamp. Not even a girl like me, seventeen, caught between a wish and a wart, who can't keep track of all the different names for roses, the ones that Mrs. Brock in Bio has us memorize for mid-terms, could mistake that smell.

There's something dangerous in the fact that I can't tell my friends who I meet on these nights. Because if it's not dangerous, it doesn't feel good.

Someday, I'll look back and think: When I was seventeen I owned the world. But it was too strong, too heavy, to hold it for long.

He peers up through the window and says, There's supposed to be a comet tonight. Grinding his teeth and squeezing his eyes, making them creep like tiny black beetles, he says he doesn't see it yet.

“It'll come sooner or later,” I tell him in a hushed voice.

The man with the crocodile eyes draws a deep breath, as if he could breathe in the world, and exhale every inch of it back out. Then, the hand, the good one, rough, hard, but graceful, performs a pirouette down my arm, and the palm slides between my legs.

I squirm and gently push it away. I tell him I'm not ready, but maybe I am. Maybe I want to see him get excited and worked up. Maybe I can pretend I can have this kind of effect on a man who has survived the ugliest tragedies life has to offer.

There are few secrets I keep from him. And the ones that aren't secrets are the boring things you explain to somebody on a first date. He knows my parents are from Florida. He knows how my mother and father met somewhere in the Everglades and how they loved to swim and fish. I close my eyes, and imagine the spaces that were once a crocodile’s eyes. It must be a blackness as deep as the universe, which I don't believe is shrinking, something my science teacher professes. It's just a universe growing with more possibilities, and more dangerous combinations.

And there are nights when I dream of the man with the crocodile, reptilian eyes and the crooked arm.

In my dream, I am very young. It’s a cool night under a crescent moon. I’m being chased by a stranger with a rifle, perhaps a bird hunter who is now looking for a different kind of thrill. I’m running through marsh, rivers of saw-grass, through water-lilies and spatterdocks.

Behind me, the stranger's breath quicken. My heart pounds and my feet tire. Eventually, I reach a pineland, an island of hardwood trees, live oak and gumbo limb. I can smell limestone and can still feel the heat from this stranger. I fall.

The stranger stands above me with his cocky grin and barrel chest. He aims the rifle at me. It’s a shame you’re so pretty, he says. I know this man hates crocodiles.

And just then, the man with the crocodile eyes comes from nowhere, grabbing the stranger’s rifle with his one good hand and throwing it into a lake. He then exposes the other hand, the one he always hides in his jacket pocket, mangled and scaly with long sharp nails. He makes deep slashes across the stranger’s chest. The man screams, leans forward to catch the drippings of his own blood, and then runs away.

The man with the crocodile eyes turns to me and tells me that I am safe, even though I know I’m not. The world is full of hunters.

He explains that he’s from a lineage of half men and half swamp freaks and on more than one occasion that grotesque hand saved his life. He left scars on the faces of prison inmates, men who thought they were invincible.

His odd eyes now widen. A favor for a favor, he says in my dream, and asks if I’m ready.

My throat tightens; my jaw tenses. My mouth opens, but no words come out. I awake and am rescued by the onslaught of daylight through the Venetian blinds that my mother so fervently washes to keep them white.

But now, back in the car, back in the present, the man with the crocodile eyes lights up a joint and asks if I want some. I tell him no. How could I explain the unfocused eyes to my folks, or the never ending dance of giggles? He inhales the last from the clip and throws the roach out the window. A car with halogen lights passes by. I duck. My knees shake like two children emerging from the ocean.

It's okay, he says. It's a guy and girl. He's seen them before. He says they like to do it in the car by the dumpsters. I don't find that dangerous. I find it funny. I find it pathetic.

Then, I ask him to show me the hand on that crooked arm, the one he always hides in his pocket.

Someday, he says, someday. It’s very ugly.

I don’t tell him that I’ve already seen it in a dream. I don’t tell him that I’ve always been drawn to freaks with secret weapons.

We stare out the window. I drown in the silence. He turns to me and asks again, When will you be ready? When will I be ready, I wonder.

I can see before me, a history of breaking hearts, detouring a boy's intentions, slinking in the hallway of a boyfriend's house at night, promising myself to somebody else. The guy I will give myself to will have the eyes of the man with the crooked arm and the mangled hand that will forever mark him as an outcast. The guy I will surrender to will tell me stories that glow in the dark, lies that match my own, and I imagine his eyes will grow darker, more dangerous; more reptilian.

Another car passes by. This time I recognize the driver. It’s an old boyfriend from school, Marko. Well, not really a boyfriend. We never had sex, although he kept joking that he was always hungry for some “tail.”

He pulls up and honks his horn. The passenger window rolls down and he leans over, squinting his eyes to see whom I’m with.

“Hey, Carly,” he calls out to me, “your dates are getting uglier and uglier since you dumped me.”

My face feels flushed and I offer a weak smile to the man with the crocodile eyes. “Pay him no mind,” I tell him.

Marko parks his car several feet ahead. I wish he would just go away and leave us alone. But instead Marko gets out and walks towards us. He sports a leather jacket and a new tattoo along his neck. As he gets close to our window, I can read it. It spells Mean Machine.

“I think I’d be more fun than that old guy,” he says. “You really have bad taste, if you want him instead of me. I bet he does it like a lizard.” His slick smile is making me sick.

I tell him to mind his business, that whatever was between us is over. While I dated him, I told him that I wanted nothing more then to be friends, that I couldn’t explain why and that he should leave it at that. Sometimes, guys have such fragile egos.

But he won’t go away.

He reaches through my window and latches on to my arm. I push it away.

“Oh, baby,” he says, “don’t be so frigid.”

I turn around at the sound of the rustle. The man with the crocodile eyes attempts to open his door and teach Marko a lesson about respect. I tell my driver, “No, I will handle this.” I gently pull him back to the seat, pleading with him that it will be much better if done my way.

I get out and stand in front of Marko. I imagine his breathing the way I dreamed of those belonging to the stranger in that dream, chasing me for miles.

“Marko, “I say, “it’s over. Now please leave.”

“I’ll leave if you come with me.” He snickers. He approaches me and grabs my arm. His grip is vise-like.

I break free and step back. Marko looks surprised at my strength. Maybe I’m not such a weak girl. There is the sound of a car door slamming and I repeat to the man with crocodile eyes that I will handle this.

Marko then takes out a knife, the one he told me he always takes with him when he goes fishing with his father. He uses it for gutting fish. It is shiny and thick. I guess I’m his catch.

“You’re coming home with me,” he says.

I feel a surge of power run up and down my spine. Quickly, I crouch down and whip out the tail that I have hidden down one pant leg.

It wraps around Marko’s legs and he tumbles back, the knife flying into the air, sliding across the pavement. Recoiling my tail, I leap forward, and bite hard into Marko’s hand, the one that held the knife. Tiny drops of blood trickle onto the blacktop.

Putting my tail back into my pants leg, I now stand over him. He is breathless and writhing and under a tall florescent light, his face is pale.

“What the hell was that?” Marko asks, holding his bleeding hand.

“It’s my secret weapon,” I tell him.

“You’re a freak,” he says. I watch him slowly rise and lope towards his car. He looks back at me one last time. His hands are shaking.

“What are you?” he screams, the distance making him brave once again. I walk slowly towards him.

“Marko,” I say, “if you tell anyone about my secret, my friend will find you. Like me, he has a secret weapon. And his is even more deadly than mine. I know where you live.”

Marko looks at me in fear. And with new respect. In slight motions, his head nods up and down. I don’t think he will ever bother me again. He takes off in his father’s Jaguar and I listen to the purring sound of the engine fading as he disappears. I smile to myself.

I get back in the old Cadillac and apologize to the man with the crocodile eyes.

“I have to get home now,” I tell him. He nods and puts the car in gear.

Along the way, my thoughts drift to the small swamp area behind the shopping mall, the one where Rite-Aid is. I imagine that some night, I'll finally be ready, and then the man with the crocodile eyes and I will mate and nest.

I imagine it will be a quiet night in the swamp, under a crescent moon. Along a nearby brook, there will be wading birds and snapping turtles. Along the edge of the brook, I will bury our eggs and I will return there time and time again to see whether they have hatched.

Until then, I will carry on with my human identity. I will smile at the humans I come into contact with, but will secretly desire their flesh.

Dropping me off some blocks from my house, the man with the crocodile eyes asks me if I will be ready by next time. “We'll see,” I tell him.

Hat Check

I decided to go out tonight. Might do me good. I was slowly emerging from a long depression. My young wife had committed suicide after telling her doctors and myself about a voice in her dreams that kept saying “The time has come. You owe me.” It happened after things between us began to smooth out, long after she admitted to several infidelities. Why, before my marriage to her, my life was a bump and grind of one night stands that left me dry in the morning bed. I always woke up alone. Until… there was her.

To this day, I still have visions of her hanging shadow where her favorite air plants were. She had gone off her medications. Her brother no longer speaks to me. I prefer to remember her smiling, just like the days when I was first bewitched.

I entered the club through a long corridor dubbed The Twisting Earthworm. From other rooms, the blare and vibration of techno music broke through the ceiling as if a metallic insect descending. There was a movie I remembered when I was young enough to be curious about insects or whatever creatures lived underground. It was titled The Rule of the Pharaoh’s Dead Wives.

The man at the hat check took my pea coat and said “Five dollars.” He looked to be about my age, around 38, and there was something about his black bush of hair that made me think it was a toupee. In fact, I think it even moved when he turned. He handed me my ticket with the number 38. And there was a trace of black eyeliner that made his eyes look hypnotic and theatrical. Or maybe it was just me – the cast of light or the lack of it at certain angles. His eyes never met mine.

“Five dollars?” I asked him with an uncharacteristic surge in tone. “Last week it was only two. Has there been a change in management?”

He blushed. He leaned over the counter, holding the weight of his torso on both palms.

“What day did you come, sir?”

“Tuesday. Tuesday or Wednesday. One of those nights.”

“Well tonight is Saturday. It’s two dollars on the weekday and five on the weekends.”

“Since when?”

“Since Open Your Bubble opened up.”

“That was only two weeks ago. Right?”

He winked at me. A slow pretentious smile spread across his face. I noticed a faded smudge of lipstick making the lower lip pale in comparison to the upper.

“You’re very observant. It must be nice to have a mind like yours. I would like to get inside it just to explore. Perhaps other parts as well.”

His statement bit through me. There was a tone of sarcasm in it and I thought it more than a bit abrupt coming from a stranger.

I walked away. No sense in arguing about the price since I had already paid him. But I couldn’t enjoy myself at the club. I kept thinking about the man in Hat Check. He reminded me of somebody. Someone long ago. Someone who really didn’t like me, but died in the act of saving my life. The events were blurred. Or maybe it was 1/3 true and 2/3 false. Like in a dream. In a dream you fall and never get caught. The person at the bottom of the dream is the one who saves you. But you never feel that someone caught you. I never understood the hierarchy.

I wish I could have caught my wife. I saw she was falling away from everything. Her face was turning pale, and perhaps from the medications, her eyes became permanently glazed. In our last days, she claimed she was sleeping with demons, their children sleeping inside her.

Not drinking nor really enjoying myself, I headed back to Hat Check. This time there was a different man. At least I assume it was a different man. This one was completely bald but he wouldn’t turn around. I placed my ticket on the counter and he said “Close your eyes.”

“What?” I said.

“Close your eyes. Some make up came off my face and I feel a bit embarrassed.”

Bewildered, but too tired to argue, I closed my eyes then opened them.

Was he the previous man? Would there be a change of workers in such a short time? This one’s voice seemed a pitch higher. He handed me my coat. A black trench coat.

“No,” I said, “this isn’t mine. I had a pea coat. Is this no. 38?”

“Yes,” he said, “it matches that number.”

I persisted but he threw up his hand, motioning me to wait, and he took tokens from other customers. He wore that same overly slick smile as the previous man. And there was that trace of lipstick. I waited by the opposite wall. I would give him one more try then ask to speak to the manager.

Perhaps because I was bored or nervous, I started searching the pockets of the coat. It was the same kind of feeling when you want to play the lottery but know the odds are always against you.

In one pocket I felt a piece of paper. I looked around. The owner could be anywhere. Or perhaps I was being videotaped for some inane TV show.

I took out the paper and unfolded it. Moving closer to an overhead light, I peered up and around. Three lines had begun to form at Hat Check, full of drunk men and women, saying outrageous things, dropping earrings or empty plastic glasses.

I squinted hard at the pencil markings. It read:

I knew you wanted to get inside me, the way I want to get inside you. Go ahead and wear my coat. Feel warm. By the time you look up, I’ll be in yours. Hopefully, sometime tonight, the twain shall meet. I once saved your life from so many one-night losers. You know me. We were married for a brief moment in time. But that was in another life. The life of mundane people who quibble and burn toast. Now it will be so much more. Be careful where you walk. Especially at this time of night.

I looked up. There was a different man at Hat Check. He had a smile that reminded me of a worm, one that would outlive me.

The lines were becoming longer.

Digisolution (Pubbed in Aphelion, Nov. 2007)

Okay, okay, so say I'm in this low-key bar, really empty, where they serve sake and various brands of rice wine. And like this guy, the guy I'm sitting next to, turns to me. His face is craggy, his hair, straight, iron-grey mixed with black, his tie loosened, and maybe I spotted him before waltzing out of the massage parlor across 28th and 7th. But maybe not. Maybe that was some other guy.
He tells me his name is Lau and I tell him mine is Oolong, which is not my only name, and we shake hands, like the Americans do. I am half-Japanese and program games for a living and before that I sold air brushed paintings of dragons and little kids, which didn't sell very well at all. That was before my wife left me for a bond salesman, also Japanese like her. And I'd do anything to get back with Chiaki.

And there was a time when I didn't work at all.

Lau and I talk about the weather, about the state of Japanese baseball, about the stocks, about Bush's policy in the Mid-east. A waitress wiggles by, balancing a tray of raw fish, orange bodies of salmon or tuna pressed against rice, and her bouncing curves remind me of a stack of soccer balls. Maybe Chiaki's slim but curvy body that nettled my dreams with warmth. My laptop on the floor leans against my Reebok.

Several times I ask Lau what he does for a living and his eyes roll to me, eyebrows arch like the way you'd imagine them in old paperback novels of furtive private dicks and dangerous dames in trouble. My father, deceased, loved them.

A few minutes elapse; Lau and I stare vacantly at our reflections in the long mirror. I brush back my long black hair and ogle Lau as he sucks down his bottle of Segura.

Then, he turns to me, lips pinched, his cross-eyes reminding me of two sailboats at night, colliding.

His fingers gently stroke my wrist. What if, he says in this funny kind of hushed voice, what if I could chop off the last twenty years of your life and give you a second chance? Fail-proof.

Like come again, I think. My lips part just wide enough to allow the passage of an empty spoon. So I say how does he know the last twenty years of my life were that bad?

"Really?" He focuses his gaze down at the bar and folds his hands.

"Yeah. I mean like you don't know me or anything. What I've been through. Or haven't."

"Oh, a charmed life?" he says with a snicker.

Yeah. A charmed life. Maybe or not.

So, now, now he's telling me that he works for this organization, perfectly legit, government-sanctioned, but secretive because of the sensitive nature of the research involved. It's got an acronym for a name, but he won't tell me what it is. No, he says, laughing, throwing his head to the side, not the Man from U.N.C.L.E, nothing like that. Maybe that was before your time. But maybe, the man from TINT. Or the man from JPEG. Something like that, he says, laughing, but no, no, not the Man from U.N.C.L.E. or TINT OR JPEG. He claims he's a recruiter.

I hear three beeps, silence, and another beep from my laptop. A distress signal.

I grab my laptop from the floor, position it aslant from Lau, flip it open, and ask him if he minds me doing some work. With my kind of job, I inform him, you work all hours. The designing and all.

No, no, go right ahead, he says as he holds his hand in front of me, opening and waving his fingers the way a geisha would a paper fan. His open hand morphs into a loose fist on the bar.

I type my password, download rivers and slipstreams of data and enter the H-matrix. Pilaf, sister of Korgyi, my digi-damon, greets me with wide eyes and downturned lips. In a virtual sense, Pilaf and I are close friends, but I wish it could be so much more. Her child-like beauty often reminds me of Chiaki.

"Oolong," her words flash across the screen, "Help me, I'm swirling in a hypersink. I'm infected with someone's evil digi-thoughts."

My fingers bang out a piano-like staccato over the keyboard while my blood pressure rockets in burst mode.

"Any idea who?"

A stream of transparent tear drops stream down her cheek. Her yellow and pinkish face begins to fade from the screen.

"Someone...who was...digi-destined. The one who created me. He's thinking evil thoughts."

"Who created you? I need to locate the virus in order to save you."

Her mouth opens in a round cave of silent screams.

She vanishes.

I try to hide my hammered heart from Lau. Feel like I've been head butted and kicked in the balls. Just like the night Chiaki walked out on me. Lau is looking at me with an air of smugness, smiling eyes, lips meshing together, chin tilted up.

"It sounds a little too R U Real for me ," I say, referring to his proposition. I almost choke on my words.

"You do not believe me? It is okay if you do not believe me."

He rubs his eyes, then the hand lowers, pinching his nose. The hand falls into his lap.

"You were married once to a Chiaki Tochigi, the lead singer of the band, Violet Vampire Smooch. Her parents from Kyoto. She left you for a Wall St. trader because you couldn't pay the bills. The both of you experimented with drugs. You had an exhibition once in Soho but it was panned. You lived on the streets for a while, in a shelter, later in the St. Paul mental institution. Your love for art saved you. Your mother works part time in a Nisson building in Tokyo, across from the Blue Turtle Hotel. Your father died of lung cancer three years ago. He was fond of Mickey Spillane novels in their translations...Shall I go on?"

My saliva turns to a scatter of stones that will find a way back up my throat.

No, I say, lowering my eyes to the computer screen. I type in the codeword Cathode Tamer ***** and launch a search for Korgyi inhabiting the nan-zones on the outskirts of H-matrix. On the screen, a burst of blue smoke. Then a picture focusing--green and white houses perched behind trimmed hedges and an orange street. Korgyi is riding his bicycle. He turns and waves to me. The bike skids around.

Words scroll across in a bubble over his head, like passing train cars viewed from an alleyway.

"Hey, Oolong. Got your message. What's up."

My fingers race and dab along the keyboard.

"Korgyi, Pilaf has been infected. She just contacted me. Had to be by someone she once knew--digi-destined. She claims it's your creator. Don't know much more. "

His jaw grows slack and his eyes bulge.

"No. no. I don't know who created her. We split by D-mode mitosis after her appearance. No. My own hyper-sister? A rookie seichouki. An attack on her DNA Vir-strands? They broke into her code? I can't think straight."

He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans. He pulls out a cell phone and begins to talk. But the words don't show up. Then, a bubble forms above his head, the words wrapping within.

"Oolong. I must contact Rikuo from Warp-D-Contingency Control. They'll do a five-layer cell scan and sweep. If anything happens to my sister, I swear...I swear...I'll brake-bubble and self-destruct."

He raises two fists in the air, shakes them, and nods his head of Paul McCartney-like bangs side-to-side.

"No," I type in, "I swear on the Blue Infinitum that we'll find and restore her. I already lost my wife. I won't lose a moonlight perfect girl. Not Pilaf."

Remember. She is someone's damon. Talk to you, later, Oo."

I watch as his bicycle morphs into a motorcycle; he turns and waves, a cloud of white billowing smoke trails behind. Korgyi disappears beyond the vanishing point over a long narrow road.

Lau clears his throat and smiles politely. Swiveling his head to me, while munching a peanut, he says that for an initial investment, and it is not a scam, his company will clone me. My O-part, the blueprint, will continue to live the way I once did, the same routine, job, etc., with no interference, except for an occasional headache now and then. My H-part, now a hybrid, will live in a virtual paradise. I will have a list of possible life-style scenarios to choose from: Hedonistic Kama, Goal-Achiever Kama, Mystic-Ascetic Kama, Artist Kama. All the main scenarios have submenus to choose from. I will have electrodes attached to my head, linked to a mega-server, live the life I choose. My body will be fed through intravenous lines. I won't have to move a muscle to live the life I always wanted. Through a radioactive spread of thoughts, both my H and O parts will be nirvanasized.

"What I want..."

"We know what you want. You want your wife back. We can arrange a program to build her virtual presence."

I squint my eyes at him. I can discern a slight twinkle; his dark eyes turning to a shade of gray.

"Why me?" I say. "Why did you choose me? Like I got no money, boss."

"Our company reps do mega-width market scans and your name was placed into our computer bank for possible recruits. As for the money, I believe you recently came into your father's inheritance after some legal disputes. Ssssent by your sister back in Tokyo."

It's the first time I'm noticing he lisps. His face reddens. I turn my eyes to the floor.

I sip barely a mouthful from the glass of wine. Its tart and fruity taste lingers at the back of my tongue. I raise my head to meet his eyes.

"And I'm sure your O-part can meet the schedule of an installment plan. We're easy to deal with it. Not a problem." He lips twitch and he swallows a gulp from the Segura.

Just then, a smoke cloud appears on the computer screen, and that evaporates into white space. In the distance, Korgyi drives towards me on his motorcycle. He stops and takes off his goggles, holds up a hand. A bubble shoots up and expands over his head. Again, the letters and words appear in train-like motion.

"Oolong! Quick. Give me the real time location of where you are at. Hurry. Chop chop, man."

I press in the address of the bar, mistakenly capitalizing some of the words in my flurry. I type in a question.

"Korgyi, any clue to the identity of Pilaf's attacker?"

"Not positive. Rikuo suspects an M-virus from Black Infinitum. Working on it. Just a hunch. Will get back to you. No time, man. My sister is the world to me. She's not some damn ditsy zygote."

He waves and takes off on the cycle, growing smaller. The screen dissolves into blackness.

Lau finishes his bottle and slams it on the bar. You know, he says, (and I imagine his tongue now loosening,) that in this day and age, competition is everything. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Winners and losers, he says, again with a noticeable lisp. But he says, pointing a stiff finger at me, you and I know that so few of us really win. So, our company was designed to help those ....who for whatever reason...have not won. The prerequisite for admission is an agreeable sum of cash, and certain pre-existing conditions. Which...which you have met. He nods his head and licks his lips.

Then, covering his mouth, he belches.

I lower my head, and slowly, I eye the computer screen for further activity.

"You know," Lau says, reaching for my hand. "you know, I was once in the same predicament you're in. I...I lost someone. Then, through our company's project, our company's aggressive and clever management, I was recruited and found her. In a different environment, of course."

And I have to admit the shit he's telling me is sounding promising. I mean what else would bring Chiaki back?

I take another gulp of wine and feel a slight buzz.

"And if the O-original does not pay, what happens?" I say.

He smiles and twists his head. Oh, they all pay, he says. We have never encountered that sort of problem.

In the light, I notice his gray eyes turning to blue. I've never seen a Japanese with blue eyes, unless wearing colored contact lens.

On the screen, a fuzzy picture of Pilaf wavering before me. Her face shortens, elongates, her lips twist and her big fluted eyes swing from side to side. Her words fill a grainy bubble above her. I can barely make it out.

"Oolong, please. Help me. This virus hurts. Hurts so bad. Tearing me... apart!"

"Pilaf!" I shout, without attempting to cover my embarrassment.

Lau' s eye brows raise slightly. "What... Pilaf? ... Did you say Pilaf?"

"No. It's just a program I working on. A design software called Peel Off."

He stares at me curiously.

