A book I wrote from November 5th-November 28th, 2008 for National Novel Writing Month.


Stan took things with a grain of salt. It was just the way he was. Maybe it had something to do with his mother, her beleaguered downtrodden looks and palpable disappointment with all life had to offer, or not offer; or it could have been his blind, petulant sister, that ghastly wart haven with silvery frayed ropes of seaweed-like hair, but that wasn’t one of those things that he thought about. It could’ve been anything. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t much of anything really, just a hunch he had. That’s about as far as he’d let himself go with anything, just a hunch. That was usually enough. He never brushed his hair, but he did brush his teeth a lot. Again, just one of those things.
At this particular juncture in Stan’s life he just so happened to be standing in the middle of the Township-Haines Bridge, which spanned the Mudville flats and shot its cantilevered body out across the waters of Stiletto Bay. It was a fascinating view. Being that it was well after twilight, Stan could see all the lights on the hills across the shore that flickered like little campfires smoldering in the distance. Stan liked the way they looked out there. They made him feel hopeful—other people living their lives. Something that was outside of his own meager existence, said existence consisting of, just at this very moment, Stan standing all alone on this bridge with the icy harsh waters of Stiletto crashing by so far below him. He looked down at it, thinking of how it might feel to leap and plunge into it, to smack against the hard surface that was probably like concrete and would slap back, the cold stinging his skin at first, and then breaking his bones, crushing his fragile body into piecemeal. What was left of him, probably unconscious, would sink then, it would go down below those arctic pools of heaving water, go down deep to where the seaweed froze and stuck to the mud in the bottom. It would be there where he would probably come to rest. This thought wasn’t a comforting one. Stan decided to think about something else.
Up above the stars were like pinpricks in the sky’s integument, shinny epaulettes that the moon waxed nightly, the moon that was just a thin fingernail clipping tonight, tonight that was the night that Stan had come out here to the bridge to be alone and to take care of this business of living once and for all. Now, of course, he was hesitating. Now, with all that stellar scintillation going on up there in the sky’s inky black belly, he was just standing there not really doing anything. Stan, standing there with his arms at his sides, swaying a little, expressionless, sticking his tongue out a bit, pushing himself up and down on his toes, nodding his head a little, looking all over the place, waiting, waiting, waiting. This was always the problem. Everything he did always consisted of doing a whole hell of a lot of waiting, and not much else besides. So this time it went again. Waiting and waiting and always contorting conundrums of labyrinthine consecution that went tumbling on inside of his head—a way to be always moving but never going anywhere. Songs sung their way through his heart and ended up down in his shoes. But Stan always took things with a grain of salt. This was just another thing. Another way to be alive, always changing to stay the same.
A barge mooed and yawned its way through the night coming towards him. Its smoke stack puffed small foggy clouds and rocked a bit on the choppy waters as it soon went on under the bridge, under Stan, as he stood there wondering what would happen if he jumped and landed on it. It would probably be worse, more painful, and somebody would probably try to save him, try to glue the stuff of his corporeal self back together again, and it would probably cause a lot of commotion on board, that was if anybody even noticed. He thought of the phrase, “All hands on deck,” and wondered what it really meant.
The lights winked at him from the bridge’s cantilevered span. They were festooned on the giant ropes way up above him. He wondered what it would be like to climb all the way up the thick metal chords leading up to those lights, to get all the way up there, to sit down on the top span like some benighted funambulist and lie down and go to sleep forever. When Stan was a kid he used to be quite the climber. He would climb any tree that any kid dared him to climb. He would leap from rooftops and rocks above lakes, and one time from the top of his elementary school onto a patch of grass that turned out to be not quite as soft as he’d imagined from three stories up. He’d only hurt his knee and twisted his ankle, but he always had felt that he probably should have died, leaping from that height like that. It was an odd type of miracle to him. But it had been a decade or so since he had climbed anything besides the stairs to his bedroom. The moon was still there smiling at him with a thin banana slice of a smile. He waited for something to happen. Nothing did.

Car crashes and two head marks denting the front window and Skittles breath and driving in circles around a flagpole in a deserted parking lot and nights when the rain never went away and rivulets of thought that became gushing rampaging rivers careening away and knocking your dreams around like pinballs that sent a wild cacophonous diapason shooting through your head like the crash of a hundred cymbals and stop signs with their poles bent at a 45-degree angle and swimming naked on a hot summer night and looting abandoned houses and cobwebs in your hair and pigeons roosting in an alcove of an old soot-and-grime-covered building rotting away in a field and playing endless games of hide-and-seek in cornfields and drunken one-on-none football games played at 3 in the morning…why was it always right around 3 in the morning? Time was sure some joker. Stan stopped thinking all of these thoughts, which weren’t really thoughts anyway but just ideas about ways to have more thoughts later. Stan figured he must be caught up in good old F. Scott’s Dark Night Of The Soul again. He seemed to be spending a lot of time there lately. Nothing made much sense.

The cold breeze felt good on his face. It chapped his skin a little, but the steady soft gusts felt good in his hair, blowing it up a bit on top, and when he closed his eyes he could imagine some Norse God blowing a ceaseless flow of kisses to him, and the susurrations were comforting and pacified his always burning urges to, well not to do, but to think about doing all the myriad things that were always occurring to him to do. He rarely acted on any of his impulses. Too much cerebration had to occur before he could even begin to really contemplate an action. Too much time had to be used up weighing options and adding up dreams that germinated out of these and flowered and became other trains of thought, many of which he couldn’t ever take, and his woebegone head became at once swamped and over-stimulated and lopsided and eventually turned into a vat of coagulated oatmeal. It was difficult to make things occur. His mother used to pour hot water from the teakettle on his head when he stood in the same place too long. To be spending time merely thinking was seen as slothful, a real time wasting activity, and was most definitely not to be encouraged. On the highway of life he was always stuck in neutral, hoping an exit sign would magically appear and let him get off the road once and for all.
He was starting to shiver. His whole body was convulsing a bit, tiny spasms and contractions of muscles and facial tics, and he hunched his shoulders and rubbed his hands together and blew into his hands like a conch shell. It made him feel warmer. Then it didn’t.
An ominous roaring from the waters below rattled his head out of a reverie, and he shook his head around with quick rapid shakes like a dog might do after coming out of water. This was no time to make decisions like this. This was a time for quiet contemplation, for thoughts about one’s place in the universe, for those long long thoughts of youth that had been trapped in the splendor of the grass too long and now were pregnant with meaning, surcharged with blissful remembrance, caparisoned with romance and triumph. But Stan was crotchety by nature, and there was nothing for him to do but tremble in the wind and think about failure, and maybe regret a little too.
A car sped by on the bridge. Its headlights shot off like lasers pointing at some indefinable distance between things, things that were ineffable, but things that you could sense, like when those soft, downy hairs on your arms stood up in horripilation, and you felt like you were bathing in oceans of sorrow and jubilation all mixed up in the same boiling crucible where all the scum, which might or might not include yourself, rose to the top.

“You can’t piss down my back and make me think it’s rain.” A voice said this. Stan had no idea where it was coming from. It could’ve been coming from inside his own head for all he knew. Or maybe from somewhere in China. It didn’t seem to make a difference. It seemed impossible to know the answer for sure.
Another voice said, “Don’t tell me how to think. You aren’t the boss of me.” This voice was a woman’s voice. This he knew. The other voice was a man’s. He knew this now too. And the voices were leaking from somewhere not too far away, like maybe they were being squeezed through a hole in the other side of the universe, or they were coming from the two people standing about twenty feet or so away from him on the bridge. It was hard for Stan to make the distinction.
“Shut it. Shut your mouth. I’ve had quite enough of your…”
“You can’t talk to me like that. Don’t touch me, don’t you fucking touch…Ahh!”
“Shut it!”
“Don’t you…ow, ah…Police! Stop!”
It went on like this for some time. Eventually Stan heard some sobbing and a lot of commotion going on. He just kept looking out at the water and the lights on the hills. He wanted the loud voices to go away. They were ruining his landscape, and they were vexations to his placid spirit.
After the voices went away Stan breathed a sigh of relief that he was alone again and could continue his solitary brooding. Stan had always enjoyed brooding, just like he always took things with a grain of salt. Those were two things about Stan that you could always rely on.


Alice pulled into the liquor store’s parking lot with a wheezy clang, crashing her banged up ’73 Pontiac Firebird into a parking space’s cement block. The jalopy sputtered and heaved as it skidded in and came to an abrupt stop, rebounded a bit from the collision, and made one last caterwauling moan before giving up its ghost and settling down to rest on the pavement between the two faded white lines. It was a hell of an entrance. The three guys in dirty jeans leaning against the liquor store’s front window, smoking cigarettes, and holding 44oz Big Gulps in their hands, were all mightily impressed. Alice got out of the car, slamming the door shut after her, and smiled at the three leaning, smoking, Big-Gulp-drinking gentleman as she hurriedly went by. The red and black spikes of her Mohawk looked polished and clean, and stood up about 6 inches off of her head. She’d used egg whites and gelatin to achieve just the right look, smooth and hard and badass. The lock on the chain around her neck rattled as she walked, as did the chains on her skin-tight black bondage pants. All three guys looked at her ass and smiled.
The clerk at the liquor store knew Alice and said many kind things to her. Alice smiled at him through her black lipstick and laughed at his jokes. This was their conversation:
“Hey, it’s Spiky-Head Alice. Back again. I missed you. Where you been?”
“Hey Ronie. I don’t know, around. How ya doin’?”
“I’m good. You know me. I’m always good. The lights in here are so bright. I’m happy.”
“Nice. Hey, so, I’m kinda in a hurry.”
“Oh. You got nice plans. Nice places to go. I know. I’ve got it. Pack of Lucky Strike. Filter. See?”
“Wow. You’re good Ronie. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Not smoke.”
“Okay. Out of ten. Ten. Yes. There you go my dear. Five dollars for you to spend as you wish. Hey, you! By the Slurpee machine! I see you! You can’t refill that here. No. No. My friend.”
“Okay Ronie. See ya later.”
“Have no sorrow, for to-morrow might never be here.”
“Alright. See ya.”
“Hey. Hey! I see you. You bastard. Come here!”

Alice swished through the front door and unwrapped the pack of Luckies as she took long strides towards the Pontiac. Her soft-featured face let slip a smile at the leaning guys again. They said hi and smiled back.
The car was basically a piece of junk. It would’ve probably done better as scrap metal. Alice knew this, but she loved the damn thing. She’d practically grown up in it. It had belonged to her father and it was the first new car he’d ever purchased, and it was the car she’d learned how to drive in, and she’d been through a lot together with it. It made her feel proud to still be driving it around. She sat down on the ripped-up leather seat, pushed in the car’s lighter button, slightly tapped the pack with the palm of her hand while holding it upside down, and snatched one of the unloosed cigarettes out with her teeth. After rolling down the window, which was quite an effort because it stuck a lot and was manual, she hooked her left arm outside and lit up her cigarette. Alice loved smoking. It was one of her favorite things in the world to be doing. It didn’t take long for her to start feeling buoyant and at ease, her whole demeanor almost immediately changing, becoming insouciant and lax and carefree in an instant. She turned the keys in the ignition and the car roared like a chained beast from a deep dark dungeon. Smoke spewed out of the exhaust pipe. She put it in reverse and gunned it out of the parking spot, skidding out wildly. The leaning guys cheered and raised their Big Gulps in the air. The car sped out into the street leaving a swarm of dust and twirling trash in its wake.
Driving the car like this, with her cigarette trailing ash and red sparks like a firework gone berserk outside the window, made Alice feel calm, steady, and in control of things. Moments were hers to have. None of the other bullshit of living day-to-day mattered now. It was just her, here, driving this wild beast up into the foothills, carving up the streets, spitting at mailboxes, screaming into the wind, turning the volume on the tape deck all the way up and pounding her fists on the car’s tattered ceiling.
Flicking the butt of the cigarette into the street, she rolled up the window and made her way into the winding streets of Barbarous Hills. It was an odd place, up here where they called outsiders Flatlanders, with giant mansions and all kinds of dense foliage. The moniker most likely referred to something about the physical landscape and not the people who lived upon it. They were not barbarians by any means. Nor were their servants for that matter. This was where the rich people lived in their own little jungle playland. Alice loved to drive its forever s-curving streets, those sinuous whipping turns that snapped your neck and played havoc with your sense of direction.
The seat belt buckle was cold against her belly where her shirt rode up, and the thick strap rubbed against her neck as she jostled around with the sharp turns. On and on, around and around, she drove those crazy crooked swerving streets until she wasn’t even thinking about it, until she was just turning by instinct. She could’ve done it with her eyes closed. That gentle sway that each turn had that was unique yet easy to ride out, the sudden spinning whirl she’d give the long thin spokes of the steering wheel at the start, and then that steady pull that drew her in towards some unknowable middle, some place where things didn’t exist as they did anywhere else, a place of constant motion and some kind of giddy lifting of the spirits that went on and on in endless circling oblivion. The streets were always there, always the same, and they made things easy and somehow a little more real too. Her hands went from the wheel to the spokes and back again, her fingers gliding smoothly over the worn surface, sometimes only using her palms to turn and then with a twist of her wrist straightening back out again. She started saying, “I drive these streets. I drive these streets. I drive these streets.” She said it over and over again as she drove around and around the streets of Barbarous Hills.


The high desert winds don’t quite make it over from Box Springs all the way over the foothills and into the swelling gorge that is Pleasance City. But they do linger long enough in the general area for people who get xeroderma and hay fever to blame their troubles on, “those damn desert winds.” Pleasance City naturally does have a bit of an arid climate, but it has nothing to do with the desert, which lies about two hundred miles to the east over much mountainous terrain and suburban sprawl and many a retail outlet store. People don’t always blame the right things when looking for the etiology behind their woes. This doesn’t stop the small populace of Pleasance City from complaining about and hating any person who happens to come from Box Springs, which lies about midway between them and the desert itself. It is assumed, unquestionably and without hesitation, that the desert winds come from Box Springs, that they are the fault of all those who live in Box Springs, and that these winds are the cause of all rue and hardship inside the borders of the somewhat octagonal-shaped Pleasance. Now, the fact that this is just plain untrue does not matter to any of the people involved in this feud. Not even the people who come over from Box Springs to work in Pleasance Monday through Friday, commuting on the old RiverBelly Freeway and sweating away in traffic, really care about the veracity of this myth. They do feel unjustly maligned. But that’s mainly because, well, the wind, even if it were true that it was coming from their town, was just plain not their fault. People do not cause wind. That was always their argument. And you’ve got to agree, they do have a point. Pleasance residents don’t go in for that old line though. No. They’re too smart to fall for that one.
Pleasance City was settled by Germans in the early 19th century who came to California to build the perfect society, one that even good old Thomas More would be proud of, and they found this soft valley nestled away in the foothills, which flanked it on all sides like imposing monsters or just giant castle walls. They might have believed either one. For they were dreamers, these folks, and had many a gypsy and free spirit among them, and lived quite the epicurean lifestyle. In fact, they over-indulged on cheap liquor and gorged themselves so readily and so often on the shanks of mutton from the sheep that they raised, that they soon had literally eaten themselves out of house and home. So it came to be that times became thin for these first Pleasancites, and they lost many of their numbers through one of Southern California’s very rare harsh winters. People’s toes froze as they slept. Many a dog died frozen stiff with icicles hanging from its whiskers. These good German people soon came to regret their decision to come out to this new land. One of them recorded in his diary, “You just can’t get good Bratwurst out here.” It was true. But, luckily, some brave few survived and struggled onward. It is these proud few who propagated like rabbits and littered the valley with their progeny. Some of their nomenclature still survives, as in the names of the hills to the east now called the Barbarous Hill community. It is rumored that the last of the original settlers moved away into these hills and became warriors and thieves and lived on the fruition of the hills’ dense foliage. It is not known whatever happened to them, or if they merely died out, but the neighborhood was named in their honor.
Daylight Savings Time is another major subject of contention among the Pleasancites. Every year at the end of October it’s the same thing. Nobody is quite sure when, or if, it is supposed to begin. And how many hours back they are supposed to actually set their clocks and watches and the time displays of their microwaves and VCRs is another annual community argument. Eventually they just do whatever they feel like, and nobody is ever on time. This creates much bad blood between friends and families, and creates havoc with people’s work schedules. The grocery store in the middle of town used to close at midnight. But since nobody could ever figure when midnight actually was, as each person had their own personal midnight, the store eventually just decided to stay open 24 hours during DST. That’s another odd thing about the denizens of Pleasance, they only have these time squabbles during autumn DST. When it comes time to switch the clocks back again on the second Sunday of March each year, these same folks who have basically been living in a timeless society, all agree to set their clocks to the accurate PDT standard. So it goes on with the Pleasancites. Squabbling over the nothings that make life unendurably dull, finding glory in the little nuances of their individual smug satisfaction with the meaningless “purpose” in their little lives. It is all very important.
Those temerarious few who devote themselves to governing the always-bickering populace of Pleasance have come up with a system for keeping their constituents happy. Once a year they have a Summer Fair at which they give away a week’s worth of food to every attending family. This includes feed for any animals, as well canned food for house pets. In truth, if the food were to last any normal family for a week they would be eating some pretty skimpy meals by Wednesday, said meals most likely consisting of roasted Spam on eggs with a small glass of milk to pass around. But it was better than nothing. It was hard to pass up free stuff, or, it would seem, to vote against it. Pleasance switched off mayors every two years. The dozen members of the governing party merely switched themselves out in order until all of them had had a chance to be mayor at least once. It probably wasn’t the most democratic system for running a local government, but nobody seemed to mind. Besides, people have more important things to do than worrying about who the current mayor is. They’ve got clocks to turn back and wind to complain about.
If you take Ferngrove road down past the Button Factory, hang a long swooping right by The Hitching Post Costume Store, and drive on the badly-paved straightway there for about 20 minutes or so, you’ll come to a house with five pine trees in the front yard, a small porch and a porch swing badly in need of repairs, a chimney with a few bricks askew or missing, and a Rottweiler tied to the chain-link fence that surrounds the place like a prison gate. The grass is patchy and yellow in spots and choked with weeds taller than a good-sized horse. Rocks and insects abound. A few of the windows have cracks in them, and there’s a rolled-up-newspaper-sized hole in the opaque stained-glass window by the front door. All the doorknobs are rusty and loose. The place has more than a lived-in look to it. Maybe you could call it a died-in look.
The people that live here are called the Munsons. They bear no relation to the famed Yankee catcher Thurmon Munson who, sadly, passed on in a plane crash one winter in the late seventies, though many were those who have made the mistake and tried to get little Sammy Munson to sign up for their Little League team. This being an unfortunate mistake indeed, as little Sammy, bless his tiny heart, was stricken with polio and chicken pox in the same week when he was only four, and though he resiliently and valiantly battled both diseases and won, his legs are deformed and rail-thin and bend in very odd ways, making even the task of walking to the refrigerator to grab a quick cup of OJ a real pain in his ass. Suffice it to say, getting down behind the dish for a game of hardball wasn’t on Sammy’s to-do list many days.
You could say that the Munson’s are a bit of a reserved people. They keep to themselves for the most part. Jamie Munson was always the breadwinner, though the only bread he ever won was the loaf they gave away at the county fair every July, and he stayed married to Minnie on and off for about seventeen years. Minnie was quite a looker in High School, and Jamie never let her wander far from his sights. At the Halloween dance their senior year they went as chain-gang prisoners locked together at the ankles. Jamie liked it so much that he threw the key away. After about four or five days Minnie started complaining because her ankle was getting swollen. Jamie got scared that that was a sign of her being pregnant and called 911. Eventually the fire department had to be called in to separate them, and had to use and axe to cut through the chains. It turned out Minnie was pregnant, which had nothing to do with them being chained together of course, but Jamie never liked chains much after that. They made his skin crawl a bit.
Minnie and Jamie had eight kids in eight years. Minnie was either pregnant or getting pregnant or having a baby for pretty much her entire twenties. Harmon Boyle was the first. The first thing that Jamie said after Harmon was born in their cellar was, “Damn. Kid’s gonna be a big boy. Big boned.” It turned out to be quite a good bit of prognostication on Jamie’s part. Harmon shot up higher than the weeds in no time, and grew wider than most of the doorways, so Jamie always had to go around pushing the poor kid through the doorjambs, which would make a very satisfying kind of popping sound and send Harmon sailing through into the next room. Harmon kind of enjoyed it, and sometimes would get stuck over and over just to get his poor dad’s attention, and to feel the special weightless kind of feeling that came with being unstuck from a doorjamb like that. After one too many stickings, Jamie would just leave him there and walk away, using other routes to get around the house, which would leave Harmon mewling and howling and shaking his porcine shape all over, making his giant adipose rolls undulate and flap until at some point his mother would start to feel sorry for him and jab a broom in his back to plop him out. Harmon was truly a big boy.
For some reason the kids kept coming to the Munsons. Maybe they were blessed. Next came two girls in a row, Nelsie Ray and Phyllis, both of whom had lots of hair. Nelsie Ray had a big round head of stramineous curls that hung in ringlets above her soft pallid face, and her retrousse nose was always shoving its way into the air as she haughtily strode around the house paying careful attention to nobody and nothing that was going on around her. Phyllis’s hair was long and dark red, and she usually kept it in a ponytail, which sometime around her 16th birthday made its way all the way down to her wide rump. Her freckles were abundant and gave her what she felt was some extra pizzazz to her already jovial and effervescent personality. The two were secretly very close, though in public feigned to loathe each other to the dismay of their doting parents who wanted nothing more than for all of their children to just get along. A loyalty and deep affection was held by each for the other, and nothing was more important to them than keeping up this specious façade of mutual hatred to the rest of the world. This gave them both an indescribable thrill—the shared private knowledge that it was just the two of them against the world.
Sammy was next, and his plight is well known: the polio, the chicken pox, the deformed legs, and all the rest.
After Sammy came Julio, who was a cellist; Aubrey who was blind and had warts all over her face and hands; Stan who was a depressive; and finally little Alice who was a loner and a rebel and liked to smoke cigarettes.
That about sums about the Munsons. They were really quite an unusual clan, but nice enough.