I swing back to the computer screen. In the background, a playground, wooden horses, monkey bars, and a little man running in crazy circles towards the foreground, his legs and arms pump furiously, and now he's growing bigger, closer. It is Korgyi. He is exhausted, drops to one knee and wipes his forehead. He struggles to stand up.

"Oolong ," he says, standing in his tee-shirt and torn jeans, "we localized the virus. You're not going to believe this."

I study the bubble hovering over his head, but the words come across fuzzy because he is so short of breath.

"Korg," I type, "Please, catch your breath. Your words are blurry."

He places one hand to his belly and shakes his head sideways. I watch him attempt to inhale several deep breaths and then his body jerking in some spasm-like motions. He places a cupped hand to his mouth. Several non-sense characters now flicker within the bubble over his head. They indicate his coughing fit.

"Sorry." The word floats alone in the bubble.

"It's okay," I type, "now, tell me. Tell me, where is the virus."

He struggles to stand erect and still and places two hands on his hips. He looks out at me as if meeting my gaze head-on. I inspect the bubble over him for new data.

"You're sitting next to it. A mollusk virus from Black Infinite. An X-power strand."

A violent surge travels up and down my stomach. Something hot and corrosive.

"How can you be sure?" I type in.

"This type has a lisp, sometimes smoothed-over, barely noticeable, and the eye color changes when its body temperature goes up. Have you observed-- "

He pants, struggling to catch his breath, his shoulders working in forward-backward motions. He stumbles back and his words fade in the bubble over him. New ones replace them.

"An O-original lost his wife, joined some scam outfit, a daughter company of Dark Ultimate, promised to pay them back in return for a vir-replica of his dead wife. He couldn't make the last payment, so, he was infected with a mollusk virus, type Q, a mutant of the X strand. Highly communicable. If his prospects don't join, he infects them with the M-virus by deep channeling with alpha auto-suggestive thoughts. Rikuo suspects the O's evil thoughts dispersed, radiated, infected Pilaf as well."

In the background, I notice a small black ball circling around the playground swings, the monkey bars, the wooden animals. It's zooming larger, zigzagging, making its way to Korgyi.

He turns and notices the flying ball, turns back to me.

"Oolong. Quick, Do what I tell you. Press...Press."

His eyes begin to roll upward and he drops to his knees. The ball grows larger, now only pixels away from Korgyi’s location.

"What, Korg? What do you want me to do?" I type.

"Press." Korgyi's words flashing in the bubble, " Press ENTER. Quick."

With my fingers shaking, I go blank. The keyboard looks fuzzy, the way everything does before you black out.

"Oolong-- Please! Now!"

I draw a deep breath.

I hit ENTER.

A bead of sweat drops on the keyboard, runs down over the SHIFT key.

Korgyi collapses. The ball swerves over his head and explodes. The screen turns into a swirl of bright orange and red hues.

Suddenly, Lau pushes himself away from the bar. He places one palm over his forehead. "Excuse me," he says, "excuse me. But feel so Yes, Pilaf. She was my creation. The exact features of my wife, so much younger than I."

He staggers back, then, stumbles in the direction of the restroom.

My wine glass bursts on the bar.

Lau stops, turns in my direction, and smiles mysteriously. Then, he vanishes into a cloud of blue smoke before the latrine door.

I swing my head back to the screen. An image of a figure walking towards me, tiny at first, a girl, yeah, a girl, then, her body looms before me, taking up half the size of the screen. It's Pilaf in tight turtleneck, short plaid skirt, white knee socks.

"Pilaf," I type in, "Pilaf, I'm so glad you're alive."

Her smile is broad and dazzling. It could knock the pixels out of the best screen resolutions.

"No, Oolong. It's not Pilaf anymore. It's Chiaki. Your kind deeds have helped me digivolve to another level, beyond MASTER, a level I never understood. We are now true digi-damons and I am transformed by your thoughts of longing. I've never been in love, Oolong. But now. So different. We'll be lovers in D-mode forever. Husband and wife in a bliss of Blue Infinitum.

She begins to disrobe, showing the soft outlines of her curvy orange-blossom flesh, her supple breasts that remind me of dew drops magnified a thousand times over. She spreads her arms to shoulder-level, palms facing me.

"Oolong, I've been waiting for you, so long. Don't you want me?" She walks closer to the edge of the screen, until her face takes up the entire view.

A tap at my shoulder startles me. I turn off the computer. The waitress with the curvy body asks if everything is alright. She turns her head to the broken wine glass on the bar, then, back to me. Yeah, I say, everything’s cool. She smiles stiffly, nods her head and walks away. I’m still a little light-headed.

So. So, I should have told that guy, Lau, to go screw. Instead, I went along. I went along with everything. I was almost good for it, going to buy into it, the whole scam and scoodoodle. I should have told him to go screw. I should have told him that. Pilaf almost lost her life and so did Korgyi. But then, again, in a way I'm glad. I found Chiaki. Now, she's only a couple of screen clicks away.

Tonight, I'll go home and and make D-Mode love to her. For hours. Not even a brown-out will stop us. Not even the sound of the damn rain and thunder outside my window. Not even the cat on the windowsill, my cool black stray who sometimes wonders in from the rain. That black cat with the green luminescent eyes.


The Amazing Adventures of Anti-Mattur Mathur by Kyle Hemmings

At first, Nadir didn’t know what to do with the babu she found in a module abandoned by the neutron destiny incinerator at the outskirts of Wykee. She had been homeless for most of her adult life, and she couldn’t tell whether the babu, with its ruby red eyes, was a charm or an omen. There had been reports before about mutants falling from the skies, perhaps given up by their parents, due to a star war or to thermal aggrandizement. Few mutants ever survived beyond three months in a city weighed down by brown-yellow smog and an occasional ossified rain. At night, she kept the babu close to her chest and searched Wykee’s dumpsters for leftover milk that the rob-cats had not gotten to, chunks of fresh meat before the infestation of jin-worm.

Securing food, babu books and old clothes from the dumpsters, Nadir managed to raise the mutant, whom she called Mathur, meaning eternal love. At night, they hid from Wykee’s shuttle patrol who often imprisoned food scavengers or mutant keepers. Nadir taught Mathur Jin-sim nursery rhymes and later told him that she was once a princess before the Civil War that ravaged much of the country. Her family, having lost all posessions, were banished to Wykee. Her mother and father were imprisoned.

Then, one day, Nadir, her body depleted of energy, left Mathur on the steps of a Unan orphanage. There, a mutant would not be discriminated against. There were teachers and caretakers of the Sisters of Modal Generosity. Mathur cried for nights on end. But Nadir had already collapsed and devolved next to a dumpster. The Shuttle Patrol found her body and atomized her remains.

The heads of the Unan orphanage noticed that Mathur had many strange gifts. He could learn and read at super speeds. He seemed to know many languages, even the extinct ones on Jin-Sim. And in a somewhat frightening discovery, they found he could read minds. Over time, one care taker, who took special interest in Mathur, perhaps because she had gotten too attached to a previous mutant, found a tiny hole in Mathur’s gut. She didn’t know what to make of it at first, and found that as Mathur grew taller, the hole grew bigger. When checked by Wykee’s Babuologists, they stated they never saw anything like it, but they were certain that it meant that Mathur was not destined to live long, that it was a form of angry anti-matter that would transform Mathur into space.

At school, Mathur was well-liked, and because he was super strong, no one picked on him. One girl, named Ong Ra, liked Mathur, and was attracted to his ruby-red eyes that seemed to see into everything. She asked him about the star he fell from. He said that gradually memories of it were returning, even though he spent 3 sequestrations in a module before being launched as a pre-term babu. One day, he showed her the hole in his gut, which was becoming larger. In a corner of the schoolyard, she put her hand through it and asked him if it hurt. No, he said, your hand feels warm yet so distant, like the star I once fell from.

When they became older, she asked him how inhabitants on his star mate. He said they did not have sex organs, the kind that inhabitants of Jin-Sim had. He knew this by teleopathic channeling. Members of each sex had something resembling a snow globe, in the boys’ was the figure of the father, and in the girls’ was that of the mother. When they mated, they rubbed globes. Ong Ra thought this was funny.

But over time, as the doctors had predicted, Mathur’s hole had become so large there was little of him left. He wrote Ong Ra a note saying that he was leaving school as he felt a certain calling, perhaps one into the Nevermore. Ong Ra wept and kept dreaming of Mathur with his ruby-red eyes, full-bodied like a true Jin-Simur.

Mathur wandered the outskirts of Wykee, remembering the woman who raised him on dumpster food–Nadir. At times, as he was disappearing, he cried out her name. One night, Mathur was nothing but sad anti-mattur.

He now found that he could live off the warmth of others–he could enter their dreams and implant thoughts in their heads. He wandered in and out of the various dreamscapes of those he once knew at the school.

And one morning Ong Ra confided to her best friend that she felt she was pregnant. She could feel something kicking inside her when she slept. When she closed her eyes, she imagined a snow globe with her father’s smiling face inside.

And one day, as if by some freak occurrence, it began to rain bubbles down on Wykee. All the children, all the brothers and sisters, all the adults, reached up and attempted to hold one. And in that one glorious instant, everyone in Wykee, no matter station or circumstance–got their wish.


She is walking down the sidewalk that curls like her grandfather's mustache in yellowed photos, smears and cavities under a decaying coat of acetate. It was so long ago. Was it? She is walking in her hospital gown and pink felt slippers that are as light as bird feathers, perhaps Vesa, perhaps African Gray Parrot, perhaps from a woman's hat. She senses that her thoughts are unmarked trains through a strange and vast country. Which country? And how many stops in a kilometer?
It is early evening and not yet night. There are clouds and swirls, low clouds morphing into faces, and the faces begin to whisper, but the words are inaudible, the way that clouds, low-forming ones, can drift apart at the seams and sigh and die. They do not recall themselves.

She is walking down the hill that will dip and slope upward, all the while keeping one eye along the white divider in the street, like a ribbon, like a border guard. The white line is time, going to and running back, but now is always is endless, this second is the instant of a memory she is living but never where you are. She is standing still. She remembers the row of white houses like snowmen that never melt in summer, with their cross-hatched tresses and fences, the way her thoughts intersect each other. What is the middle of twilight?

Along the fences and tresses there are victories of gardenias and hyacinths that remind her of the smiles of plump children. Is it an empty promise? She imagines children jostling each other, their laughs like electric jolts piercing the air. She was one of those children. There is the old school behind her, somewhere there, and a church, a tall steeple like a song rising on air waves, she remembers, and a cloud descending, perhaps one of those nuns, a Sister, no, a Sister Gardenia, call her that. But she won't head back, that way which is anyway, because she wants to go home. She wants to understand this. She wants to understand the topology of clouds and the safest route home. It's getting dark.

Now. One by one the neighbors file out of their houses, their voices imitating the voices of clouds, hushed, faint, distant, an ominous tone of omniscience. An old woman in slacks and streaked apron approaches the edge of her front lawn, her hands clasped in front of her as if praying for blue morning. "Lydia," she says in raspy voice, "we're all praying you come out of it." A man in a gray gabardine suit shuffles to the edge of his lawn of neatly trimmed grass, the smell of summer-sweet mango betrayals. "Lydia, do you remember me? I was alive when you were this tall." His palm hovers below his knee as if reaching for a dog's head. He steps back, he is both marble and vaguely human. His face a kind of granite nostalgia and slate longing.

There are others who greet her, offer their shining hopes in sheer undertones. The neighbors turn and step stiffly into their bleached houses that are full of colonial symmetry and shut-in asymmetrical secrets. There are smells wafting, grilled tenderloin, or baked sweet potato, simmering baby asparagus. Is it Sunday? Before or after—what? She remembers those houses on the way from school. She remembers the neighbors and their children as if peering into a diorama, their blurred features, their detached voices, the loop of their echoes. Memories attenuate into crepitations. Evening grows pitch-silent.

She is trudging. She ascends the hill which leads to a main street. Once she reaches it, she might remember how to get home. Homily to the past. Elegy to the present. To catch a thought elusive as a thief's shadow. Night is descending upon her sloped shoulders. Can she borrow the scent of home-cooked suppers?

Almost to the top and that main street. She remembers a generous curve of it. Her father had driven her along so many times, as he chain-smoked in the days when it was Bogey-fashionable to chain smoke. He would drive so slowly, staying well under the speed limits. Cars would honk, and in the rearview, she could spot drivers slapping their foreheads, or throwing an angry hand in the air. Impatient as gamblers. Just where did they all have to go in such a hurry? She would giggle at her father, his face disappearing behind that puff of smoke. Her love contained within the seeping undulating body of that second-hand smoke.

Top of the hill. Now which way. Right. Go right because that is the direction that was always right. She ambles for a good half-mile but that could be less or more, to think along the perimeters of a rhombus. She is thinking cars. A car. The street is empty and shouldn't a main street always have cars? But a car. There was a car, and he was in it. She was wearing what? A wedding dress. There, then, should have been a reception that logically follows. But. Yes, there was a reception on the way home. Her sweetie, Tim? Tom? Toby? No. Toby is the name of a cat. He must have had a secret name because she cannot remember it. But there was a white wedding with white cakes and white dresses that were long and flowing, the train, and walking up the aisle in the church, the church behind her, fading, but that was the church. His face is opaque and wavering within the circumference of a lighted lampshade.

On the way home, she wiped with a Kleenex something from his cheeks. A kiss? A smudge of lipstick. The driver turned. There was a smash, a smattering of glass, a spider web pattern across the window shield, his face, that was hers, lurching, and he clutched her hand. Then, everything went dark and froze. There was no time after that.

She is growing tired. She imagines herself looking wasted, disheveled. She imagines her hair as black, and hanging in wisps and strings. She has no mirror, no compact, only this stupid hospital gown and she has lost her slippers. She does not remember when or how, or perhaps, only the longing to have slippers and not the wearing of them, but now, barefoot, the thought of her sole catching glass. She will scream. She screams. She will bleed out into the street, the stream of her blood, an unholy mixing with pavement, perhaps a slow drip down sewer holes, the rhythm of a dying rat's heartbeat. She doesn't like the thought of that.

She spots a gas station coming up. The gas station was there before she gets there, and this one, she remembers was where her father would stop and say fill it up, and throw the filterless butt out the window. She creeps up to the attendant in cap and uniform. He inserts a nozzle into a driverless car. Mister, she says, how do I get home? He looks at her queerly. "What street do you live on, Miss?" It reeks of a tautological joke.

She fumbles, wracks her brain for the exact address. She can't remember the numbers, because numbers are useless if you don't know the street. But the street she remembers. Harris Drive, she says. He points and tells her to walk straight for a mile, for a mile, for a mile. She thanks him, but does not turn around, because that might make him disappear. And one cloud is settling lower, like a thought, like a memory of peach blossoms and honey-thick innuendoes whispered before a rain.

The cloud's face is turning more detailed, amorphous wind mass forming strong jutting chin, aquiline nose, the cloud's feathered edges turning to fine bristles of dark hair. The cloud is guiding her, floating, drifting in front of her, in latitudes, a stratospheric love for clarity, but now the voice, at first, soft, puling, then deeper, a grumble, a man's voice, she thinks it's him. Not Toby because that is the name of a cat. Lydia, says the cloud, please come out of it. Please open your eyes, honey. The cloud tears then implodes, vanishes, and she is staring down at a dark winding street that will lead to hers, but so dark, and the thought of walking this by herself, if that is the only topology you will never not un-know. She is at an intersection, where there are no cars and no strangers to ask directions, but she decides it's time to go home, if home is where the road ends, she will walk, down the serpentine highway, where all voice is void, street signs negligible, side roads narrower, and the possibility, where at the intersection of twilight and dawn you might discover a face, or this chance of never never waking up.

Water Woman

A short story
by Kyle Hemmings

Jump, he says, and I do.

From a plane that almost skims the surface of water, I tumble into a hoodoo sea, into this brown patina of knotted seaweed and silent vortex. The Sargasso Sea. I am treading through the abyss of deep underwater where light is a memory of sun-drenched hills and early morning promises. A sun soliloquy. I am floating down into this limbo of expanding shapes that could be my own nitrogen-washed out thoughts. Your brain like a sponge— that sponge the liver of an old salty dog. I am sinking; my truncated thoughts can be measured in horse latitudes.

And now spotting the wreckage, I glide towards the ship, perhaps one like the Rosalie, or the Ellen Austin, a schooner or a bark perhaps swirled by an electromagnetic field, weighted down by the entropy of the trapezium, pulled to the floor of the Nares Abyssal Plain that really has no bottom. Like a promise. Like a lie.

Could this ship now host a UFO civilization, as my employer, Dr. Zcharisky, had once joked about? Or a colony of deep-sea divers and mermaids and starfish gazers who were once damned, exiled, for defying land-locked lords and their conventions. Did these ex-patriots cheat on their upright and non-amphibious spouses? Were they lured by a riptide lover whose eyes moved like tiny fish? Those who strayed must have found themselves trapped in a mesh of seaweed, the heavy enormous mat of it called love, where respiration is merely an afterthought.

I am prying each door of the cabins. Swimming through the darkness, undulating and filmy, I breathe slow and deep. My oxygen tanks, my lifelines, are dying mothers. After turning on the flashlight, I am scared and mystified. There is a table of empty plates and rusted copper utensils. Some old boots, tops folded over, lying on the wooden floor. I struggle to wedge myself through another room. There are portholes covered with lichen and plankton. I shift my gaze, starboard. A nautical joke. There is a skeleton lying on a bed of rusted springs. There are bones and parts of bones: a femur, a tibia, a phalanx. I wonder what the owners’ names were and if they died thirsty and homesick.

Another room, another bunk. Through this mask, I can see her. She is sitting on the bed, wearing a white frilly nightgown, hands clasped on her lap; her bare feet tempt me to smile, and at this depth, you could smile forever. Her face is manikin-like, a wax replica of her self from another life. Her eyes sting me. She looks to be no more than twenty, but she is ageless and waterlogged and beautiful. Her hair is waist-long and red, the color of a fire-eater’s dreams. There is a small cameo pinned to her gown. She has been waiting for me for years.

Paddling my flappers that remind me of mermaid tails, employing smooth and half-circling arm strokes, I propel my body towards her. Shine the huge circle of light directly at her. She is looking through me. Her eyes are sea-dream green as only green can be when you mistake water for land, for something solid: pastures and a bloom of hills. She is speaking to me. She is speaking to me in strange codes and fractals. Her thoughts are bubbles lodging themselves into the deepest recesses, the tiny coliseums of my brain that feels like a balloon at this depth. I know who she is.

I know who you are.

I once loved a water-woman. She made me promises and her words turned to dust, to lint that clung to the inner fabric of my clothes, its pockets and cuffs. I thought of her absence and I thought of footprints on the ocean floor. I thought of abandoned ships in the muck, of chipped sculptures and broken statues, of old coins in the swell of a vortex, and my thoughts turned green and dark. She left me for a stranger in a city of solid dimensions. At night, I groped for her but her body had turned to vapor, but before you turn to vapor, you must have been water. I cried and dreamt of a Sargasso Sea.

Does being lovesick mean you never get over the bends?

I wrap one arm around this woman in the cabin, this soul survivor who has not survived. Her body is stiff, but lighter than algae. She smiles past me, and I wonder who I was before I explored this wreckage. A penny for your Spanish galleon thoughts, I wish to say to her. Together, we rise toward the surface where sunlight will dazzle and reflect off the stagnant waves. Where light will refract into pieces and shards of memories only I can put together. I will put us together on land where there are boundaries and maps of known territories. Upon reaching the surface of water, perhaps she will revive, perhaps she will remember my name, perhaps she will forget her stay underwater, in the Sargasso Sea, where she grew strange and forgetful. This life she once had of a sea star or a sea horse—sea-struck woman.

I emerge from the water and throw back my oblong mask, discard my mouthpiece. Sunlight is a piercing shaft that causes me to shut my eyes, to turn away. I wipe my face of all memory of salt and seawater. There is a smell of lemons and brine and I think that is the smell of her hair or the way her hair once smelled to a solipsistic lover. We swim towards shore. I am so grateful for the sun, for the clarifying nature of light and light beams. How it spreads and diffuses its glow.

Upon reaching the beach, I collapse. Am breathless and dizzy. Giddy as a thousand flies in a blaze of noon and over a trail of leftovers. I turn to her, to feel her flesh, to see if she can still speak, to breathe, to recall who I once was, what I had meant to her. She is not there. She is no longer. She is still in the sea. She is still in that sunken ship, becalmed, deserted. She never was.

What did I mean to her?

Grabbing loose sand in my fists, I’m fighting this pull back into the sea, into the madness of a swell; only the bends, I think, and nothing more. I look back at the sea, the lozenge-shaped area, this Devil’s Triangle. I think if that woman could speak, could speak underwater, what her voice would sound like. I think of the slight blips the KA-6 jet once made on a radar scope before it vanished. A radar plot that plotted, turned plot-less. That blank radar screen must have mirrored the stare of star-crossed water lovers. They watched with a dolphin’s smile as their feet turned webbed, their arms to fins, an adaptation, a mutation of love. It was a conspiracy to live forever underwater, to denounce land as a home for vagrant hearts.

Overhead, Dr. Zcharisky’s plane circles, buzzes closer. I imagine the fuzz of his white hair and the sag of his heavy jowl. I anticipate his rushing towards me, as he pants under a pair of eyes that will glitter like sapphire. He will run with his short stumpy legs, so grossly inadequate for locomotion, the thick shafts of bone covered by creased baggy trousers. I anticipate him being armed with a maze of unending questions. “Well, what did you see? Tell me you found the wreck. Yes? Were my coordinates correct? Did we make a discovery? Are you . . . all right?”

You can fight this, I think. No, too dizzy. I keep thinking, tell yourself where you are. Identify your coordinates, man. You are no longer in the Limbo of the Lost. I wanted you. The plane lands and skids across a stretch of white and furrowed beach. Its tires whistle. Coming closer. Where am I? Key West? Bermuda? The nose of the plane humming and spinning. I peer up though the sun-screen of day-burst. Brakes screeching. I am twenty to thirty-five degrees, north latitude. Closer. Her wavering and foggy-eyed face. East by longitude forty degrees north. Her flesh is silky and warm. Thirty to seventy degrees west latitude. She never was. Now a stone in your coffee-hued dreams. The Sargasso Sea and I am a little sailor man smiling absentmindedly in a glass bottle. Coordinates? (0,0). In these parts, an ocean’s loose lips can sink a ship of fools. Am I alright, Captain? Red sky at dawn, mate. Right.


In the house, our smiles were stitched thin,
me and my mother’s, like the imsy dresses,
tight and low-cut, my sister wore to entice the
men from the wrong side of Caterbury Hill. My
father, if I ever had one, was shot years ago, a
scheming horse thief and a thief of women who
could turn anoxic under his weight, the push
and pull, even those whose faces never cracked,
ceramic saints praying to a god of nothing.

One night, the house
smelled of death, thick, musty,
I could hardly breathe, could
practically oat on it. This. Yes.
My sister never came home and
they never found the body.

Back then, my mother’s grief took odd shapes, phantom twists. She told me my sister was sleeping in her old bedroom and I was never to unlock the
door. I wanted to ask: Who found her? Was she in coma? Or perhaps only her under-life, a see-through nylon, and not the body remained behind that door.

I obeyed.

Some part of my sister– –not the nymph, not the lover of convicts hiding in swamps, hands unchained but eyes still imprisoned––I would save. Precious as a
glass gazelle. Some space we both shared, this
bubble, the womb of our sickly child, and had
no name for.

Over the years, I grew tempted as my mother withered, to enter my sister’s room. But a promise was a promise. After she fell asleep, I placed my ear to the door. An empty ritual. I heard the breathing, slow, deep, peaceful, perhaps my own.