It wasn’t until early 1999 that most everything started to fall apart for the Munsons. That was the year Jamie decided that he needed to see the world and, leaving his 8 offspring and his dearly beloved wife behind, he set out in search of his true destiny. This destiny turned out to be driving around in a gas guzzling VW bus for about a year, and then, after crashing it into a Bob’s Big Boy statue in Baker, he hopped a tour bus to Vegas and gambled away what remained of his meager life savings. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
The rest of the Munsons kept on trying to hold the household together, but it wasn’t easy. The house needed a lot of repairs, and Minnie was overburdened tenfold, what with having to mind all those kids, fix meals, clean and also find ways to make money. She would make clothes for other families and put together collages to sell at the local art fair down in Gulliver Square every month. They just barely got by.
This year, almost ten years after Jamie’s departure, was the year that Alice turned 21. The last of Munsons to become an eligible drinker, she had a lot of catching up to do. The previous year Stan had come from out of nowhere and drunk everyone under the table, and had been doing so steadily every since. Alice, fortunately or unfortunately, decided on her 21st birthday that she would forever be a teetotaler. This was looked on unfavorably by her siblings, all of whom were legendary tipplers in their own right—even Sammy had a taste for barley wine and bitters—and all of whom also saw it as their birthright to try and douse the flames of their disappointment, ennui, and morbid outlook on things in general with a good snootful most nights of the week. When presented with the ritual shot of homemade Red Eye to go along with her slice of rhubarb pie, Alice took the shot glass and hurled it out the kitchen window. She then proceeded to fantodically howl with laughter, almost going apoplectic on the floor’s red tiles. Nobody knew what to think. It was a sad day in the Munson house. Alice snuck out late that night, via the rope ladder she uncoiled from her 2nd story window, and took her dad’s old blue ’73 Pontiac Firebird out for a drive.


The Ramones’ Loudmouth was blasting out of a car’s speakers. Kids in leather jackets and tight ripped-up black jeans were hanging around, smoking and drinking beer out of brown paper bags, lounging on the hoods of their cars, hanging off of tree branches, sitting around on the dirt, chasing each other around, making out, having wild fake fights, smoking dope, and laughing uncontrollably. Alice pulled up to the open space between the trees where the kids were all hanging around. The Pontiac kicked up a bunch of dust and a lot of the kids started jumping around and being overdramatic and wailing and holding their shirts over their mouths and noses and screeching like monkeys and waving their arms high above their heads in mock surrender. Alice turned off the engine, rolled her window down, laid her seat back, and lit up another cigarette. One of the spikes of her Mohawk went through the hole in the headrest of her seat.
The music was really loud. Some guy had a whole amplification system rigged up in the back of his pick-up truck with giant twin speakers throwing music all over the mini-steppe. It was a little clearing in the forest, lost among the winding ways of Barbarous Hills, where some kids of a more recalcitrant nature got together on Friday nights to mingle. The spot was a secret among this clan. Though Alice didn’t think of herself as one of them, she felt a slight kinship with them, their happy-go-lucky, clownish, carpe diem behavior suited her. The driving guitars thrashed their way into her thoughts and unleashed a wild rivulet of adrenaline that, along with the cigarette, lifted her dreary head out of an oneiric fog and seemed to pulsate through her, sending her lips into a wide smile and her head rocking up and down enthusiastically to the beat. Kids were dancing around in the dust singing along, “You better shut it up! I’m gonna beat you up! Well you’re a loudmouth babe.” Alice started singing along as well. The music was so loud that nobody could hear her in the car screaming out as loud as she could, “You’re a loudmouth baby!” A wave of tickling joy swept through her from her head down to her toes. The song was over in less than two minutes. That was enough. Alice was happy. She smoked her cigarette and stared at the apple slice of moon that was slipping away into the tenebrous clouds above the trees.
A bunch of hoodlums in black sweatshirts, black pants, and black boots, with black bandannas wrapped around their faces, came striding towards the Pontiac. Alice knew these kids. They were members of the PASS (Pleasance Anarchist-Socialist Society) collective—idealists with no ideas. They liked to go around turning over trashcans and putting roadkill in the dryers of unsuspecting people who left their garage doors open. Blake was the ad hoc leader of the bunch. He gave Alice their cryptic hand signal, an upside down peace sign with the index finger from the opposite hand held horizontally across the top of it to form a makeshift anarchy symbol, as he came up to the car.
She nodded to him from down below the door where she was lying with the seat all the way back, smoking. “Hey Blake. How’s the Anarchy going these days?”
“Alice? Hey. Are you down there? Did you fall down a rabbit hole?”
“Yeah. But I made it back. I took a potion and it made me turn into a sickly pale girl.”
“Yeah? Cool. Hey, you got any more of them smokes?”
“You mean these coffin nails? Here. Take a few. Take some for your friends, your family, your acquaintances and your boss’s secretary. Oh, but you don’t have a boss. I forgot. You’re an anarchist.”
“Um. Yeah. Socialist-Anarchist actually. That’s okay. I’ll just take one.”
“Nobody can smoke just one. Here take three. It’s a lucky number in many ancient cultures. I thought it was Anarchist-Socialist. What is the difference?”
“Alice, you’re crazy. Thanks for the smokes. See ya around. We’re gonna be chopping up some firewood for when it gets cold later. We’re gonna have a bonfire. You should come by.”
“How social of you Blake. One for all and all for one. I’ll smell you guys out. Later skater.”
“Bye bye birdie.”
The others laughed a bit and followed behind Blake to go off and chop firewood in the forest. Alice wondered if they had axes or if they were going to try to use their Bowie knives. She laughed and put her cigarette out on her shoe. These kids were alright with her.
The Vibrators' Into The Future was now resounding in the clearing. Alice got out of her car and started shimmying around a bit, her hips sliding back and forth as she glided around on the rocks and gravel and dirt. A group of kids were sitting in a circle on some logs and were taking turns drinking from a bottle of Wild Turkey 101. A few of them got up and started dancing, and soon they were all dancing and tossing themselves around and screaming along with the song. There was a great energy there with them, and Alice jumped right into their dance party, which made them hoot and holler all the more. Somebody handed her the whiskey bottle. She pretended to take a swig, everybody gave a wild crying congratulatory cheer, and she passed the bottle along. Alice sang along with the rest of them when the chorus came, “And I want it for my baby, I want it for myself, don’t you help me mister, if I can’t help myself…Into the future!” A wonderful feeling swelled in her. She jumped up in the air with her arms raised like a prizefighter posing for a pre-fight picture, with her fists clenched and her lips snarling a bit too. Everybody screamed, “Sex Kick!” as they did pseudo-karate kicks and spun around in circles. Alice spun and tumbled to the ground, and for some reason started in with another laughing fit. The kids got a little freaked out, but after the song ended they went back to sitting on the logs and passing the bottle around. The laughter lasted a few minutes, and then Alice got up, brushed herself off, smiled at the kids who all gave her much applause and flashed many hand signals and gave her a few high-pitched party screams, and she walked on away to check out the rest of the festivities.
Out towards the trees by the edge of the clearing two girls were sitting on a flat edge of a large rock. They were giggling and chanting inane things like, “Momsy, Popsy, Lopsy, Dropsy…Hopsy!” One of the girls had a large ring pierced through the septum of her short, thick nose. She reminded Alice of a baby bull. Alice whispered the name, “Orlando Cepada” for some reason. The other girl was very small, almost doll-like, and had a mass of tangled hair that was dyed at least four different colors. The girls were holding onto each other and were giggling at everything they said. She could smell pot smoke, a deep, unruly, pungent odor that reminded her of those scratch-and-sniff skunk playing cards she had as a kid. She smiled at the two giggling girls on the rock and went on into the night.
Alice walked along the edge of the clearing, smoking another cigarette, feeling pretty good about things, about it being her 21st birthday, about not knowing where the hell she was going, but knowing, like in the Paul Simon song, she was on her way. At the other side of the clearing, down a pretty steep slope, were some small bushes and weeds with a bunch of trash littered around in them, and a little ways past that was a cliff edge that revealed quite a grand view of Pleasance with all of its houses sleeping down below under the orange-yellow electric lights winking around them. Alice scrambled her way down there, almost losing her footing a few times, getting a few rocks caught in her Vans and sliding down a few feet on her butt through some flowering broom shrubs and ragweed. Her hands got a little chapped and red from where she tried to steady herself, but she was okay. She rose up and wiped herself off for the second time that night.
The noise died down out here, and the night became quiet and felt unflappably hushed, lonely, desolate, and surcharged with meaning. Alice walked to the edge of the cliff and looked out. All those houses down there each flanked by tiny rectangles of lawn, with identical driveways cutout of the front yard, all those streets running at perfect 90 degree angles, a rigid and expertly composed grid pattern that went on and on under the sodium pools of the streetlights’ thousands of flickering halos, until it was cut off by the darkness of Stiletto Bay. She stood there, so far away and removed from it all, thinking about all kinds of things, about the way the flags on the top of The Straffing Building had of flapping in the high desert winds, and the specific sound that they made if you got close enough and there wasn’t any traffic on the street. The thick fabric wrinkling and unwrinkling itself over and over reminded her of the ocean in a storm, constantly changing but always staying the same. The sound it made was a discombobulated natter, and she stopped trying to make sense of it.
The Township-Haines Bridge lay far off in the distance, connecting Pleasance to the small fishing town of Lyeton, and a small highway that eventually led to the Interstate, which in turn led to the rest of the world. Looking out at the bridge, with all of its high-wire-act lights strung up on the trusses and its long dark body leaning into the night’s looming shadows, made Alice feel melancholy, and like she was missing something, though what that something was she had no idea. She just knew it was there, and that she didn’t want it to go away, to leave and never come back like it felt like it was going to. She wanted it to stay. Her thoughts seemed like pieces of a puzzle that wouldn’t fit together in any way she could recognize or even vaguely imagine. Tending to take odd trains of thought was in her nature, and she had to fight against the concatenation that was coming, that fugue-like ratiocination that would lead nowhere except to madness. Up above the moon had made its way out from behind some clouds and was sending a thin sliver of light down on things. She winked at the moon, and, though she knew it to be untrue, the moon smiled at her, lifting its edges a bit higher towards a U.
Memories began to uncoil from long hibernation in her swooning head. They lifted themselves up out of sarcophaguses, lowing and reaffirming their unique shape and texture in the neural pathways that had been laid and set in stone so long ago. Sitting down near the cliff edge, she hugged her legs close and let the remembrances come, and they slowly filled her head like a gas seeping into a vacuum.

Nearly August now, and you’re 13-years-old, which seems like a tremendous age to be, something bigger than you’d ever even dared to think about before, and the world still seems a bit puddle wonderful, but things are changing too, changing inside and outside of you in broad strokes that make you think of yourself differently, as a person outside of this idea that other people have always had of you, an idea that you’ve just accepted because it was easy and seemed like the way things were at the time, but now it is all different and you can feel it in your bones, and so now you walk out of your parent’s house, the place you have grown up in for the whole of your life so far, and up above you are threads of fleecy clouds and the mailbox blue of the sky and the sun is hanging there like a big old grapefruit, and you walk down the street and out into the world and it feels good and there is a certain freedom swelling in you that is different than anything you’ve ever felt before, and so you make your puissant way down wide avenues of auspiciousness and soft summer breezes that blow your hair back away from your face, and it feels good to be outside and walking like this, all alone, confident and aloof, ready for anything, so you make your way past factories and the old church with its cracked belfry falling into a dilapidated state of ill-repair and the concrete walls buckling, past farmland with cherry trees all lined up in rows and bursting with red and green and gold, past subdivisions and gated communities and prefab houses and trailer parks and cul-de-sacs and old Victorians that stand like anachronistic sentinels out on lonely stretches of land, past the decaying wrought iron fence and the tall wild grass of the graveyard with many of the headstones slanted and falling over and some with the tops missing or chunks taken out of them amending the epitaphs into meaninglessness, past stalled tractors and wood-warped barns fallen into desuetude and fern trees spreading their wings in the park, past old men in fusty suits sitting on benches and smoking pipes, past people crowding the streets with their shopping bags in tow, past parked cars and grain elevators and bars and motels with their unlit neon signs and algae-green pools, past factories sending up gray puffs of smoke through the silvery steel of their tall chimneys, past everything in the known world, and onward you keep going, you keep walking even though your shoes are biting your feet with every step and your thighs are burning and your throat is parched, you keep going, it feels good to keep going, and you can feel the sweat running down from your forehead and gathering in your armpits and dripping down your arms and your body, and your head is even sweating and you can smell something faintly vegetable and sweetly sour and almost animal-like coming from your body, and the sun is getting all over everything because the clouds have moved on and your face feels hot and burned, but you keep going, and there is a house out here among the brambles and the sagebrush and the tumbleweeds, it is an old house, one of the oldest in the town, and it is falling apart, but there are people who live there, you’ve heard of them through the grapevine and you want badly now to know who they are, to meet them, and so you walk through the wreckage of the front yard, which is strewn with junk like old bike tires and corroded metal bars and oxidizing peddle lawnmowers and wagons with rotting splintered handles and headless dolls in torn dresses and candy wrappers and toy soldiers and wrenches and hundreds of nuts and bolts, and you walk brazenly up to the front porch, which creeks under your steps like a weary ghost, and gathering all of your temerity, all of the courage you’ve accrued like coins in a piggybank for these thirteen years, while staring at the ornate escutcheon around the door’s keyhole, you lift the large metal ring hanging from the terrible lion’s mouth on the doorknocker, and you let it fall to knock upon the door.
The house is stale and fetid and there is an odor of mildew mixed with lemon pledge in the air. Long rectangular windows are covered with thick curtains, which are purple and dust-coated and stiff. Everything in the house feels frangible, like if you touched anything it would fall apart. In a glass cabinet is a collection of miniature pianos. On the top of a large armoire are old black-and-white framed pictures of people dressed up in their Sunday best. You are sitting on a mahogany canapé with green fabric that is resilient and attaches to your pants when you move. You are trying to smile. There is an old man sitting across from you in a démodé armchair. He was white hair and a large white mustache and very blue eyes and his laugh is rich and filled with jubilance and bonhomie. His legs are crossed at the ankles and he is holding his hands in his lap. There is a pinkish hue to his face. There are certain unexplored textures in the grain of things here. The room has a high ceiling that is crosshatched with varnished wood beams. Your body does not feel delicate enough to exist in such a place, and you fidget a lot, feeling abnormal and uncomfortable in your own skin. The walls are immense and seem oily in places where the mustard yellow has faded or chipped off revealing a sickly eggshell primer. Persian carpets lie all over the unpolished hardwood floors, and when you step on them, tentatively trying out the new surface, they feel bouncy and seem to want to envelop your foot, so you step lightly and almost bound from one to the other, making the white-haired man laugh a good hardy belly laugh that fills the room with delight. But you are sitting now, sitting on this antique piece of furniture, something that some might call a settee, and you are balancing yourself there nervously, your legs kicking up at odd times and crossing over your knees, one to the other, as your feet wiggle around like some part gone haywire in a factory machine spinning limply with broken ball bearings. There is something of infinite possibilities in this moment. Deep inside you, in some recondite place beneath the layers of your conscious thoughts, there is this feeling that nothing will ever be the same as it has always been before this moment. The grandfather clock in the corner ticks and the bells chime an old song that you can’t quite place, something outside of your record of time, and you think, this, maybe this is what it means to be alive. You’ve left your family behind, and your old self too, some discarded relic of what you will never be again, but also a constant reminder of what you will never escape being. Something about the whole thing makes you feel lonely and distraught, and a numbing lassitude settles over you as you sit and watch an old man laughing.

Some kids came down and started making noise in the bushes, micturating like wild alley cats and talking rot. Alice wanted them to go, to get away, to get out of her moment. It was her moment. What the hell did they think they were doing in her moment? Who the hell did they think they were? “Idiots,” she breathed out with a sigh, to low for them to hear. It seemed every time things were just starting to feel copasetic, and all was right with the world, somebody had to come along and ruin it.
Alice, rather suddenly, made a snap decision, as was her wont at such times, to leave the cliff edge and walk back to her car. She climbed back up the hill, padding up as fast as she could past the kids in the bushes, digging her thin-soled tattered Vans into the crooked footholds and small rocks jutting out of the sloping hillside, which was a lot harder to climb up than it was to go down, and slipped a few times but made it up pretty much unscathed. Putting her head down she hoofed it, with much celerity and not much sightseeing, all the way back to her car.


A fly was gingerly making its way across the beer suds on the inside of an almost empty pint glass. It was taking its time, as if savoring every last step in the frothy spume-like substance lining the glass in dripping rings, like this was its chance to partake in something larger than itself, and, damn it all, the fly wanted to enjoy it. Harmon Munson was sitting in a hardback chair, leaning back with his feet stretched out, the girth of his belly revealed slightly under his raised t-shirt where his wide hands were resting, his mouth in a lazy rictus with an adenoidal, breathy kind of noise emanating from it. He was not asleep, but not far from it. Harmon would call it a beer-snooze. It was a not unpleasant catatonic-like condition that came on after about a dozen beers, and it usually lasted for about forty-five minutes, at which point Harmon would make a guttural honking noise, sharply shake his head back and forth, and rise up with an undying thirst for water. After downing two large glasses of water in rapid succession, usually without as much as a breath or two between them, he would be ready for whiskey, and this was the point in the night that he looked forward to the most, this temporary dazed/rejuvenated state, this awakening of his vital spirits that gave him gumption and made him feel god-like for the better part of the rest of the night. But for now he was sapped, “power-hibernating” if you will, and his family knew to leave him alone.
The rest of the Munsons, besides Alice who had ran off to her room in a fit early in the evening, were either sitting around the dining room table with some sort of libation close at hand, wandering around the kitchen looking for scraps of leftover food, or lounging on the various furniture scattered about the wide expanse of the living room floor.
That is except for Sammy, who was down in the dank basement, which smelled of mildew slightly tinged with souring dry rot. He was sitting in a rocking chair, drinking bitters-heavy Manhattans, and reading EE Cummings by the light of an immemorial chandelier with only one light bulb left in it. A moth was busy flapping its gossamer wings around the jaundiced light of the solitary bulb. Sammy tried to ignore it, but it was hard for Sammy to ignore things that were happening around him. It seemed his ears picked up every last sound and, what was worse, made his brain pay attention to it. This kept him up throughout many a nights, and also woke him from even the deepest of sleep. Just the puny sound of a pencil rolling across the top of a desk would send his brain into a fury of wakefulness. It was hard for him to let go of consciousness, to give way to the darkness and void of Somnus’s realm, the son of night, the brother of death who seemed to be lying in wait to steal away your soul and your way of making sense of this world, tangling things up and rearranging the objects of reality, of your sense of what things are and what they mean, until all was a confused jumble, a muddled mess of inchoate flashes flitting endlessly in the emptiness that was your head, your rational conception of perception, leaving you thrashing about in the dingy squalor of a vacuous room with no windows and no doors, no place to escape to, no place like home.
He read, “Whose fatal songs are moving in the moon.” He said the words out loud. Then again. It was odd to hear his voice echoing off of the basement’s cement walls. It was like some disembodied voice was calling out to him from some subterranean dwelling, maybe a prison cell or a cave, some troglodyte buried deep beneath the surface of the world, calling out for succor to anyone who might happen by and hear this strained, pleading cry. Rattling the ice around in his drink, Sammy looked up at the ceiling and thought about his father.
Phyllis and Nelsie Ray were slinking around in the kitchen, grabbing bits and pieces of food scarps—greasy slabs of chicken skin, potato chips, baby carrots, the olives and oily veggies from a bowl of pasta salad, cake frosting—and impishly making subtle innuendo about the odd antics of their youngest sibling that evening, though not so anyone else would notice, as they always made sure to keep up their front of loathing for one another. They smiled secretly, in cahoots, and made it known, with many vituperations and defamations of the other’s character, that being in this kitchen together was an absolute hell. Minnie eyed them from her seat at the dining room table, shaking her head in disappointment. She cawed, between plastic forkfuls of potato salad, “Why can’t you two girls just learn to get along? Please. For your mother’s sake at least? Try to stand each other’s company for one night?”
The girls just looked at each other, laughing on the inside, and scowled with feigned ire.
Minnie sighed, “I give up.”
Julio and Aubrey were sitting at the table also, and were slowly getting drunk on beer and were betting with pretzels in a game of 5-card stud, a game that Harmon was obviously no longer involved in, and one in which Minnie was supposed to be in too, but she kept losing interest and would go all-in with her stack of pretzels at really bad times to just get out of the game so she could go back to eating her potato salad and drinking her bottomless glass of Chablis.
Julio whined to his mom, “Come on ma. Buy back in please. This game is not fun with just us two playing. Aubrey keeps bending the cards, and pretending not to know what hand she’s holding.”
“Well, I am blind you fuck nut,” Aubrey commented with a sly grin.
“Oh boo-fuckking-hoo. Poor little blind girl,” Julio mocked throwing his cards in the air and doing his best Helen Keller, “Oh. I can’t see. Poor me. Don’t you all feel so sorry for me? Take my hand. Lead me across the street kind sir…we all know damn well that you bend the cards so you know exactly what’s on them. Come on. Don’t be such a twit.”
Aubrey threw her cards and a handful of pretzels at Julio. “Go play your damn cello you sissy.”
“Will you two cut that out? Please? I have enough to worry about here. Jesus.”
Harmon awoke with a startle. “Yes.”
“That’s not funny lard ass.” Julio shook his head at his corpulent brother.
Phyllis and Nelsie Ray came in from the kitchen, each with a chicken drumstick in her hand. They sat down at opposite ends of the table, as far away from each other as was possible. Harmon winked himself to life and, with a stupendous leap, darted off to the kitchen for water. After downing two pint glasses in quick succession he let out an earth-shattering eructation that shook the windows and knocked a few utensils from the counter. His blubbery jowls vibrated and rolled and seemed to splash around like violent waves in a pool. Everyone in the dining room went into a fit of spontaneous laughter. Harmon smiled, patted his stomach a few times, and went to the liquor cabinet for the bottle of Maker’s Mark.
Julio shouted out, between fits of laughter, “It’s whisky time!”
Wielding the bottle and a few shot glasses, Harmon came back into the dining room and poured two shots. “Anyone care to join me?”
“Give me one of those kid,” Minnie half-slurred, surprisingly, to her oldest child.
The kids all looked at her, a bit astonished that their wine-drinking mom would be up for a shot of the devil’s brown liquid.
“Wow. This must be a special occasion,” said Nelsie Ray. “I better go get little Mohawk girl. She’s got to see this.”
Harmon offered up the shot glass to her. “Are you sure mom?”
“Ah, come on. Give me that. You don’t think your old mom can handle her liquor? Ha!” She took the shot glass, tilted her head back, and downed it.
Everyone cheered.
In all the hullabaloo Aubrey’s lilting, hushed voice went unheard when she said, “Where’s Stan?”


The Pleasance night was chilled with wind, a slithering cold that froze noses and made people blink their eyes a lot to keep their eyeballs from sticking in place. It chapped hands, mussed hair, and left toes numb. The wind had come in and blown all the clouds away, and the moon was like a scythe cutting up the tar-black expanse of starry sky. The citizens of Pleasance rarely complained about these cold winds that came on winter nights and blew their way across town, herding cattle and chasing chickens and sending night owls running for shelter. They were just a cold, hard fact of life. People were very forgiving of these winter winds.
But on this night, the winds started a bit later than normal, giving folks the chance to venture out into the night a bit before things got too nippy for them, before they started dreaming of fireplaces and television sets. So it was that many of the younger residents of Pleasance were out enjoying themselves, it being a Friday night, they being full of the spit and vinegar of rebellious youth, and the weather affording this temporary space for them to exist in, to do myriad exciting and enjoyable things like driving around in their cars and spitting at cops. It was January 21st, which of course was Alice Munson’s birthday, though she not did go around blabbing to people about it, birthdays seeming like a stupid meaningless ritual to her, and so, many of the other kids out that night had no idea about it being the first day of Alice’s 21st year. They were also unaware of the fact that she had left her own family’s birthday party celebration for her, and had also made a vow to swear off alcohol for the remainder of her years. She was twenty one on the 21st. These things weren’t too important. People went on with their lives.
When the wind finally came it scraped across Stiletto Bay, skimming across the indurate surface, picking the foam from the wave tops and spitting it all over the place. The wind hammered and slashed its way into things, spilling trashcans and bending tree branches, creating havoc with hanging stop signals, and banging on windows. It was an insuperable force. People who had to go outside wore gloves and balaclavas, long underwear and heavy parkas and wool socks under thick boots. But most people stayed in. Stan Munson was not one of those people.
In fact, Stan was standing out on the Township-Haines Bridge, not wearing heavy clothing either, just a regular button-up shirt, a thin overcoat, and a pair of brown Dickies. He had on fingerless gloves. His fingertips were very cold. His black hair was standing up in thick tufts, wavy clumps held together with dirt and scalp oil, and his pallid skin was reddening as the wind began to pick up and crash into his face. He didn’t seem to notice.
Stan was playing the air drums. He was making clicking noises with his tongue as he pretended to hit the imaginary skins and cymbals, and his mouth was making sounds like, “Whoosh,” and, “Pah, ta, ta,” and “Ra dad a da.” His body was rocking a little too. And his right foot was tapping away on the cement walkway. Stan wasn’t paying attention to the wind, though it was paying attention to him, harshly biting at his skin, a bitter-cold wind it was, and the wind was driving at him, booming its way at him, trying to knock him off his perch, to push him over and drag him around and maybe plop him into the bay. Stan went on playing the drums to a song that only he could hear.
The Township-Haines Bridge began to move with significant oscillation as the wind picked up, causing the ground to subtly shift under Stan’s feet. It was getting on towards midnight. The weather had fooled Stan into complacency, its windless and seemingly benign appearance had lulled him into thinking he would not need his thickest caparison for his nocturnal activities. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the skinny twenty-two-year-old playing air drums out on the bridge, the weather would not hold. The cold wind was already starting to roar.
But Stan was thinking about his sister Alice, the runt of the litter, with her Mohawk and her chains; and how he’d skipped out on her birthday party to come out here and stand on this bridge. He wasn’t sure why he’d felt the need to do this. To furtively slip away out of the garage door, to get his scooter and roll it out onto the street where he started it so nobody inside could hear, and to ride all the way out to the bridge, with no helmet, no gloves, no scarf or heavy jacket to act as armor against the harsh weapons of the winter’s artillery. He hadn’t even thought about it. He’d just gone and done it. And now here he was, back to all this thinking again. It was almost impossible for him to believe that he'd actually done all those things, performed all of those actions without even contemplating what he was doing once. Something like this had never happened to him before. It was a lopsided and upside-down way for reality to be working, and he didn’t understand it. He must’ve been under some kind of spell, some kind of stroke of the spirit, that left him feeble and scarred, but which also had him do things, like somebody who’s been hypnotized maybe, things that seemed they had been done by somebody else, some outside force that was controlling his body. Some…narrator. Or God. Or maybe just a mischievous spirit let loose in the winter night to wreak havoc on unsuspecting people, making them do things they normally wouldn’t or couldn’t do. But it was none of these things. Stan had done it all on his own. He just didn’t want to believe it.


Jamie Munson was going through his mail the day he came upon a peculiar flyer.
It read: Are you lonely? Do you feel disconnected from the world going on around you? Are you having a hard time communicating with other people? Is your life empty of meaning? Suffering from chronic despair? Is it hard for you to feel motivated? Is life just passing you by? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might be interested in being part of our burgeoning Reconnecting Society. It is a place where you can try and learn to be a part of the world again, to lose your loneliness and rediscover your own true self and your place in the scheme of things. Please call 1-800-LOVELIFE and join us for group meetings every Wednesday at the Purloined Palace at 1343 West Grand Ave, room 813. We hope to see you there. The Reconnecting Society. A place where you can find yourself by finding connections to everybody else.
He stared at the paper for a minute, thinking about all the different ways one could be lonely. A Roy Orbison song came into his head, but he chased it away. Folding up the flyer very neatly into a small square, he placed it in his back hip pocket. After going through the rest of the mail, mostly bills and advertisements for credit card offers, he went upstairs and took a shower.
The days went by, slowly but surely, and he found himself rolling and then settling into a kind of dazed and dull existence, an easy routine, one that required little effort or thought on his part. The days went by and he went through the motions of being alive: washing dishes, taking out the trash, showering, punching the buttons on his remote control, filling the car with gas, rubbing the crust out of his eyes in the morning, reading the paper, setting the microwave to heat up frozen food, jogging, working, dreaming, wearing clothes. It was the way things were, and he saw no way to make it change. The sunsets glowed an eerie resplendent red-orange, a flagrantly unbearable color that seemed as if it would eradicate all the world’s dross and errata in a blazing inferno, one that would burn on until the end of time. Jamie looked away and pulled down the shades at sunset. He didn’t want to see such things.
At night he would wake from torturous dreams, his sheets soaked, his arms and legs gyrating like mad. Dreams where he was always running away from some menacing unseen force, getting lost down Byzantine corridors with winged insects buzzing all around and getting caught in his hair, and having to duck and scramble away through putrescent alleys of filth and decay that seemed to close in on him like a garbage compactor. He would lie there, his heart thudding away, in the middle of the night while his head tried to wrap itself around the fact of being awake. And then there were the false awakenings, when he’d feel like he was burrowing into his bed, making tunnels that would soon come to confine him, and he’d try to shake himself awake, but it was no use. He’d be trapped underneath his bedding looking up, unable to move, fecklessly lying there, completely exposed and vulnerable, in a transient state of hypnagogia where random speckles would appear and form geometric shapes that swam around somewhere beneath his eyelids. He thought of his sleep as troubled. He was scared to look underneath his bed. There was a monster in his closet.
He was out walking, the sun burning a hole in the sky above him, the heat radiating off of the sidewalk’s white surface, melting his ambition to get out and do something with his day off, the air around him seemingly suffused with a million densely packed pockets of condensed heat, the air that seemed to be sweating profusely too, as was he, as he walked and weltered beneath the oppressive wrath of light, a palpable force crushing him beneath its powerful unrelenting will. Out in the street the macadam sizzled and cooked, the tarry black steaming, covered with a mirage layer of rising vapor, and Jamie found himself wishing he had an egg to throw out on it, to see about that old myth about frying eggs on the street. Even the trees seemed to be bending and flailing under the sun, trying to find shade that only they could provide. Jamie felt a bit like those trees. He could help everyone but himself. On he walked, trying to make the most of this unusual levity that was lifting his usually pococurante spirits to a height that was just over the Menodoza Line of hope. Cars went by and Jamie thought about their tires melting, about them becoming stuck to the street like some Jurassic beast sinking in a tar pit, and envisioned a monstrous 18-wheeler buried deep beneath the asphalt surface, lost yet fossilized for millions of years in some kind of deep labyrinthine catacomb where future generations would find it and wonder about these odd creatures who lived so long ago. A few people in sunglasses and big floppy hats went by walking the other way. Jamie smiled at them politely and walked on. All kinds of sweat was gathering in the folds of his skin, underneath his arms, on his scruff, in his shoes, and it came waterfalling down from his forehead, and he wiped it away running his index finger up from his eyebrows, slowly and smoothly past his ophryon, and deliberately into his hairline, afterwards flicking the gathered brackish liquid away with a rather effeminate twirling of his hand. He walked hunched over a bit, keeping his head down, taking long loping strides, hurrying again to go nowhere as fast as he could. Sometimes he would swivel his head out around him, taking a gander at the surroundings, but the sun was starting to sting in his eyes, and he didn’t own a pair of sunglasses, so he decided that this was enough. It was enough suffering, enough penance for one afternoon. He felt as though he were running from something, trying to escape through a fiery hole into a daydream, an anodyne that would soothe his soul and let him relax and enjoy something, but it seemed the more he tried to head in that direction the farther away that escape route became. In the distance, straddling a horizon that seemed a million light-years away, the humped backs of barren hills rolled around the edges of his sight, melting in the thousands of different ways the sunlight had of reflecting and refracting, of diving and dividing and spilling into things. Jamie headed home. He wanted to miss the sunset.
Enervation came upon Mr. Munson in a rushing dizzy blur, and he found himself unable to continue his march homeward. He sat down on the bench at a bus stop to rest. An old lady with a wide brimmed panama hat on was sitting on the bench also. Her face was rugose and pinched, and there was a rancid meaty smell to her. Jamie was too light-headed and weak to pay her any attention at first. The both just sat there, Jamie leaning back with his arms spread out over the back of the bench, and the old lady sitting their very proper, her posture impeccably straight, eyes steady and beaming out across the street somewhere. She had a small white and green leather purse in her lap. After a few minutes Jamie recovered his sense and looked over at the woman, noticing the frilly ends of her emerald-colored dress, her white hat with a gold band, and the milk-white unblemished shoes that tapped against each other at the ankles where her feet were crossed under her. Everything about her seemed refined, untouched, pure, and part of a world where every last thing was meticulously done, with much care and purpose, and with a touch of class and savior-faire, so as not a single moment would let escape anything that hadn’t been prearranged and overwrought with premeditation. She seemed the type to “sweat the small stuff.”
She looked over at Jamie. He gave a startled, yet polite nod hello, and tried to smile. She smiled back, rigidly, and went back to her staring blankly ahead.
Jamie felt he should say something. “It’s a sultry one out today. This heat…unbearable, don’t you think?”
The woman looked back over at him, this time with a surprised sort of grimace. “Of course it’s hot. It’s summer in the desert. The desert gets hot in the summer.”
Jamie didn’t want to continue the conversation, but he said, “Yep. Sure. Sometimes…” He blew out a big breath, “…well, sometimes it’s just too much. Guess I wasn’t made for weather like this.”
“I’ve lived here 45 years. The heat gets in your bones. I don’t even perspire anymore. My body knows its limits. It knows what to do. 45 years.”
“A long time.”
“No. Not such a long time. Time…time isn’t long. Time is only something that we exist in. It just is. You look like you are really sweating. Do you need a kerchief?”
Jamie thought how strange that word was. Kerchief. He wondered if he’d ever spoken it in all his years. He said it out loud, just to try it out, “Kerchief.” Then he caught himself and said, “Oh. No. Um, I’m okay. I just use my shirt here, see?” He pulled up the bottom of his shirt, revealing his hirsute paunchy stomach, and wiped a lined of sweat from his brow with it.
The old woman smiled and looked away. “It takes all kinds. Lordie, lordie, it sure does take all kinds.”
Jamie tried to relax again. It was useless. He felt used up, drained, and some debilitating disquiet was starting to stir around in his gut.
“You’ve been waiting long? For the bus?”
The lady, annoyed at this intrusion into her rigidly ordered world answered, “No. Not too long. I don’t mind this. This just sitting here and waiting. I am in no hurry. I don’t have time to rush.”
Jamie didn’t know how to properly respond to this. He had too much time. All he had was time, and it was choking him to death—all of this empty space to fill up with oneself. It was a horror beyond imagining.
“Yeah. I guess it’ll get here when it gets here. Nothing we can do about it.”
The lady went back to her own personal space. Jamie could see the bus coming. It was about two or three long blocks away. Not wanting to go home anymore, he decided to take it, wherever it was going.
“There it is. I see it coming.”
The old lady just sat there and didn’t say a word.

The floor of the bus was covered with a grip-tape-like silvery, almost sandpaperish material that sparkled underfoot as if it were made with billions of microscopic jewels. Jamie walked on over it, past people with ambivalent expressionless faces who were squashed into blue bucket seats, people who were staring off at a space in front of them, a space reserved for empty stares, or who were glancing absently out the window at the bland scenery. He took a seat in the back, where few people were. The old lady he’d been conversing with on the bench sat down in the front of the bus, the closest seat to the driver, facing sideways, looking out towards the roadside they’d just left.
Jamie slid into his seat. The bus wheezed and lurched forward, and then steadied out to a medium pace. Everyone on the bus seemed lost in their own thoughts, without even a picayune interest in their surroundings or the people sitting all around them. He thought of that flyer he’d found along with his mail that day, that flyer advertising a club for lonely people. For some reason he wanted to know where it was, and tried to remember where he’d put it. He’d check for it when he got home. Home. Where the hell was this bus going? He didn’t recognize the street names out here, wherever here was, and their weren’t any familiar landmarks to help him get his bearings. A row of chain stores went by—giant windowless boxes without uniqueness or charm of any kind that might separate one from the other. Palm tree after palm tree, each the same as the last, rolled by out the window, their solitary fronds drooping like lifeless rubbery limbs from their rotund, scaling torsos. He put his hand to the pane of window glass, which was sun-heated and shimmering, and he immediately pulled his hand away from the hot surface in shock. The tiny letters scratched into the surface of the window read, “Acrylic Plexiglas. Polymer Shapes.” The bus drove on, making a few stops, letting people off, gathering some more passengers here and there, who took their seats and stared off like the rest. Jamie decided he needed to talk to the old lady again. Some inane urge was pressing on him, and he couldn’t resist.
It was hard to walk while the bus was moving, and Jamie had to grab onto the metal grab-rail above to steady himself, to get his equilibrium back to where it should be, and he inched his way along, trying not to knock into anybody else with his hips as he moved by them. He reached the old lady at last. Standing directly in front of her, while holding onto the metal bar with both hands above his head, he said, “Sorry to bother you again mam. But I just wanted to ask you something I guess.”
The lady stared up at him in quizzical wonderment.
“I know it seems odd. Me standing here like this. On this bus. Talking to you like this. Now, don’t be scared. Don’t…”
The lady shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Okay. Sorry. I really don’t mean to bother you. And I’m not crazy or anything. I mean, ha, not like in any really bad way. Not anymore than anyone else, right?”
The lady shook her head at him—some indefinable gesture open to interpretation.
“So. Um. I just wanted to know. Are you lonely?”
“Lonely?” She laughed mirthlessly. “No. I should think not. I am my own best company. The best I know.”
“No. See, you don’t understand.” He tried to fixate on something, some scrap of thought that would lead him to where he was starting to suspect he wanted to go. “I mean. Well. Are you…lonely?”
The lady tried to look away. She tried to concentrate on something besides this miserable man standing in front of her with his sweaty stomach right in her face. It was hard to do. The man seemed to take up all the space in her vision. He was immense, blocking out all light, a force she would have to face head on.
She thought about his question. The man continued standing there in silence, breathing heavily though. She wondered what loneliness really was. What constituted its basic structure? What made it real, made it come to life and so surround one with an ineffable disconnection from everything that it left you hopeless and trapped as if in a padded cell where all your poundings and ravings fell upon deaf ears? There were so many different ways to be lonely.
“I’m sorry. I don’t quite understand. Can you please…” She paused and sniffed. “Just leave me alone? I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
Jamie snapped back to reality and realized he must be frightening the lady. He apologized and, crestfallen, went back to his seat at the other end of the bus. Looking down at his hands on his lap, he realized that they were shaking uncontrollably. Somebody pulled the chord for the next stop, lighting up a red STOP REQUESTED sign in the roof. When the bus came to the stop Jamie got off.
He didn’t know where he was. He started walking again, not knowing where he was going. After walking a few blocks he looked up at a street sign. Against a background of bright green its white letters read, “West Grand Ave.” The name sounded familiar, more so than it should have. There was something important about being on this street. He kept walking along West Grand.
The numbers on the buildings were 1233, 1243, 1257…something told him to keep going.
He crossed a street. An anachronistic, neo-gothic building stood out among the drab housing complexes and fast food chains. It seemed as if it had been transplanted from anther dimension. It was almost castle-like, with its arches and steep gables, and its stone turrets and towers rising above. It didn’t belong there, but there it was. He walked up to it and read the address: 1343. His brain snagged on something stored deep in his memory’s lockbox. The Purloined Palace. This was the place from the flyer. This was where the loneliness club met. What day was it? What was that room number? He cursed himself for his faulty mnemonic sense. Maybe he could just go in and see if there were any of those flyers around. Why not? They wanted people to come to this group, didn’t they? This wasn’t a private residence or club. He walked up the marble stairs, opened the rather large oak unlocked front door, and went inside, trembling a bit under the high vaulted ceiling.