I jumped back.

Much later, my mother died from a
lingering illness, one that could not be
diagnosed, and the house opened up but the
darkness remained thick as bone dust and I
could not see without it. In those days, I was
still a ower, pale, curious, stunted. My breasts
were small, and secretly, I waited to be eaten by
a man, a predator with angel eyes and a belly
of my own melancholy. I’d make him drink it
without chaser.

The nights passed like words to a song and
the song kept coming around like a traveling
salesman whose voice I kept hearing in a
dream. The salesman was my father.

I started missing my periods.

Slowly, I approached my sister’s door and turned the
knob. A jolt ran through me. It wasn’t locked at all. I entered, drew a breath deeper than this
ugly town, what it was built upon: rock, muck, skeletons, dirt. Ugly layers of dirt.. The bed
was empty. The emptiness was my heir apparent. My bloodless mother.

Suddenly, my onion skin started to peel, then my hair. My blood became vapor, a mist that turned in on itself. And all the deep spaces that were within me––incongruous and breathing to their own mysterious rhythms– –became me, engulfed me. I was now the sum of empty spaces, the origin of chaos-within-life, swirling, secrets of worlds, oscillating strings.

I became part of the walls, the imitation Rembrandts and Goyas, the glass menageries, my sister‘s old dresses behind closets, sucking in the stale air as if they could dance and faint and rise up again.

And when years later the new owners arrived, I would hear them breathe. I would make them mute. I would rob them of everything. I would bleed honeyed venom.

Piranha Men and Cinnamon Girls

It could be a double murder. The deputy is good at catching piranhas, but at night, he dreams of struggling underwater until he is something else, a squid, a kind of mollusk that never asks questions, lives at the bottom of everything. He enters the barn. The dead girl, bruised and naked, lies behind bales of hay, preserved in their rectangular shadows. The hay, the deputy figures, is piled by reckless hands, cheap labor, negotiated with gold-colored liquor. The day is hot, the air honey-thick and punctuated by dog talk, far-off, the buzzing of other searchers. Crouching. Crouching before her with the skill of a horse whisperer, he imagines maggots festering around wounds, crawling into them. He knows there is some clue here that, if discovered, can make her undead. []

The girl, he concludes, was not meant for this world. She loved cinnamon and cool water and wore dresses with white or pink petals.

He remembers or conjures her.

She was deaf and at the opening of a door, her eyes grew like sunlight. She could paint with her fingers, the shapes of things that came and went. Her father believed in the miracle of old world elixirs, crushed them with pewter and heavy hands. His voice was like grounded glass when instead of a miracle, his daughter remained listless and distant, in the unsettling shades of her flowerings.

At night,

the deputy thinks, she watched a distant fire within her, drew the shape of crackling embers, what her father left her with. Gluttonous for more clues, the deputy feels that she reminds him of a doll, the one his daughter had, the vacant eyes, the rose of small lips, partly open, an impossible stillness. In time, the daughter, the deputy’s, became that doll, the stiff smile, the necrotic tissue and scar of suppressed tantrums. She became a beautiful zombie and disappeared in a quaint village of married hermaphrodites who grew strange flowers and never forgot their first doll.

He sinks next to her

the doll girl with open wounds, picks her up, hay and dust falling from her forgotten lives, [and] carries her to the river. He is careful not to catch the thirsty eyes of other hunters, the skull-thrust chase of dogs. In the water, he lays her down, thinks that here, under it all, a thousand Goldilocks are kept safe and wavering.

and wavering.

The body does not sink at first, but floats, and the deputy is confident that by following along the banks, he will find her murderer. The body floats over the reflection of laurel oak, dogwoods, the sky like a forever gypsum wall, past the edges of sediment and moss. Downstream, she glides over the body of a man the deputy believes is her father, and at that point, she sinks, lies still next to him, their underwater selves now dreamy, forgetful, at peace. [Perhaps] he wished to reclaim what was his, or the thought of himself as something damaged, so easily breakable. [Perhaps] the deputy looks up, listens to the sound of barking dogs, hungry for anything, the subtle shift of scorched earth, and decides that with the heat, it will rain very soon, and




The Punjabi Actress, Elizabeth “Baby Toons” Singh, Freaks Out in a Homeless shelter on Avenue C

"Possible Reasons," from M2-Dash's poetry chapbook, The Scimitar Cult of Elizabeth Singh

Possible Reasons:

Taking too many blue pills to obliterate the taste of Quick-Digest Red.

Too many men named Avinash with long curry tongues piercing the odhani of her genuine modesty.

Her love child, Sunny, cultivates five generations of a new breed of “Lancer rats.”

As a child, she has recurrent nightmares of Cary Grant entering her room at night dressed as a woman & raping her with the pigeon feathers from socially diseased porn stars.

Develops an increasing dependence on street barbiturates known as “Sinking Igloos,” or Sis, for short. In Alphabet city, they're referred to as “gloos”.

Her younger sister Upasana, who played the lovely snake girl in Tarantino’s remake of The Lady Inspector, is found sleeping with her acting coach, a garrulous Pakistani eunuch named Warish, who demands payment to keep soft-voiced.

In interviews with doting biographers who fake Hindi accents, Miss Singh repeatedly emphasizes that she is a transplanted Eurasian Poppy, a beautiful leper who exists to die on a square block of life in Alphabet City that spells "the Idiot Box".

What many believe pushes Elizabeth over the edge is her meeting with the school teacher she once idolized, Mrs. Vishal Prakash, who remarks, “Shiny, my true love child, have you been losing weight?”

Some of this is fuzzy true. None of this is pertinent. I killed Elizabeth Singh.


New York City (Reuters, Sept. 3, 1992)

At approximately 3.A.M. Tuesday night, a woman was found unconscious in the basement floor of a homeless shelter on Loisaida Avenue, East Village. The woman was identified as Elizabeth Singh, the once famous Bollywood “It” girl of the eighties & noted member of the “Terrible Tarantino Clique.” She was a rising star of the Panjabi New Wave "Cowgirl Shooter" Cinema & romantically linked with action star, Avinash Mehta. Miss Singh was rushed to NYU Medical center for detoxification due to a drug overdose of Sis & treatment of bite marks attributed to a virulent strain of the Lancer rat. By late morning, she was pronounced dead. Dr. Mark Strobeson, chief administrator of Acute Care, asks for the prayers of people everywhere.

Her most famous role was in 17 Girls East, where she played the neurotic chain-smoking Bua Hoon, claiming "Munchkins, I feel so cramped inside this idiot box. Give me a gun and one fast horse.”

Miss Singh is survived by a son and a sister, the actress/singer "Baby Habiscus."


They call me Khartoum Eddie. Frankly, and Frank is another name I’m called, I don’t give a scooter's spoke what they call me as long as I’m paid. If they send me to Africa to deliver m&ms to Kadaffi, I'll take my moot scooter and hope it glides across water. High turnover in this biz. Being a motor mouth will get you greased faster than saying M2-Dash's ass is wider than the Holland Tunnel. It's not koo-koo-ka-choo. Everybody's queer son has fucked M2-Dash. But you can’t say nothing because he’s got more connects than a nuclear arms dealer. Married with kids. Okay, it’s his business, he can stuff defanged schizophrenic gerbils up his ass for all I care. Hey, take it down. I got a part-time gig as a bassist in local bands: Metaphysical Penis Envy, Gothic C-Section. We packed The Pyramid, brought the house down. Backed up Nico, once. Sometimes I sucked mangly maw and didn’t show up. That I depend on running for a reliable income is what I’m saying. So it’s a rainy night. No, fuck, not like in those novels the uptown Ivanas read while their husbands still high on Reagannomics go in the shower to masturbate green. It was a paltry rain, a deflated rain. So I get a call from one of M2's "sweetpunks" to run some Big Sis to a place on Loisada. I make the pickup by Lexington, drive my piece of shit scooter with chicken claws for tires, and I’m gonna make the drop past a row of some pre-war cobblestone brick shit. The potholes on this street must be from the last blitzkreig when they were aiming for London and missed. Anyway, I’m thinking everything's koo-koo-ka-choo. I meet the contact inside this rat hole of a joint and he says the lady will pay me. I’m like what lady? Business don't work that way. Do I look whack jack? He says you deal with her or nothing. Pointdexter scoots downstairs. I follow. Taking it down. It’s like dark as M2's ass and more dangerous because every floor board creaks like my goose-necked step mother with two wooden legs getting laid by a Neanderthal stud high on testosterone rock. A rat almost the size of a water hydrant jumps out. I'm expecting fucking Nosferatu & the Lagosi dude next. Pointdexter flicks on a flashlight, the kind they use in the Boy Scouts when a campfire goes out & a few go missing. The woman, who frankly has seen better days, long stringy hair, eyes on separate moon paths, huddled in a corner of the basement, a dress that she must have worn since Dinkins got elected, & she’s talking some strange shit, like I’m tired of living inside this idiot box, can’t you see? & she’s looking at me all wild-eyed, her arms flailing, & I ask for the money up front, and after seven fucking times of repeating myself, she hands me the cash from the inside of a panty, which took her a whole ten minutes to find & which I’m assuming exists, because I didn’t exactly see it. The panty. She could be wearing Nosferatu's jock strap for all I know. So I hand her this mangly maw. Now you have to understand what Super Sis does to you. It can make a freaking polar bear dance on your kitchen table or pretend that it’s a kite. That’s what this shit does. Me, I don’t mess with it. I still wanna play bass upright.

Who Killed Sal Mineo?

Sal Mineo has a sister he calls his "little pigeon." She is twenty-two, and on most days, she stays in bed, hugging a teddy bear that can speak her thoughts. Without it, she is mute. Sal Mineo has named the teddy bear "Mr. Grommet." In fact, Sal Mineo bought Little Pigeon that teddy bear when she was very little, after she learned about the death of her parents.

At first, Mr. Grommet kept her from crying at night. Then it became something else. The two grew to be inseparable in so many ways. At times, Sal Mineo was even jealous, then, dismissed the thought as ridiculous. When Mr. Grommet speaks, his electric eyes light up. Sometimes, Mr. Grommet will say things like, "Sal, I'm out of underwear. Be a dear, would you?" Or, "Sal, I'm hungry. Could you throw something in the oven?" When Little Pigeon is in a good mood, Mr. Grommet will say something like, "Sal, I love you. You're the best brother a girl could have."

Mr. Grommet has no noticeable character flaws.

Sal Mineo promised his mom and dad before they died in a car accident that he would take care of Little Pigeon. When he was busy in his acting career, playing roles like Tonka or Gene Krupa, Sal Mineo went through a slew of housekeepers. If he came home and found his sister crying, or if Mr. Grommet said something like, "I don't like this one. She thinks I'm mental for keeping a teddy bear," Sal would dismiss them on the spot. But now that Sal Mineo is mostly unemployed, (being too old to play troubled teen-agers), he devotes most of his time to keeping Little Pigeon comfortable.

In fact, Sal Mineo's bedroom is next to Little Pigeon's. Sal Mineo has drilled secret peepholes, both in the wall that separates their rooms and in the bathroom door. This way, he can keep an eye on her when she's not looking. Whenever Little Pigeon exposes her breasts, as in say, washing herself, or stepping out of the tub, Sal Mineo blushes and looks away.

Sometimes Sal Mineo has nightmares that Little Pigeon will fall getting out of the tub. She will hit her head against tile, become unconscious, and when she wakes up, she will talk in the high-pitched mechanical voice of Mr. Grommet. She will tell Sal Mineo how much she hates him. She will no longer recognize him as a brother. She will rip Mr. Grommet to shreds. Pieces of plush and velveteen and electric parts will litter his thoughts of her.


One day, Sal Mineo meets a man in a bar. The man introduces himself as Jim Stark. He says he has many connections in the movie industry and has slept with many stars on their way to the top. He claims that Monroe was by far his best lay. Sal Mineo opens up to him about his flagging movie career. He says one day, I have so many scripts coming in and the next, I have nothing. Sal Mineo invites Jim Stark over to his house, the small mansion in Bel-Air.

In the basement, a private projection room, Sal Mineo shows Jim outtakes of the movie, Rebel without a Cause. His heart races when he shows Jim the scene where Sal, playing Plato, a disturbed teen-ager, looks up to James Dean with gleaming awe-struck eyes. In that scene, Plato tells James Dean that he is so brave for standing up to those leather-clad bullies. James Dean tilts his head and gives Plato that modest James Dean smile, a smirk really-one that young girls would die for.

"Do you see, Jim," says Sal Mineo, "do you see how I reached out to American audiences? Thousands of teen-agers were shaped by my performance. I grabbed the heart of young America. Now, now they've forgotten me. I'm burning for a comeback."

Jim Stark rubs his eyes. He tells Sal Mineo that he has an aunt who is an assistant to a producer.

"They're looking for a monkey in a Planet of the Apes sequel. It's not much. It won't win back your old fan base. But it's a good way to start over. You gotta start somewhere."

Sal Mineo refreshes Jim's tall glass of Mimosa Lady, on the rocks.

"No, Jim. I won't start small. I've already been there. I was thinking of auditioning for the next James Bond Film."

Jim laughs and throws his head to one side.

"Sal, you're too short and the producers want an Englishman."

Sal Mineo reminds Jim that Alan Ladd wore lifts in his movies and that Pernell Roberts had to take speech lessons to flatten his dialect.

Later, Sal Mineo offers to show Jim some porn films from his private collection: Lady Chance getting happy with two men in penguin suits, a guy with crazy eyes acting like Jerry Lewis, in top hat and plaid suit, getting humped by Bayou Bristol, Betty Paige getting whipped by two midgets in masks. Or if you prefer, Sal Mineo adds in an off-the-cuff manner-men on men.

Jim Stark shakes his head.

"No, I don't prefer guys doing guys. Although I must admit that in my days as a coffee boy to directors, I did lower my standards on more than one occasion.

Sal Mineo flashes a ravenous smile, throws Jim a wink.

They leave to go upstairs. Jim Stark has stated that he has a long day tomorrow.

In the living room, Jim Stark hands Sal Mineo his business card and tells him he'll be in touch. Sal Mineo gazes into Jim's eyes as if to say I want you to stay.

Suddenly, there are footsteps down the long staircase. Little Pigeon stands stiff, holding Mr. Grommet.

"Who is he?" says Mr. Grommet.

"Just a friend from one of the auditions," says Sal Mineo.

"I didn't know you were going to one," says Mr. Grommet.

Feeling flushed, Sal Mineo turns to look at Jim Stark. He notices how Jim's eyes are now transfixed upon the sight of Little Pigeon in her pink cashmere robe, her soft dark curls. His eyes widen and his lips stretch out but form no sound.

Little Pigeon's eyes grow small, turn frightened. She runs up the stairs.

"I didn't mean to scare her," says Jim Stark.

"It's alright," says Sal Mineo. "She's just afraid of strangers."

Jim Stark heads for the door. He takes one quick look back at the stairway. Once Jim Stark is in his white Cadillac, Sal Mineo waves to him.


It is a warm sunny afternoon. On the sidewalk, every other face is shielded by sunglasses. Important looking men sporting hairy chests and medallions saunter in floral-designed shirts and loud splashy shorts. Movie stars promenade in disguise. There is the feeling, at least to Sal Mineo, that an ocean is somewhere nearby.

At the Moon Over Mexico bar, Jim Stark makes an offer to Sal Mineo. He explains that he will use his pull in Hollywood to land Sal a heavy role in the new Sam Peckinpah movie on the condition that Sal allows him to date his sister.

"She's the most exquisite thing I've laid eyes on since Tuesday Weld," he says, swirling a stirrer in his Lady Dowager, chilled.

Sal Mineo stares at the bar then up at Jim. Trying to explain the situation, Sal Mineo uses both hands, fingers close together, thumbs in the air.

"You don't understand, Jim. She's a very special person. But she has problems. She's not like you and I. She doesn't go outside. Without me, she can't be herself."

Sal Mineo takes a sip of his drink. Jim Stark swivels in his seat, folds his hands. His eyes focus upon Sal Mineo's with the intensity and blistering determination of a lawyer who has never lost a case.

Sal Mineo spreads his fingers and his hands make up and down motions.

"It's like this. One time, years ago, I got her a job in a restaurant some twenty minutes from here. Do you know how long she lasted? Three days. Three days. That's all."

He holds up three fingers. Jim's eyes roll down and back up.

"She burned six trays of orange muffins. The manager took special pains to demonstrate everything. Then she dropped a large pot of pancake batter and was missing for an hour. A waitress found her hiding in a stall in the ladies' room. She was crouched on the toilet seat. She was shaking."

Sal Mineo bows his head, runs his hands across his white chinos, studies his Italian loafers.

"But in some ways, she's special. I mean, like she draws. She loves to draw. Do you know what she draws, Jim? She draws pictures of little children, a boy and a girl. Children playing under sunshine. There's a little dog and a house. Just like the one we lived in back in Brooklyn. And. . .sometimes, she even draws me. I mean it's our secret. But sometimes I pose for her. I could sell her drawings and I would get good money. But I can't, Jim. I won't"

Jim Stark downs the rest of his drink. He rises and says that the offer still stands. He says that he likes a challenge and that he is a sucker for beauty, in whatever form. He leaves.

Sal Mineo swings around, faces himself in the mirror, stares into his own dark soulful eyes. He grips his glass so hard that it might break. But it doesn't.


It's been a bad day. Sal Mineo has just auditioned for a voice-over in a new Disney feature. He read for the voice of Cha-Cha, the magic squirrel, who hides and protects a mysterious acorn with secret powers. Sal Mineo believes he has flunked the audition. A woman with thick black glasses and cropped, red-dyed hair, said, "We'll be in touch." Those words felt like the end of his life.

In the center of the living room he stands, brushes back his thinning hair, considers growing a handlebar mustache. He wonders: Would Little Pigeon approve? He is thinking of bypassing Hollywood and staging a play somewhere, about gay men in prison. The play will earn him new respect as a serious artist. He will once again win the love of the critics.

Suddenly, a scream pierces through the ceiling. A series of them. Sal Mineo rushes upstairs, afraid of what he will find.

There, on the floor, Jim Stark, naked from the waist up, lies bleeding, writhing on the floor. Over him Mr. Grommet stands, holding a stiletto knife. Blood oozes along the edges.

Sal Mineo grabs the knife from Mr. Grommet and attempts to turn Jim Stark on his side. He looks up at the bed. Mr. Grommet is now sitting in Little Pigeon's lap. She is wearing a long nightgown. Her mouth is down-turned and her eyes are frozen.

"He tried to climb into bed with me," says Mr. Grommet. "He tried to touch my breasts and kiss my face. This is what happens when you bring strangers into this house, Salvatore."

Sal Mineo runs to the bathroom, pulls some fresh towels off a bathroom rack, and presses them against Jim Stark's wounds. He dashes to the telephone to call an ambulance.

His words are rushed and jumbling. As he speaks, he looks back at Little Pigeon. Her brown-blossom eyes send secret messages to him, some decodable, some not.


In the hospital room, Sal Mineo sits across from Jim Stark's bed. He has learned from the nurses that fortunately, Jim's wounds are not serious. Sal Mineo leans forward as Jim mumbles something, fading in and out consciousness. Sal Mineo studies the clear IV tubings and a printed warning over the bed that Jim Stark cannot be turned on his back. It is a private room.

Jim Stark opens his eyes and blinks. He is facing Sal Mineo. Jim studies him as if a stranger, then, slowly, he smiles. He tries to prop himself up on one arm, but Sal Mineo waves one hand to signal not to.

"Sal, I've been having the strangest, fucked-up dream. I keep seeing that teddy bear of your sister's. It keeps telling me to stay away. It keeps stabbing me."

Jim Stark's eyes widen, stare at Sal Mineo who is sitting poised, legs-crossed.

"Can a teddy bear stab you, Sal? Is that possible?"

Sal Mineo rises from his chair, stands close to Jim's bed.

"No, Jim. That's not possible. It's just silly. It's just the painkillers they've been giving you. They're making you dream silly thoughts."

With lips parted, eyes unfocused, Jim Stark looks up at Sal Mineo. It is a look that cries for a sense of cohesion.

"Now, Jim. I don't want you worrying about anything. I'm going to use some of my parents' inheritance to help cover these hospital bills and throw you something extra. And you know what, Jim? I'm going to invite you back to my house. I want us to stay friends because that's important to me. You won't have to be afraid of my sister because you'll never visit her again. I'll be there. My sister cannot deny me my friends. And you're going to get me that role, Jim. Because you owe me that. After all, you tried to rape my sister. I think it's just a big misunderstanding. That's all it is, Jim. We're going to start fresh all over again."

Sal Mineo works up a smile. He bends over, kisses Jim on the cheek. Then, he slides one hand under the sheets, under Jim's hospital gown, rubs Jim's naked thigh, up and down.


It is the morning of Little Pigeon's birthday. Today she is twenty-three years old. Sal Mineo gently pokes her shoulder. She wakes and yawns. Next to her, Mr. Grommet opens his eyes and says, "Good Morning, Handsome."

"Do you know what day it is," says Sal.

Mr. Grommet rubs his eyes. Little Pigeon lifts her head, tilts it slightly.

"Today is the birthday of the most beautiful princess in the world. Here. I have a present for you."

Sal Mineo has already ordered her a special ten-layered cake, but this present is the best one he can give her. For months, he has prepared this gift.

He takes her by the hand. Mr. Grommet dangles from her other one.

He leads her to their parents' bedroom, which has stayed closed for years. Inside, he turns around and puts one finger to his lips.

"You must be very quiet," he says. "They don't like being startled."

He opens a trap door, crouches. Little Pigeon does the same. Then, he turns on a dim overhead light.

The secret room is full of teddy bears, all sizes and shapes, multi-colored. They are composed of all kinds of fabrics: nylon, velveteen, wool, rayon, corduroy, suede, real and fake fur. Their eyes are huge and smiling. Sal Mineo introduces each by name: Sooty, Rupert, Pudsy…

Mr. Grommet's electric eyes light up.

"Oh, my God," says Mr. Grommet, "we have brothers and sisters. A whole world of them! Our own private neighborhood."

Sal Mineo looks lovingly at his sister. She places one hand on his face, then kisses him square on the lips.

"Can they talk?" asks Mr. Grommet, whom Sal Mineo imagines is blushing all shades of teddy bear plush.

"No. They're just teddy bears. They do what teddy bears are supposed to do. They're just cute and cuddly."

Sal Mineo grips his sister's hand. Harder.

"Don't you think it's time you gave up Mr. Grommet? He's getting old. He's getting tired. He wants to die. He wants you to speak without him. It's his last gift to you."

Squeezing Mr. Grommet to her chest, Little Pigeon fumbles, crawls out of the small room. Sal Mineo follows her out.

"Wait!" he cries.

She is standing at the far window of their parents' room where she holds Mr. Grommet against her cheek. Mr. Grommet, nestled against Little Pigeon, faces Sal Mineo, as if to mock him with that innocent smile.

"You're a big girl now, Little Pigeon. You must learn to do the things that big girls do. You must give up Mr. Grommet. He's all used up. You can have all the teddy bears in the world. But Mr. Grommet must go."

Little Pigeon's body softly sways in the shaft of sunlight streaming in from the window.

"I'll never die. I'll never grow old, Salvatore. You know I'm a very special teddy. I can't be replaced. I'm part of this family and always will be," says Mr. Grommet.


Sal Mineo is posing nude for his sister. She is sitting up in bed, making charcoal marks across a large rectangle of paper. At times, she smudges lines, then, tears up the paper, starts a new one.