Alice drove out into and then out of Barbarous Hills. She drove through the dark night, her headlights illuminating the yellow stripe running down the middle of the highway, its dotted lines like coruscating diamonds flashing in an unbroken chain before her as the car swallowed them underneath. It reminded her of playing Pac-Man, eating all of the yellow dots as fast as she could, trying not to let the ghosts catch up to her, to consume her with a mighty chomp, to make her disappear forever from the maze.
The highway lights were like fireflies leading her onward. The Pontiac bellowed and yowled as Alice slammed the pedal and pushed the grizzled blue beast up past ninety and then one-hundred, the speedometer’s dial inching its way around towards the red digits at the far right. She’d never driven this fast, and though it was exhilarating to be driving so fast, there was also something disappointing about it, like no matter how fast she went it would never seem like it was enough. She could feel the engine chugging and cranking away like mad under the hood. The seat backs were vibrating, and the gearshift was moving around like a joystick during a game on the highest level of Asteroids. Alice clenched her teeth and pushed down on the gas as hard as she could. Because this part of the highway was a long straightaway, lasting for about ten miles or so, and also because it was pretty much deserted at this time of night, she was able to maintain her racecar speed for a long time. The wind hadn’t picked up much yet, and she felt like she was the only thing existing in the universe, almost flying away she was burning up the road so quickly on this desolate highway late on a winter night, on her birthday, going nowhere as fast as she possibly could.
Digging her hands into the steering wheel, watching the speedometer crank up past 110, then 120, the windows rattling, things banging around in the glove compartment, the shoebox of cassette tapes on the floor thrashing around and sliding under the passenger seat, her body shaking madly up and down with the staccato rhythm of the pulsating seat beneath her, she screamed. Then she slowed a little, rolled down the window, and screamed some more, making a yodeling-like sound into the pounding wind that crashed against her face, forcing her to cock her head to the side as if somebody had slapped her. She was laughing and screaming and soon she could feel tears streaming down her face as the wind picked them up and spilled them all over the place, and she wasn’t paying any attention to the road, but her hands were gripping that steering wheel so tight, such a solid grip, that the car was holding its lane still, though her Mohawk was getting blown to all hell. She felt whipped and beaten. When she glanced back at the road the car was, incredibly, still going in a straight line, though a bit slower now. Alice rolled the window back up and turned on the radio. In a raspy sort of whisper she said, “The stars are on my side.”
The Pontiac screamed like a girl in a horror movie as its headlights cut a swath through the blackness. Alice had pulled off the highway and steered her way down a few ill-lit streets that she’d never driven on before. She was out in the country among the tall wild grasses, the cornfields, the small coteries of cows sleeping on the verdant sides of rolling hills, and the stars were marvelous out here, seeming to blanket the wide sweep of sky with their ubiquitous spangling, those sidereal manifestations of boundless hope springing eternal for all to see. Leaning forward in her seat, her face over the steering wheel and almost smeared against the front windshield, Alice could see them up there watching over her. It gave her great comfort.
She stopped the Pontiac in the gravel on the side of a frontage road running alongside a barren field that was surrounded by a chain-link fence. A few birds that had alit on part of the fence were shooed away by the car’s cacophonous engine, and they swarmed in the air, circling and frenetically torpedoing around, the flitting motion of their distant shapes like writhing worms, their white wing bottoms like an incessant barrage of flashbulbs popping against the night’s black screen. Alice thought of tildes sloppily painted with Wite-Out onto a sheet of black construction paper. The wind was picking up, sending hyperborean slivers of jet-streaming air all through the countryside. Alice got out of the Pontiac and walked over to the fence, her shoes crushing against the gravel, making a crepitation that reminded her of the sound old film makes at the end of the spool in an old projector. Feeling for her Mohawk spikes, she realized that the wind had knocked them sideways, and a few were lying like limp noodles over the side of her head. The spike on front was completely frazzled and had split down the middle. She pictured her hair as having a kind of Alfalfa look. It didn’t matter.
She walked to the chain-link fence. The fence was pulling away from the top of the posts in a few places, the wire rings snapped or bending, and it was hanging away like a long wave about to break on the shore. Into a few of the fence’s diamonds she hooked her long fingers, pulling slightly, and the fence bowed and stretched towards her. She pulled harder, using her other hand too, and held tight to the fence as it swayed down towards the ground; and she hooked her feet in a few of the notches on the bottom, and soon she was almost completely horizontal there hanging onto the fence, just a few feet from the ground, as the fence strained to stay attached to the poles with Alice’s weight threatening to capsize it.
The fence bounced up and down, and Alice began to rock with its motion—up and down, up and down. It was like being on a swing or a seesaw, having this sense of balance and timing and this unusual weightlessness seizing her, like she was caught in the middle of the air never to come down again, just hanging there in abeyance, a place that was beyond any thoughts of tenses or conceptions of space. She rocked back and forth and the fence buckled some, but held her. Her motion became steady as she slowed down to a nice rhythmic pace. The blood rushed to her head as she came closer to the ground on the down swing, and then the fence would lift her back up just as hard as she had pulled it down. Little by little she came closer to the ground, to completely pulling the fence down off of the posts, and she could see the poles bending from the tops, carrying her. Her hands were stinging, but she hung on, and soon leveled herself out, stopped pulling, and laid her head back as far as it would go, looking at the world upside down—the stars below her in the sky that was like a deep black ocean, and the hills and the rocks and the Pontiac and the wild grass up above where the sky should be. She hung there suspended like that, an arm’s length from the dirt, and laughed in a way she hadn’t laughed since she was a little girl. It was the kind of laugh kids make on merry-go-rounds and when they’re tumbling down hills or going higher than they’ve ever gone before on a swing. Or when their father is spinning them around upside down, holding onto them by their feet, and the whole world seems like a big old circus tent for them to get lost in and never be found. It was a laugh that came from some generous place deep in the belly: a natural, uncontrollable expending of the most basic and beautiful pieces of the human spirit, and it was untainted by any malignancies of the world. It was a laugh that reminded one of how wonderful of a thing it was to be alive.
A shot sounded in the distance. At first Alice thought it might be a firecracker, or a car backfiring. But then she realized that she was way out away from civilization, out in the boonies, and nobody would be out here, well, except her. A few more shots fired out, louder this time, as if they were closer, or were being fired from a larger gun. She guessed it was a rifle. Probably just an air rifle. But who would be out shooting pellets at this hour? In this cold wind? It didn’t make sense. Some kid with a BB gun? Highly unlikely. Not out here. Not with this wind whipping around like sharp icicles daggering into your skin.
Alice let go of the fence. She saw a light just over the hill. A flashlight. A stream of yellow that licked the ground as it wavered and crept over the grass. Fear grabbed a hold of her. She felt naked, ridiculous, alone. The Pontiac was only about 20 yards away, and she started walking hurriedly back to it, hugging her shoulders and looking out at the flashlight’s beam that seemed to be getting very close to shining on her. It was like a spotlight was on her during a prison break, and she ducked down slightly as the beam slashed out towards her, getting on her knees and crawling on the gravel, and the beam swam through things casting strange shadows in the field behind the chain-link fence.
A stentorian voice made a barking noise that made her flesh crawl. The flashlight broke off and shone somewhere else for a moment, and she made a mad crawling dash for the Pontiac. The light slapped against the car again. She ducked down and crouched behind the side of the hood, on the opposite side of where the light was coming from. Why wasn’t the voice saying anything? What was that horrible sound that it was making? She looked up and saw the light streaking through the passenger window, shooting out in a vicious stream filled with dust particles attacking each other. The light was all she could see. It was all over the place now, swiveling from right to left and up and down, revealing rocks that were like tumors sprouting from the land, and large divots pock-marking the rutty road, and the sagging chain-link fence that was almost completely pulled from its posts around the spot where Alice had been hanging from. She kept her head low and tried to breathe as quietly as she could, trying to wish the light away. The voice barked some more, very loudly, and she could hear the reedy sound of heavy breaths clawing ever closer.

Footsteps were crunching along in the gravel. They were coming around the back of the car.

Why doesn’t the voice speak? What is this thing? There is nothing to do but to just sit here and wait. Everything is going to be alright. Everything will be fine. It is all some mix up. Some farmer out chasing his…his what? What the hell is going on here? Who is this person? What do they want? What the hell do they…? None of this makes any god damn sense. I wish I were back home. I wish I never would have got into this damn car. I wish I were eating a donut and smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of black hot coffee at the counter of an all-night diner. I am alone. It is so cold and I am so alone.

She tried the handle of the door. It was locked.
The wind hummed and chimed through the fields and spilt over the hills in blustery squalls, an inimical swelling that seemed like it would tear up the land, churn it around, twist telephone poles to the ground, and blow away all the life that dared lived on the surface of the earth. The wind ripped and shredded all in its path and wrapped things up in ice. She could hear it closing in. She could sense its ire, its hell-bent rage and fury at all in its path, its sleet-like tentacles slinging around and nipping everything with their gelid sting.
Everything was still and absurdly silent. She held her breath. She put the palms of her hands up against her cheeks. She clicked her Vans together softly at the heels. She closed her eyes.


Minnie rolled her head in her arms, which were crossed on the table in front of her. She was a bit dizzy from the shots of whisky she’d been throwing back with Harmon, and her face was becoming a bit flushed.
“Come on mom. That’s not the winning attitude,” Harmon said with a dopey grin.
“Leave her alone, Harmon. She’s not used to that stuff. Not since Dad left…” Julio chimed in, and then cut himself off, realizing his contretemps. They never spoke about their father around Minnie.
Minnie turned her head and gazed sideways at Julio from the nest of her arms, her eyes a bit glassed over, her mouth gaping a bit. Her meager attempt at speech failed, and she lazily shook her head a bit and continued reposing as she had been.
Aubrey cracked Julio’s ankle with her cane. “You idiot. Stop bothering her. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“Sore loser.”
Nelsie Ray pounded her fist down on the table, upending the unlit candlesticks propping up from the centerpiece, and sending a few dishes scuttling away and down into the layers of dust and grime on the hardwood floor. “Stop your damn bickering you two. I’m sick of it. I’m so fucking sick of it.” She hoisted a beer bottle and drained off a good deal of it with one gulping swig.
“You’re one to talk NR. Or did you and Phillie kiss and make up? Best friends now?”
Phyllis scowled at him and made a soft but bitter hissing noise in his general direction. She hated being called Phillie. It reminded her of being bullied as a kid.
“Dick wad.”
“Shit licker.”
“Fuck nut”
This name-calling went on for a while longer, and then fizzled out as they ran into redundancies. Everyone had some more beer and went about their business.
Harmon tilted the Maker’s Mark into a wine glass and filled it about a third of the way.
Julio looked over at him. “Is that glass two-thirds empty or one-third full?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be all the way gone in a minute.” Harmon lifted the wine glass, made a toast to nothing, clinking his glass against the bottle on the table, and drank off a good long draught of whiskey. He wiped his lips with his forearm, lurched his shoulders, pretending to wince, overdoing it, and then let out a long sighing wheeze of satisfaction. “That’s the stuff.”
Minnie put her chin on her arms and looked at her oldest son, smiling. “I don’t know how you do it Harmon. You put that stuff away like its lemonade.”
Harmon burped and patted his stomach. Aubrey bent her nose towards him.
“Something’s rotten in here. Harmon. You stink.”
“That’s what you think.”
“That’s what I know.”
“Blind people just have a heightened sense of smell. That’s all. You just pick up on scent better than most people.”
Julio let out a croaking laugh. “That’s bullshit. A nose-less rat would puke from the stench emanating from you. God. Do you shower anymore?”
Minnie had a moment of clarity, sort of, and blurted out, “Why the hell don’t any of you kids get yourselves hitched? Get on with your damn lives? Get the hell out of my hair?” She immediately dropped her head back down into her arms and seemed to pass out, snoring a little for effect, but secretly smiling to herself in the crook of her arm.
The kids stared at each other in an awkward silence. Harmon sent some more whisky down his throat and started laughing, nervously at first, and then everyone joined in, though their hearts may not have been in it.
The family sat around like this, drinking beer and bickering, for most of the night. Harmon drinking his whiskey and belching; Julio accusing Aubrey of cheating at cards; Aubrey conking him with her cane; Minnie lost in half-sleep, rolling her head around; Phyllis and Nelsie Ray pretending to glare wrathfully at each other; and of course Sammy, world’s away in the basement, reading poetry and drinking Manhattans. It was quite the fete at the Munson house that night.


The Purloined Palace was a superannuated piece of real estate that rose up above its geometrically precise newfangled neighbors with a quiet dignity. The floors were polished marble that made a long echo when hard-soled shoes tapped against it. Jamie looked up at the rounded hemisphere of the ceiling, noticing a few jewel encrusted chandeliers dangling there in refulgent glory under that arching multi-hued canopy that seemed larger than the sky. He slid around a bit on the floor as he wandered around, rather aimlessly, trying to regain his sense of purpose, trying to remember if he even had one. He had the distinct feeling that some outside force was at work on him, and that it was making him do things somehow beyond his own volition.
The gilt-edged banisters of a winding staircase twisted their way up towards upper stories. The building was large, four-stories, and the interior was enormous, grand, lavishly decadent—the bottom floor like a museum’s lobby, its wide open spaces seeming to go on for blocks, and the walls covered with rich watercolors and grandiose works of tapestry depicting multitudes of people working together to achieve some incredible task.
Jamie walked on and tried not to slip—the soles of his sneakers were worn thin and had little traction—as he made his way down corridors with many doors whose numbers he wanted to recognize as being the ones on the flyer, but he couldn’t. His eyes kept transposing the numbers as his mind raced to match them together, putting together a pastiche of odd shapes that didn’t fit with what he knew his memory must have stored away in there somewhere. He knew that if he kept looking, that when he found the room, for some reason beyond his powers of comprehension, the numbers would seem familiar to him, because, of course, he’d seen them before on the flyer. There was no doubting it.
Numbers rolled and crashed all around him. He realized that he was sweating heavily again, even though the Palace was well air-conditioned. Rounding a few more corners, speeding down long hallways, cranking his head from one side of the hallway to the next, checking all the numbers for a sign of recognition, he almost ran head on into a man who was mopping the floor.
“Sorry. There. God. Excuse me. I’m so…”
The man had a gentle and kind face.
“That’s okay. That’s quite alright. I’ll be fine here.” The rangy man looked to be over sixty, his hands were rugged and calloused, and there was something gritty and hard-scrabbled about him. He leaned his mop against the wall and pushed a wispy shock of white hair away from his face. “Where you rushing around off to?”
“Oh, um, I don’t know. I’m looking for something.”
The man laughed. “That’s for sure. In a hurry to find it?”
“Yes. I mean, I don’t know.”
“Strange. You seem a little confused. You sure you’re alright?” The old man relaxed his body in one graceful motion, a fluent stride of muscle and harmony of bone, as he picked up the mop handle and danced it around steadily beside him.
Jamie felt stiff and out-of-place. “I’m okay. I’m looking for a group and a room number.”
The old man danced his mop and dragged out a toothy smile. “You wouldn’t happen to be…lonely, would you?”
“Wha…” Jaime was speechless. He looked away.
A lot of time passed.
The man started whistling, and with an easy motion he swiped up his mop with one hand, spun around with a dancer’s lithesome poise, and pointed his other arm across the hallway at the numbers on the top of a door there. Jamie looked at the numbers: 813. That was it. He knew it instantly.
He looked back to thank the man, but he’d moved on with his mop a ways down the hallway, still whistling affably, sliding his hips side-to-side as he mopped. Jamie called out, “Thank you sir! This is it…this is…” He didn’t know what to say next. He felt idiotic. This was what? The old man just waved his arm rakishly in the air with his back to Jamie, and went on mopping and doing his nimble dance.
The door had a long cloudy rectangle of opaque glass in it, which Jamie tried to look through to no avail. He thought he heard voices in there, but wasn’t sure. Should he knock? Just stumble in and say hi? Was this even the day the group met? For some reason none of these questions dissuaded from going into the room. It was just something he had to do, and he did it.
Fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed above as he barged into the meeting room. There was a long table pushed together with a smaller round table in the middle of the room, and about a dozen people were sitting around the table on fold-up chairs. Nobody was talking. Large rhomboidal windows lined the back wall. The room wasn’t very large, in fact the table took up most of the space in it, and Jamie maneuvered his way around it, trying not to bump into anyone. He took a seat at the end of the long table in one of the few empty chairs. It was almost completely silent. Only the scuffling of somebody’s shoes on the carpet, and a slight snort from somebody’s nose. Looking around in the almost unbearable quiet, Jaime noticed that there were both men and women here in equal numbers, and the ages seemed to range from early twenties on into the octogenary depths of the spectrum. Nobody seemed to care that he’d just walked into the room and sat down.
An unnaturally tan man wearing a wide-lapelled suit coughed into his fist a little. He looked around the room, seemed pleased with something, and said, “Okay. So, let us see here. Do we have any complaints of distress, maybe something caused by self-inflicted isolation? Maybe a humdinger about the wearisome and woebegone condition of one’s proper place in the order of things? About the indiscriminating nature of loss and the contagious way it spreads over the hillocks of one's being until one is, what, if not capsized with dementia and paralyzed with inanition? Anyone? A story to tell? A song to give comfort to your fellows? Anyone?”
A robust, clean-cut young man began to snap his fingers, which got everyone’s attention, and made a lot of clicking noises with his tongue while wriggling his mouth around in all kinds of pliant shapes. It was a good show, and a few people chuckled. The guy was probably around twenty-five or so. He had spiky blonde hair and was wearing a white t-shirt that read, “I’m So Over Hang-Overs,” and had a picture of a poodle jumping through a ring of fire on the front.
“Is that a signal that you would like to speak Henry?” quipped the tan man. He seemed unflappable. His demeanor was cool and dignified.
Henry shook his head. “Oh. No way man. No. No. I’m just thinking. Just thinking out loud.”
“Okay Henry. Inside your head next time.” The tan man slowly cast his stolid gaze across the room, going from one person to the next. “Anyone?”
A hand shot up. It belonged to a small woman in a turquoise pantsuit. Her blonde hair was cut into the shape of a lampshade, and she was wearing an old pair of black horn-rimmed glasses that sat crookedly across the bridge of her aquiline nose. It seemed to Jaime that she might have been very short, that maybe her legs were dangling free under the table because they weren’t long enough to touch the ground. There was something about her torso, and the way she fidgeted and squirmed around in that seat that made him think this. He imagined her feet kicking up against the bottom of the table, like some kid in a highchair; and this image, along with the fact that she was waving her hand around in the air, grabbing onto the elbow of her raised arm with the other hand as if to lift it higher, made Jamie start to giggle. A few faces looked at him disappointedly. He put a hand to his mouth and straightened his face out into a more serious expression.
“Okay. Mona. You can start us off.” The tan man sat back and folded his arms on his chest.
Mona put her hand down, arranged her features into a forlorn, weary mask filled with much Weltschmerz and ennui, and, with an oddly low breathy voice, let go with her wind.
“Sorrow is my only garden. I tend it with hands unable to care, fill its furrows with my lachrymose ways, and sometimes find solace in its cold, hard ground. There are things that come upon me, unseen things, that catch me unawares, leaving me bereft of companionship, without a voice to give meaning to my suffering.”
The tan man shifted forward in his seat. “We appreciate you Mona. You add yet another conduit to our connections. There is togetherness here. We are here. All of us. It is not just you.”
“Thank you Robert. It is…just so…hard.” Mona burst into tears, burying her face in the stubby fingers of her small hands. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Robert looked around the room. People were trying to look concerned and serious at the same time. Jamie wanted to leave, but he couldn’t for some reason. He tried to look concerned and serious too.
It was just then, right at the moment when Jamie was thinking of venturing forth to offer a few introductory words about himself, that a heavy-set man wearing a yellow headband stood up and started singing. His voice rang out, crystal clear and booming, as he crooned in a deep baritone, “Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go. You have made my life complete, and I love you so.”
The room was filled with this smooth, rich voice. It reverberated off of the windows, making its own space, exhumed from some obscure place deep in the pit of the man’s soul, and it was mesmerizing.
The man continued, a capella, his hairless broad shoulders and heaving chest portentously expanding and contracting under his powder-blue tank top as he went. “Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled. For my darlin’ I love you, and I always will.” His voice was pitch-perfect. All eyes were glued on this portly man with the golden voice, a voice that soothed, sweetly, and spooned away the murky pitch weighing heavy on their minds. A levity swept over the room. Jamie was transfixed, absorbed by the room’s sudden climate change. He tried not to show it.
A few other voices joined in. Robert piped up with a throaty bellow, and some women sitting near him began to hum, and then Mona came out of her sobs and burst into a bold quavering tremolo that hit impossible notes and held them. Soon everyone was singing along. To his surprise, Jamie found himself singing too.
“Love me tender, love me long, take me to your heart. For it’s there that I belong, and we’ll never part.”
The voices hung there, all together, rising together, falling together, drifting through and into each other, creating their own new self.
“Love me tender, love me dear, tell me you are mine. I’ll be yours through all the years, till the end of time.”
The voices rang out and lifted up in a wild falsetto, building on each other like a fugue, and then lapsed back down and stilled before carrying, in a final assault, into a crescendo that crashed and bullied its way through the doors of each of their individual solitudes.
“Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled. For my darlin’ I love you, and I always will.”
Everyone stopped singing and the fat man in the tank top sat back down.


There were thoughts like hacksaws cutting through Minnie’s head as she drifted in and out of her children’s bibulous company. And soon she was sailing back in time, back almost ten years earlier, when her husband had decided one crisp winter morning to forgo family life and head out on some kind of self-discovery mission in a VW bus. She’d wracked her brain for answers. But all the whys in the world wouldn’t turn into any kind of because, at least not one that made sense to her, that didn’t leave her bawling and rending her pajamas all night long and into the early morning when the sun would blast through the shuttered windows and wreck havoc on her hysterical ravings that looked preposterous in the light of day. She’d go around closing all of the curtains, trying to abscond from this new world where she was alone, without reason, without even a hint of things to come, without getting to say good-bye ever again, and having to now say hello to this foreign soil, this quicksand that seemed to inveigle her down, down, down, down past the shit and tears and filth, the mire and muck, the sewage and rotting corpses and troglobites that chomped at her heels and scratched at her face as she plummeted down an immeasurable well of despair. It was dark and she dwelt there for months.
The kids sat up with her, watched over her, tried to get her to eat, and gathered around her to watch long arduous hours of almost unendurably vapid television; they basically had to fend for themselves when it came to the necessities of survival. Harmon almost drank himself to death a few times, cutting rubbing alcohol with Sunny Delight, passing out shirtless on the bathroom floor in a pool of vomit, his pants filled with chocolate-cake-batter-like diarrhea, his lips mumbling something unintelligible, some inane glossolalia of stuttered vowels and quaking sibilants. One of the kids would be pounding on the door, and eventually would have to bend a paperclip to fit into the doorknob’s lock to get in. They’d find Harmon there maundering and hissing like a beached whale, and would know that things were getting pretty bad for the Munsons.
Minnie stopped seeing colors for a while. The world became dismal and dreary, covered with muted grays and tinted with lusterless, dull brushstrokes of dissatisfaction. As her despond grew, and her manic episodes fanned out and became wilder and more unpredictable and downright scarily furious, her senses seemed to dull. Food didn’t taste right. Things lost their aroma. She touched her face and felt a rough leathery material that seemed to grate and cut into her hands. Nothing was the same as it had always been. The initial shock and trauma of this sudden reconfiguring of events, this discord brought on by one moment’s unceasing burden that burned a hole deep into her heart, was hard to even think about in a rational way for her. Her husband, a man she had known since she was younger than she ever remembered being, had been taken from the ebb and flow of her life, had been eradicated from any future she might be able to conjure up in her head. She felt like a glass sculpture that had been dropped from a great height and had broken into thousands of shards and bits and unidentifiable pieces, and the job of gluing things back together again was impossible to even comprehend beginning. But she had to do it. And the pain of coalescing, of putting all of those multifarious and disparate parts back into some shape that even resembled what it had been before was too much for her to bear. Her dreams were muddy and gelatinous, catching her in their viscous borders. She was always trying to flee from some inimical being, running with heavy legs that wouldn’t move right underneath her as she hobbled through the aridity of porous ransacked landscapes—barren dissected plateaus replete with infecundity and dry wind. When she woke it was with a psychotic rampage, an unleashing of balled-up frustrations that sent her limbs flailing and whacking against bedposts. Foam would fill her mouth. And the mornings would spell no relief. The warming touch of the sun was no longer tender; it was just a reminder that life was still going on in this horrible, incomprehensible way, and that there was nothing she could do about it.
Wavering between thousands of different yesterdays mingled with the torque and spooling threads of disconnected memories—tiny eternities ripped into the unyielding fabric of time’s adamantine grip—Minnie jettisoned any excess detritus that might have accumulated in the unkempt corners of her imaginings, and fled, happy-go-lucky, through the now steady stream of past tableaus etched upon her lightly soused conscious. They came like movie clips, as if they were edited and spliced to run together in a sort of montage.
The summers ran soft around the edges, the smell of jasmine and her mother’s perfume, and also vinegar wafting over from a picnic table where a family was dining on fish and chips beneath the shade of a juniper tree. The perfect blue clarity of the sky, that lapis lazuli that made her think of swimming pools with no beginning or end, nothing to confine the cerulean waters that rolled like Jell-O all the way into the mountains. A lazy way to pass the sun-hot noontimes sipping lemonade or sucking soda pop from the bottle with a bendy straw. Lying in the cool windswept grass, the breeze tickling your toes, the tree branches heavy with sun-dappled fruit hanging like diamond earrings in the leafy green above you. Life was easy, free, unencumbered by care or worry. Minnie saw her parents mooning for each other on a blanket, wrapped up in each other’s arms, lost in their own private Eden, their shoes off, her mother’s long auburn hair lying fanned out behind her like a sundial, her father’s handlebar mustache twisted at the ends like Rollie Fingers. Summers slid by, creeping with a purring ache like molasses running from your lips, just out of reach, but always there, always slouching off towards some future you could almost trick yourself wasn’t ever going to happen. And all the Septembers in the world couldn’t take this away from you.
Minnie got on her bicycle again, the silver with white trim, the one that shone like a new dime, the one she had ridden all over the countryside, on all the dirt roads, and down by the train tracks where she spied on the grimy men in torn clothes who slept under the railroad bridges as they smoked cheap cigarillos and threw bottles at each other and said bad words that she’d never heard before. Again, she could feel the sharp daggers of the pedals digging into her foot, the cold metal of the crossbar where it rubbed against her calf, the hard plastic seat underneath her, the rubber grips of the handlebars, the exalted feeling rising in her stomach when she coasted down a steep hill. She rode the bike, just like she did, like she did that day, when she almost ran headlong into…into something, trying to avoid a mailbox as she sped out of control, the pedals spinning without her feet, the chain going lax, and that sudden jerking and twisting of the handlebars she hit head on into…into a person who was walking, who was on the sidewalk, and her little body flying, like a Milk Dud shot from a slingshot, headfirst onto somebody’s front lawn. A person was there, a face, blurry…she tried to remember…the face…a long thin nose, wire-like skittish eyebrows, a faint trace of downy hair scumbling the blotchy cheeks…the face…a worried mouth, tense squiggly lines scrunching up on the forehead, eyes…the eyes…almost iridescent, something bottomless and smoky…nacreous…the swirling oceans of the iris, those runny streaks and crinklings of color that were like a kaleidoscope or the clear insides of a glossy marble…those tiny black beans in the middle…everything dancing and alive and unpredictable and raw…Jamie’s eyes.
In a stark room with white walls a wooden rocking chair with fanciful knife-engravings embossed on the armrests sits in the corner. The windows are dripping with dew. An unmade bed, the down comforter lying half-off, the pillows dented and heaped in a pile, the wooden posts chipped and scratched and sticky with varnish, is empty. The phone on the nightstand never rings. A tall painting of a post-apocalyptic city, done in deep dark greens and blues slapped on in thick frosting-like coats of paint, hangs on a wall. A closet extends its folding doors across the whole of one of the sides of the room. The door is slightly ajar. A fan slowly, almost imperceptibly, twirls its dusty blades from the ceiling above the bed. The beige carpet is soft underfoot.
In the morning Minnie was always alone. Jamie would be gone to work. They hadn’t had any kids yet. Her parents were far away, in another county, and Minnie didn’t have her own car. She’d walk around the house, which seemed excessively capacious, larger than any house she’d ever known, and she’d dream of being lost in it, unable to find her way out, trapped in excess space. All the shades and shutters and thick drapes would be drawn, and she hated this, Jamie’s way of blocking out the outside world, the light and life going on out there—things he couldn’t control. All morning long she’d walk around opening things up, letting the sunlight in to play and dance over the hardwood floors. She would pull on curtain rods and pry up louvers and twist clear-plastic wands to open the slats of blinds. The light would flood in and warm her, get rid of the stuffiness and the stale isolation that Jamie seemed to bring with him through the door. Prancing and spinning and doing little caprioles and arabesques and toe loops and leaping onto the couch, while her Merle Haggard and Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond records played, Minnie would pass her mornings, trying to make the huge house seem less of a lonely place to be. She filled it up with herself.
“Mom. Maaa…uummm!” A sound, a piercing ring, high and cool. “Wake up mom. Are you still with us.” It wasn’t a phone or a doorbell. It was the voice. A nagging voice. One of those brats tugging at her attention. They never left her alone. For a moment, dazed and mushy with dreams, Minnie didn’t know where she was, or even what it meant to be anywhere. The dining room lights pickled her unconscious and jostled her into a jangled equilibrium, one that soon caused an attenuation of her focus, a narrowing, like strobe lights might, by stripping objects of their true motion.

“Wake up mom…” There was a hand on her. She hesitated, and then flicked the hand away with a bursting quake of her shoulders.
Anger sneered from her drooling lips. “Get the hell away from me! God damn it! I mean it, shit, leave me be. Will you just leave me be? Shit. I’m just…” her words trailed off and she cracked her neck a few times, craning her head back and placing a fist under her chin. An exaggerated yawn leapt from the ovoid hole of her stretched mouth.
Nellie Ray shook her hand limply. “Jezus and Mariah. I was just trying to see if you were okay. You’ve been lying there not saying anything for a damn long time mom. A long time. Is it so wrong to be worried about you?”
Their relationship had been that of caretaker and patient while Minnie was recovering from the shock and sadness of her husband leaving her. Nellie Ray had watched over her, making sure she ate and took her medicine and got out of the house once in a while. She’d sit by Minnie’s bed for hours, soothing her in dulcet tones, listening to her mother tell stories from her past and sometimes, as Nellie Ray bit her tongue and nodded consent, would rant bitterly about her no-good shit-for-brains ex-husband, going into great detail about his perfidiousness and infidelity, which Nellie Ray most certainly did not want to hear about. But she never said a word against her mother, and nursed her slowly back to health, feeding her vitamins and vegetable juice drinks she’d whip up in the blender three times a day for Minnie to drink over ice from a long bendy straw. It made her feel important, that her life was more worthwhile because she was doing this magnanimous selfless thing for her mother. She never quite went back to being the daughter again, and felt she must always be on the lookout for her mother’s best interest.
“I don’t need you checking up on me all the time. I’m not an invalid. I can take care of myself.”
“I know that. I know. I was just…I’m sorry mom. I was just concerned”
“You, you, you! What the hell about me? Don’t I get to live my own life?” Minnie caught herself, resenting what she might go on to say, and things she’d already said. “No. No. Don’t apologize. My head is just all…I was just having a nightmare I guess. I’m sorry honey.” She gesticulated excitedly towards her son. “Hey Harmon. Any more of that whisky?”
“There’s more than a few pulls left in there I reckon.” Harmon lifted the bottle and shook it. The brown-reddish liquid swirled.
“Alright! Hey. Let’s pour a shot for everyone. Come on. Get some glasses. We’re going to all get stink-o and everybody in this damn house is going to kiss and make up. This is going to be one happy home, God damn it!”

A trophy fell with an obstreperous clang onto the cement floor of the basement. Sammy heard some commotion going on upstairs, and the sound of heavy footsteps. Then some general clatter, and then a few smashes and resounding bangs of things being dragged or thrown onto the floor echoed out, sending some more items from their perch on the basement’s crooked wood shelves and onto the floor. With some difficulty and a careful rearranging of his withered limbs, he got up from his seat and hobbled his way around to see what had fallen. A few picture books, some photo albums, a shoebox missing its lid and overflowing with old Topps and Donruss baseball cards from the eighties. Also, there was an old wooden tennis racket with tape peeling off from the handle, and of course the trophy.
He picked up the trophy, blowing off the dust from the mini-statue of a man in the act of aiming his rifle and the bronze placard that read, “James E. Munson, 2nd Runner Up. Pleasance Marksman SharpShooters Contest, 1987.” That year seemed a long time ago to Sammy. It was as if eons had passed. That was the year Alice was born. Alice. Twenty-One years old. Over twenty years ago. God, the span of years, all the hours and days tied together and added up, and all the things that happened, and what all that time could do to what was left of one at the end. It was hard to think in these terms. Fugit inreparabile tempus. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Seven. That was when the polio had stricken him, had laid him low, had constrained him to a bed for so long, the days and nights rushing by, nothing changing. The screams of the new baby would drive his tiny head into insanity. Nothing but the cottage cheese on the ceiling and the bears and buffalo on the wallpaper to keep him company. And his flagitious father had been bringing home hunting trophies. It made him feel awful. He threw the trophy at the brick wall where it ricocheted back and bounced around in the corner among some baby toys covered with cobwebs. He saw his old corrective shoes and the thick metal braces he had to wear when he was retraining his contorted legs how to walk again. Stepping gingerly over to them, tripping a little, he felt a fatigue and muscle weakness that came upon him a lot these days, what the doctors called Post Polio Syndrome, and soon we was dragging himself, leaden, the weight of his body becoming too heavy to move, back to his chair. He made it, and sat back down, took a good long drink of his Manhattan, laid his head back, and closed his eyes. The rumbling coming from up above continued. A few good wallops beat against the floorboards. Sammy tried not to think about anything anymore. He just sat there, alone, pretending that the rest of the world had ceased to exist, and that there was world enough and time to think all of his fabulous thoughts out to their natural end.


Shadows were boxing the streetlights for the night’s purse as the moon bristled at the mobs of gloomy cloud shapes shifting their bleak and curdled bodies over its glinting face; the slender curve of the moon surrounding the dark fleeting nimbuses with crenellations of bent highlighter-yellow flares that lit up the ragged edges like a neon sign on the fritz, flickering out the last of its phosphorescence. Things smelled of dogwood and hyacinths and maple.
Stan had ridden his scooter quite a ways, farther than he’d ever ventured out on it before, way out over the bridge and onto the highway and all over sparsely lit country roads off of the highway that stretched out into the dark unknown. The wind had frozen the skin on his face and thrown his hair into a wild bushiness. He couldn’t feel the tips of his fingers. He’d bit his lip a few times without even noticing, until, after rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand, he’d seen the blood stains on his fingerless glove. His body was visibly shaking with palsied tremors, and his teeth were doing a whole lot of chattering. Idling smoothly, the scooter was purring under him, as he’d stopped by the edge of a field in the cold night to take stock of things, to try to figure out his next move before he went ahead and made it anyway. With a sudden, deliberate motion he cranked the keys to turn off the scooter. It went quiet in an instant, and it was only the faint sound of crickets and the slowly swelling murmurs of the wind that were left to keep him company.
His mind felt dented. A fitful feeling that made him tense and morose, as if all his brain’s synapses were misfiring, unable to make connections for the neurons, leaving them voiceless, alone, without any partners to do their bidding. He imagined the surface of his skull as like that of a golf ball. It was making him airy, like the blood was draining from his head, or maybe it had just frozen and coagulated in his veins, leaving his mind and body in a state of torpor, like a zombie hit with a stun gun—otiose and out-of-commission for the time being. Maybe he would faint. Or just lie down. Try to do some little exercises that might get his blood recirculating. Knee bends, jumping jacks, sit-ups. Wait for this to pass. No. He wouldn’t faint.
He lay down, taking notice of the night sky’s superfluity of stars, too many to ever count; and it seemed accidental, some terrible oversight, that so many were crowding together up there, overflowing the bower of Heaven like billions of dandelion seeds kicked over and set assail on the wind by an oblivious Gargantua’s foot. Stan made and unmade his fists, cracked his toes, bent his knees up over him and extended his legs out into the air while holding his hands to the small of his back. He blinked his eyes many times in quick succession and held his arms out perpendicular to him and twirled them around in tight circles. None of this helped much. The shivers wouldn’t surcease. So, after a few more minutes of this, he decided to just lie there and see what happened next. Nothing happened for a while.
One bright summer day when Stan was nine years old and the world was still a new and exciting place to be living in, filled with mystery and butterflies and daydreams, smelling of marigolds and wet dog and fresh infield grass, and everything was endless enchantment and loads of fun, in the way that things can only be endless and fun to a nine-year-old, Stan was helping his father work on his old Pontiac in the garage. The Pontiac was his father’s pride and joy. It was a bulky long-hooded muscle car with a 455 V8 engine, a big swoopy body and a tail fin fanning up from the back. His father would enlist one of the kids to come help him work on it some weekends. Stan dreaded these days. He wasn’t well coordinated and didn’t have the knack for doing mechanical work. Never knowing what the tools were called or what they were used for, he would always bring the wrong one, and this would send his father into a tempestuous rage, as he rolled out from under the car, all covered in grease and in his overalls, and screamed at Stan and berated him for being such a failure, for not being able to do even the simplest thing right. For some reason Stan remembered this day when he nine years old in particular apart from all the other days he’d lived as he lay there on the ground that cold winter night.
All the saints were liars and the trains were all heading out in the wrong direction and the hammer went tumbling down the oil-stained driveway out of his small hand and there were things that you could feel flinging at you too like spit and curse words and degradation that drifted out on tattered sails when all your ships have miscarried and the disharmonious wangling of ingratiation steams like a pot-boiler over the roiling insecure places floating anxiously in the sullied misbegotten substance of your obsequious ways while the moody unctuous do-gooder qualities of that stem from loss and disheveled fretting or just plain over-thinking and always the ways of try too of trying too much of being a loser and lost and less than the spattering shrapnel from eggs cooking in hot bacon grease early in the morning of a Saturday when home was still somewhere that left your heart sort of well kind of sort of at least part of the way full some of the times and it was to your bed with the belt strap on your bare behind if you misbehaved if you talked too much if you even made a peep past a certain hour it was the buckles for you too with the sharp pointed metal like spurs sticking into your soft flesh and leaving deep red welts making it hard to sit down for a few days and now as that hammer rolls and plunks around down the driveway and the tears run rushing rapids down onto the unforgiving white-hot concrete and the way your rail-thin legs shake is not something to be proud of not on this particular summer day not while your father’s fury unleashes and spews out at you and shrinks your soul down to the size of a walnut and embarrassment wells up in the cockles of your ingenuous heart and it is back to your room again back to your bed where you lie and cry and wish you could take time and cram it all backwards into a different kind of shape from the one it’s always had some kind of resurrection or a reverse treading towards a wistful purity a puerile innocence a dreamy deep-seeded drenching of delusional notions about what it is to be alive and roll tumbleweeds down a hill and jumping from the high rocky cliffs of waterfalls into ponds impossibly far down below as if they exist in a dimension outside of anything you could possibly see as being real or fitting into your conception of whatever that is in the first place and so it was something that made you relinquish any thoughts of ever having any say-so in the way time would run its course and do things with the deep set-in-stone tracks you made in it forever leaving a trail behind for all to see and leading to you now realizing that you were helpless against all of time’s machinations and manifestations and the buttery smell of forever was never going to come and never was the only thing that was and you could run faster than any kid in the neighborhood and won a race against all of the kids at recess touching the fence even before the older kids and you’d never been in a fight you couldn’t talk your way right out of because like your father liked to say you had diarrhea of the mouth and now you were alone in bed and the tears had stopped and you wanted to take that hammer and throw it out into the deranged gnashing teeth of the world and like a wrench in the gears tear that whole entire world apart.
Shivering still, Stan spread his arms and legs out as if he were making a snow angel, except there was no snow, and he eventually stopped moving and just let his arms lie there in a V above his head while he brought his legs together and crossed them at the ankles. If somebody were to happen by and ask him what he was doing he might have responded, “Oh, not much. Just being Jesus.” He held this pose for quite some time.


The meeting room quieted down. Nobody seemed uneasy or even mildly disturbed, though Jaime felt a sort of floundering agitation fermenting and metastasizing throughout him. He tried to ignore it.
A rather frowzy woman, who introduced herself as Jean Baudry and spoke with a garbled unidentifiable brogue, launched into a long-winded jeremiad. There was an aura of grittiness around her, a whiff of madness too, along with mothballs and a garlic-like effluvium that seemed to be coming from some gurgling fount of rotting pulp cavorting about deep in her bowels. Jamie noticed that her teeth were stained a fulvous dishwater-urine-like color, and that she had a nearly orthognathous profile. A rigid self-consciousness seemed to cast a pall over her words, making him think that she was duping the group into thinking she was bold and self-assured, while really being just an inhibited, scared little girl when the chips were down. Her words flooded the room as if they’d been unleashed by a dam.
“I don’t always know what I am lonely for. There are motions I go through. The clock plinks and plunks and picks apart the stray strands of wisteria feeding the crickets chirping in my mind. I do all of these things, tie my shoes, carry paper bags of groceries from my station wagon into the house and set them on the kitchen counter, count my steps between the cracks in the sidewalk, count back and forth on my fingers in multiples of five, leave the television on while I sleep, scratch my head and preen my eyebrows with smoothing swabs of my fingertips, fold and stack newspapers on the floor at the edge of the carpet line in the corner of my bedroom, crush empty toilet paper rolls into wadded-up balls and throw them at the walls, stare at license plates and fire hydrants and wonder about the weather on Jupiter. If I am trying to escape my own isolated existence…but I’m just making it worse really. Really I am just reinforcing my own ways of being disconnected from the world going on out there, giving my actions more meaning, giving myself comfort, a reason for going about things, um, a disenchantment?”
Jean took a breath.
“People do not talk like this!”
People were not disturbed by this outburst. It wasn’t clear where it had come from. Nobody fessed up. The voice was disguised and indistinct. It might have come from some place outside of the room, or another universe for that matter. Jean continued, unperturbed.
“If sense is something one can make of oneself, then I plead no contest. There were times during the course of my life, maybe slow times when I lived on Top Ramen and apple juice and stole napkins from diners, and during these periods of stagnation I would often find myself wishing time would just go past and that the days would be over before they even began. The sun couldn’t move fast enough across the tidy-bowl blue sweep of sky. And I would sit in one position, say leaning against a pillow propped up against the headboard of my bed with my legs bent high at the knees and my feet flat on the mattress, for hours on end, waiting. It was always waiting, endless periods of waiting, and then waiting to wait some more. My life was cornered with sleep. And sleep was just waiting to wake up, and being awake was just waiting to be back asleep again. I was crafting a world for myself there, an insular bubble of a place where I could control all things, even the wind that blew every last leaf that fell. And it was my own personal island. I was alone there and I was safe and comfortable and it was easy to exist there, to not have to worry about outside things leaking in and ruining it. It was a choice I was making. But soon it wasn’t that either. I was trapped in that place inside of myself whether I wanted to be or not, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference, to know if I really had that freedom to choose…inside or outside. It was a brutal dichotomy, a fluctuation back and forth between things I couldn’t even begin to understand. And what was in the middle? Emptiness, nothing, loss, a diffident smirk on the pointless face of things, changelessness, coughing fits, decadence pushed to the furthest degree of self-indulgence, watching pigeons roosting on the telephone wires, throwing racquetballs at stop signs, making up more sense than I ever made to myself, self-absorbed, alone, cut-off, shut in, unmoved by the way the world spins around and around, always turning, and so…well, and so…”
Jean Baudry closed her eyes. Her mouth was a thin line of unperturbed rigidity. Her hands lay palm down on the table, flat. She reminded Jamie of some séance participant deep in an otherworldly trance. Thinking, ‘This it, I’m out of here, this is nuts,’ he tried to get up from his seat. This garnered Robert’s attention, and he looked at Jamie steadily, as if observing an animal in a zoo behaving in an odd unpredictable way. Jamie felt an implied aspersion in the man’s eyes.
“Leaving so soon Mr. Munson?”
Jamie stopped his rising from the chair, stunned, his face gone wan in an instant, like somebody had pinged a hammer against his head leaving him dizzy, wavering, more unsteady then a fall-down drunk holding up a lamppost. He’d never told anybody here his name. He hadn’t even spoken.
Robert looked at him, his eyes a bit shifty, with a quizzical scrutiny, a gaze with no enmity behind it but that was still off-putting and patronizing. Jamie began to feel that this Robert was keeping some awful secret close to his vest. It was all very confusing and he really didn’t have much time to think. Standing there, his hand still gripping the back of the chair that he’d been trying to leave behind, his body bent a bit, as if frozen in the middle of a deep lunging bow, Jamie tried to form words. It was a Herculean task.
“I…must be…I mean, I just…I should go now. I mean…I have to…”
Robert smiled a smug smile that seemed to be mocking Jamie somehow. “Does your family know that you are here?” The smile seemed to stick to his visage even while he spoke. It seemed to be planted there permanently like a clown’s makeup.
“Wha…” Jamie again was rendered speechless.
Everyone was looking at him. There was an old man on the opposite side of the table with a head like a dried up prune, all wrinkled and shriveled, who was snickering into his bony shoulder. There was something sinister about him, or maybe it was just senility. Jamie hated the man. He shouted at him, “Hey Buster! Stop that damn cackling over there. What’s so damn funny, huh?”
A stirring of mumbled voices arose in the room, everyone seeming to be talking at once, and not to each other. Just a bunch of unconnected strands of conversation, cavorting in terpsichorean joy all together, but each all alone, ensconced in their own little world, separate from all the others, yet still swimming in the same waters with them. There was a loneliness in their being together that seemed to make sense to Jamie. It was a stranded feeling. Nobody else could provide any relief for this kind of loneliness. It was devastating and it built its parapets high to wall you inside of it. Jamie sat back down.
Robert put his hand up, trying to quell the commotion. “Okay. Everybody, let’s not lose our heads here. Mr. Munson is going to cooperate. Isn’t that right Mr. Munson?”
Jamie felt defeated. He hunched over in his seat. “Yes. I’ll…I’ll do whatever you want.” Lethargy overcame him. He gave in to it. “I’m tired. I’m so tired. So damn tired.”
“See? That wasn’t so hard. So, you can all cool it. He’s going to go along. He won’t make things difficult anymore.”
The old man had stopped laughing and was now just chewing on his dentures.
The room became quiet and Robert lifted his arm, palm up, in the direction of the old man. “It is okay Mickey. We are your friends here. You can tell us all about it now. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Mickey grinned, the sagging skin of his cheeks lifting, his browning, poorly maintained dentures unveiled, and seemed genuinely pleased by the turn of events. Jamie put both his elbows on the desk and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands. He closed his eyes. Mickey started speaking with a gravelly rasp, having to uncouthly clear his throat many times beforehand. He coughed a little, then began, shouting, “From my mother’s sleep I fell into the state!”
A mosquito buzzed Jamie’s ear. He shook his hand at it, looking like he was fanning himself, and then went back to his head-in-hands look.
Mickey, looking very pleased with himself, after a short pause, continued, “There was a time long ago when I had the wine of youth flowing in my veins. But it was my father’s blood in there too. That chicken-shit blood. It made disastrous decisions for me. I tried to chase it away, pretend it wasn’t there, as if I could just ignore it and it would be gone. But it always stirred in me. It was always there no matter what I did. I just had to get used to it. I had to learn to live with it.”
The old man coughed into his hand some, made some hacking, guttural sounds, hawking up great quantities of phlegm and mucous, and shook his head slowly. His fingernails were too long, unkempt, yellow and brittle, with hardened black gunk outlining the edges.
“I am not that young man anymore. I can’t fight against that blood anymore. It is in me. But I’ve learned that I am not it. I don’t have to be my father. He is in me, but not of me. We are not one and the same. So, I live my life out as my body falls apart into uselessness. My brains get addled. My heart barely whispers, still softly pumping that blood through my veins. I can still feel him there, after all these years, the man who used to keep a razor strop in the bathroom to beat me with when I misbehaved, which was often. That blowhard, deceitful man who was unable to love anything except his ordered sense of discipline. Nothing was ever good enough for him. Something was always wrong, done badly…one missed blade of grass that the lawnmower failed to cut would be enough to send his hands wailing on me, a six, seven-year-old kid. Jesus. His temper. He would become irate in an instant. There was nowhere to hide from him. We lived in a small one-storey house. I would run away into the streets and cry in the alleys.”
He stopped to clear his throat again. His eyes were becoming misty and red.
“My hair falls out. My face turns to a bowl of mush. I have eyes whose scars are long. I’ve never had a space to live in that didn’t make me feel alone, out-of-step with the world, and panicky and riddled with nervous jitters when others invaded my space, entered into the doomed realms of my loneliness. This is the way that I am lonely. This is the only way I’ve ever known. My blood slows now, trickles through me with a dying fall, and I hear the songs of trumpets calling out from somewhere beyond the train tracks of my past, but they do not play for me. All the red-weather tigers have been caught. Someone, somewhere, speak for me, for I cannot.”
A giant cloudburst of applause filled the room as soon as Mickey stopped speaking. Jamie still had his head in his hands. The clapping perturbed him. He didn’t want to look up. He just sat there with his head in his hands.