Sal knows he makes a brilliant model. He was told that when he was younger. His body is slender and firm, his waist chiseled, his legs toned, shapely.

On the floor, Mr. Grommet studies Sal Mineo from one angle, then, walks to the other side, and with hairy paw under chin, analyzes the pose from a different perspective.

"Salvatore," says Mr. Grommet, "I want to draw you with an erection. Now, listen carefully. Say the first thing on your mind that will get you excited."

"A what? What did you say?"

At first, Sal Mineo is shocked. He has never heard that word uttered from the lips of Mr. Grommet. Then the thought hits him. The projection room.

"Little Pigeon. You've been sneaking downstairs, haven't you? You've been watching those naughty movies."

Little Pigeon offers a slow, painful smile. She peers down at Mr. Grommet, who is looking up at Sal Mineo with those big teddy bear eyes.

"Please don't ever do that again. Stay out of my private projection room."

Little Pigeon refuses to meet Sal Mineo's hard gaze.

"Now please rephrase that question," says Sal Mineo.

"Alright. What is the most beautiful thing that first comes to mind," says Mr. Grommet.

"Okay," says Sal Mineo, "let me see. . ."

"No no," says Mr. Grommet, "no thinking. The very first thing."

Little Pigeon keeps making charcoal streaks across paper, then rips them up.

"Jim Stark. . .No. I didn't mean that. I don't know why I said that."

Little Pigeon looks up at Sal. Her face is slightly red, saddened.

"This isn't working," says Mr. Grommet. "I want to draw you reclining. Get on the floor. On your side."

Sal Mineo obliges, head supported by one cupped hand, his legs crossing over.

"Okay. Let's try a different perspective. Get on your back. Place both hands behind your head."

Sal Mineo turns on his back. A smile drifts over his face.

"Pull one leg up. Be relaxed. I magine you're in a sunny field of daises and clover," says Mr. Grommet.

Sal Mineo draws one knee up. His head is arched back, elbows pointed to the ceiling.

"Close your eyes," says Mr. Grommet in a hushed tone.

He does. He is dreaming of Jim Stark, naked as he.

For some reason, Sal Mineo can no longer hear the sound of charcoal marking, scraping the paper. He is tempted to open his eyes and shift positions, but he knows that for a model, the worst one can do is to ruin the artist's concentration. A drawing will never get done.

The thrusts are powerful and sharp. They rip into the ground of daisies and clover, into the thin film of memory unraveling, into his flesh. At first, he imagines that it is Jim Stark who is being knifed and not himself. Sal Mineo screams, opens his eyes. Mr. Grommet stands over him, holding the same knife that once cut through the flesh of Jim Stark.

"You've lied to me, Salvatore. Just like you've been watching me, I've been watching you. I have four eyes, you know. I've seen you and that Stark fellow sleeping together in the den room. You've been performing sex acts on the couch, haven't you? You once made a promise, Salvatore. You would only love me, and I would only love you. Promises are not made to be broken. Else, what's the sense of making them?"

With teeth clenched, Sal Mineo takes one long agonizing look at his sister.

Little Pigeon grabs the knife from Mr. Grommet. She begins to stab him in repeated strokes until he is nothing more than a scatter of plush on the floor. She turns to stare down at her brother, still writhing.

"Are you happy now, Salvatore? Mr. Grommet is dead. Tomorrow, I shall go shopping. I will buy myself expensive dresses and become an actress. I will play the parts of delicate girls, who will become stunted exotic trees. The most beautiful Hollywood men will smother me with affection. Aging actresses will take me under their wing. Audiences across the world will adore me. They will fall in love with the sound of my silky wispy voice. A velvet voice. My own puppet."

Gazing past the pool of blood, Sal Mineo lingers on Mr. Grommet's eyes, detached from the body, glassy, staring up at the ceiling.

He struggles to crawl across the floor. The thrusts, he believes, have penetrated his chest. He is dizzy, losing so much blood. He writhes and struggles towards the bathroom, but for God knows what. Then, he thinks of the telephone in his room. He tries to stand, his arm reaching for, missing the handset by a good half-foot. He crumbles to his knees, the way Plato did in that scene from Rebel Without a Cause, where he is mistakenly shot by the cops.

This is Sal Mineo's last performance, his final celluloid thought-that this is truly the end of a short, and at one time, very promising career.

You're Talking in Your Sleep


I would like to believe it. I would like to believe that I live in a house without shackles, without the need to barricade myself from intruders, a thousand eyes from private nightmares. Or whispers in the dark. No. It is a house in the desert, a house cursed with sticking windows and torn shutters, creaking floors, peeling walls - always more work, work, work.

And in the distance, beyond the baby cactus, the tips of serrated mountains pierce orange mushroom clouds. Before the sun sinks, I watch those clouds dissolve, hear them exhale. Vapor is what I'm always left with.

No. Few people drive by here.

Now, I have this secret. I know somewhere near is a site the military uses to test swift and invisible bombs, so nerve-racking that my house of splinters and rotten wood shakes, vibrations loosening the frames and the joists and the rafters. Oh, my mattress is a poor buffer. Don't get much sleep. Night is what I dread most.

Those planes overhead.

Cataplexy, narcolepsy, sleep deprivation. Which do I have? Need to do more research.

I get this crazy notion from time to time that one night I will sleepwalk out my front door, walk for miles, through valleys and dried ravines. And my body, as if in cruise control, will wander into a target area, prohibited to civilians, alert or not. I will keep walking until some recruit, green and trigger happy, fires warning shots, a volley of them, until he screams.

And I am hit.


The sensation of air rushing through my organs - the heat of so many back drafts. (And will I keep walking as insubstantial as a phantom? Will I slip through the holes of that fence the recruit is so diligently guarding?)


For thirty years, I have supported my daytime life with a circus line-up of jobs. Drove a truck. Repaired jeeps. Pumped gas. Was your anonymous maintenance man tightening leaky pipes, or your plastic smiling bank teller until fired for handing an incorrect withdrawal to a supervisor impersonating a customer. (To this day, I still curse the slick-oiled son of a bitch.)

But my favorite job is still the all-night diner, a truck stop for bleary-eyed bastards like me. I always think of it as a clean well-lighted fallout shelter from nuclear nightmares of your skin burning, eroding - the radiation from so many fire fights. No, that diner affords me the luxury of sleeping during the day.

Oh, we daytime zombies. Few people know about us. Or what we think about at night. Do we howl with the hyenas? Share dreams with the wombats? Slither with the lizards. The shadow of the gecko hovers in our palms.

My small income is supplemented by government checks. My eyes, growing bat-blind with age, can barely make out the fine print on the stubs. Shrinking, shrinking, each month.


During the war, the Army handed me Order 19, to kill a snitch. Stationed me with a girl, with a special radio to decipher enemy broadcasts. In a remote village hut, not so remote from purple jacket corpses, we drew maps of secret tunnels and supply routes like squiggly lines. I was a trained cartographer and had volunteered for special assignment.

Her name, she said, was Chez, pronounced the way the French would say it, but HQ pronounced it with a Z. A girl with so many cats, to chase so many rats. In her hut of bamboo and noni pulp, we played Texas poker into the middle of the night, until I lost my shirt, or she hers. "Next time," she said, sitting in lotus position, "you will let me win because I have no money. Food is not cheap. Pigs are getting scarce. Fish die from contamination. I wish to live long enough to take care of my mother. What is your mother like, Private?"

She was about my age, twenty or slightly older, and claimed she was taught the game by an American intelligence officer. She said she was schooled by French missionaries, that she had once wanted to teach English, and expounded nothing more about her past.

We became each other's snug fever tree, arms entwined, bruised vines, clinging in the thick of night. This shaky thing called love or something like it. Ask the crickets rubbing their legs under the stars. What else does one have against a squad of leeches, armed with pins and needles, or sucking blood in the quick of a heartbeat. You don't know your lover's real name.

"Ever been to France, soldier?" she asked. "So lovey dovey.'' She applied mud, from a river of copper and red to her face twice a week. "Like the American girls do," she said. "Don't they?"

She was tall and sleek, pigeon-toed, a face delicate as my sister's glass snapdragons back home. That is how I recall her through the lens of a backward green thought.

Each morning, she rode her bicycle up north to her job at the pawn shop, which sold hot radios, transmitters, procured from the bodies of dead grunts. Chao ban, Chao ban, I heard her say to the old village women as her bicycle became a black blur upon the path leading to a rainforest.

She worked for a Chinaman. In the backroom, I imagine static and a hot busted radio, with signals the VC could jam. In that backroom, I imagined this dirty, old man groping for her, or her screeching to stop, stop, stop, in the scratchy voice of a Transistor Sister or a Laryngitis Lil.

One day, any day, a day like today, we stood in a pine forest, in a prism of sunbeams dancing over our faces. She tripped over a pile of stones and twigs, shaped like a triangle, or planchette.

She dropped her straw basket, where she would hide decoded messages and secret maps of VC ammo dumps. And when I stooped to retrieve it, she brushed me away, and planted herself against the trunk of a palmyra tree, its branches slightly drooping with the weight of yellow fruits.

With eyes dizzy and laughing, she took several coquettish steps towards me. My handsome soldier, she said, take me back to America, when your tour of duty is over. We'll have three kids and a backyard of pigs or chickens.

And yes, cats too, she said. Why not? Our babies will have shining eyes of onyx or sapphire. They will have bubbly sweet faces the world will never disown. Like us at the edge of the world. Would we really need maps? Someday, we will burn all maps. Citizens of Nowhere.

She dipped her head towards her chest and peered, smirked at me like a bashful but mischievous child. Her eyes grew large. I thought of coins that could magnetize and what their going price would be on the black market. Her voice grew quiet and somber.

"Yes, babies," she said. "So lovey dovey - and you know what? Do you know you talk in your sleep?"

"How would I know,'' I said. I slung the carbine from one tired and sore shoulder.

She shook a finger and paced in front of me.

"You keep telling me to take a different path. You know that? Ha Ha. You do. The one I take is dangerous and full of landmines. Snipers in the mist. It is what you say.''

She smiled queerly and rolled her eyes upward. Her voice took on a musical tone.

"Told me everything in your sleep. How you've followed me to the shop, and through your wires and decoders have listened to me give the Chinaman your real name. I begged him to spare you. In exchange for a dragon girl's dark-eyed swamp and the taste of salt from her alligator tears, I had him spare you."

The flesh around my right cheek began to tighten and knot; I could feel a twitch and a pulsing around my temples.

She stood still before me, arms at her sides. The ends of her lips pinched inwards, then, the chin quivering, the eyes, indigo-dark and straining, turning somewhat misty. But no, a smile spread like a stretch of daybreak.

"Yes. In your sleep, you keep saying my real name. Would you really kill this humble village girl? Your soul butterfly? Cut her heart like slicing a teabag? Would you?''

Would you?

Her face shook and tilted.

"Am I nothing more than a cheap transistor?"

I turned my eyes from her black gaze and focused them towards the middle of her forehead.

For some reason, I thought of the passing of childhood, the drone of so many hot days and lazy summers. I remembered the feeling of butterscotch taffy, Mary Janes, melting in my hand, on the way home from school. The melting candy was my lifeline. I grew sentimental over this lost childhood, perhaps corrupted by memory.

Then, I slowly raised my carbine to my right cheek and squinted at her dandelion smile, her baby moon of a belly. My hands shook. I imagined the Chinaman's hands never shook.

"I am a silly girl, but not afraid. You worry too much for a soldier. Too much at night. Somebody is always listening. You talk in your sleep.''

"Chez, I love you.''

"Huh? You love me?"


"Yes? …You piece of shit!"

I shot her.


The desert, like war, sometimes produces fruits.

Got a lady friend, named Kia, a plump woman with long straight hair and dark, gleaming eyes, black planets nestled within fluted eye folds. I love her honeydew smile, her skin, her cheeks, the texture of ripe fruit in the sun, as I only could imagine it from a distance, and with the sun in my eyes. I gave her a ride to town once; I couldn't see her walking miles in bare feet and under that bleaching sun. And those feet! So toughened, the wrinkles turning to strings of muscles, the soles to sandpaper. Real sandpiper she is. I invited her over one afternoon. My house now has become her second home. So much time on her hands, she says, since her husband died.

In my living room, I draw sketches of her. Circles and polygons that overlap. She laughs. Too thin, she says, too young. Not me. Ha Ha. I wish. But the eyes - yes! The eyes maybe.

In return, she knits me blankets, designs of horses, women carrying jugs, bare breasted Zuni food gatherers. Promises they will keep me from having bad dreams.

And after dinner, I sometimes play for her scratched records, Dorsey, Sinatra, my old man's swing collection, or some old Presley: Blue Hawaii, Love Me Tender. Under the living room light, unsheathed and flickering, we do a simple two-step. If only my feet could move the way they once did. Dinosaur feet. Arthritic phalanges. Troglodyte joints.

Plant dynamite under my ass!

This bad habit, like stealing someone's cookies, I can never forgive myself for. While she knits materials for a new dress or lampshade, sitting poised in my cushioned arm chair, I fall asleep.

Her quizzical smile greets me when I awake. She is looking straight into my face. So remorselessly into it. Like a mother you told your bad dream to while you dreamt it. "I'm sorry,'' I say, "didn't mean to be rude. Dinner makes me nod out.''

"Did anyone ever tell you,"she asks,'' that you talk in your sleep?''

No, I tell her.

"Well, you keep going on how I must be careful not to walk the same route, because of the soldiers. You know… I've never seen these soldiers… you talk about. Or these airplanes you hear. The air bases? There are none around. Do you know what your problem is? Do you? You need a good night's sleep.''

A good night's sleep.

Through the fogginess of my unfocused eyes, eyes that are crusty dream-catchers, or dream-losers, I can no longer tell if it is day or night, my house a hut, or a sanctuary in a desert or rain forest. I watch her slow dandelion smile spread and that glint in her eyes that I remembered from so many years ago. She slides to the edge of the couch.

"We haven't aged too badly, have we, Private?''

My lips begin to quiver, to press against each other, as if by their own volition, as if to utter the name of some rare, exotic jackfruit I had tasted so long ago. My mouth can form no sound.

I imagine a gaping hole somewhere in her chest, a sucking wound under her blouse that allows the air to seep and rush through. That is her secret. She will show no stranger, no friend, except me, someday. Perhaps after a slow dance. Perhaps after I whisper in her ear that we will never betray each other again on a slow afternoon of sunbeams and sun-halos that make you drunk and trigger-happy/sad.

She rises, walks away, then, at a good distance from the house, she turns, squinting with the drowsy sun in her eyes, and waves good bye.

I watch her saunter into the distance until she is a thought fading or floating away. And nothing more. I listen to the gap between my breaths, how it measures and echoes the memory of desert, this desert, land shifts, the depth and stretch of canyons, their winding and vacuous grin. I know that I will never feel the need for sleep again.

The Ubiquity of Death(published in Tryptich, 2007, last issue)

Mickey C.

(May 1993-Feb. 2006)

I always wanted a dog. Not just any dog. I wanted Ginger, our neighbor‘s dog. Maybe because a kid like me didn’t have many friends, real friends, and a dog never goes out of its way to diss you, the way Herman Freeley did, who lifted weights in front of his fly-faced girlfriend in a garage smelling of grease and dust and old car exhaust.

One time, in front of his friends at a party, his parents away at Coney Island, he challenged me to pull down my pants and compare dick sizes. I walked away. wanting no part of it. All his friends, including a circle of older Freshman girls drunk on cider, started calling me and Jimmy McWalsh pussies. I used to hear them laughing in my sleep. Dogs, I thought, made more sense.

Ginger was a Boston Terrier, with an black wet nose and a shaggy, checkered coat, She had human eyes that were large and black, pleading for scraps of my attention, attention her owner, a kid seven years younger than me, would not feed her.

Somewhere towards the end of spring, Ginger started to wait for me outside the main door of PS 13, and strangers on the way home would stoop down and pet Ginger, and ask me all kinds of questions, and I told them I had her since she was a pup. I felt important.

So, my parents sat me down one night, and my mother did most of the talking while my father listened. “You know,” my mother said, rubbing one side of her face where there was big, blotchy hive, “your father and I think you’re spending too much time with Cory Anderson’s dog. After all, it is his.”

I waited for her to say something more, something final. But she kept fidgeting with her blouse, and my father kept peeking out the window. Then, he came clopping back in his oversized felt slippers and asked me if I wanted them to buy me a dog. No, I said. No need to. With a red spider-like pattern spreading down the side where she scratched, my mother’s face perked up.

“We’re not telling you that you can’t play with the dog, just not so much.”


Not so much, said dad.

Too much, said mom.


My mother looked at my father. Maybe for stronger words of advice. But none came. They just smiled at me as if the whole thing was settled. It was settled before they spoke to me.

Well, later I heard that my older brother, Sean, who worked as a mechanic’s helper at the Exon, got into a big fight with Herman Freeley because Herman dissed me to my brother’s face. You have to understand that my brother never took shit from no one, even though he didn’t lift weights and all, and supposedly, he kicked Herman’s ass so bad that his face looked like some platter of my mother’s spaghetti with too much marinara sauce. The kind that my father always complained about was like chewing string. So, Herman, I figured, who was now old enough to drive, would never bother me again, and I couldn’t kick his ass the way my brother did.

So, one day, a sunny day, not one cloud to disturb the sky, me and Ginger went riding down Parker’s lane on my Schwinn, Ginger sat up front in a wicker basket tied to the handlebars, one I made from scratch, she, perched so prim like some Terrier diva too proud to sniff the ground.

There were hardly any cars and we were just taking in the view of those white sturdy houses with gardens of robust colors, and before you know it, I heard some car behind us, slowing down, engine grumbling and a gang of loudmouths jeering us.

I turned around and it was Herman Freeley and his obnoxious friends who always pretended they were gangsta rappers or something, acting like big shit wise guys who weren’t worth a dime, and the car pulled up, veered towards us; I steered away towards the curb, and Herman zoomed down the street, me watching him, cursing him like rain on a barbecue, and he turned around again, edging closer behind me, now, directly on my side, saying from the driver’s window, “Where’s your brother, now, No-Nuts;” so, I pedaled like crazy and he was sticking besides me like sealant, Ginger barking, up on her elbows, and suddenly, he swerved into my bike, Ginger thrown from the basket like flying popcorn, her head splattered against the window of a parked car, and me spitting up a broken tooth from the pavement.

I picked myself up, ran to Ginger, noticed the blood pooling from the back of her head, some weak attempts to move but then none, and Freeley driving around again, this time, no one yelling; I ran to the front of his car, stood there trembling, hurting like I imagined a television cowboy shot full of holes, yet ready to take on the world, the brakes screeched, but too late; you can’t get away with this I thought, and for one everlasting instant, someone yelling, stop the fucking car, you’re going to kill him; it’s too late, and the feel of hard heavy metal smashing against my knees, blood sputtering from below, tossed into the air, floating in space like I could find Ginger a chance in a million, maybe the both of us free wheeling in space forever or maybe me and Ginger on some cosmic roller coaster ride, wearing blindfolds, afraid to take them off, picturing me and her bouncing off clouds, and without the numbness traveling up my spine, and on the way down, thinking the pavement, hitting it, how my skull would explode, couldn’t open my eyes, and Ginger

Lucretia M.

(May 1952-January 2006)

I am a square man living in a rectangular house situated in a neighborhood you might describe as trapezoidal by county drawn boundaries, zoning laws. The zoning laws are something I have little control over. I am a square man, thirsting, a burning proclivity for circles, yet at times, I find myself fluctuating, oscillating between choosing the solitariness of a square design or the envelopment of a circular one.

You cannot cheat or become tricky by claiming you can compromise by fitting yourself, your person, within the confines of various formed polygons, ie., hexagons, heptagons, octagons, what have you, within the confines, the demands imposed by a marriage.

In the last mentioned forms you are enclosed and you are not afforded the communal living, the communal space a circle forces upon you. You might think of it this way: in a circle you have a democracy, a sharing, thrust upon you. Walk around the perimeter of a circle on any given day and sooner or later, you will converse or touch another person, feeling the same as you, terrified or tired of the monotonous expanse the area of a circle affords.

In a circle, you are forced, if you attempt to travel to its interior, to recognize the other and deal with that person, your spouse, your lover, even your dog, Ginger, as someone who shares your circle, ie., the situation of being enclosed as a unit.

In a polygon, tailored fit to suit your form, you are your own dictator. A polygon is your own private Idaho. A polygon is an intensely private matter and is not subject to the rules and regulations of zoning boards, public committees, public superintendents who pontificate endlessly etc. In a polygon you can masturbate dreaming of that hunk or vixen without the fear of someone enclosed in their own private square watching you. In this sense, a square design allows you the luxury of touching yourself, but not the richness, the diversity, of being touched by others.

Never get squares and circles mixed up. Never mistake a veteran isolationist believing the world is still flat for a blushing newly wed dreaming of swimming around the world with her husband. Never mistake a hexagon for something oblong or round. There is a big difference.

As I was saying. I am a man like any other except that I work in a bank, and I am club footed. On some days, when I am not torn between circles and squares, I am sure headed and rock-ribbed. I once had a wife who was soft hearted and distant. I am a man just like you, if you extend the definition of man to include both male and female. Think of a Venn diagram. Or one large circle with two enclosed within it. I am a man just like you, except I once had a square wife and you probably still do. If you are a woman, think in transpositions.

It is not easy declaring that the rectangular design of one‘s living arrangements was a failure, did not come without reflecting on past experiences, mistakes, upon the exact consequences of entering into a circular arrangement but insisting it be polygonal in shape and dimensions.

My wife and I were once two square people living apart in a house of similar design until her intentions burst forth, like a hidden circle trapped with a polygon, turning bold and spherical, the kind you see on the back of cereal boxes, those children’s puzzles, and she ended her life. I found her hanging in the bathroom, a room with dimensions, five feet wide, six feet long, yes, a rectangular shape; it was very much a private decision.

The moment I found her strung up in that bathroom, I did not perform the practical sort of action one expects to perform in the heat of an emergency. I did not run to the phone nor did I free her from the horizontal pole, a very sturdy one, I might add, approximately seven cubic centimeters thick. Nor did I go about with the usual attempts at grooming, washing, brushing one’s teeth, certainly did not disrespect her by disrobing and sitting on the toilet while she hung suspended like a surrealist film maker’s idea of a mute puppet. After all, I thought, this was once my wife.

I simply stood there watching the swaying of her body as it approached the rhythm of a metronome or the clicking of an invisible clock one might hear on old game shows, the repeats shown late at night. It was the statement of a body reaching its goal of inertia. The feet dangling, the slippers half-off, the arms slack, the head bent at roughly a 15 degree angle, described, I thought, an attempt at a half-circle, an arc. But no, I realized. Her feet traced a straight, even though jagged, line, one-fourth of the perimeter of a square, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I can’t tell how you long I stood there. I can only tell you that I approximated the movements as five inches either way, give or take one-eighth of an inch, and slowing down, perhaps only one-sixteenth of one. And without a ruler.

Richard M.

(May 1982-)

Think of a man who obsesses over his own death, so much so, that each day he rushes home from work, pets his dog, Ginger, spreads the pages of the day’s paper, and looks for his name in the obituaries. For him, it is like thinking, searching crazily for that one word in a crossword puzzle, a word with four easily pronounced syllables, that he would have no trouble remembering if he were not so frantic, so coiled within himself, so hot as a live wire.

He now misses work, doctor appointments, internet chat rooms, dates with women who tell stories about themselves or disrobe after admitting they had just come from a funeral. He stares vacantly at the TV, with at least 7 different papers with 21 pages of obituaries lying at his feet, wrinkled, crumpled, some puffed like clumsy attempts at building a pup tent. None contains his name.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this could be me. I’m thinking this could be Richard.