A kind of rummaging, a rooting around through masses of wet pages stuck together, dripping runny letters becoming black splotches, coalescing into heaps of unreadable pulp, a bolus-like wad stuck in your craw like a sponge sucking up what’s left of your mind, but you keep searching, trying to see if there is any sense left in the way you are currently running through the obstacle course of your life, hoping, trying not to reveal too much, to lie back and revel in dark corners, shut out the bright lights and stick thumb tacks into your arms, and it is in this way of pushing the world away that you find solace in your solitude, a constant companion in yourself, a succedaneum for an interaction with a real flesh-and-bone human being because no one else would understand as well as you what the components of your thought process might add up to, where they came from, what the whole history of their evolution, their migration patterns, their diaspora, actually means, and it is a constant chatter up there, fly-by-night circuits rewiring and networking and forging ahead in a mashed imbroglio brandishing machetes, carving intricate one-of-a-kind intaglios deep in the folds of your brain with all of its fluctuating neurons firing away with a celerity that that brain cannot even come close to making you conceive of, but it is still you, thinking, man alone, you, this self you feel like you are making up more and more all the time to cover up the impending ache in your gut that you do not know what is to really be you at all, and as it impinges on the way you go through the day the once wide banks of self-discovery become cramped, shallow, and sere, no more mockingbirds singing from the shores, just this tawny infertile soil peppered with sand and the saprogenic husks of baobab trees with their bulbous branch ends bare on stubby boughs, and there is nothing here except for emptiness, a way to be away, a way to lick your wounds before you even go into battle, a way to fall prey to the repetitions beating like a driving rain into the way you keep telling yourself that you want to think, sinking, saying gesundheit before you sneeze, fuming, scraping whitened flecks of dead skin from your palms, all of your plans going south faster than the Rio Grande, leaping at opportunities that never come, cheating at board games, saying funny things over and over again that nobody ever laughs at, squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom, counting down the days that keep speeding by like racecars looping around a track, dreaming, whiling away the odd-ended hours, checking the weather report, taking things with a grain of salt.
So just lie there. Don’t bother to get up. Keep holding that Christ pose there on the cold, hard ground. Go on. That’s it. Not so hard really, is it? But now, okay, that’s enough. You’re going to have to get up now. There are things that need to happen, things in need of doing, things you need to do to make the things happen. So, come on. Get up. There you go. Brush the dirt off. Sweep it off with your hands. Don’t worry about the darkness. The sun won’t be coming up for a long time. Get your head together. Feel that wind thrashing against you? Didn’t dress properly for this outing, this excursion into the outmost recesses of your consciousness, or at least the ones of Pleasance’s surrounding rural areas. It’s okay. Rub your hands together. There you go. Make some heat the old-fashioned way. You’ll survive. Rest assured. Feel that skin tightening around your face? Your nose is turning red. Pull your overcoat on tight around you. It’s not warm enough, but it’ll do. It’s something outside of your skin at least. It’ll cut down on that wind chill, some. Blink your eyes. Again. Faster. They burn with a sharp smarting. It’s like you’ve got entoptic icicles stuck on the back of your eyelids. Don’t worry. Your toes are numb and they are tingling, and there is a lightning strike of pain shooting up your sciatic nerve. It doesn’t matter. Ignore it. Move on. Walk. Think warm thoughts. Think about getting into your bed, climbing up under your flannel sheets and thick blankets, smelling the burning dust in the heater, or sitting by a fireplace, by the heat of the hearth, drinking a hot mug of Irish Whisky, reading Dickens, listening to the rain plunking down on the roof. Think again. It’s cold. It’s beyond any freezing that you’ve ever known. If you pissed the stream would turn to ice instantly creating a long yellow icy chain connecting you to the ground. So rub your hands together. Feel the way they clumsily slap together and roll off of each other, the way your fingertips pinch and prod? The cotton of your gloves there is not really the best insulator, is it? Shake your head. Let out a roar. Keep walking. There you go. Got to keep moving. Got to keep going. Get that blood circulating. Keep up the vascularity. Come on. One foot in front of the other. It’s not that hard. Run your fingertips across your eyebrows. Feel those hard little splinters of ice scrape against your fingertips? Take your hand and make it into a fist. It doesn’t matter which hand. Stop stalling. There you go. Now put it to your mouth. Pucker out your lips and make your mouth into an oval shape. Blow into the little circle made by the curvature of your index finger and your thumb. Feel that warm burst of air, that plume of heat, kindle the inside of your hand? Do you feel your palm defrosting? Now, take your other hand and wrap it around that fist you’ve made, the one you are still holding to your mouth, that condensed fiery ball, and blow again and again. You might make a hooting sound. This is okay. Blow. Again. Now rub those hands together. There you go. Everything is caliginous. It’s hard to see where you’re going with all of this wind walloping you. It’s nothing you can’t handle. Keep moving. Come on. Walk. There. Up the back of that hill there. Look at the ground. The anthills and the sedimentary rocks, maybe chalk, limestone, shale, or clastic pieces shed from conglomerate rocks. All these scattered things. Get down low. Look around. You can see stuff there on the ground. It’s not that dark, not with all those stars lighting the way. And you have a flashlight. That’s right. That long heavy Mag-Lite. It was in the back of your scooter. You keep it there in case of emergencies, or situations like this. You’ve had it all along. Take it out. Shine it around. Look at this stuff. Litter in the oddest places. A cigarette butt laid to rest inside the corolla of a flower, a clear plastic soda bottle lying half-buried in a rabbit hole, paper wrappers and beer cans and an empty matchbook sitting on top of a few dead leaves. These are things that you normally wouldn’t notice. But you are noticing them now. You can see them pellucidly. It is all very limpid in the beam of your powerful Mag-Lite. The tall grass growing wild, bending in the wind; and the sticks and rubble scattered about; all of those hard, tiny pinecones everywhere; the thousands of browned, exsiccated pine needles carpeting the ground; the pebbles blowing down the hill in a mini-avalanche. It is all there. Look around. Shine that wand of light all over the place. Now. Stand up. Start walking again. Make your way up that hill. This is important. Don’t let that damn wind hold you back. Blow on your hands some more and rub them against your cheeks. Keep moving. Up that hill now. Come on. Don’t be ornery. Don’t get all querulous. Stride up the incline, the steep grade of that hill. Suck it up. It’s not so steep. It’s nothing you can’t handle.

A gun was lying on the hilltop. Stan shone his light on it. It was a hunting rifle. Stan put down his Mag-Lite and picked up the rifle. He lifted the wooden butt of the gunstock onto his shoulder, pointed the forend out in front of him, and squinted to look through the iron sight. He couldn’t see much. It seemed to be a buckhorn type of open sight—the slowest and hardest to use. He aimed it around a little, swinging the rifle back and forth, up and down, and making small circles in the air with the crowned muzzle as he made firing sounds with his mouth: “Paw. Pow. Psshew. Bam,” and things like this.
Stan picked up his Mag-Lite and shined it out into the darkness. It was a nice little view from up there on top of the hill. He could see for quite a ways in all directions wherever his Mag-Lite shone. He spun around and pointed the rifle at the beam of light. “Pissshew! Bang! Bap! Dit!”

Don’t worry about where that gun came from, about who left it there for you to find. It feels good in your hands. Its smallbore metal barrel protruding on out into the night as your hand guides it wherever you want it to go. You are in charge. You have control and power over things. Don’t wonder about why the gun was there, seemingly waiting for you to find it. It is not important. You have a gun in your hands. That is all that matters. Heft it hither and thither. Dream of the gossamer legs of spiders plucking their mucilaginous webs like harps, the seasons drifting away while the weather is wearing your name like a dog tag around the humped backs of hills. Who knows what these things mean? Adjust your pants, level the sight, get your depth perception straight, make sure everything aligns. Hold onto the rifle tight. Don’t let all that wind throw it out of your hands. Force yourself against all of those powerful gusts slamming against you. Hold on. Hold on tight. Run your hand along that straight grip stock, feel how smoothly it slides all the way from toe to trigger. Turn your hand sideways, horizontal, palm up. Go ahead. Grip the trigger with your index finger. Pull the trigger back gingerly, not too hard, just enough to feel the pressure against the sear. Wondering if that chamber is empty? It’s a pump-action repeating rifle. You don’t have to load it. Just point and shoot. See what happens. What have you got to lose?

Stan stood atop the hill and eyed the dark land through the sight of the rifle. By laying his flashlight down below him, directing the beam with his foot, he could line up his tiny keyhole of sight with objects made lucent by its bright stream of light. He moved it around like a spotlight, rotating it in jerky paroxysms, creating a kind of strobe-light effect on the scenery. Bushes streaked by, trees flinched, and curious gophers ducked down back in their holes. He randomly settled the light on the branch of a juniper tree. The leaves were flailing in the wind, and the branch was bent back some against the wind’s push. Through the sight he lined a small part of the branch up in the middle of the crossed-lines etched on the glass. It was hard to hold the rifle steady with all the wind coming at him, to keep the branch in the middle of the sight, and at the same time to keep the flashlight pointed steadily with his foot in the general area of the tree. He pulled the trigger. A shot, much louder than he’d expected, rang out and echoed all over the valley. It scared him at first and he fell back, and then tripped over his flashlight and went down on his back, the rifle falling off somewhere to his side. Stan lay there, laughing and rolling his head around in the dirt. And then he began howling like a wild dog.
Stan got up and started scrounging around for his Mag-Lite, which he’d somehow kicked quite a ways down the hill. He saw its beam flashing upon a wretched chain-link fence that was almost completely torn from its poles. He picked up the rifle, pumped the forend back and forth a few times to cycle it, and checked to make sure he hadn’t somehow broken the thing in his fall. He hadn’t.
Running down the hill, rifle in one hand, howling like a dog again, jumping into the wind as it seemed to lift him, weightless, into its frenzied clutches, Stan felt free, completely unfettered to the things of the world that for as long as he could remember had been weighing him down, keeping him locked inside a dark, disaffected, featherless place with no fresh air to breathe and nowhere to run. It was a feeling he’d only experience in dreams, and even then very rarely. A gut-dropping floating sensation that made everything seem soft, without density or mass, just fluffy lumps of gray matter that he could drift on, flying away over the rooftops of Pleasance, looking down on all the smoking brick chimneys and the dog walkers and the fire trucks and the bird-shit-stained statues and the mailmen and the thieves and bank robbers and the dump trucks and the pool sharps and grooms and the cherry pickers and the fancy pants and streets laid out in strange patterns that were hooks and curls and squiggles and chutes and ladders and he could dance in these dreams like he was underwater and his body felt like it was liquid too and that he was melting into everything around him and he did not care and he did not care and he did not care…
He raised the rifle high above him, holding it there as he skipped and pranced down the hill, into the wind. With a bizarre yelp he pulled the trigger again, sending a loud report reverberating throughout the land. The echoes of his barks also rebounded back to him, magnified and crashing against him along with the wind. The wind was his voice. His voice was in the wind. It was speaking for him, saying things he could never say, things he didn’t have the language to even think, things that were beyond language, things only the wind could understand. He flew down that hill like a madman hot on the trail of his bête noire. His eyes were wild. His hair was erupting out in a wind-blown flurry. The look on his face was that of a corybantic animal. He howled and howled into the wind; and the wind howled back in unison.


Where I lay my head, wherever, hanging down my head, letting it lie where I’ve laid it down, where it has maybe always lain, trying not to lie to myself, tight-lipped, dumbstruck, ashamed of the way I feel, fending off the cascading emoluments of sorrow, the base-coin of empathy being waggled in front of my dreary face like a dog bone, or monopoly money to bolster up the insolvency in my soul, meaningless, things I do not want or need…Buffalo Bill is defunct! Where I lay my head down, on the beach, in the sand, counting intra-universe wormholes shortcutting through the spacetime that I find to exist from mouth to mouth in those quark-sized eternities gathered in all the grains of sand, I gargle warm salt water when my throat is sore…where I lay me down to…wherever I lie, it is the same, like reaching mile-long pincers skyward to try to grab a few pigeons out of the blue, insufferable, regurgitated filibusters capsizing my head with lukewarm water and onion fumes, guns aren’t lawful so you might as well live, sitting in (wheelbarrows) red rooms drinking black (glazed with rain) coffee, so much depends on windy gray chaos…something like that (lay) still (yes closer made of nothing except) something else too (loneliness)…behind the curtain awaits the emperor of ice (watersmooth-silver) cream and he is going to send me back home, all the way back, back, back, back, gone…I precariously lay my piddling head on a pillow of precious pearls, gems, and diamonds, pouring my pissed-on aspirations from pewter porringers, prattling on so imprecisely…these legs have never known the joy of leaping, nor have been able to give me the watery eyes of a down-hill sprint, but they are under me, lame and disfigured and shrunken like gnarled tree branches searching everywhere for the leaves they had when they were virile and verdurous, and virtue (run for me) speaks what no words (if you) can utter (Please, please, please, please. Please, please don’t go. Honey please don’t) go…where I (it can not be long) now lie down in darkness, lie for a (measured) time (by how a body sways) in the swaddling bands of this confinement, tunneling through the basalt of these ossified years just to reach another prison cell…play it as it lays me down dying…Judas didn’t play (I don’t) it (believe you) fucking loud (you are a liar)…I eat (a good pear) when I’m hungry (so to-morrow) I drink when (you can) I’m dry (remember it)…I will lose you, I will choose to, I will not be moved unless I choose to be moved and lose the ruse that is choking like a noose, hey Zeus…Alice ran away with the spoon and the big cat (Andres) cried, but I dodged a Siamese cat named Chuck that was gibberishing gerunds and jabbing at Ewoks and singing carols and who I must admit could corroborate all of this convoluted nonsense in a unhesitating (here she comes) wink of common (miss) understanding (America) the common man…Whence or whither, that is the question (or what, when, where, why, or who would do too) that begs my reply, my repartee, which is merely a defense mechanism (the jokes jump from the tongue ere they are fully formed) working steadfastly against my understanding, or others understanding of me for that matter, mattering little in the dull-double-edged-sword outcome of these things, like taking candy from a baby, my response to the query, my half-aghast answer to the predicament I so devotedly dovetail my way in and never out of, unmitigated ways of keeping the ship afloat, my lies are not butter to spread on the toast of the town, my legs can move me, though you cannot, not here, not now, my rebuttal, which you are all so anxious to hear, is that I will stay in the cellar, this cavern of musty blight and mold filled with the putrefying carcasses of memories where I sit in my moth-eaten chair and live out my cankered, tussive life to its bitter end…I will lay my head down…(a fair-weather fan of feeling’s dull decay) I will close my eyes…I will lie here like this alone…father, oh father, (let) where (me lose your) been (face) while I’ve been face-down in the gutter, gut shot, wasted and wounded and left for dead, my ghostly (Lonesome Roads) brow’s black bough is wet but petal-less, and more importantly nobody cares…as my highball is watering itself down with melted ice, I think back to the highly embellished two-over-five chest-on-chest dresser in the corner of my room while I lay there sick, only a child, jejune and decomposing already, perspiration beading and pooling and covering every inch of my rubicund flesh, the delirious throes of fever churning through my underdeveloped body, brow-beating me into submission as I shift and shudder under my sheets sopping wet with eccrine secretions, as my bones curve and whittle away, and I am left alone staring at that intricately ornamented chest of drawers, that behemoth of a bureau, its varnished oak gleaming in the stray strands of dust-mite filled sunlight, those minute creatures feeding on the dust, that sickly dust that is filled with shed skin at a rate 20mg of skin flakes per minute, their billions of bodies and their food and feces clouding up the only natural light my young eyes would see for days on end, my father keeping the shutters tightly closed, keeping the warmth of the sun away, with only those brief flecks of streaking light sneaking through to stencil herringbone patterns and hooked shapes with shadows on the wall…the sound of my siblings bounding around in the halls, outside, where I could never be…this is (a stranger) I (who never) and (feels at home) is not (a little) I (in love with death)…for so long this defined my purpose, gave structure to my being, this was who I was…a closed door speaking for me…alone.