He becomes increasingly withdrawn, forgets to shave, cook food or microwaves it only half-way; his buttons are crooked, his shoe laces only loosely looped. His only hope is to buy tomorrow’s paper. He wanders the streets, pondering whether there could be anything deeper than life itself. Life is a boil on the neck. Life is as orgasmic as taking a foreign language course on CD. Life is a serpentine course that comes to no climax or amazing victory. Life is a speechless enterprise.

And all this goes to show that there is a vast difference between being somewhere and thinking about being somewhere. Or perhaps one should not take great pains to find something that will only find you, just when you least expect it, just when you finished your morning coffee, just when your doctor started you on a new angina regimen, just when you decided to give up on crossword puzzles or smoking, just when you decided to give up jelly doughnuts and Slim Jims, just when you decided to walk into someone’s funeral without clothes and jump into the casket next to the body, just like Richard’s present girlfriend does, just when you decided to look at things afresh, like a praying mantis on its back, like a Japanese beetle overturned at the bottom of a jar.

The Other Side of this World (published in Clockwise Cat, 2007)

Tonight at Happy Rooster’s everything is full of false smiles and buttery promises that swirl, swirl, until they don‘t. The girl next to me could laugh at a decapitation at the bottom of her drink, a color the consistency of tan shoe polish, as easily as she could order from Netflix.

Now, I’m thinking cosmos, quarks, & light years. A light year is 5.875 trillion miles which is the distance I took stepping backwards from the age of one & on & landed like an alien worm, here. HUH? She says, spilling her drink on my nasty Reeboks, soles worn paper-thin.

Shooting stars, I say. Asteroids. Meteors faster than hurling a rock glass at a trick. Suppose an asteroid crashed into this bar, I ask her. We’d be turned into incandescent matter, which is kind of nifty.

But all she can talk about is the guy she picked up the other night & how they did it doggy-style while she imagined her reflection on a dark TV screen. I mean, like she thought the dude would cast her in a porn flick and then write a biography about her tragic and exploited life.

At the hotel desk, I sign a name that rhymes with Buster or Chester or Wooster. & in the room, which looks like the insides of a nuked-out grapefruit, we fall across the bed like two wooden poles wrenched from the ground by poachers which doesn’t rhyme with my real name. If I can remember it.

& I’m thinking somewhere across the world is a king and queen reigning over an island called New Papua, over transparent blue water & a beach studded with blue sea turtles. & this king orders the cooks to serve sliced pineapples & goat’s cheese with some lemon rinds lemon rinds just to remind the queen what it’s like living on the other side of this world that sometimes leaks water from the other side, now turgid, from ceiling cracks and holes & into my space-age Reeboks, over the creased soles of this girl’s bare feet sticking out from under the sheets, like two children in the darkness pretending to be ghosts.

_Are we ghosts_?

In the morning we walk through the city as if searching for a bar on the sun that serves Cuba Libres or tall glasses of Sprite to sweeten our hangovers. We are two astronauts stranded with our head gear and gravity boots ‘cuz we wince at each other's face, no longer recognizable & we yearn for our downtown selves that we donned last night. If I could invent a new world, it would be a bar that never closes and serves drinks that could transform you into somebody richer. The morning sun bruises my eyes.

& I think it was the same for a few moments, just a few, when Aldrin and Armstrong landed on a vast star, planting a flag recognized by neither the Vulcans or Klingons. & the way our heads hum with the vast solitude of space, like we‘re two hood hominoids, looking for a love, precious and destructive as Dilithium.

And me pretending that this crazy chick, who forgot her sneakers at the hotel, is really the Grand Qaal of Eulus, or just another outcast like myself exiled from the Federation of Planets. & I can‘t imagine anyone living on the other side of this world, who wouldn't want to be somebody else in movies & who doesn't suffer from hangovers after spending the night staring up into a florescent light & dreaming what life could be like on the other side of the sun.

My Date with Edgar Allen Poe

Now, if someone is tellin' you that she had a date with Edgar Allen Poe, you might be tempted to say, "Hey, sister, what kind of drugs you be doin' for
the last two days?" But I swear on my Aunt Boo's chastity belt that's what went down and with my kinda luck, shit like this is always going down.

It starts out like this. My old man ditched me for some hussy sister from Summer Street, who I thought was my best friend. Okay. Okay. I can deal with
it. I'm dealin' with it. Even though the way she be bouncin' her butt down Springfield has got even the old geesers hootin' out of their windows.

Just let it fly, girl, I say. Tomorrow Mr. Right might come your way. But what's takin' him so damn long? He get lost down Central?

So, I starts like corresponding with all these internet people and all, some weirder than my Uncle Toby who still be thinkin' he was married to Boo and not Lenore. Hell, it was Lenore he was married to for forty years. Boo won't put out for a man if he owned a house on East Hampton and owned seventeen

So, I be checkin' out the prospects and this guy and me, who calls himself Edgar Allen Poe, are exchangin' messages. I mean all I'm lookin' for is a
guy who can hold down a job more than a week, treat me nice, and maybe once in a while, give me a bubble bath with some sweet flower-smellin' body oil
that makes me think I'm Oprah. Although I gotta admit the dude can't be the Edgar Allen Poe they had me read out loud in school, some crazy shit poem about a girl who be wearin' bells, or somethin' goin' bells, and in fact, think the sister's name was Belle.

And hell, I'm thinkin' it might be kinda fun to date a white guy. Tell all my girlfriends "Hey, you know what? I'm seein' a white guy. Tell all the brothers." White as my Aunt Toby's fried pork chops.

So, for the first date, I be dressin' to kill, wearin' this leopard print dress and all, so tight that when I exhale I think the dress is gonna turn
see-through. And a pair of motha' pumps that give me an extra lift, so a man knows what kind of sister he be dealing with. And just in case Edgar turns
out fruity. I throw in a can of mace, some scissors, hair spray, and a couple of cork screws just in case the waters get a little rough, you know what I mean?

Maybe Edgar just frontin' cause he's like that rich dude who lived like a recluse and flew planes. I don't think he washed his socks none, neither. I
think he was married to that white lady, Dinah Shore.

So, it's takin' me forever to find Edgar's house, out in the boondocks somewhere, and the place ain't even on my damn GPS. All I'm seein' is trees
and hills and side roads and I keep callin' Edgar on my cell, and say "Yo, Edgar, like where is this place? Do I need a helicopter to find it or somethin', like Michael Jackson's? And he keeps tellin' me to keep makin' a left, and another left and another one. Damn, I made so many lefts, I'm
probably back where I started.

Well, finally I find this big dumb-ass house and this butler, all baldy and stiff and bug-eyed, lookin' like he gets high on lard or somethin' opens
the door says, "Mr. Poe has been expectin' you, Madame." The door kinda creaked open and I'm thinkin' Yo man, don't you guys ever hear of oil or elbow grease or something? The house is huge. But it could use some dustin'. Be needin' a woman worse
than my Uncle Toby whenever he starts tap dancing all alone in his room.

So, Edgar and I are gettin' cozy and all, sharing the same sofa, and he be talking all kinds of shit. Things like "The beauty of your love is unassailable." He's got me laughin' worse than Uncle Toby when he talks about how he courted Aunt Boo when he means Lenore I ask Edgar if he lives here alone and he says no, he shares it with his sister. But I ain't seen no sister yet, I mean, a blood sister unless he's got one hidin' under the couch.
After three glasses of red wine, Edgar says he wants to show me the upstairs rooms. And I'm thinkin' hold on, girl, Edgar's movin' kind of fast here,
even though he don't know how to French kiss like the bartender from the DLV lounge.

So, he takes me into this monsta size bedroom, and the bed's big enough to hold me, Boo, Elinore, Toby, and the brother from the DLV lounge with room to spare. And I'm just waitin' for him to make a move, like undress me with his eyes and all, then the rest of my body parts. But I notice there's a closed coffin in the room. What's up with that? What's a coffin doin' in a bedroom?

Well, the lid opens and there's this lady in a white fleecy nightgown and looking like she just woke up after fifteen years of hibernatin' and Edgar says "Oh, Lorelai, honey, you must get back to the cellar. We have visitors."

And I figure this must be his sister, the way she just be staring out, the way Uncle Toby does after three pints of plum brandy. He takes her by the
arm and all and tells me he'll be right back. Yeah, like I'm gonna wait for him. No way. This sister is out the door faster than a bat out of the basement and I think Edgar might have some of them down there too.

Burning in Pairs

You remember the green lake. You remember the green lake at orange, glossy sunsets, the way the September
sunlight would impose a warm sheen to everything in water, the floating moss, lily pads, reflections of twigs and
branches, quivering. The trees, delicate, scarred your line of sight, the way tall blades hung languidly and without
apparent purpose. And you would sit losing all track of time, until the moon would stare back at you. There was
always this feeling of exploring rooms in a house that no one lives in anymore.

You remember me. Don't you? I'd drive you to the water on Sunday afternoons in my father's new Chrysler.

And on those days, in late afternoon, we'd lie for hours in a thick sea of grass, you, breaking off petals of white
and yellow flowers that never owned names, throwing them swiftly and without articulated motion. Then, reclining
back, your face was peaceful, exposing a cluster of freckles around your nose, your chestnut hair blowing in my
face as I reached for a bottle of cola, popping, fizzing. I'd edge to your blue knitted sweater, just enough to see
myself in your aqua-blue eyes. You'd giggle as if you were much younger than eighteen. And then we'd drive for
miles, crooked, tortured miles on mud roads, the car skidding and jerking past the dark green marshes beyond
your single story house, hardly accessible by any route, nestled in the thick of nowhere, the center of me.

We'd park off the main road, a skinny winding dirt road like looped string, park under the asymmetry of branches
and leaves flossing the window shield. I'd tell you how jealous I was of Barney Hagar, nor was I afraid of his
buddies — Mitch or Harry — and you said, Don't be silly. I'm not really seeing Barney. Just good friends.

And the first time we tried to make love in the front seat we stopped. Stop, you said, because you heard
something moving outside, and you popped your head up towards the window, at somebody flashing a light and
you whispered, Let's go please. Somebody is watching.

And it was a year before the war broke out and some months before I enlisted and I know we kind of drifted
apart, but I wanted to see you and I still do, just to talk to you, just to… I know about the accident.

You're out there somewhere. I don't know where you live now. Nobody seems to know since it happened. I tried
writing you several times from overseas, but maybe the letters went to the wrong address or nowhere at all. But
if you are reading this letter, could you please write me back? I'm living at my parents' house on Worchester
Drive, and I want to see you again, and maybe we could go back by the lake just for old time’s sake.

I know you can't see. Everything.

But I believe in miracles and when they happen, they occur in pairs.


Several weeks before Mitchell Cray was discharged from active duty in Europe, serving in the 7th Air Command,
he received a disturbing letter from his mother. It started innocuously enough, in a manner similar to the
previous ones she had written in her indelible flaring script. Are you alright? We miss you terribly and can't wait
to see you. The war is almost over, isn't it? Tell me you're coming home. Your father and sister send their love.

But towards the very end of the letter, Mrs. Cray wrote that Mitchell's high school sweetheart (at least one of
them) had been seriously hurt in a car accident. It was Rachel Summers, a girl who Mrs. Cray never approved of,
claiming that Rachel lived in a despicable and densely wooded area some miles from the outskirts of their town,
and thanks to the erratic and violent behavior of their father, her family had hardly a reputable name. Rachel's
father was serving a long stretch for beating a man senseless in a bar and when greeted by one of the sheriff's
men, he answered with a flying bar stool to the deputy's face.

Since that time, Rachel and her mother lived their solitary lives, tucked in a dark neck of woods, receiving little or
no visitors, except boys daring the drive to Rachel's house and getting past the mother for a date.

"They're not people you want to associate with," Mrs. Cray would tell Mitchell. "And those people think differently
than we do. Just look at the house they live in. It must be infected with God knows what. I've heard horror
stories from visitors. That woman doesn't know how to clean or mop. And the outside of it! The weeds and
grass look taller than the house itself. I'll admit Rachel is a pretty girl and maybe very sweet on the outside. But
with a father like that. God knows what she's really like. And that mother has no education, drinks herself silly,
curses up a storm, and just how far do you think Rachel can go with parents like that? Now I don't have the
slight animosity towards that girl. But stay away from her. Please."

But Mitchell knew different. Rachel wasn't crude or strange. She had manners. She was shy and quiet, with an
alluring aura of innocence. She wasn't gorgeous in the sense of a Betty Grable, or a Ginger Rogers, or some
ravaging RKO movie queen whom most girls at Jefferson High aspired to. She was pretty in a toned down sort of
way, without make up or French curls. She was pretty in the sense of you never noticing the girl who sat in the
back of the classroom, who was too self-conscious to sit up front and boldly announce her presence. And then
one day, you just happen to walk over and notice her tilting her head your way as if bracing herself for the threat
of your presence, and her eyes are stark and blue and scared, and you think of summer days at Glover Field, the
breeze as careless as your thoughts.

Mitchell was crazy about her. And so were most of the boys in homeroom. It wasn't a lack of physical
attractiveness that kept the boys at a distance. It was more a desperate scrambling for words, a shared topic of
interest. Rachel had little to say about anything.

And although most of the boys at Jefferson High eventually gave up on Rachel, maybe feeling her sense of
inadequacy and isolation, Barney Hagar and Mitchell Cray were willing to expose their desires.

One girl in a coterie of other jealous gossips spread a rumor that Rachel didn't bathe, that she smelled of
unwashed undergarments, and what do you expect, she told the girls of homeroom 115, from a girl who lives
near the creeks, the swamps that leads to them, and isn't it true of most girls from those parts?

In fact, Mitchell had been privy to one such conversation in the back lot of Jefferson High. Neither girl suspected
that Mitchell was dating Rachel.

"She's not some hillbilly. She doesn't live that far from town."

"She lives far enough and she's flunking Mr. Samuels' math class."

"She got a B+ last year. You know why she's flunking?"

"Yeah, she has backwater brains."

"No. He doesn't like her. Don't repeat this. He tried putting a hand down her blouse one day after school."


"You know Samuels. He's sex crazy and he's tried with others. He even looks like a creep."

"So what happened?"

"Her mother came to school almost scratching his eyes out, but because she reeked of liquor, she was dragged
out. Samuels got suspended, placed on some kind of probation, then, allowed to teach only one class. He's had
in it for her ever since."

"Well, I don't like her. She never eats with us and doesn't talk. The only ones she ever talks to are Barbara and
Evelyn, who are kind of strange too. And some of the boys, like Barney, Joe Grady, and that one guy, Mitchell."

"She doesn't talk to you because she knows you talk behind her back and spread lies."

After the girls walked back to class, Mitchell remained seated on the curb, squeezing his hand around a stone,
feeling its hardness, and let it go.

Rachel remained withdrawn and anti-social. She missed classes more frequently, failed her make-up exams
according to Mr. Samuels, and finally, she failed to show up altogether. And when a certain English teacher, Mrs.
Rocard, acting out of concern and investigative instinct, showed up at the front door of Rachel's house, after
getting lost for two hours and eliciting the help of two large-boned hunters to push her car out of mud, she was
greeted at the door with a scowl by the mother.

"Look ma'am, I got no husband and I got no money. I need Rachel here to help around the house and then she's
gonna find work. School is for sissy-ass rich kids living in Halglen or Coldbury. We have to eat first. Now kindly
remove yourself from these premises."

The door was shut cold and unequivocally in Mrs. Rocard's face.


Although Mrs. Cray's letter didn't go into every unsparing detail of the accident, it gave Mitchell a fairly grotesque
image of what must have happened.

She was riding with Barney Hagar in his father's gleaming black Ford convertible, racing (as Barney was known to
do to impress his dates or scare the shit out of them) along the back roads. He was drinking from a bottle of rye
or bourbon (a strong stink of alcohol lingered over the bodies) and more likely than not, it gave Barney some
extra impetus to go heavier on the accelerator.

Reading in between the lines of his mother's letter, Mitchell concluded that Barney eventually lost control of the
car somewhere close to the newly built Stonewall Bridge, attempting to cross over it, but instead careened into
its thick steel beams and unyielding posts. The car had caught on fire. Barney Hager, thrown full force through
the window shield, was killed immediately. Rachel was badly cut by exploding glass fragments, and the right side
of her torso and face had been burned. When she finally managed to climb out of the driver's door, she crawled
to an area of glass, her screams too weak to carry far, rolled herself over grass again and again despite the
agony of the pain, until several couples and stragglers came rushing over. Mitchell wondered what her face looked
like now. Could he recognize her?

Mitchell sat at the edge of a bunk, letting the letter fall thought his hands, stared out at the French landing strip,
somewhat distracted by an incoming plane. He cringed at the thought. She couldn't afford plastic surgery. And
why did she meet this kind of horror?

He drifted back to their last night together by the lake, the surge of excitement as he ran his hand over her
swollen breast, the serenade of a late evening breeze. Slowly, nervously, he fed each undergarment to the nearby
stones, and entered her and melted inside her, until there was nothing left but the trace of a strange treble from
her voice. It was now their secret. He thought of those guys, like Barney or whoever, boasting and ignorant of
everything carnal. Those shitheads were still virgins. Mitchell smirked as he watched Rachel dress under the stars,
and he was happy in his conclusions.

Mitchell looked up at the ceiling fan and felt his stomach growling. It was only a sparse lunch in the mess hall, but
he wouldn't be able to eat.

I just want to see you again. Just want to talk. I promise I won't wince or look away. I won't cry. Everything
has to heal. Just meet me by the lake. Tell me you haven't gone blind.


The war was declared over in Europe. Mitchell was flown back to a military hospital in Maryland, where he was
treated for some sustained war injuries, and from there — to his home.

His stay at the hospital was short and there, he planned his new future. He'd work in his uncle's auto shop, finish
college on the GI Bill, and study photography. He would travel all over the world on assignment, photographing
animals, the African grasslands, perhaps to Europe, where he'd shoot its initial stages of rebuilding. He would
shake the hands of prime ministers and ex-leaders of resistance movements.

But for now, he didn't want to go anywhere.

At home, his mother and sister cajoled him into eating more to get his weight up and to stop spending so much
time in his room.

"I know you need to rest," his mother said, but you're going to have to circulate. Go out and make new friends.
It's a different world and so much to look forward to. You have the rest of your life ahead of you. In time, you'll
meet a nice gal who understands."

And then Mrs. Cray would break down and his sister would wrap an arm around her mother's shoulder.

"It's going to be alright, Mom. Just give it time."

"I know. But sometimes... I can't stand being in the same room with him. My own son. He's not the same

"Mom, just be thankful he's alive."

And she was.


Following his arrival back home, Mitchell was careful not to mention Rachel. Then, gradually, he worked her name
into the conversations, asking his mother for information about her whereabouts, whether anyone had heard
about her.

"You know, nobody ever talks about her after what happened, and it's a damn shame about that Hagar boy. A
couple of us did go to her house to offer her mother any assistance and you know the rest of the story. She
cussed like a marine and chased us away. I did hear something a while back. They say she moved out of her
house. I don't know. Maybe it's just better if she's out of sight."


While home, Mitchell kept his appointments with the family physician, to see how his wounds were coming along,
to take out a stitch that was missed, or carelessly left in. As the doctor reached up to steady the light, Mitchell
closed his eyes, and saw the wounds, in all their jagged contours and pink rawness, reddened patches of skin. As
the doctor gently poked around feeling the exposed areas of inner flesh, Mitchell remembered a squad captain's
old motto — don't ever show pain to anyone.

But I don't feel brave about anything. These wounds aren't medals. And what about hers? Rachel's? We got
these as punishment. We were punished for making a pact, an agreement. We mixed the blood from our fingers
and promised we'd never tell a soul. We'd never break up. She is part of me, and I, her.

"You're coming along fine, son. Everything looks good. Are the painkillers working?"

"Yes, Doc, and thanks."

"Be done in a few. I just want to take another look at this."

Mitchell felt sleepy, drifted off, and heard the sound of her voice, its rhythm lingering in his ear. There was that
dialect, delicious to him, from the brackish waters and the variety of strange ferns and black birds you don't have
names for. The kind you never see in Coldbury.


It's summer and everything is blue or has a bluish tinge. They're walking side by side, daring it in his
neighborhood, down his perfect narrow street of perfect houses that are sets of twins. He's joking about Mr.
Samuels' math class, how nobody can stand him, it's what he heard. Her head dips slightly as he speaks.

"He's going to flunk me."

"Well, I'm no tutor, but I could help. What's the problem — trig or equations?"

She shrugs and offers a semi-sweet smile.

"There's really no hope for me. I'm a mathematician's worst nightmare."

An ice cream truck pulls over, its bells chiming a cute tune. An uneven column of children line up. Mitchell offers to
buy her a cone.

"No. I don't like ice cream."

He laughs.

"Everybody likes ice cream just like everybody likes apple pie. A vanilla bar?"

"No, not vanilla."

"Okay, surprise me. What flavor?"

"Strawberry. I like strawberry."

Squinting with the sun in her eyes, she manages a smile, pure, simple as apple pie.
He orders two bars and hands her the strawberry. A drop or two seeps down one side of her yellow printed
dress, V-necked with shoulder pads, perhaps the only one of its style that she owns, and she cups her hand ,
flustered like a helpless child.

"Go ahead, say it. I'm a slob. You should be ashamed of being seen with me."

Mitchell looks directly up at the sun. It hurts. It blinds people. It melts everything.


He dreamt about her before dinner. He couldn't recall everything in the dream and he obsessed over the missing
parts. There was a lake and her yellow printed dress and the ferns and tall trees. It was getting dark and she
wandered away. He couldn't find her. The sun couldn't find him. He now remembered what was the most
important part of the dream: he couldn't find her.

After dinner, Mitchell drove from his house towards the back woods, parked and got out, walked along the areas
of marshy ground. He approached her house, the one he remembered. The nerve to creep up to her front door
was not within him. Yet. His face itched from a swarm of flies, and he constantly pushed away interlocking
branches and twigs. He was looking for some figure by the lake. There was nothing. Later, he made out
something tiny and far away, strolling along the lake. It was really two figures, a couple, and the man stooped to
scoop up and let fall through his fingers, small streams of what must have been muddy water.

He sat on a rock. He was tired. Walking for miles and for what? The trudging back to his car would be long and
he'd curse himself. He got up to leave.

But it wasn't like that. He picked himself up with a jerk. There was a figure on the far side of the lake, a girl's? It
seemed. The sun was settling almost even with her head. He couldn't see the face. It was too far and turned to
the side or down. Was there a reflection in water?

He drew closer. Of course. He did so in the dream.

There was an entanglement, his, with the bushes, the cottonwoods and the tupelos. He sunk and slowed his
movement. The girl made her way around the water's edge. He watched intensely. He wanted to turn this fever
inside out.

He made inferences. Her hair was light brown and straight. The dress had a flowery design. He didn't remember
that dress. He squeezed for a revelation. She did not turn her face.

He tried to be without sound. Not to scare her. She might run away forever in somebody else's dream/nightmare.
His eyes hurt, the focus of needles. How far was she?

She stopped. Turned to face the water. It could be magical. It could destroy her. She was staring into it, bending
slightly. He pulled thorns from his skin and edged faster, snaked lower. She might die if he made too much noise.
It happened in fairy tales.

She rose. Her face was a blur. A background character in a dream and not the dream itself. Her head now
propped up. She heard something. She turned and ran. The figure was slender and the calves were toned, and
she fled like a squirrel. The trees became one shadow. That's where she dissolved. Then everything began to
dissolve: the trees, the clouds, the sky.

He was dreaming within a nexus of dreams.

He stood and got dressed. Now recalling, he realized next month Rachel would be what? Twenty-four? Christ.

And just what would you say to her? If she's disfigured...

I would say I just returned home and I heard about the accident. And if there is anything I can do, I will.

It would be as simple as that. Right? Right.


"Cray! Cray. Wake up, Son. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?"

"Yes... yes. What time is it?"

"Cray, tell me what happened. What happened on that plane? Weather conditions were good."

"Yes, sir. Weather conditions were good."

"You were not in target area. So what happened?"

"I don't know, sir. Everything just kind of happened so fast. We... lost the engine, sir, then, the other."

"What do you mean you lost the engine? You lost fuel? The engine just stopped? The plane was checked before
take off. Mint condition. How did you lose the engine?"

"Sir, I can't... stay awake. It's hard. Can we talk, later?"

"Cray, I have to explain the death of those prisoners to the Commander. Do you understand what has
happened? You were considered fit to fly missions before this assignment."

"Sir, please. It's a blur. I can't think straight. I can't remember just what happened, only that it did."


The four ate quietly at the dinner table. Mitchell washed down a mouthful of roast beef with cranberry juice. His
father asked to pass a basket of sourdough biscuits.

"Dad, I was wondering. Could I borrow the car?"

Mrs. Cray, who had encouraged her son to go out, now looked up, startled. "Are you planning to visit
somebody?" Her tone was distant.

Mitchell's sister, Joanna, intercepted. I think it's a great idea. Maybe you should go out. Do you good. The air, the
sky. Anything but that dingy room, day after day."

Mr. Cray chewed while staring at a small stain on the table cloth. "I agree. Do you some good. Yes, take the car."

Mrs. Cray looked down at her half-finished plate and spoke without peering up. "I was out shopping the other
day with Jane Gleason. She said her daughter was asking about you. She said Millie had written you a letter
overseas, but you never answered. Did you get her letter, Mitchell?"

"No, Mom. I never got it."

"She's a lovely girl. She told her mother she would like to see you again. And I said that would be marvelous but
maybe... not just yet."

Mitchell sat back, threw his napkin into the plate. "What did you say to her, Mom? No, I mean, exactly. Look. I
don't want to see anybody, okay? Why is that so difficult to understand? I just want to drive by myself going
nowhere. Just the feel of it. Until I say I can face people."

"I do understand, Mitchell. More than you think. I'm sorry." Her voice lowered to almost a whisper.

On the way out, he heard his mother call. "Mitchell, wear a hat. Wear a hat, dear."

He did not answer and slammed the door.


He had the high beams blazing. Still, it was difficult to see along the winding back roads that trailed from the edge
of Coldbury, into back counties. His hands were clammy. The area was dense with willows, magnolias, cypress,
branches, branches. He almost swerved off the road. There was a thin fog. At times, he wanted to turn back.

He remembered the road branching off into cul-de-sacs. There would be pitch black and the smell of fruit trees,
the wild perfume of sweet gum that refused to die. He downshifted and entered sharper angles. There were
holes, gullies, in the road. The road was no longer a road. He imagined wheels spinning furiously, the car and him,
sinking, and he would abandon this flimsy metal tank with a rubber soul.

The air was wet and heavy. He estimated her house as some five-hundred yards away. He parked and walked
briskly, his feet sagging like overfed soldiers.

Her yard. It seemed to forbid any natural means of trespassing. There was a horrendous litany of giant weeds,
hovering vines and thistles, coarse decaying bark. He waddled through the tall glass, felt he was on somebody
else's planet, something queer stung him, this landscape. He crouched. It was still there. Barely. The house. It
was shrouded by rambling shrubs that hid the path. He barely made it out. It led in a diagonal. There was the
porch of rotting wood, sagging in the center.

He would risk movement. Rise on the balls of his feet. Lunging forward, his jacket became caught in thorns,
tearing one sleeve. The thought of releasing sound made him angry and small. Do not fire a flare. Stupid bastard.

He was on the path and could see the house in richer view. There were no lights on. The living room shades were
half-shut. Like his life. The house was in much worse shape since he last saw it. Paint fading and cracked
shingles. The wire mesh on the screen door was ripped. And the possibility that maybe she didn't live there
anymore. Or maybe she did because she still mistrusted the world beyond her front yard of thorns.

Do you promise not to say what we did tonight?

I promise.

Do you promise not to say it in a million years?

I promise.

You promise?


Give me your hand. Will you bleed for me?

A fast car of thoughts ran through him, paralyzed him. What are you doing here? Why did you come? What do
you expect to accomplish? Okay. Just go up and knock. Action precedes the thought. This way you'll know. Who
really lives there. Her mother might be dead by now. The interior of this house, which you cannot see, but only
dream about, is your private hell in bed.

He ascended the porch. It creaked. This was a stupid idea. At the top of the steps, he was motionless. He looked
up. The sky was a magnificent black canvas of hate or love. He couldn't be sure. He wanted to knock on the door.
He wanted to die in some way that wouldn't leave a visage of his self-hatred.

If only a sign. If only God would go easy on this crumbling village they call the world.
A sign came. It startled him. A flash, a fluttering behind him. Some birds scrambled from their nest in the snake
branches, and the wooden porch beneath him started to give way. He moved to one side. He felt hot. The air was
not air. It was like breathing water.

It was then he spotted the figure in the darkness, the house's true interior. Now a voice blurted out. It was
distant and unrecognizable. "Who's there? What do you want? Who are you?"

He ran. He ran down the steps. He wanted to cry over this coven's act. Always running away. Fleeing from what
will one day catch up to you in a different form. He reached the safety of his car.

But he made an important discovery. Someone still lived there.

I will bleed for you.


He's sitting in his sister's room, gawking at photographs of models, swimsuits, girls with forever smiles, a beach,
a boardwalk. A unison of curvaceous legs. Models, he thinks, are people who are never happy with their faces.
They believe God has cheated them in some way. They are always trying to change their faces, improve them.
And the make-up like the newly-painted exterior of a house to be sold.

He folds back the cover of the magazine and drops it on the sienna-colored rug, loopy.

"What are you reading, Jo?"

"Nothing. I like these bathing suits. Saw one downtown and on sale." She holds up the page.


"Yup. But the obstacle is Mom. Big obstacle."

Mitchell looks at some plaques on the wall, his sister's awards for softball.

"Jo. What did you hear about Rachel? I mean, after the accident?"

"Nothing more than anyone else. Her face got badly burned. She lost sight in one eye, some damage maybe to
the other. I don't know. I never saw her after the accident. Some girls from school went to see her at Holy Cross.
One got sick. I mean violently sick. That's what I heard. Why?"

He shakes his head in a whimsical manner. His sister no longer shows any interest in the bathing suit. She wears
the look of a college professor lost in the profound mystery of a lecture.

"Tell you one thing, and I might be one of the few who thinks this. She was always a nice girl. No girl is these
days. They pretend to be nice to get something. It shouldn't have happened."

His sister flicks her head. Her eyes gleam.

"Have you tried seeing her?"


She starts to chew one nail, her eyes stinging his.

"Mitchell, old boy, if you don't mind me asking, where do you go at night?"

"Nowhere. Just driving and catching fresh air. It's a good feeling. It's a good painkiller."

"I think Mom is worried."

"Mom worries about everything."

She suddenly rises and straightens the slip cover on the mahogany chair.

"Don't forget, old man, you have a doctor's appointment this afternoon."

"You're just full of good news, Sis. And thanks."

She marches out of the room, turns her head, sticks out her tongue.


The receptionist in her bright morning voice informed Mitchell that the doctor would seen him shortly. He took a
seat by the door, leafed though some magazines, attending to the pictures only. There was only one other
person in the room, a woman wearing a black felt hat with veil shading just below the eyes, her gloves some
shade of mauve, and the lipstick applied a bit too thick. She looked up; he looked away. He hated waiting rooms
and the odor of someone's prognosis.

The minutes stalled, seemed hours, and the hours froze. His watched corrected his lost sense of time. He recalled
this morning's dream that featured his sister.

In the dream, there were low clouds and their gray cast. They threatened to sweep the streets. There was the
feeling of things not being in their proper places, a butler performing a jitterbug, his mother approving of Rachel.

He and his sister were invited to a party. The rooms in the house were a pastiche of all those rooms he had
visited as a child. The living room, the only room not out of place, was the center of activity. Pin the Donkey.
Bobbing for Apples. The guests were all members of Mitchell's senior class at Jefferson, but here, they appeared
younger, perhaps fourteen years of age or less. His sister and he were their true ages, but the children in the
dream acted towards them as if they the children's ages.

As he circulated around the crowd of children and children-impersonators, catching fragments of conversations,
he noticed that personalities did not match faces. Barney Hagar was saying something that Joe Grady would have
said and around it went. His sister wandered off to talk with friends and he remained within a large circle of
displaced people.

He pushed his way to the middle of the circle, and asked a boy with a blank expression, where Rachel was.
Several children attempted to answer him at once, some saying she moved, others that she moved far away, and
one said that none of it was true. An argument ensued and the majority settled on the opinion that she indeed
had moved, but only one boy professed to have seen her.

At that moment, or what seemed like, Barney Hagar walked up to the group, stood in front of Mitchell, and said,
"Why don't you ask her yourself? She's sitting right over there." He pointed to a line of chairs against a wall. The
children jeered, called him a tattle-tale.

Mitchell lumbered over, studying the folding chairs, mostly empty, some with children not speaking to each other.
They were spaced at least one seat apart. He recognized the younger version of Rachel by the way she looked
straight out, the manner of sitting so erect. He called out to her. She did not turn.

He drew closer; again, he called out.

Rachel sat motionless, as if the essence of her being was to do so. Her hands remained folded on her lap. Mitchell
noticed that her hair was a shade too dark and was cropped, her eyes, gray and not blue. Yet he had stumbled
upon the essence of Rachel, her non-moveable core.

Slowly, her head turned, her eyes widening, then, she glared past him, not at him. She was wearing a white
layered dress and a pair black buckled shoes that were immaculately polished. Her lips began to spread, then
stopped before reaching a full smile, or one that could remotely be called one. Her eyes were glazed, marble-like.

Mitchell backed away, spun around, and joined the others in the circle. When he recovered enough nerve to look
back, he saw that she was gone, the chair, a simple definition of empty.

A boy now approached Mitchell, the same one with the constant blank look. "Well," he said, "did you find Rachel?"

"No." answered Mitchell. "I haven't seen her."

The boy smiled profusely and left.

The rectangular window to the receptionist's window opened. In a courteous tone, the receptionist announced
that the doctor was ready to see Mitchell.


"Cray, were you experiencing dizzy spells before the flight?"

"No, Sir. I was not."

"Did you experience blackouts?"

"No, Sir. Never."

"Did you ever experience anything close to a fainting spell while flying aircraft?"

"No, Sir."

"So, what do you think caused the crash?"

"I don't know, Sir. I remember feeling a little weak after we took off but I thought nothing of it."

"You ate breakfast that morning, did you not?"

"Yes, Sir. I ate very well that morning. A good light breakfast."


The sun hides itself behind a family of stranded clouds. When it breaks through, the lake reflects ribbons of
fiercely dark orange and red swirls that belong to no one or everyone.

With the exception of one man standing at the other side of the lake, perhaps. a melancholy fragment of his past
life, Rachel and Mitchell have it all to themselves.

They stand motionless and at a slight distance from each other. She folds her arms across a knitted sweater that
looks cheap but comfortable. The grass grows over her brown and white shoes. Her stillness breaks from itself.
Her arms drop, hang limp for a moment. She shifts her weight, throws her head back and smiles. Smiles for none
other than the sake of smiling. It's the emblem of love and what may never pass this way again.

Mitchell brushes a blade of grass against his lips, sucks on it as if some edible form of green, and spits it out. His
system is threatened by green, the idea that it could grow and live inside him.

"I wish you were still coming to classes. It's not the same."

"Those girls hate me. Samuels hates me. And you can have Mary Gleason all to yourself. I can't face them

"Nobody believes them."

"Everybody believes them."

"I don't care. I've never come this close."

"To what?" Her voice is flirtatious, ironic.

"To hear somebody's thoughts. To live with someone else inside me."

"If I feel a pain, would you feel it?"

"I would. I have. "

Rachel inches closer to Mitchell and placed on a hand on his arm.

"Nobody wants to get too close to me. Everybody wants to keep a distance from me. Mitchell, I swear,
sometimes I burn. Like a candle in my gut. I just do." She starts to walk away.

Mitchell reflects on the thought of people coming from different worlds, or worshiping the same lonely god in
different ways.

He follows her towards a grove of bending trees. A deep shade of night for her to recover herself. He keeps a
safe distance, but now, no distance is safe. The swaying branches mask her full shape, and Mitchell can only make
out the outline of limbs. He loses and finds her.

Before him now, she appears not to breathe at all, at one with the night. He leans against the bark of a willow,
slides down, lies against the hard cushion of sparse grass. Clasping both hands behind his head, he gives a
battery of stars a name he'll never remember. The distance from those stars to here is too close and this makes
him shut his eyes.

She interrupts his personal astrology and star-naming.

"Mitchell, does anyone know about us?"

"Well, I haven't told anyone. Some think we're good friends. My sister suspects more. My mother definitely
suspects. And my father doesn't care. But, no, I didn't tell anyone."

He opens his eyes and at night, it's a strange planet of half-shapes, teasing shapes. She walks towards him. He
hears shadows stirring somewhere. He can feel her stillness, even when moving.

"I just want you to know. People, young people like us, say things they never mean. Never last. But this doesn't
feel that way. I burn the way you burn."

Standing over him, she removes the rubber band from her ponytail, kneels down, straddles him. She pulls her
sweater over her head, then brings down a star or two, their light from million miles away in her eyes. Captured.
The ground, to Mitchell, feels softer or he doesn't mind its hardness. As her hair falls across his cheeks, in the
rhythm of her bobbing, her body loses its solidity, until he is reminded of the marshy areas close by, and he is
only to glad to drown there, here. She continues to sink into him, and the soil remains their ground, does not
give way.

And somewhere on another planet, a war is about to begin.


One time, she said to me that people live their lives all at once. What's a year to a star? A minute, a second? It's
just that, she explained, that people have such narrow vision. And when I thought about this, it might help to
explain how she could predict the future, that eventually, she would barely see at all, and why I'm always looking
into the past. But for now, which was years ago, I only want to live in that moment, now.


At the door, he picks up his cap, holds it high so his mother can see it. When he gets inside the car, he flings it
across the seat. He surmises that his mother and sister will peek out the window to see in which direction he will
drive. He turns the car in the direction opposite from the Simms' residence, and turns around.

The back roads are familiar to him now, an ugly cousin who lives in your bed. He parks the car a half-mile or so
from the house. It is well-hidden behind thickets and elms, off the main road.

He's going to take his time. But he will knock on the door. He won't run away.

He crouches and combs through the low vines, pushes himself against a Sumac, its branches in the form of a
blessing. The priest is cross-eyed. Love is blindfolded.

He looks up at the house. A soft light streams through the backrooms. He feels something shift inside him, an
instinct to overcome everything.

He is standing before the front porch. And in the blinking of an eye, a narrow one with sand thrown to its
corners, he hears the front door open. He weakens, scurries away from the house, running while needles and
thorns pierce his legs, as if to say run faster, or don't run at all. He doesn't hear a voice in back of him.

Down the road, and he slows. A quick gait, the world is now a steady rhythm of it. He approaches the area of the
lake, like the first explorer to lay eyes on gold or mystics. He is huffing, fading inward. The sky turning dark, the
stars, a paltry compensation. Whatever is looking down upon him must think: embarrassing, stupid. He
stumbles, slinks towards the ground, rolling in dirt and whatever is less.

Rising, he brushes the dirt off his trousers and wonders if whoever opened the door will follow him here. He's
feeling ugly and scared. He wonders if the stars ever flinch and how long will the evening light last.

He hears steps. Starting at the top of the gravel hill, and following gravity's direction. Light steps, uneven steps,
slow steps, but unfaltering and confident steps. The cadence is familiar. Will she walk to the lake or turn towards

He listens to the steps coming closer. He listens to his own body, the chill of a fever about to be. She's almost
upon him. He turns away, bending low, scraping his hands against rubble and dirt, lifting himself to the other side
of the tree.

He waits. He looks. He looks farther. She reaches the bottom of the hill. For a moment, she stops. He closes his
eyes because his vision is too narrow. Sweating. Clenching. He can feel her.

She is moving towards the lake. The sound of her steps, the ebb and vanishing of some old magic. He watches.
He believes one of them no longer exists.

She stands by the lake, head tilted down. He makes out details, or creates what he can't see. She's wearing a
beret. Color? Dark. Yes. Blue. Has to be. It covers almost one side of her face, worn at that angle. The dress is
cream color. Sure. He is sure. Over it, a thin sweater, sleeves rolled to expose forearms. On her feet are
sneakers. What? Yes. Her legs must be bare. No socks. Nothing. Those girlish legs. Yes. He's created her.

He rises, takes slow steps, not taking his eyes off her. One side of her body appears stiff. He gets a better
glimpse. She's wearing dark glasses. Reaching a giant willow, or only a foot or so from it, she pauses. He
breathes out. She looks in a direction perpendicular to him. Which is nowhere. He is now.

He begins to walk down, chances the path around the lake. She will not notice him too soon, if she notice at all.
He does not wish to scare her or himself. Generous stalker.

He is sneaking up to her, but not too near, and wishes to land to one side of her. The blind spot. He reaches it
and she is staring at space through those glasses.

He edges closer. Takes several more steps. And then, he must commit. It is her. It is. He stands stiff in the one
spot around which everything will turn or ignore. He calls out. His voice a shock in the evening air, humid, musky,

"Rachel? Rachel?"

She turns towards him, but with those glasses, he can't tell if she can see any part of him. She is startled, the
quivering and the few steps back. She lopes towards the tree. She turns as if a victim who can fight no more. If
she could run. If she could see everything.

He steps closer but at a certain distance, he will not budge.

"Rachel? It's me, Mitchell. Mitchell Cray. You... remember me? I'm Mitchell Cray."

She does not answer and keeps staring though some part of him slightly above the navel. Her body is tense,
braced against the tree. He wishes to take them both down in a slow love.

Several more steps, he takes.

"I went to Jefferson High with you. Jefferson High."

His steps are now very small, almost measured. He is shaking. He can now make out the face. One side is raw,
horribly scarred, the color of copper or some alloy that darkens red, the texture of the moon's surface, grooved
and ridged. But the other side is untouched, milky white. He remembers it. Its feel.

She begins to speak. One side of her mouth hardly moves. The voice is garbled, distorted. His patience is long
and agonizing. At times, her words slur and she makes great effort to pronounce each syllable until it is distinct
as day from night. The voice, its qualities, scratchy, low, broken, is getting through some part of him that is
immune, insulated.

"Mitchell? Mitchell Cray?"

He stares directly at her or what he believes is her essence.

"Yes. Mitchell."

Her head angles to one side. She is trying, he realizes, to see him with one eye. The other eye is a void and it will
swallow him.

She tries to initiate a sound, a sound that at first appears to be straw. He doesn't get it. She continues. The
sound is full and unmistakable.

"Strawberry. Strawberry ice cream."

"Yes. I bought you strawberry ice cream."

He feels like running away. His legs, however, won't obey a chain of command. They feel as if they extend far into
the earth. This earth. His eyes fix upon her sneakers, smudged, caked with mud.

"Mitchell," she says with some greater ease and clarity, "can you come closer?"

Reluctantly, he obeys.

She inspects his face, tells him to come closer. He is repulsed by the thought of it. It is making him dizzy, faint.
How clearly can she see out of that one eye?

"Mitchell? What happened? What happened to your face? You had a... beautiful face."

He stammers, feels her own frustration at making sounds clear, to bestow upon them the ability to travel and

"My plane went down in France. We were transporting German prisoners of war. It went down... I was thinking
about you... I thought something bad happened to you and I began to burn and I blacked out. I lost control of
the plane. I can't remember all of it. But this feeling hit me that something at that moment had happened to you."

He feels his own humiliation at being exposed while trying to locate, to expose the other. If he had worn that cap,
it would have covered a good portion of his face.

She starts to walk towards him, the steps slow, excruciatingly so, painful for him to watch, his own creation, the
gait, unsteady, but not grossly off balance. She stretches one hand out, as if aiming at his chest, dropping, then
rising again — she reaches for his hand.

And if only he can run, he thinks, run along the lake and onto the back roads, run swift and deft, past the
scribble of trees and bushes, under the last flashes of early evening light, the mix of colors from the corner of his
eyes. And running, he understands everything, and can live which ever moment he chooses to.

For now, he imagines himself a plane, tumbling and freefalling through clouds, only to soar back up and higher,
with regard for fuselage, or time limits, piercing the top most layer of sky. If only he can run fast enough.

And if he can, he just might make it home in time for his mother's home cooked dinner, half-warm now, the
baked meatloaf and brown gravy, the whipped potatoes that melt like cream, the black-eye peas or crunchy ears
of corn. Or his favorite dessert, a generous portion of it — a small fruit glass, opaque and striated, overfilled with
bread pudding, topped with raisins.

But today, he will not run away. He will return home and request privacy. He will wait until his mother and father
and sister are finished eating. He will ask that his mother and father to go into another room of the house. He
ask his sister to pick out her best swimsuit. He is bringing a guest to dinner. They will eat together until their
bellies are full and they can look each other in the face and see beyond the moon. And she will stay, until every
scar is healed and she can see more clearly how beautiful they once were.


Manhattan Love Story #6: Plastic Flowers

It’s somewhere between body-drop dawn and alarm-clock wail. Zin and I traipse the streets, still high from the sugar of mixed drinks. The reflections off the sheen of cobblestone jump at us in ciphers. Dressed down in preppy navy-blue skirt and white satin shirt with blazer, Zin is playing iTunes, downloading Morning Masume. At times, she is all sentimental Eurobeat; at others, she is all wild-eyed and mainline sugar freak. Her eyes, however, are still large, almond-shaped hazel, not really hers, and sensitive to light.

Overhead, a plane is going down in flames, its destiny: the Hudson River. There will be no survivors. Lately, all survivor statistics converge on zero.

“If I became a fetus in the sky,” says Zin, her eyes upward and unpeeling the skins of night, “would it be enough to save the children who’ve already dropped from clouds?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I spin to forget. I drink to become unconscious while on tiptoe. It’s good that South Korea has its R16. It gives the kids something to lock about.”

“And Paris had their Milky Way and B-Boys.” Zin breaks into an innocent whammy of a chuckle.

Just then I spot the boy from the corner of an eye. He’s yelling something like: “Get your plastic roses. Two for three, five for a fin. No organic botch-up. A date. A mate. Make love–tonight’s inmate.”

Overhead, another plane is nose-diving for the Hudson. It might crash before. Pre-morning is chilly, full of perpendicular side streets, metallic rasp and din. My head is still reeling from splotchy club remixes of Mice Teeth and Japanoise.

We approach the boy dressed in pinstripe suit and oversized men’s shoes. He doesn’t have eyes. What he has are two miniature globes that keep spinning.

“How can he see?” whispers Zin in my better techno ear.

“Yes, ma’am, no Ma’am,” he says in a voice of monotone and static buzz. “I can hear footsteps a mile away. I can see who will drop off the world in a year, a day, a scheme, a dictator. But no ma’am, I can’t see you right now, there. I can feel you and you are beautiful in my world.”