The barking voice had stopped. Alice had closed her eyes and put her head down inside her hands, covering her face as she squatted like cornered prey there by the car, but she could still feel the bright flashlight shining on her. The wind was tearing at her, as if it were trying to dislodge her from the ground.
A feral squawk broke out of her. It was high-pitched, almost glass-breakingly so; it was a phlegmy shrill cry, laced with a thin coat of horror and an indescribable thanatophopbia. It scared off more birds than the gunshots had.
A gunshot again exploded through the harsh wind.
Then Alice was crying and weep-wording things like, “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t…please, don’t shoot, don’t shoot, shoot, don’t…please don’t shoot me…”
A scratchy male voice that seemed a few galaxies away shouted at her, “Alice. Is that you? What the…fu…Alice! Alice?”
Her mind ran in vicious whirlpools and her fleeing instinct took over. The words were just things being thrown at her with the wind. She bolted around the Pontiac’s long hood and dove in through the driver’s side window, furiously jammed her readied keys into the ignition, and, the whole while ducking her head, trying to stay as low in the seat as possible, she turned the engine over and hit the gas. The Pontiac roared like a shot elephant. It didn’t go anywhere. Alice screamed.
“Hey….Hey!” Stan shouted as he came around to her side of the car. She tried to roll up the window as fast as she could, palpitating with fear, still ducking her head down. The window got stuck. She put her head down between her knees and covered it with her hands. “I believe you’ve got to have this thing in Drive for it to work properly sis.” Stan’s voice was gentle and tinged with a loving sarcasm. His head was in the window now.
“Wha…whaa…” Alice was dumbstruck. She hesitantly lifted her head from between her knees, and looked over at the place where the voice was coming from.
“Hey there birthday girl. Where’s the rest of the clan? Eatin’ your dust, huh?”
“St…Stan?” She was more than a little amazed. “What…what the fuck…” her voice trailed off as she looked at her violently trembling hands and shook her head.
“Yes. My sentiments exactly. What the fuck?”
They looked at each other, Stan with his face in the partly-closed window, leaning there on a rifle as if it were a walking stick. Alice sitting there with her knees knocking together, her face gone white and her make-up smeared with dirt and tears. A tape flipped over in the car’s tape deck. Alice had knocked the volume level all the way up, as she’d flown haphazardly into the car. An extremely loud female voice boomed, “I went to a party last Saturday night, I didn’t get laid, I got in a fight, uh huh, it ain’t no big thing,” as synthesizers rang out in an electric scream behind it.
Alice and Stan simultaneously started singing along, yelling as loud as they possibly could. “Late for my job and the traffic was bad, had to borrow ten bucks from my old man, uh huh, it aint’ no big thing.” The guitars wailed and the drums kicked in and pounded away and the bass throbbed and made the car’s dashboard rattle and their voices roared and it was all unbelievably loud, so loud that it seemed to drown out the wind, and the rest of the world too.
Stan started thrusting the rifle up and down and dancing around, and Alice jumped out of the car and pumped her fists in the air and sang every word right along with Lita Ford. She picked up the Mag-Lite from the ground where Stan had dropped it. They danced with an unleashed ecstasy, a wild abandon, a whole-hearted beatitude of release from trepidation, and the music played and the wind blew them all over the place. Stan played the rifle like a guitar and Alice screamed into the Mag-Lite like a microphone…but I know what I like, la dah dee da, la dah dee da, I know I like dancing with you, nah na nah na, nah na nah na, and I know what you like, bah ba bah ba, bah ba bah ba, I know you like dancing with me, yeah, yeah, kiss me once, kiss me twice, come on pretty baby kiss me deadly…They sang and danced and hugged each other and hawked giant loogies into the wind.
The song ended and Alice ran back to the car to snap the radio off. She was sweating profusely and smiling wide. “Stan! Stan! What the hell is going on?”
He went over to the passenger side and knocked on the window. “Lemme in or I’ll shoot.”
She lifted the metal door lock and Stan came in and sat down. “Ow! Damn. This seat is all ripped to hell and cutting up my ass.”
“Stan. What the hell? I mean…what’s going on? Where’d you get that gun?”
“This is not a gun. This is a rifle.” He held it out horizontally in front of him and inspected it. “ A damn fine one at that. Take off the head of a girl at a distance of ten yards, no problem.”
“You asshole. What the hell were you…? Ahh!” She grabbed him by the shirt and shook him around.
“Hey. Stop. Okay. Okay. Stop it!” She relented and he straightened out his clothing. “I wasn’t going to shoot you. I thought this looked like dad’s old Pontiac. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t…I just thought…I didn’t know you were going to drive off in this thing and come all the way out here, all they way out in the boonies, all alone…on your birthday. I didn’t even see anybody until I got close. This damn wind. Shit. Can you roll up your window?”
The car was still idling rough. Alice, with some straining effort, rolled up the window.
“That’s more like it. Shit. Thanks. That wind is really going at it out there.”
“I couldn’t stand being in that house anymore. Trapped in there with all those dipsomaniacs. They were driving me nuts.”
“Can’t beat ‘em Alice. Join ‘em. Down the hatch.” He pretended to take out a flask from his jacket pocket, and did his best imitation of a drunk taking a furtive drop in the back row of a church. “Ah. That’s the stuff.”
“Shut up. They were acting like idiots. I felt boxed-in. I couldn’t stand it.”
Stan set the rifle down in the backseat. “Hey. Let’s get this show on the road. Let’s get the hell out of here. Make some tracks! Drive!” He shifted the car into Drive and it lunged forward a bit.
“Okay. Okay. Jeez. Get your seatbelt on.” She steered the car off of the patch of dirt and back onto the road.
“Oh. Sorry mother,” he pantomimed a chided little kid’s motions of defeat, but pulled the sash across his chest and the lap belt across his stomach, and snapped the metal buckles into their clasps. “There. Happy?”
“Very. It’s my birthday. I’m a full-grown woman now. Remember?”
“Sure. Your first year of beer. Wow. That’s exciting stuff.”
She punched him on the shoulder a few times. “That’s right. Don’t fuck with me. I’m trying to drive here.”
“Your hawk’s turned into spaghetti. It’s a Noodle-Hawk. You look a mess. What’ve you been up to tonight?”
“Oh, just hanging from fences, trying not to get shot.”
“Ha. Sorry about that. I found the rifle up on a hill back there. It was weird. It was like somebody left it there on purpose, for me to find. I don’t know. It was very…odd.”
“Yeah. That’s really weird. What the hell? Who leaves a loaded gun just lying around?”
“Rifle. Yeah. Maybe some hunter got spooked and dropped it. I don’t know. I think it was destiny. Somebody out there wanted me to find it.”
“Sure. That makes perfect sense. Some person wanted you to almost blow my head off in the dark.”
“Could be. I don’t know. It is not for me to question these things.”
“Whatever. And by the way. What the hell were you doing all the way out in Timbuktu tonight. Why weren’t you at my party? I think I remember you being there, weren’t you?”
“I snuck out through the garage when nobody was looking.”
“Hey. You left the party too. Don’t try pulling that on me.”
They drove along the road for a while, not saying much, and then Alice hooked the car onto the highway again, heading east, away from Pleasance.
“Alright! An adventure! This is more like it.” He paused. “Ah, shit. My scooter. Fuck. I left it back there somewhere in those fields.”
“That scooter is a piece of shit. Nobody’s going to take it. Come on. It’s my birthday. I get to do whatever I want.”
“Okay. Shit. You better remember where we were out there.”
“I remember. Don’t worry.”
They drove on.
Stan looked out the window, watching the phone lines race each other on the sides of the highway, all the stars out there too, counting the distance between the tall wood utility poles. Running his fingers along the glass, he started whistling a little, some nonsense tune, something that sounded made-up.
“Uh huh.”
“Why were you out there? In that exact spot…I mean, there’s so much space out there, in the countryside, so many exits you could have taken instead of that one off of the highway. Why were you there?”
“You think I followed you?”
“I didn’t.” He rose in his seat, cracked his neck a few times and yawned. “I was out at the TowHay. Standing out in the middle of the bridge all by my lonesome. Freezing my ass off.”
“Really? What the hell were you doing that for?”
“Dunno. Bored.”
“Don’t be an idiot.” Alice ejected the Lita Ford tape from the deck, turned on the radio, and started flipping through the stations. She mostly got just static and fading music and barely audible voices. She often did things like this when she was rankled by something, when she felt someone wasn’t giving her the straight dope.
“Come on. What do you want me to say? That I was going to jump?”
“No. I don’t know. Just shut up. I don’t care.”
“Okay.” Stan smoothed his hands on his pants and lay back in the seat. “How long have you been taking this car out for joyrides?”
She smiled to herself and looked straight ahead.
“I can’t believe it. Taking dad’s old piece-of-shit Firebird out for a spin on her birthday. What a rebel.”
“That’s right.”
The radio made some noise, a sparse hushed mumbling of some sort that crackled and faded in and out. It was hard to make out what it was saying at first, but it started coming in a little better as they drove.
“Hey. You know…I don’t know why I went out to that bridge, and I sure as hell don’t know why I drove my scooter all the way out there, and got off the highway at that particular place. To tell the truth, I don’t even remember it that well. It was like I was in a trance or something. Like when I found the rifle. It was like some voice, something outside of all of this, was telling me to do things, and I couldn’t resist doing them. It was uncanny. I’ve never felt that way before. I know. It sounds crazy. It is. I don’t know.”
“It doesn’t seem that crazy actually. I think I kind of know what you mean.” She smirked at him out of the side of her mouth. “It’s something…yeah—outside. That’s the way it is.”
“Alice. Can I ask you something?
“No. But go ahead anyway.”
“Do you feel kind of, I don’t know, compelled to talk about dad right now? Like you just have to do it or…else?”
“Or else what?”
“I don’t know. Maybe…we won’t keep existing this way…the way that we are. Driving in the car like this. Talking.”
“I’m not sure.”
They were silent again as the radio babbled on incomprehensibly and then died back down.
“I’m not sure either.”
“Hey. Remember when you were a kid and you were really fast? You were like the fastest kid in the whole elementary school. And there was that jingle, like your theme song. Remember: ‘Stan, Stan, ran as fast as he can, nobody can ran as fast as Stan can.’”
“Oh shit. How do you remember this stuff?” They both were laughing. “The fucking tense was all screwed up.”
A few tears of laughing-joy came trickling down from the corners of Alice’s eyes. “I know. Didn’t they us teach grammar? Can ran? What the hell was the matter with us?” Her laughs were giggling their way out of her and convulsing her stomach a little bit, making her squint her eyes. “We were such idiots!”
“Still are lil’ sis. Still…were,” Stan said mid-chuckle and rolled his head around on the headrest. “Oh shit. What a bunch of morons.”
Alice fiddled with the dial control knob of the radio again. The back speakers croaked and buzzed and spat out some more static.
“Why don’t we put a tape in? Look at all these on the floor here. Hey. Your shoebox tipped over and lost its load.”
“Okay. Whatever. Pick one up and put in. I don’t care.”
Stan slid his hands around in the mess of spilled tapes at his feet. He picked up a Simon and Garfunkel tape at random and fit it into the tape deck’s rectangular mouth.
“Still feel…compelled?”
“Um. I don’t know. I don’t know what that was. It’s…passed I guess.”
“We can talk about dad if you want. We are in his old car.”
“No. That’s alright. I mean, unless you want to.”
“What about that ‘outside’ voice, or whatever you call it. Is it still there?”
“What?” Stan shifted around uncomfortably. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.”
“Never did.”
She smiled at him and he smiled back.
“I’m glad you were out there tonight. I really am.”
“Yeah, me too.”
In the distance, on the snaking highway roads cut into the mountains, cars spilled down like lava, their taillights weaving dotted paths that seemed to swirl in spotty reds and yellows. It was a steady flow, honey-like, a perpetual motion that smoothly went about its way in a mélange of vibrant popping lights. It was a distance that they were headed for, somewhere out there, outside of their little world, and there was also something out there calling to them, exhorting them to continue heading east, over the sands and chaparral of the Mojave Desert, and into the unknown.
The song America came on. It was a live version of the song recorded in Central Park in the seventies. The tape had belonged to their father. It was one of the only belongings of his that Alice still had. Euphonic humming, and the plucking of acoustic guitars, swarming applause and shouts of elation from the crowd, and then a harmonious lilting voice sang, “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together. I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.” Stan turned it up. They looked at each other, wanting to sing along, but unsure at first, until Stan tested out the waters: “It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw, I’ve gone to look for America,” his voice rising to meet the volume of the music as he went. The drums hit, and then they both started in, “I said be careful his bow tie is really a camera.”
Alice softly sang, “Toss me a cigarette. I think there’s one in my raincoat.”
They kept singing, and Stan animatedly scoured the car looking for a cigarette he could toss her. When he looked over she had one hanging from the side of her mouth. They watched taillights fan out and flash up and down the mountain. It was like a giant electric slide, like on of those cement slides they used to have in parks that kids slid down using pieces of cardboard as sleds. They both screamed, “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why. Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, they’ve all gone to look for America.” Their voices made a great vibrato, almost operatic, as they filled up the inside of the car along with those coming from the speakers; and the crowd cheered in Central Park as the song ended, and Stan and Alice cheered too, clapping and hooting and hollering like mad. Stan rolled down his window, stuck his arms and head outside, and screamed as loud as he could into the raging wind.
He rolled the window back up when he was done, and turned to Alice, who had turned off the tape deck and still had an unlit cigarette Bogarting from her lips. In a frenzy he exclaimed, “Let’s keep driving. Let’s just go until the wheels come off. Let’s drive over the mountains and see all that world rolling away out there. The desert…I don’t know. Let’s get out of here for a while. I want to get out of here.”
Stan was tapping his hands against the glove compartment.
“Okay. Fine with me. You got money for gas?”
“Gas? Where we’re going we don’t need any…um, yeah. I got money.” He began tapping his fingers all over his side of the dashboard. “This car’s so worn out. These seats are all shredded. This carpet is all torn up. Look at this dashboard.” He kept rapping his fingers against it as if it were a bongo drum. “Shit. The paint’s all faded. Look at all these splotches and…”
“I don’t care. I like it. It reminds me of how much time has gone by. And how much we’ve still got to go through…I mean, imagine being as old as this car someday. 1973 was a long time ago. We’ve got so much time to do things in…to…I don’t know, fill up with our lives.”
“Sounds awful when you put it that way. Fill it up with what?”
“I don’t know. Stuff.”
“Emptiness. That’s all. We just fill it up with emptiness.”
“You sure you want to do this? This is the last exit before the mountain pass coming up. There’s no turning back if we pass it.”
“Step on it. Let’s get out while we’re young. When you’ve got nothing…”
“You’ve got nothing to lose.”
Alice smiled and gripped the steering wheel tight. They past the exit and picked up speed before coming to the base of the mountain. The Pontiac, misfiring sparkplugs, leaking radiator, gas-guzzling motor and all, railed its objections in the fumes of exhaust as it battled its way up the steep curving grade.


An antique portable windup phonograph was spinning a dusty tune on an old trunk next to Sammy’s chair. He lay back in his rocking chair, his feet spread out wide, his curved legs splayed, an absent dreamy look of contentment on his face. An old, slightly warped, shellac record was playing. The singer had a deep melodious voice that was mellifluously serenading Sammy’s dreams.

alone, alone with a sky of romance above, alone, alone on a night that was meant for love,

A dragging, club-footed movement knocked against the floorboards above him. A hunter come home with his caught prey strung up behind him, nonchalantly cracking its head against things as he went. Sammy tried to ignore it. The record skipped a little, and Sammy readjusted the needle, putting a penny on it to keep it steady.

there must be someone waiting who feels the way I do, whoever you are, are you, are you alone,

Sammy had an affinity for old suits. He’d buy them from thrift stores and have them tailored to fit his oddly proportioned body: long wiry arms that apishly hung down almost to his knees, rail-thin legs bent like a grasshopper’s, coat-hanger shoulders, and a waist like a fashion model. On this night he was wearing a double-breasted gray tweed suit with peaked lapels, two vents, light shoulder padding, a burgundy waistcoat, white braces, flat-fronted trousers with no pleats, argyle socks, and a blood-red bow tie. His black balmorals were not shined. In fact, they had many scratches and scuffs on the vamp, and the bottoms were worn and raw, the leather ends of the outsoles nicked and rubbed from countless times of slamming and kicking and scraping by immovable objects. Propping his arm up on the rocking chair’s armrest, he slid his chin into his open palm, curling his long, delicate fingers inward so that he could bite his nails.

alone on this night that we two could share, alone,

Biting his nails and then his bottom lip, blowing out air in a labial hiss, nodding his head slightly, eyes glazed over, right ankle bent inward—the talocrural joint hinging as far as possible so that the deltoid ligament is stretched like taffy over the knobby bulge of the talus bone—so that his foot lies on its side, almost completely perpendicular to his leg, he lets his thoughts veer indiscriminately any way they so choose. The rocking chair’s wooden frame squeaks and cracks and lets loose discordant moans of untold suffering as he makes it swing with his lower back and his butt. His drink is gone. He wants another. Getting up out of the chair seems like an impossible chore, and so he sits and rocks back and forth, sitting there all dressed up and biting his nails and listening to the crackling tinny music coming from the beat-up amplifier of an old record player.

alone with a kiss that could make me care,

A born shut-in. Left alone too often. Went outside not enough. Had plans in his head. Had dreams once. Had a wistful sort of ambition. Tried to go places. Made mistakes. Petted cats and drank ice water and threw marbles down the driveway and owned a slouch hat that he lost during a boat ride on Stiletto Bay. A reader of poetry, a man of letters, a watcher of old black-and-white movies…shrewd and mostly hollow…keeping score of baseball games on napkins…a slap-happy whistler when needed…a juggler of plants and pins and bottle caps…a drunk on occasion…deadweight, heavy, up all night, consternated with worry…an air drummer and a water spitter…a muter of commercials…a moper and a clown…stammering, shunting all thoughts, behaving ordinary, meek, feckless, maladjusted in soul and mind, morose, a miscreant of the everyday…a plunker and a pounder of piano keys…distraught and distressed a bit unlike a lamb in the bible…high up above the choking grasp of busy play-acting, for now just melting into the sky…a tried and true creature of habit, routine, rot…a piss ant…a lover of nostalgia keeping a close eye on the present for signs of the past…a middling crossworder…a reader of Pessoa and Faulkner and Agee, of Serling and Bellow and Stan Lee…a time waster but never a litterbug…sloppy, sappy, and soused…falling face first on the floor, smacking the concrete, hard, little by little coming to, a different way to be…happy.

and when you come I promise to be your very own, alone, alone with a heart meant for you,

Kindly, saintly almost, no, not like that. Behave. Have grace, don’t say it. If I fell for you. If I went and fell off of the Statue of Liberty would you extend your hand? Lester, boy, you done gone killed it down a piece there, Lester, Lester, What the hell kinda name’s that? Sip. Slop. Trough. Never had it so good. Sty. My eye. Not what’s real, it’s just what you think is real, it’s just what you want to think is real, want to convince yourself is real, it is, is it? It isn’t. Nope. Not today. So, well, I keep remembering times when I’ve had déjà vu, but I’m never sure if I’m just having déjà vu about the time I’m remembering having déjà vu, as if the memory of it had never even occurred, that my mind is just playing a trick on itself, that I never really had the déjà vu in the first place, and that the memory of having had it is false. It’s like I’m having déjà vu of having déjà vu. It’s as if things never feel real enough the first time around. I’ve got to create this false image of them in my mind before I can really believe them. And so sometimes my mind does this by itself with the false memory, creating another false memory of remembering the memory before, as if not only the thing itself never existed, but also that the memory of feeling that the thing has happened before, the actual feeling of having déjà vu, never existed either, that both things have been created by my mind as if they’ve happened when they haven’t. There’s nothing I can do to prove this one way or the other. I’m remembering not only false memories, but imaginings of having remembered those memories before somehow, sort of like remembering a way you’ve had of remembering dreams many times long after they’ve happened. Only you know they are not dreams. It’s something different. Remembering having a sort of gut feeling about something, yet feeling that this memory of having this feeling, of having thought about this thing many times in the same way, is not real. Everything is strange and new. Everything. I can know things. I can remember that I know things. I am nothing but these things. All I know is that I do not, no, that I do, yes, that I know that I do, no, that I do not, will not, ever, know. Sadness is the trouble. It gets in the way. If it weren’t for the sadness of interminable afternoons I’d be able to do something. It’s the afternoons that kill me, slowly cutting away at my heart, at my will to be something more than this bag of disfigured bones, wrapped up inside, alone in here, inside this skin and all these scars that I wear like red badges of disease and cowardice and self-hatred, lost inside this skull, inside, always inside. Stuffy, sordid, clammy to the touch. A leper. A loon. A brat. A whiner. A gimp and a limper. A tad sad. Not smart enough to be real to anyone else. Not dumb enough to not care. I want a goldfish to watch over me. I shoulda been in pictures. I coulda been somebody. There is nobody like me. Nobody. I want thunder that doesn’t make a sound. A speaker of nonsense, a world of squirrels trapped inside a tear drop, the movement of ocean tides, a machine that looks like a man and runs on huckleberries with a voice like wind chimes. Carefully crafting a catechism of bluebirds and broken hearts, of marathon runners and matchsticks, big-dipper shaped spit stains on the rug, mist in my hair and dew on my tongue. Listless. Deformed. Comforted and contorted. Creeping closer to nowhere. Put your fingers in your ears. This is going to take some time. Rock’n’roll is here to stay, but I may be going away. Feeling pretty damn spiffy. A happy camper. Alone. Rocking in this chair. Slower. Even slower now. Sitting in this chair. It is something glorious. I am nobody special. This is a small good thing. I am nobody.

and when you come I promise to be your very own alone,

alone with a heart meant for you alone

The record ended but kept spinning, the needle crepitating over silence, over and over. Nobody made it stop.