I turn to Zin. She is cabbage-patch sad and stuffed-animal glare-eyed. She looks to be holding the world too. I offer to buy her some flowers. She ignores the offer and says that he is shivering. The boy is shivering.

No, I say, it’s you who are shivering. You are shivering, Zin.

She walks up the boy and puts her arms around him and hugs him like some brother little-little who wandered too far from underground shelters. "Get off the streets my darling boy," she says in shrill voice of a jump rope sister.

I’m noticing a serial number stamped across the boy’s neck.

I can hear him ticking.


“Zin!” I yell in screech mode. “Get away from him. It’s a Pop-Boy. He’s a terrorist’s bomb inside the armor of a plastic boy. Break off!”

I snatch Zin and push her to the ground, covering her body with mine. The explosion goes off, a thousand parts over our heads and into the streets. After the smoke clears, I comb through the debris. There’s a piece of paper, somewhat larger than what one finds in a Chinese cookie. It keeps staring at me, as if the only thing that matters. I pick it up.

It reads: Don’t get close. Highly flammable. Badly scarred war child. Nobody’s bad boy.

The Wolves of Faustgarden
by Kyle Hemmings

The wolves of Faustgarden have gathered outside my window. Their collective bark is sharp as a knife, shrill as this winter’s homicide or someone’s cries over the hill. I could rise and shut the window. Or cast stones at their demonic eyes. But I do not wish to disturb the woman in my bed of goose feather and splayed dreams of broken leaves over a forest floor. Below me, her body squirms like a playful pup. Perhaps the wolves can smell the scent of rabid flesh on sweet berry skin. I cover her mouth with my hand, firm and hirsute. I catch her howl.


My father had a diary. In it, he described how he was once raised by the wolves of Faustgarden. When food became scarce, my father fled to the city where he learned how to talk and wear winter clothes. Gifted with animal cunning, he seduced every woman with yellow eyes. They never spoke about their pasts, their blurred impressions of childhood in secondary colors. He wrote that the secret to turning a woman into a zombie is in knowing which is their most vulnerable spot and to bite them there. Let the teeth really sink in were his exact words. He assembled lists. He drew diagrams and comics of stick figures and indecipherable captions. Is there a language called Wolfen? When my mother discovered the diary, she quietly slipped into the bathroom and cut her wrists. When I found her, the eyes were not yellow. They were closed. Yes, they were.

The wolves of Faustgarden can sneak into your house anytime of the night. It doesn’t have to be a full moon. The moon is always full of itself no matter what eclipses it. They know the contents of your refrigerator, where the meat is kept, who your wife was sleeping with last Saturday night while you were off bowling with the boys, trying to pick up a busty brunette in tight jeans. The wolves know the contour of desire, no matter what form or how it is dressed up.

If such a wolf corners you at night while you were trying to raid the fridge—don’t show fright. You never should have gone off your diet and you never should have slapped that brunette in the front seat of your wife’s Mustang, windows of child-like finger designs, defroster broken. She wouldn’t let you past her gingerbread gates and anyway, it’s common knowledge that she was raped by an accountant’s crunching fingers. In so many words, she told you that you are not the leader of the pack.

But getting back to you and the wolf. Standing in the middle of your kitchen, scared shitless, standing with only your underwear and your chicken legs. Don’t look the wolf in the eyes. Just close yours. When and if the wolf attacks, just think that the body is nothing but disposable flesh and bone. A joke of some pagan god who believes the world is his dumpster. But it’s the soul. It’s the soul you want to protect from lupine thieves. If they steal your soul, they will see through you and control you. You will hear their cries at the office, their growling admonitions at the bank. You will begin to chew and swallow the raw meat of your enemies. The soul. Yes. Nothing else really matters.


My new lover paws at my skin and leaves my base instincts intact. Her mouth is warm and dry, a constant well of falling into, of being lulled by a strange sea, of never completely waking up. We poke through and gouge, grab each other’s hearts and place them back in the proper anatomical sac. With her, evolution comes to this: Show me your teeth. During her day job as a nurse, she wears aqua blue contact lenses. Her patients believe she is gentle.
But at night, when we’re finished tearing each other up and sewing the body like new, when we’re finished with a dozen false climaxes so we can attain the summit of the true one, I hear the wolves of Faustgarden outside our window. I don’t need a rickety mail order decoder to understand their howls. They want me to come down and join them. After all, in another life, dissimilar from this one by only a wolf’s hair, I used to run with them.

The End


Where is Gertrude Bell? (Pubbed in Lacuna Journal, 2009)by Kyle Hemmings

She wishes to see her aging father. The foreign secretary’s words tumble in Shockley’s mind in all their nefarious connotations. Is she dying or is her father? Was it a ploy to get him to agree to this mission of locating Gertie in Baghdad? Is the press putting so much pressure on government officials to retrieve her that lies, even small white lies, must be invented? She wishes to see her aging father. Perhaps, Dr. Shockley thinks, sitting in a London office cluttered with plaques, war memorabilia, maps, columns of papers, some stamped “confidential,” there might some truth to it.

He puffs on a fat stub of cigar, and lets out a lingering island of smoke. He glances straight ahead, to the window overlooking the mist hovering above Trafalgar Square, then to the right wall, the commissioned portraits of Cornwall, Disraeli, Lloyd George. Lloyd George looks rather stiff in his penguin tails.

Sir Percy Cox hangs up the telephone and says, “You’d think with the hush hush nature of this there’d be less paperwork. I’m drowning in it.”

Shockley offers his best Sunday-garden variety smile.

“Bureaucracy is the eighth wonder of the world.”

Sir Percy, rubbing a tuft of white hair, stands, then paces behind his desk. He lifts a lifeless file of papers and throws them across the desk. They fall, lie pell-mell on the carpet. He motions Shockley not to pick them up. “No, no,” he says, “they’re all rubbish. Bureaucratic nonsense. They really don‘t have a sense of priorities upstairs.”

What’s really important, he says, hands clasped behind back, walking towards Disraeli’s portrait, is her welfare. This woman, he goes on, who had supplied us with so much useful intelligence during the war, is now lying sick in Baghdad with a bloody walking pneumonia. Granted, she was brilliant. Granted, she was a little, how shall we say--misguided? But the desert, Sir Percy Cox is telling him, is not a fitting place for an Englishwoman to live or die in.

Dr. Shockley sits tapping two fingers on his knee, watching Sir Percy look up at Benjamin Disraeli pointing to a map of Egypt.

“Do you agree, Doctor?”

“Absolutely, sir.”

Sir Percy swings his shoulders around. Shockley tries to picture what Cox looked like when he had hair.

“On behalf of the Prime Minister, we are so lucky that you agreed to this. Not only a medical doctor. But someone who grew up with her. You’re a gift from God.”

“Wouldn’t say that, sir.”

“Some tea, Doctor?”

Shockley declines.

Yes, yes, Percy goes on, striding towards the desk, he sent visitors up to see her, but she refuses reception to all but Faisal. Sir Percy stands blinking over to the far wall as if he lost all train of thought. Then, he goes on about her father’s recent illness. “Oh no, no, nothing of a serious nature, could be used as leverage to persuade her to return.”

Shockley pulls out a timepiece from his vest. He looks up, studies the Foreign Secretary who’s frozen is some sort of trance. He clasps the timepiece and tucks it back in.

“She must be dreadfully pale,” says the doctor, “ I mean with their kind of medical attention.”

“Imagine so. And this situation with the Arabs. They think she’s one of their own. Fancy that? You know, her bit with the war and all. Won’t say it will be easy. But Faisal gave us his word he’d allow our entry.”

Sir Percy holds up another stack of files. He cites the recent murder of British soldiers in the outer provinces. He cites the fact that civilian sea voyages to Persian ports have been temporarily suspended. After flattening a map against the desk, he raps a ruler against it. Shockley rises from the armchair and joins him. He muses over red serpentine ink lines running over Mesopotamia and the Mideast.

Cox suggests a more roundabout journey starting in Istanbul, recruiting the aid of two others well acquainted with the desert. Whatever way, he tells Shockley, danger is imminent. So vigilance, Doctor, vigilance is your best friend.

Not to mention, he adds, we’re running out of time.

“You mean the pneumonia?”

“I mean a deadline, Doctor. The press is on my back day and night. They want answers. The people want her home. They see her as the last rays of a setting sun. And our communication with Faisal‘s people leaves much to be desired. I wish to wash my hands of this affair as soon as possible. I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean it like that.”

“How did you mean it, sir?’

“I mean her sick father wishes to see her. That is what you shall tell her. Lay it on thick. Bring her back. That is all.”

Leaning over the rail of the steamship Dory Queen, Shockley looks back at the clouded silhouettes of buildings and says goodbye to England and all those fine droplets, the rest of the world being so terribly dry. England is now a shrinking island, he thinks, standing at the iron rail over stern, and so terribly misunderstood.

* * *


* * *

On the ship, Shockley locks himself in his cabin, although the Mediterranean is peaceful as a sonata. Sliding off an oval grainy table is Miss Bell’s book, The Desert and the Sown, a travel book ranked in importance with Dougherty’s Arabia Deserta. He stoops to retrieve it; he pictures her standing in long ruffled dress, saying, “Jolly good job, Stephen, I see you’ve near mastered my whole bloody book. Not too terribly boring, was it?”

Oh, what shall he say upon seeing her? It’s been a long time, Gertie, butterflies jumping off his tongue. He hasn’t faired badly, you know. A mediocre practice, a steady income, paid off some gambling debts, a lonely widower now-- his wife? Oh, the French midwife he met after the battle of the Somme? Her Austrian lover shot her twice after discovering she was married. Shockley delivered an overdose of morphine after she begged him to put her out of her misery, and him out of his. He was cleared of charges and ostracized from the medical community. But no, he hasn’t faired badly.

He lies back on his bunk and peruses government sequestered photos of Miss Bell at various stages. In one, she wears a wide brim hat encircled with roses, cannot be more than twenty, he recalls, smiling next to him and her father on Commencement Day, the first woman to graduate Oxford. In a moment of abandon, she allows him a public kiss on the lips.

He stands to shut the small window in the cabin, the salt air is burning his eyes, not to mention the sun reflecting off the water in blinding sparks of light. A weight in his stomach, he vomits half the morning’s breakfast out the window. Better? Yes. Hardly the constitution of a salty dog. He sits. More photos. She is perched resolutely atop a camel with her creased skirt, high riding boots and a kafeeyeh , sitting in the middle of several military chiefs, political advisors -- Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, among them.

Back in England. She drapes one arm over the wife of a Northumbrian iron worker in her overcrowded flat behind a row of her sooty-faced children. Persia. Seated next to a table of unglazed clay pottery, earthen jugs and bowls. Her face is covered in a dark veil, only the slightest hint of her green-blue eyes, which appear here as black and fierce. Standing behind her is King Faisal. Shockley wonders as to the truth of those rumors circulating that he is her lover.

He shuffles and reshuffles the photos.

Which is the real Gertrude? A question, he wonders, one might toss to the wind.

Begging the question. Beg your pardon.

He throws down the photos.

It is a scene he keeps replaying in his head. She is running across flower beds and sunflowers, bright roses and yellowish acacia, chased by her nanny, Mrs. Ogle. He is crying because Gertrude called him a sissy. She crawls across the glass top of a greenhouse, beckoning him to follow her. He hides behind Mrs. Ogle’s several layers of fluffy petticoats.

She falls through glass.

Mrs. Ogle screams.

Lying next to broken flower pots, she waves Mrs. Ogle away. “No. No. You mustn’t help me. I can’t move my leg. But you mustn’t help me. See? No tears, Mummy. I shall stand up on my own.”

Steven stares at the sight of her. He feels like some paltry useless thing, perhaps a jagged piece of those broken flower pots.

Several nights later, he is invited to the Bells’ mansion for dinner. He sits next to Gertrude, who hides her cast under the table. He whispers to her, “Doesn‘t that leg hurt?”

“Stephen, have you ever heard of the word Laban? It’s some sort of delicacy, I believe. I’m not very sure. Someday, I shall taste it in a room of white turbans. All those somedays, you know, they will all add up to one day. The leg? Yes, it does sometimes. Laban, Stephen, I even love the sound of that word.”

He pats his lips with an embroidered white napkin, returns it to his lap. “ If you don’t mind, I much prefer my beef and mutton. At least I know what I’m eating. No, I haven‘t the slightest clue what the word means.”

She taps her spoon on a saucer as Stephen watches her thrust out her chin. Mrs. Ogle turns and grimaces.

“Mrs. Ogle? Stephen would like some more pudding.”

Shockley lies back on his bunk, crossing his legs. He thinks of Miss Bell’s flamboyant hat of flowers in that one photo. Flowers. His mind is floating towards them. Is it possible that there are flowers that can only grow in the desert? He recalls that odd belief of hers that flowers are a very special language and how she would often pick a nosegay of flowers from the garden for her father. This language of flowers, he thinks, it must be as cryptic as the maps of hidden railways she would later draw for British officers. This image of a flower in the desert, he ruminates. So solitary. So damn solitary.

He hunches forward. A doubt leeches to his emancipated gut: how will he survive the desert with his “pudding-like” constitution? And those chest pains visiting him more regularly like a mother-in-law. He chuckles. Rubs a sore gum. Wouldn’t bet a sterling wager for survival. Perhaps Cox will send a search party for Gertrude and him. Ha-Ha-Ha. Yes. Yes. It’s not funny, he thinks, tossing, catching Miss Bell‘s travel book in the air, but it is. Save death for tomorrow.

For now, all he can think of is Gertrude—Gertrude—why they’re both two peas in an
empty pod, aren’t they?

* * *


* * *

The rendezvous in Istanbul. Klundt is a large jocular man with a big belly, helped no doubt by his professed indulgences in beer and blood sausages. He sits on a sofa entertaining Shockley with stories of his life as a liaison officer to the Turks during the war. His belly shakes as he tells Shockley how he surrendered himself to the British at Jeddah, wearing only underwear.

“By profession, I import diamonds. By hobby, I’m an archaeologist. By nature, I am a mercenary,” he says, referring to the half-sum of money paid him by the Crown. “It was wise of Cox to pick me. Before the war, I was involved in the excavation of Babylon and Ja! Ja! the fortress of Ukhaidir. And the Royal Tombs. Ach! Beautiful. Inspiring. I have published work on it but it was stolen and taken as credit by others.”

Shockley, smoking a cigar, does not believe the latter.

Fattuah, Miss Bell’s loyal guide in the desert, enters the living room from the squalid kitchen, holding a tray of cooked eggs, tongues and fish. He sets it down and pours the other two wine from a goblet. Shockley studies his features. He does not resemble the man in the government photos, cheerful and plump. In striped faded shirt and baggy pants, he has aged terribly. After serving the two, Fattuah prays facing the window. He eats alone.

Klundt balks at how Fattuah hardly talks, even when spoken to. It’s a suspicious trait, he comments, this raging efficiency. Shockley, putting a finger to his lips, leans over towards Klundt, “He admitted to me this morning that his wife and children were abducted during the war. He showed me their photos. I believe he carries them everywhere. He must be terribly desolate.”

Nien, I don‘t care if he hears me,” says Klundt, pushing the same finger to his lips. “I will never understand their mentality. I have scars on both arms, courtesy of the Beni Shakir, to show what their mentality amounts to.” Klundt stands up, excuses himself and heads toward a room with chipped tiles, and leaky toilet, a tawdry approximation, Shockley believes, of a bathroom. He keeps the door only partially closed.

After dinner. Fattuah arranges belongings, bags, folded-up tents and mosquito nets. He sits down in a straw chair and smokes a water pipe. His body is small and sinewy. In the dining room, Klundt is absorbed polishing his diamonds.

Shockley spots a thin watchband on Fattuah’s wrist that strikes him as odd. It becomes more conspicuous when Fattuah rolls up his cuffs.

“May I see your watch, please . . . A woman’s watch? You don’t mind me asking, do you?”

Fattuah stands. He raises and flexes his wrist.

“No, Effendum, I do not mind. Miss Bell gave me this watch on a trip to Damascus. It no longer works but I keep it in memory of her. For the reason of . . . Sentiment. Yes. If I need the time, I have ten thousand others.”

Shockley smiles politely, makes no guess as to what he meant by that statement, and slinks back on the sofa. Fattuah remains standing in front of him, as if waiting to be dismissed.

“Effendum. Perhaps this is a good a time as any to give you something. Something from Miss Bell.”

“ Miss Bell?”

Fattuah walks over to a corner of the room and opens up a bag. He holds out a thick box, wrapped in canvas, in both hands.

“Miss Bell mentioned your name on several occasions. She always spoke of you in the highest regard. It is her diaries. One of Faisal‘s guards discovered them and gave to me. I promised I would deliver them to one of Miss Bell‘s trusted countrymen to take home to her family.”

Shockley stares at the leather bag. He runs his hand along the rough canvas cover, does not open it. It weighs like a melon.

“Her diaries? Why weren’t they returned to Miss Bell?”

Fattuah lowers his head slightly and looks at his feet.

“Faisal might have destroyed them. A diary could contain information causing animosity on both sides. And there is much looting in Baghdad. It could fall into the wrong hands.”

He raises his eyes to meet Shockley’s.

“An extraordinary woman she was. A chief of the Anazeh tribe once said if you add so many men, so many men, they would not add up to one such woman.”

An amazing thing to admit, thinks Shockley.

Fattuah carries trays of half-eaten plates to the kitchen and begins scraping them. The screeching sound makes Klundt jump. “Must you make so much nooooise,” he yells.

Shockley throws cold water on his face, changes his clothes, then goes for a walk along the narrow streets and mated small houses. The sun is low and yellow-gold. He wants to clear his head of all of this. The diaries. What was in them? When will Cox’s telegram of further instructions arrive? Can he trust Klundt? And this whole situation with Bell that if mishandled could prove a diplomatic disaster.

The sun washes the dome of Hagia Sophia with orange-red rays. He closes his eyes, attempts faltering half-steps like a blind man. He pictures Gertrude. She’s traveling on a donkey through a busy bazaar like the one before him on her way to visit the Sultan. He read it in the transcripts. She returns to England to support women’s suffrage and to help the impoverished wives and mothers of iron and steel workers. She collapses in a chair under a portrait of Queen Victoria.

Where are you? he thinks. Have you aged poorly? Are there now lines on your face? Must get you out of bed. I’m coming to take you home. You have traveled too far and have stayed too long. You are in blackest of mood. I have a sense of this.

Shockley opens his eyes. He returns to the apartment. Klundt hands him a telegram from the London Office. “It just arrived,” he says, with a half face of shaving cream.

The office, it states, has received Shockley’s telegram of his arrival and is most sensitive of the situation. They are to be cautious. Violent confrontations everywhere between tribes. No mention of a military escort. Faisal reneged on his promise to provide one of his. Cox cannot be reached. Further efforts will be made to contact Lord Burke’s Office in Inshafan. Miss Bell refuses to receive members of the British press. No word about her condition.

Shockley crumples the paper and tosses it to the floor. We’re leaving tomorrow, he announces to the other two. Klundt yells from the bathroom that he has nicked his face with a razor. Fattuah says nothing. Shockley is tempted to open the diaries but doesn’t.

* * *

The Nejd. The sun is a treacherous flame over an immense oven. Shockley’s head pounds and his cheek bones burn like tiny charcoals. He’d prefer quicksand or a quick death. Granules swirl and lodge themselves in his eyes and make them sting. He sees this endless void of sand, nothing but sand and his head hums. He wonders. Is it his own voice that is speaking over the hum?

Before them, the carcass of a dead goat. A man in white turban sits next to it and waves to them. They are now miles from the jeweled mountains of Druze country or the stalking fields of the Hauran plain.

Shockley swings around. A familiar sound makes him wince. The last of the three mules brays and drops to the ground. Klundt curses the animal and instructs Fattuah to bury more luggage; it will only weigh them down, he says. The two sit still in the furnace. “Done,” says Fattuah, wiping his hands of sand. They press on.

Klundt points out ancient relics and ruins they pass, pieces of china left in the desert, he calls them. Shockley replies that they should not have discarded so much luggage, that there won’t be enough blankets at night. He’s always shivering. “Nonsense,“ says Klundt abruptly, raspy, “you are too thin skinned.”

The monotony of the camel‘s steps is numbing Shockley’s brain like a lullaby.

“Effendum,” says Fattuah from behind, “do not stare into the sun.”

But he does.

The sun looms larger and threatens to engulf him. He wonders if they are traveling upside down on its surface and the sand is really sky. It is all he can see and all he can dream of, but he can never think in this confounded sun.

Wonder. Wonder. Wonder.

What would a man hear, he wonders, if his puts his ear to the desert floor?

A clock ticking?

Wind chimes?

Voices of slain soldiers?


His own thoughts?

He ponders this. What time is it in Cairo? What time is it in Oxford? The time it takes him to get to Baghdad. How much time, he muses, do they really have? Here, there is no time. Time is endless or one spasm of it. What time is it? Will they reach her in time?

All those discussions about time back at Cambridge: Plato, Hegel, Bradley, Aristotle, Schoepenhauer. Whose time was correct? Whose time is it? Tell me, thinks Shockley,
how do you tell the time here? Without a watch, he is lost. Ask Fattuah, he thinks. He has ten thousand watches all ticking at a different time.

In the desert, thinks Shockley, there is no time.

His head rocks back and forth and the voice inside his head grows persistent, grating. He looks ahead and watches Klundt‘s body gently sway on his camel as if dangling from invisible rope. He wipes his eyes. Klundt’s figure is still a wavering outline in water.

The sun, thinks Shockley.

The Sun. The Sun. His Royal Majesty, the Sun. His Holy Eminence, the Sun. Now that, he knows, was always an instrument of time. What clue does it give in finding Gertrude Bell? Where is Gertrude Bell with her long reddish hair and freckles, that bright bouncy girl he once played with?

Conjure this image of her. She is running past all clocks and meadows and rose gardens. She is the same Gertrude he remembers burying her pet next to her real mother, the same Gertrude who once fell through glass, the same Gertrude lying with fever in Baghdad.

He suspects Miss Bell is somewhere destroying all maps, smashing all clocks.

Entertaining thought. Miss Bell lives in the center of the Sun which is a useless measure of time because it is a hollow sphere which is at the center of everything he desires and no moment precedes or succeeds any other . In the sun, he can only travel in circles.

His conclusion: They are headed towards the Sun and not Baghdad.

He watches Klundt drain the last drops of water into his mouth. Klundt’s voice bellows in the air. “I am turning back! Our water, supplies, are too stretched.”

“Nobody is turning back!”

He now accuses Klundt of leading them far off course. He says he believes Klundt has deceived them into an unspecified route so he can visit more excavation sites. Klundt shrugs and laughs as if teased by a coquettish belly dancer. Shockley, speaking to the back of Klundt’s head, claims that if the sun had not drained him of strength, he would hold him at gunpoint and kill him.

“But you have not the nerve, English! The heat has soaked up your reserves.” Klundt reverses the camel‘s direction.

“You were paid to take us to Baghdad! Turn around.”

“I never promised to take you to Baghdad. I promised I would lead you to the safest route. Tell your English matriarch Klundt says Guten Tag .”

“You bloody call this safe? Leaving us to die in the middle of nowhere? Stop!”

Doktor. Who do you think you are looking for? A woman with the title of archaeologist and the soul of a street urchin. She is a traitor to your beloved Crown and not even Faisal has any use for her. She will sell herself to the highest bidder. Do you know what I know? Are we three blind mice? One blinder than the other? This woman must have harbored delusions of ruling Persia alongside Faisal. The king was inspecting his troops. She galloped at full speed to be at his side. He turned his head and ignored her. Ach! He dismissed her without a word. Ja! Just like that”

He snaps his fingers.

“And something else you should know!”

“ I don’t want to hear it! You’re speaking bloody rubbish! How do you know this?”

“I have my sources in Baghdad. Ja, She helped him get elected. But now she is worthless as a used rag to him. The price of love. Go. Break your heart looking for her. As for me, I will break my heart looking for water.”

“I’m warning you. Turn around.”

“Break your heart.”

Now several feet behind their camels, Klundt is whistling what Shockley believes is a German beer hall tune.

As if not with his own hand, Shockley reaches for his revolver and . . .

“No!” screams Fattuah.


Klundt falls from his camel with a sound the dying mules made when hitting sand.

The sun, thinks Shockley.

The two stand over the body, neither one speaking. Shockley throws down the gun. He mumbles to Fattuah without looking at him.

“I did not do that. I did not kill him. My God. ”

“We will bury him and say nothing,” says Fattuah, kneeling, scraping back an area of sand, his knees darkened in blood. “In the desert, you sometimes step outside yourself. You sometimes become a different person who does things you would not ordinarily do.”

They drag the body into a dune, cover it with sand. He never trusted him, says Shockley. It wasn’t the route they agreed upon. Unspecified. Unspecified.

Yes, says Fattuah. Say nothing. They must reach Baghdad.

Shockley remounts his camel and falls. Fattuah cradles his head and pours water over his face. Shockley struggles to sit up, Fattuah‘s face has eclipsed the sun.

“Are you alright, Effendum? Cannot give you more water. Not enough.”

“Where are we?”

“ Do not know.”

“I didn’t kill him.”

“No, you did not.”

“Fattuah . . . What time is it?”

That night in a tent, shivering, Shockley takes out Gertrude’s diaries, rips apart the cover and turns to the few blank pages towards the end. His head still humming, and his body so weak, the sensation of falling down a dry water well, he writes in shaky script. The image of the Sun still swells in his head.

I am standing in the drool of the afternoon and in the far corner of her room. Our fingers work like squirrels, inept squirrels, no time for self-loathing. Shall I taunt her with my strapping figure? Or shall I fool myself in complete disregard of mirrors?

Off with those boots! Off with those buttons! Off with those starched smiles. We fall onto a spongy mattress and kick off the top layer of sheets. She is bleeding sand.

She is somewhat bigger boned than most of the women I have known. But I suspect she is in some way more brittle than they.

Outside our dusty room, soldiers click their boots towards Damascus. But here, all afternoon, we, children playing with sabers, imitating soldiers, grow so derelict of our righteous agendas.

Facing the ceiling fan, I pose to her my ultimatum: Will it be Faisal or me?

She leans into my arm, gazes down at her hat of flowers on the floor.

“You pompous bastard. You forgot to shut the blinds.”

She laughs.

I turn away from her.

She slips a hand over my shoulder. Why so sad? She asks.

“Our timetables,” I say. “With you, I feel lighter than air. When you leave, the air is stones.”

She leans her head against the back of my shoulder and taps a finger in perfect rhythm.

“I know. I know,” she says. “Whenever I’m feeling wretched, I think of the beauty of tamerisk trees. Their calmness. Their ability to sway but stay resolute. It helps get me through the day. Helps keep me chipper.”

There is a knock on the door. Hush! I jump to the floor.

It is Fattuah. Dinner, he announces, will be served in ten minutes.

* * *


* * *

Faisal’s camp outside Baghdad. Shockley dismounts and approaches a king’s guard. He hands over papers requesting reception with Faisal. The guard, barely looking at it, instructs him to wait. He returns, tells Shockley he can go in but the other must wait outside.

Shockley enters a large tent and addresses Faisal, who looks thin and solemn and faces away from Shockley.

“Your Majesty, I am very grateful you have allowed me an audience. I am sure you have been expecting my visit.”

Faisal, looking distracted, slowly turns and half smiles. “And how can I be of service to you, sir?”

“Your Majesty, you must excuse my appearance; we have come a long way. I am asking permission to see Miss Bell. I understand you have granted permission through our ambassador. The London Office wishes to inquire into her state of health as quickly as possible. I ask your assistance in seeing her.”

Faisal rubs a thumb along his jaw and stares curiously at Shockley.

“Miss Bell? You have come for Miss Bell?”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“My dear poor man. How long have you been traveling in the sun? It can be rather strong. I’m afraid Miss Bell is no longer here. Miss Bell is dead. I never believed it myself at first. A woman of Miss Bell’s stature succumbing to pneumonia. Our doctors did what they could. She had done much for our liberation. I might add, uhm, she was given a most impressive military funeral. What route did you come by? . . . I will provide adequate lodging and food for you. And, of course, arrange a safe transportation back home.”

“Your Majesty, I have documents from Sir Percy Cox. She cannot be dead. And I received a telegram dated May 3, 1926 still confirming our mission. It cannot be more than two weeks old.“

Shockley’s fingers fumble through the pockets of his dirty khakis. The telegram, he now realizes, was discarded. Faisal waves his hand, tells him to search no further.

“Sir, my humble apologies. But I believe today’s date according to your calendar is now June 27, 1926. Yes. The sun can do that. Make you forget time. And as for your Sir Percy. Again, my good man, what route did you come by? It is my understanding that he resigned from the Office recently.”

Shockley is stone faced and unblinking. His words tumble out in the hush tone of a dying man.

“We came a very long route.”

“If it is any consolation, we Arabs had a saying about Miss Bell. That so many men, so many men, could not equal one such woman.”

“An Englishwoman must never be afraid.”

“Yes. That was a favorite motto of hers. So few of us are destined to achieve immortality.”

Shockley stands numb, studies the trimmed hairs of Faisal’s beard, feels dizzy. He bows and excuses himself.

Outside the tent, he finds Fattuah, sitting on the ground, knees drawn to chest, pitching stones. His face is blank, listless, gazing off into the distance. He calls out to him, there is no response; he cannot stimulate even a twitch.

“You knew, didn’t you? You were her closest . . . Perhaps you found her dead. Perhaps you took her diaries. Perhaps . . . Perhaps. Why didn’t you . . .”

“I have done a dishonorable thing, Effendum. I agreed to accompany you for the money. It will cost me to locate my family and I cannot believe they are dead. It would have been unwise to say the truth.”

He rises and faces the orange flame of sun, setting.

“I do not believe she died, Effendum, not a woman like her. Forgive me. I had read through her diaries. A terrible thing to do, yes, I admit. Each day, I hear her voice from those pages. But you can still find her. If you just open the diary and follow her voice . . .And now, I must find my family.”

Fattuah wipes sand from his red pants and wanders away toward the open desert. He walks until nothing but a speck in Shockley’s line of vision, a dark granule fading into a blur.

Yes, Shockley thinks. The watch Miss Bell had given him had stopped. It does not matter now. She is beyond all timetables, beyond all deadlines.

His brain cries out for water.

Klundt is dead. Gertrude is dead. Fattuah will die starving mad. And this he thinks is what he has to show for his labor? A handful of sand? His marvelous new theory—he lives in a world staged with stupid bloody puppets of which he is one. At least if he could bleed oil, he‘d be rich!

He looks around. The desert is spinning.



An ancient sponge throbbing.

He is standing upside down.

Klundt was right. Break your heart.

He collapses.

He awakes on a dusty blanket, glancing upward towards the dome of a billowing tent. Sand granules lodge on his tongue, grate against his teeth. A veiled woman wrings water from a towel and pats a cool one to his forehead. Shockley pushes her hand away, slowly rises, grabs Gertrude’s diaries from a saddle bag. He frantically flips through the pages. He settles on Gertrude’s last entry.

“. . . Sir Percy left not more than an hour ago. He was pacing and pacing and I was smoking up a storm. I dare say his pacing was driving me over the edge. ‘How could he?’ I screamed. ‘How could Faisal reject the mandate! Stab us in the backs so?’ Oh, did Sir Percy explode. ‘I told them. I told them. Leave this whole bloody Mesopotamian Affair to the India Office. Let them handle the rule. Gertrude, go home. Go home. Your work here is done. Both sides have much to thank you for.’ He stomped out of the room, gripping that riding stick like a weapon. That dreadful ceiling fan spinning ever so slowly.

“I ran to the stairwell, catching myself on the rail, coughing my silly head off. Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me alone! You’re the only damn friend here I have left.

“Was I crying? Mustn’t think so.

“Undressed. Threw on a robe. I tried to nap. Really I did. It was useless. I awoke. Imagined Faisal standing over me with that sly smile of his, ordering me to strip.

“ . . . I am coming down with chills; my head feels like a heat blister. I look out the window. Could acacia grow in such a non-indigenous climate? It’s funny what an illness can do to one. And didn’t mother die of pneumonia? How I wish father was here; he must be getting too old to take care of those flowers back home.

“I stagger to the bathroom, my chest heaving, hurting, smash all these mirrors, this face, it cannot be mine, so lined, so haggard, and I am growing smaller; I am running through the rooms of my parents’ mansion in my velvet dress and blue stockings, a knock at the door—ah! Stephen back from the Boar war—how handsome he looks in uniform, you love me or not, he asks; put me on the spot, I say, you know my head is as smoky as a room of narghyle , and sitting so poised on the sofa is this stranger in white robes, asking my father for my hand; I cannot see his face and no, the suitors are sitting all neatly in a row and I say to him, ‘Oh, Papa, they are such nice and handsome young men, but they are oh so terribly boring;’ and I am riding to greet Faisal, amidst ten thousand rifles raised, My Love, we shall rule Persia, you and I—and he shunned me, shunned me, shunned me—and I am growing smaller, descending into crowded basement rooms, the stench of sickly flesh, the flesh of interrogated prisoners, of Moslem girls who will die giving birth, everywhere sooty-faced children and the corpses of their brothers; and they’re telling me to go home, Gertrude, your job here is done, go home, and water your English garden and tend to your English flowers, that is what a woman does, isn’t it? and my chest is squeezing; I need fresh air, fresh air; I open the window in my parents mansion; I open my window in Constantinople; I open the cabinet door -- there are small bottles, unlabeled bottles, dark tinted bottles, curious bottles, outdated bottles, tinctures, extracts, elixirs, alcohols, salves, ointments, sleeping pills.

“Sleeping pills.

“Sleeping pills?

“Pills that make you sleep.

“Papa, where are you! Have I grown too small, too old, too weak to live?

“Oh dear. What a silly woman I am. A middle aged school girl stuck in the middle of all this. Perhaps, Sir Percy, you look down your nose at me too. Just like all your fine officers and their stuffy wives. All along you were just pretending to protect me from all those men who thought me their inferior. In the end, politics prevails and I am sand and dust.

“An Englishwoman must never be afraid.”

Gripping the diary, Shockley parts the flaps of the tent and stumbles into open air. He rips out pages, one after the other, crumpling them, pitching them into the breeze. He watches the balls of paper scatter in the sand, hopes they will blow away as far as the Euphrates, perhaps further, across the English Channel. He throws down the shredded book.

A curly-haired child begins poking a twig through several of the papers, making a game of it. He runs over to Shockley, motioning him to retrieve a page off the bark. He stands smiling before him as if expecting a reward in dinar . Shockley thanks him, lifts the topmost paper. After turning it upside down, over and back, he holds it steady in the dying light. The perforated paper is almost unreadable.

My poor precious men, what has taken you oh so very long? You must have walked for an eternity. Come out, come out from under that wretched sun. Do come in and help yourself to some fresh orange water and biscuits. It is so dreadfully hot, isn’t it? Will you be staying for tea? Please keep me company.

The woman standing before him, in long ruffled dress, twirling a parasol over her wide-brim hat of flowers, walks away. In the distance, she becomes something small, wispy—gone by sundown.

Of course, he realized. It was not what the paper had read. There was no woman before him. He had put his ear to the desert floor. He heard a shadow falling through glass.

Rather a fine madness.

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has work pubbed in Noo Journal, Riverbabble, Elimae, Apple Valley Review, and others.

What is the most important part of a historical fiction story?
I think the most important part of a historical fiction story is character. No matter who you are writing about, or what facts you choose to include or ignore, the character, as in all good fiction, must stand out and be fascinating


Walrus and Blue Dream  (pubbed in Kalietrope, issue 13, Oct. 2011)

I can’t sleep. Or maybe never. When I do crash, I am fully submerged under ice, blue ice, ice as a form of loving death. It’s a struggle to come up for air that pricks and stings my nostrils. For days, I wander in this fantastic arctic zone, trek miles of white tundra and frozen gullies, step over the phantom bodies of polar bears, lazy-eyed and over-tranquilized. I walk until I reach my sister, Kore, who is standing in the middle of a frozen island. I pluck her words from the cold air and wait till they thaw in my palm. This is how arctic mammals communicate in subfreezing climates. Their words congeal in the air and melt in another season. I’ve entered this dream to rescue my sister. My sister fell into a nocturnal trance while our mother’s eyes were closed. She is our good mother. And Kore was lulled by our dark stepfather.

“Is it really you, Justin? You look so tired. Have you been eating?”

“Yes, I say. And you?  Are you still hiding from daylight?”

“No, and I’m not afraid of being photographed like this. If I just stick to the diet pills, I can beat this thing. And there must be so many girls with this weight problem like me. I can’t stay up here for too long. Father doesn’t like being left alone. Under ice, he feels so unloved.“

My sister is a bulimic, capable of ingesting great quantities of food on some days, perhaps enough to satiate a polar bear, and then on others, she spews the morsels out, the heads and gills of poisonous fish. What she doesn’t know is that I know a family secret. She’s stays with our stepfather, the same one who tried to buy my love with toys, who taught me how to skate over the great tundra. But the night he kidnapped my sister, I listened to the sounds of tiny fish at the bottom of the ocean. They mimicked his words and promises—how he would make her the princess of all starving fish, the queen of all freshwater.  Now she’s gone for good. Our mother has grown so desolate in her solitude that she wears sunglasses during the day. I never told her that I managed a secret passageway to see my sister. One night I saw behind my eyelids tiny fish jumping through my fingers. They told me secrets and how my sister was loved-starved, a body image totally out of proportion. She was beautiful but our stepfather told her she was fat and ugly. She was made eternally dependent on our cold stepfather.

“Can you imagine summer?” she says. “Can you imagine the midnight sun over a place like Norway? Can you imagine how warm it could make us?”

And if I wasn’t so nervous about standing on this thin sheath of ice, I would say, yes.

“I can picture summer,” she says. “Dad is outside helping Mom with the grill, and he looks like hell because he’s been working double shifts at the post office, and Mom won’t hear any more about it -- we’re all going to be in this photo. And in that photo, I’m beautiful and thin.”

“You were the only one who wasn’t in it, “I say. “We all missed you.” I imagine a white area in the photo where Kore would have been standing. Not even the fanciest brush tool in Photoshop can mask Kore’s absence.

“How's Mom, doing?” she asks.

“The same,” I say. “Sometimes she gets edgy like a sea lion.”

“Do sea lions eat their young?” Her tone is flirtatious as a warm breeze.

I really have no answer. I know so little about sea lions.

“We'd wish you'd come home,” I say.

“Imagine that,” she says, “sailing south. A homecoming for the walrus queen.”

She locks her hands behind her head and lifts her eyes to the sky, mock-imitating the countenance of a rising starlet.

“I won't ever trade my flesh again for a coat of blubber,” she says. “Not even for Dad. It's worth slightly more than the price of seal skin. Do you know the going price of seal skin around here?”

“No. It must be outrageous.”

“Outrageous isn't the word.”

She tilts her head and warms me with a distant smile.

“And how have you been?” she says. “Isn't it amazing that we met here?”

I can hear her limbs crack. She’s starting to thaw. She would make a beautiful Eskimo girl on a postcard.

“I need so much sleep,” I say. “So much. We were so sick worrying about you. I haven’t slept for weeks.”

“Your landlocked secrets are mine. Remember how we use to walk like the penguins? There was a time when you would laugh and the days passed like the rubber balls we’d toss to each  other during summer solstice. It was like winter would never come and you would laugh at me in mirrors. I was so happy back then. Before Mom remarried. I never thought I would grow fat, something not even the fish would eat.”

I wish I could laugh. Nothing is very funny in this hemisphere. I'm not sure what the Norwegians would think. And I'm not sure if the Vikings could ever tell the difference between hyperborean day and night. Because I sure can't. There is this persistent problem of light’s refractoriness, one that can cause you to mistake a harpoon for an arm, a photo for a face. It's as persistent as Kore’s  love for her favorite endangered mammals -- the walruses.

Kore smiles and begins to walk towards me, trying to jump across floating patches of snow and ice.

I raise my arm, shaking it. “No,” I say, “Kore, stay where you are. You’ll fall in and I’ll lose you again. Please come home. Mother is becoming snow-blind.”

“I miss her so much. I know she must think I am horrible. But it’s not like you think,” she says. “Everybody thinks the bottom is dark. It’s not. It’s a vacation spot for bulimics and sea turtles. The way the sun greets the snow-maiden glaciers, it turns everything into a light shade of blue. I could exist there without breathing, without eating, without thinking. Without regretting. And of course, there are the walruses.”

This is how my sister drowns in the rift between us, a river that chilled even the greatest of explorers or freshwater fishermen, as I stand on this ice sheath of a dream that not even a Captain Cook would claim.   

And from below I hear the voice of our stepfather calling Kore to keep him warm, our stepfather, the true northern son of Hades. I’ve lost her again.

* * *


The Birds of Averrone (pubbed in Morpheus Tales #16

The Birds of Averrone are a select breed of air dwellers. They are alluded to in many fairy tales, and in most cases, the divergences in the retelling differ by only a degree of X. In one story, a Bird of Averrone saved a starving child by feeding her bread and pieces of pilchard and guppy. In that version, there was a forest and a ruined kingdom. In a more modern retelling, there is a doe-eyed princess who cannot be cured of club foot. Do you believe this, you ask. All I can say is that I was never a child with a set of invisible wings.

 When the Birds of Averrone circle above you, it means your lifeline is running out. If you are indoors, you can sense but not see the Birds of Averrone. On such days, hot days, days under the axe, I will close my eyes to the sun and hold up an arm, so a Bird of Averrone will land. In this way, I will not die alone. I, a falconer of men, cured of a morbid tendency to burn things to the ground.

 The Birds of Averrone are lonely but never alone. For this reason, they glide in flocks, in downward appeals, spirals, prayers, etc. You are familiar with the lingo. Lingua. It's been said that William of Ocham was inspired to develop his law of parsimony by observing a Bird of Averrone fly with one wing. How is that possible, you ask. In this world, anything is possible. I know that sounds flimsy.

 But to assuage your acute sense of balance or aerodynamics, your hatred of anything bloated or falling in slow motion, multiplying endlessly, I concede that the footnote is still debated by philosophers of science. Do you feel better? Do you feel you can now fly?

 As a child, I believed the Birds of Averrone flew over my house at least three times a months. I never knew where they came from or where they went, but I had names for those birds. Like Golki, Asperentia, Merusa. Sometimes I see the Birds of Averrone in somebody's eyes. When this happens, I try to hold that person close. Why, you might ask. Trust me.

When I was very young, my father buried my mother not far from our country home. At first, I thought she died of natural causes. It’s what he told me. I remember looking up at the sky and watching those glorious birds circling, lower and lower. Maybe they knew something I didn’t . I remember nights when my parents had heated arguments over my mother’s supposed infidelity.  But as months passed, I suspected my father killed her with the same axe his father used to slay his unfaithful wife. In the shed out back, I ran my finger over the sharp blade still stained with streaks of blood.

I’m not sure just when it started. My father,  perhaps from the stress and strain of raising me alone and providing for the two of us—began to exhibit bizarre traits. He began to stare at me in a menacing manner. He spoke sentences or asked questions of only a few syllables. Often, his speech sounded mumbled. My meals became measly rations. I concluded that I in some way I reminded him of the woman who betrayed him, the woman he tried to destroy all trace of. At night, I remember listening to the Birds of Averrone make strange noises upon our roof. Were they trying to tell me something?

Then, my father locked me in the basement. He said I mustn’t come out and if I try to escape I will meet a fate worse than my mother. “You’re mother went fast,” he stated dryly. “But you will die slow.” I noticed that he wasn’t shaving anymore and his clothes, the same ones worn for days, began to smell.

A single candle stayed lit. It helped me to see.

From the basement, I pleaded with him to let me go. I did nothing wrong. I shouted until I was hoarse. I cried myself to sleep on the hard cold floor. There was no answer from behind the locked door upstairs. I had only a vague notion of my own death at the time, but I shuddered whenever the door upstairs creaked open. Would this be the night, he would finally snap altogether, and kill me?

It was around this time that I began praying to the Birds of Averrone. I had picture books of them and in those pictures, they always seemed to look out from the pages at me. Perhaps they had chosen me for some mysterious reason and for what role I had no clue.

I began praying to those birds. I prayed to the leaders of the flock-- Golki, Asperentia, Merusa. I promised that if they would rescue me, I would forever feed them. As it turned out, they were the ones who fed me, bringing me breadcrumbs and raw fish and pushed their capture into the tiny space under the basement window too hard to open. They had understood my prayers after all.

Then one cold blistery winter evening, the upstairs door flew open. I was shivering from the cold, let alone the fright. Could it be, I thought, that my father had come to his senses and would rescue me and admit what a horrible mistake this all was? Or did he finally reach the end of what little sanity he had left?

I listened to his heavy feet pound each step. There was a certain thudding rhythm I will never forget. When he reached the bottom of the steps, he stood with his axe, and glared at me. “It’s time,” he said, “to return to your mother. She’s been calling you.”

He started to walk towards me.

With what little energy I had left, I ran to a corner of the basement and crouched in fear. Looking up, I watched him swing the axe this way and that, destroying the wooden benches and tables he once so meticulously built from scratch.

I started to pray to the Birds of Averrone.

The axe swung into the concrete walls. Chips of old paint went flying.

I closed my eyes and said, Golki, Aserentia, Merusa, save me now. And I will forever fly with you.

He swung the axe at the window. Shattered glass flew in every direction.

Then, he came closer and closer to where I was. I looked up again.

He blew the candle out. It was the very one my mother had made for him celebrating an anniversary.

I could feel the heat from his body. He stood before me and breathed heavily. I couldn’t tell if the pounding heart belonged to me or him. His face was scraggly and his eyes were wild. He raised the axe high over his head.

“Good-bye, you son of a whore.”

My eyes suddenly adjusted to the low light coming through the window. I could see very clearly and I hoped my death would be fast.

Just then, something fluttered through the window. It was a sound I heard in a dream a couple of nights before when I dreamt of how my father would murder me.

The birds flapped around his head, as he swung blindly at them. The axe dropped and my father staggered back. He screamed a deep throaty howl. I watched as they pecked out his eyes, then one, flew her beak straight into his heart. My father stood there dazed and bleeding for several moments. Then, he crashed to the floor. I remained numb and motionless.

Two of the birds flew out the broken window, carrying my father’s eyes with them. One bird, the one I called Merusa, remained perched on a chair watching me. An eerie feeling of familiarity came over me. I now had the strange feeling that this bird was my new mother.

At night in my bed, the Birds of Averrone fold their bodies against my legs. Their feathers feel like silk or voile and I often have dreams of being in abandoned rooms where I can be alone with my thoughts. In abandoned rooms, I often think of flying with Merusa. How I wish I had wings.

It's been said that if you feed a Bird of Averrone and it settles on your window sill for three consecutive nights, it means a small package of something Big will be coming to you. How do you know, you ask.

 Trust me.