It was so hot. So damn hot. It was a sweltering heat that sat on its haunches, mulling, expanding its broiling swath of flaming molecules, waiting to suffocate anything that dared move. Sultry waves of heat roasted the rooftops and baked the concrete and cooked the windows until it seemed they’d melt. The giant blazing sun, that seemed to envelop the whole sky, was scorching the leaves off of trees and desiccating gutters. The sidewalks sizzled. People’s pets were catching fire. Swimming pools were boiling. It was so damn hot.
Jamie felt like he was breathing fire. The air was so hot it was scathing his throat. He licked his lips and tried to swallow, but was too parched to produce any saliva. His tongue scratched around in his mouth. It felt like a hairy rat was clawing around in there. It was too hot to think, too hot to worry and wonder about what was going on. He just wanted to hold still, to not move, to try to cool down, to think cold thoughts, to breathe, in and out, in and out. It was too damn hot for this.
The fatigue that came upon him was all-consuming; it usurped his brain’s normal ways of thinking and functioning, rendering it useless in the figuring out of things going on around him; it sapped him to the point of oblivion, as if he’d been wandering around in a desert for days without water or food, the sun scorching his skin and drying out his insides, turning his blood into dust. He’d been sitting there holding his head in his hands for quite some time. It was hard for him to be sure even vaguely of how long it had been, but it seemed like maybe a few days had gone by. It could’ve been a week, or a year for all he knew. It seemed asinine to try to fight against the mechanics of the thing, whatever that thing was that kept him here, attached to something that was beyond his powers to comprehend.
In the corner of the room he heard something pop, and then saw some kind of combustion going on, something flamed up out of nowhere—it was the first thing that had caught his attention since Mickey had stopped speaking eons ago. Flabbergasted, Jamie wrenched loose from his petrified state like a statue come to life. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and strained to see what the hell was happening. A great unrest was stirring in him. He thought of bonfires at the beach, wildfires, leaping jagged flames run amok and rising and shooting up like a gushing oil strike. Something seemed to lasso him, a laser-like blast that blinded him momentarily, sending him falling over and blinking strabismally, suckerpunched, gasping for breath. And he tried to untangle himself from this tractor-beam like force that was pulling him somewhere, to some place that he most certainly did not want to go. But the force was too much, and he was tired, and it was so damn hot. He gave in and let it pull him wherever it was going to pull him.
It was easy, this being dragged around, having no control over things and just giving in and letting come whatever may. It didn’t hurt. He felt a broad sense of relief. Like a fallen water skier he let the force do all the work, and there were no sharp beatings against the surface, no skid burns or cuts, jets of spraying water weren’t filling his nose. He relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
He was close to the ground. It was silent, like somebody had pressed the mute button on his life. He could smell the cement burning, and got a great whiff of tar bubbling in the street. Smoldering pebbles and charred remnants of brick and wood flew at him, sometimes cracking against his head, but he didn’t feel them. He was somehow impervious to pain. In fact, he couldn’t feel anything except the surcharged wonderment of pure energy streaming through and over him. Flying no-holds-barred through a world of hypothetical things, simulacra with intangible shapes, objects devoid of mass that didn’t use space the same way three-dimensional things did. It wasn’t even a dimension. He could sense that at least. It didn’t make sense, but he knew it to be true. There was something beyond any kind of dimensions, without any form, without any relativity to anything but itself. Thinking about it didn’t do any good. He knew what he felt. He didn’t need to rationalize it. There was no sense to make of it. It just was. And so he slid around, turned upside down and sideways, flopped around to be dragged feet first, and did a few somersaults. Nothing was physically tied to him, there was just something pulling him in general, all together, and so he had freedom to move as he could while speeding towards this unknowable thing. He didn’t see any people.
Soon he realized that other things were being sucked along with him. It was like he was caught in a rip tide, a massive irresistible one, one that pulled in all things not nailed down, and maybe those too. He saw a Stop Sign fly by. Then a few parking meters, a trash can, a few small bushes and a mass of fallen leaves. He couldn’t hear anything at all. It was beyond any silence he’d ever known. Things were crashing and plummeting away, getting pummeled and thrashing around, and it was all happening without any noise. He was skidding across a hardened dirt road, masses of dust being spewed all over and into his face. It didn’t hurt, and it wouldn’t have bothered him so much if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was making it really hard for him to see anything. He nictitated feverishly and clawed at his eyes. He fanned wildly at the dust with his hands. It was no good. There was just too much of it. He closed his eyes and turned his back to it, lying down as if he were doing a back float in the middle of the ocean, thinking, ‘I’m just along for the ride. I don’t care where I’m going. Let come what may.’ It wasn’t hot anymore. Everything was a silent blur. It felt good to be alone in this way. Out here on his own. Not having to make any decisions. Merely a passenger along for the ride.
He was dragged through streets and front yards and parking lots and schools, over hospitals and department stores, dragged out beyond the office buildings and the prefab housing units that radiated forever outward, dilating in multitudinous concentric circles, past the outer reaches of his life’s backdrop—the mise en scène of the only world he’d ever known. It dragged him over rough-hewn hills and through desert sands, sent him flying over mountains and scudding through all kinds of trees and thick foliage. It pulled him along through rivers, down ditches, and into brute rock formations and the steel-lattice legs of radio towers. At times he felt like he wasn’t moving at all, as if the world had shut down, time had stopped going by, and he was just hanging there like a gooey gumdrop in mid-air. And at other times it was like he was moving illimitably fast, and again there was that otherworldly feeling of time not existing, of things never occurring, of nothing ever happening at all.
A tree branch conked against the top of his head. He rubbed the spot where it had hit him, “Ow! Fuck! That hurt. You son of a…” He realized that not only was he talking to himself, but that he had felt a physical sensation for the fist time in…how long had it been? Did time even exist here? And where was here? At whom was he getting so damn angry?
A voice said, “Be not quick to anger, for anger resides in the breast of fools.”
“What the hell? Who…?”
Something flipped him over like a hotcake on a griddle. He landed face down in some mud. It didn’t hurt so much, but it stank something awful. It was a rotten, malodorous stench, like the decaying flesh of a corpse that’s been stewing in a swamp of sewer water. ‘Being able to smell things,’ he thought, ‘is overrated.’
After regaining what he could of his composure, he got out of the mud and tried to get as much of it off of him as he could. Something inside of him felt empty, deserted by the tractor beam at last, as if with it a part of him had gone off and left him behind. It wasn’t a good feeling, and he tried to get it to go away, but it stuck around. There was nothing he could do about it.
Unrequited, let loose from a dream of life, repulsed by this newfound way of using his senses, unrequited, a fording of reality’s rocky river, under the spell of another, chump change for the agnostics to spend like plugged nickels in the vending machines of their souls, unrequited still, like leftovers left out too long, something was fomenting discontent, a dismal dread that didn’t get him anywhere, nowhere but here, unrequited still, nothing left to give away, nothing left to him that a few eagles couldn’t pluck away out of his liver for all eternity like good old Prometheus, bound to a rock, suffering, not really going anywhere for a while, he let’s go, he gives up, he spins and trips and falls, and gets up trying to keep his heels to the wall, a wall that is nothing but a mirage, something almost as insubstantial as he is, unrequited, nobody calling on the phone, no doorbell ringing, no patter of feet on the stairs, no way out, unrequited, used up, shot in the back, shot, by a rifle, shot, left for dead, a hole in the place where his heart used to reside sometimes on moonlit nights so long ago before the world’s last uppercut left him knocked out cold, unrequited, shot in the back, gone.
Something stirred. A faint confabulation of some sort. It was neither close nor far away, and it had a voice that was unlike any he’d every heard—something unsettling and outside of any narrative he’d ever told himself was his life. It could have been his own voice. It wasn’t. But it could have been. He felt this distinction was important. He heard some screams, a shot was fired, and he heard another voice, a girl’s voice. It was tinged with familiarity, but it also was strange, outside, distant. With nothing else to do besides lie there and worry about the bullet in his back, he listened to the voices talk. It wasn’t that hard of a thing to do.


“I don’t remember it that well. It’s kind of foggy. All that stuff.”
The Pontiac thundered its way up the steep curves, staggering and charging forward as Alice downshifted. Darkness was digging in for a fight against the headlights. The moon had gone down.
“Yeah. Maybe it’s because I’m older. My mind was more developed than yours back then.”
“One year. Big deal.”
“Hey, when you’re a kid it’s a big deal. Like the difference between 6th and 7th grade. It’s a huge deal. One year. That’s a long fucking time when you’re a kid.”
“Still. You probably just think you remember that stuff. Maybe you’re just making a lot of it up. Filling in the gaps.”
The car jumped and something thudded against the hood.
“Shit. I think you just ran over something.”
“It’s no biggie. I do it all the time. It’s nothing.” She laughed maniacally and pushed down on the gas, making the car sweep out a little too much with a turn.
“Alice. Do not kill us. Okay?”
“Okay, Stan. Just for you. I will drive safely. See? Hands at ten and two. Eyes on the road ahead. Leaving myself an out. Four car spaces in front of me. Driving defensively.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Blah, blah, blah.”
Stan reached out and pulled the lever that made the heat come on full blast.
“You still cold?”
“Nah. I just farted and I want to toast the fumes, let it fester.”
“You are a sick fuck.”
Alice rolled down the window as fast as she could, which wasn’t very fast, and the window got stuck part of the way down again. She stuck her face into the gap and pretended to be struggling to breathe.
“Oh, calm down. I’m joking.”
“Yeah right.” She rolled the window back up. “It smells like a hell biscuit in here. Sicko.”
“So what was I saying?”
“I dunno…”
“Oh yeah. So, remember? We’d go over to Grandma’s house on the holidays sometimes. God, it was always so dark and musty in there. Something dour about it.”
“I don’t know. It was a gloomy place. Everything seemed breakable, fragile, like if you just lifted your pinky finger you’d send some priceless antique tumbling to the ground.”
“Thing were all dusty and dirty. Or is seemed like it. I remember that. Maybe it was the lack of light.”
“Yeah. Remember those thick drapes she had? How they were always closed? And the windows had all the overgrown shrubbery and gnarled tree branches covering them from the yard.”
“Oh and the miniature pianos in the glass case.”
“A glass menagerie of tiny pianos. Yep. They were everywhere. Some of them were windup ones and they’d play that eerie fucking music, uh. It was really disturbing.”
“I liked those pianos, actually. I don’t know why. I don’t think I’ll ever forget them.”
“There were those encyclopedias, green and grimy on that warped stand, it was like, cankered or something, I don’t know. I hated looking at them wedged in there. They were like growing moss or something. And all that ancient dust-caked furniture that would like heave with sighs and moans when you sat on it. That ankle-high table in the middle of the room that people would always trip on. Those thick-weave rugs that were like knotted rope all over the place. That picture of that bombed-out futuristic city hanging on the wall. All of those dark greens and blues and sickly grays.”
“Were you taking notes back then or what?”
“And you never knew when she was going to snap. Grandma might have been manic or something. Don’t you think? She was pretty nuts sometimes.”
“I know. I know. She went through a lot of bad times. Remember when she threw that mince pie at the fan?”
“Oh yeah. All those shards of suet and raisins raining down on everyone. It was like some jelly-bomb had exploded.”
“She would read Browning in that crazed witch-voice. God, I thought those dramatic monologues would never end. And then she’d start throwing lit cigarettes at the dog. That poor mangy mutt would shuffle on away, whimpering with a defeated gait, and it’d go into the bedroom and shit all over her bedspread.”
“You’re making that up. I don’t remember that.”
“No way. You don’t remember how bad it smelled? We’d be all sitting around making small talk or whatever it was we were doing, and all of a sudden you’d get this whiff of shit, and it’d be like, oh man, what the hell? Man, and she’d go crazy screaming about it, and would run around chasing the dog with the fire poker.”
“That’s right. Ha. She would scream, ‘You little nut-sac of a rodent!’ That was awesome. I think mom would try to cover my ears, but I heard.”
Stan was laughing and some spittle from his lips splattered on the windshield.
“Hey. If you’re going to wash my windows get out a squeegee and finish the job.”
“Sorry,” Stan stammered out between laughs. “Nut-sac of a rodent. That was amazing. I forgot about that.”
“Yeah. See. I remember some stuff too.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Blah, blah, blah.”
They reached the top of the mountain, and Alice shifted back to drive and got her foot ready to brake for the long descent down the other side. The Pontiac seemed to purr with a long-awaited relief.
Stan got his breath back. “Over the mountains and through the woods to…” his voice trailed off. “And that man who wasn’t our grandfather would be there.”
“Yeah. He was always around.”
“Sitting in that creaky old rocking chair, smoking his pipe; and he was always making those obscene and racist remarks all the time. It was like he had Tourette’s or something.”
“You mean coprolalia. Like he had tic.”
“What? Whatever. He had quite the sailor’s mouth on him. Remember. He’d sit there rocking away and would randomly scream out, ‘you sumbitch!’ at very inappropriate times. Or, ‘shit nuggets,’ and stuff like that. We had to just sit there and pretend to ignore him.”
“Yeah. I remember it being really hard to try to not laugh. We’d all sit there and look at each other, trying to hold it in, our eyes going wild…”
“And that damn Harmon. He’d look you right in the eyes, would stare at you with that clown face, with his eyebrows all arched and his cheeks all puffed out…”
“Oh my god. That was the worst. He’d try to goose you…”
“And then once one person let out a giggle it was over. We’d all be rolling on the floor. And dad would get so pissed…”
“Oh yeah. He’d storm around and try to pretend like he’d said something funny or whatever…I don’t know what the hell he was trying to do. It didn’t work though. He was never good at smoothing things over. But he’d be pissed off at us.”
“Yeah. That old guy would offend everybody. Him and his damn pipe, sitting in that rocking chair, cussing and squeaking away.”
“Remember when Grandma got drunk that one Christmas?”
“Oh yeah. Of course. I think I was about ten or so.”
“Yeah. It wasn’t too long before dad left.”
“That’s right. Grandma had too much wine or something. I remember the way her breath smelled. It was like sickly sweet, kind of vinegary and sour. Bad. No. Terrible. I hate to even think of it. I don’t know. It was nasty. It must have been really cheap table wine. She went running outside, remember? And she started screaming at the roses in her garden, ‘You’re not trying hard enough to be pretty!’ She called them stupid and inconsiderate. God. I remember she was chastising them, telling them that they didn’t appreciate all the hard work she’d put into making them grow. She had a bottle of wine with her and she dumped it all over them and started screaming, “Be happy happy happy! My roses, be happy!’ She danced around in a circle and kept repeating that over and over in this creepy singsong voice. Dad told us to mind our manners and to finish all our food and forbade us to look outside where she was slowly going insane. I guess she finally did lose it. She got sent off to that asylum where they gave her shock treatment.”
They were speeding down the hill, and Alice had to make a sharp turn, and she slammed on the brakes, sending a sawing shriek bleating off into the night. The car straightened out and she rode the brakes around a few more turns. Down below was Jasper Valley Junction, its inviting lights beckoning passing motorists to stop and rest at one of its quaint hotels, or sit down to a meal at one of its homey, wood-shingle-roofed restaurants. It was a stopover point for travelers. A glorified rest stop in the middle of nowhere, sitting pretty at the base of the mountains, last stop for gas for about another eighty miles.
“Gas tank’s getting on down there.”
“Yeah. We’re getting down to the fumes.” Stan pretended to be wafting in the smell of his fart.
“Dumb ass. You hungry?”
“I could go for some food. Hey, wait a sec. We could go to one of those 24-hour diners and tell ‘em it’s your birthday and get free cake.”
“It’s not my birthday anymore.”
“Oh, come on. They’re not gonna check. Let’s do it. We can fill up on gas and eat free cake. Anyway, I’m buying. It’ll be a birthday gift.”
“Wow. You ruined the surprise.”
“Okay. Let’s do it. I could go for some food. I really feel like coffee and donuts for some reason.”
“Right on. Jasper Valley here we come.”
Alice hit the gas, and the Pontiac smoked and rumbled on into the valley below.

Jasper Valley Junction barely had a pulse that late at night. A few gas stations sat around idly, bathed in carrot-orange light, the manual tickers on their gas pumps silent and stuck as if waiting for something to happen. A circle-shaped old diner with a roof of spires and walls of big plate glass windows was the only restaurant open. Most of the tables were empty. Two waitresses leaned on the counter by the greeting podium sipping coffee and engaging in some playful badinage with the cooks. The Pontiac pulled into the almost deserted parking lot, and parked fairly far from the entrance.
“Couldn’t find a closer spot, huh?”
Alice didn’t respond. She turned the engine off and started looking at her face in the rearview mirror.
“Oh well. I guess we’ll get our exercise for the night.”
“My face is a mess. Uh.” She pulled down on her cheeks and rubbed her eyes, and then went into the glove compartment, pulling out a small packet of tissues wrapped in plastic. “I’ve got to get this shit off of my face. Shit. Why didn’t you tell me I looked like a beat-up hooker in a rainstorm?
“I did.”
She started hurriedly wiping all of her makeup and the runny black eyeliner off of her face with the tissues while looking into the mirror and pulling it down so she could see better.
“Come on. Hurry up. I’m starving.”
A car, that was parked a lot closer to the diner than they were, puled and grumbled to life. It swung around the lot, kind of sauntering in a way, as if it had nothing better to do than just cruise around there all night. Coming around closer to them it seemed to slow down a little, and Stan, impatiently waiting for his sister to be done with her face scrubbing, glanced over at it. Two people were in the car. It was an old, beige Lincoln Continental Town Car. He couldn’t see inside too well, but he saw that it was an older couple. The woman in the passenger’s seat had large bouffant hair, and the landau vinyl roof was hanging down in it. Driving that cumbersome whale-of-a-thing was a man who seemed very old, and somehow Stan sensed a decrepit climate in the old man, something that chilled him down to his bones. The car stopped momentarily, and the man seemed to be looking at the Pontiac. A dismal worn-out joy seemed to be emanating from the Lincoln. Stan wanted it to go away. He tried to look closer at the man’s face, but it was too dark in the car. He couldn’t make out much in there, except the old lady’s hair. As Alice wiped off the last of her makeup the two strangers pulled away.
Stan let out a sigh and lamented, “There’s nothing lonelier than an empty parking lot late at night.”
Alice threw the used tissues on the floor. “Okay. Ready as rain. Let’s go.”
“It’s right a rain.” Stan shook his head and got out of the car in a jiffy.
“Whatever.” Alice jumped out of the car and slammed the heavy door closed. “Ready or not. Ready as I’ll ever be. I was born ready.” She sprinted towards the diner’s entrance.
Stan walked slowly, shaking his head at his sister, smiling at her because of the way she was running. Her hands were cranking around like the blades of a windmill, and she was kicking her heels up high behind her, trying to kick herself in the butt, bouncing around like a Raggedy Ann doll gone berserk.
When she got to the door she turned around and yelled at Stan, using her hands as a megaphone. “Staaaan…leeeee! Staaaaaaannnn! Leeeeeeee!”
He yelled back, rather sheepishly, “I’m coming. I’m coming. Hold your horses,” and started trotting a bit faster towards her.
His footsteps seemed to ring out loudly as he went. They flopped down, and he felt like they were bombs going off beneath him, making marvelous spanking echoes as they struck the asphalt. He was out of breath by the time he got to her.
“Stanley. You made it. Finally.”
“Don’t…call me that…” he huffed and puffed and put his hands on his knees, putting his head down too.
“Okay. Okay. Hey. Good thing you finally got here. Speaking of horses. I’ve got to see a man about one.”
“Go ahead.” He was still breathing heavily. “I’ll...be in soon…just gonna stare at…my shoes for a sec.”
She put her hand on his back. “See ya inside then. Stan. You’re really out of shape. I mean, a guy your age ought to be able to…”
“Shut it. I’m fine, okay?”
Alice opened the diner’s glass door and went in, saying over her shoulder, “Get me a coffee if they sit you down before I get back. I might be a while.”
Stan ran his hands through his hair a few times, trying to untangle it a little and flatten it back down some. It was like trying to put a hurricane-blown bird’s nest back together. He pulled his sagging pants up, straightened out his shirt under his jacket, stretched out his arms, and went inside.

The frazzled waitress, who looked frowsy and sleep-deprived, sat him at a booth by the large side windows, which formed a decagonal shape around the hipped roof building. She was old and plucky, with long lashes and a chewing-gum smile, and hair that reminded Stan of dishwater. She called him honey and handed him a menu, and he ordered two coffees, told her thank you very much; she told him you’re welcome very much. Without looking at the menu he set it down on the table, instead choosing to look out the window into the bleakness of the parking lot. His face was reflected in the window, just the outline of his features really—his hair poofing up above the high, rounded forehead, his gaunt cheeks and thin mouth, the deep sockets of his eyes staring back at him—and it was mingling with the outside world, the gathering darkness speckled with lamplight, where his father’s old car rested all alone and almost out of sight.
The waitress brought the coffee, set a small bowl of thimble-like plastic cream containers on the table, called him honey again, asked where his company was, and told him just to let her know when they were ready to order. Stan poured some cream in his coffee, stirred it up with a spoon, and sipped at it a few times. It was weak, but nice and hot, and it tasted just right with the cream, which had turned the steaming black liquid a much lighter shade of raw umber. He leaned the right side of his head against the window and cupped the coffee mug on the table with his left hand, his right arm bent back with the elbow on the table and the palm of his right hand covering his ear. He was comfortable. He didn’t want to ever have to move again. It was easy, just sitting there like that. There wasn’t anything the matter with it. The coffee mug felt nice and warm in his hand. When he closed his eyes he could almost imagine that he wasn’t part of the world at all, that he was just a piece of pocket lint, or the drool dripping from a dog’s mouth, or the swirl of cinnamon in a dish of applesauce—nothing that mattered, nothing that would affect anything else around it, nothing that would be noticed, just something to be overlooked and taken for granted as it was doing absolutely nothing at all. He liked this thought, this feeling of not having to try anymore, of never having to do anything, and of having nobody care one way or the other. No pressure, no constant stress about having to fight back against the fists of time that were constantly pounding away at him all the time, trying to get him to do things, to go out into the world and exist, to move objects around and knock up against things. To just be. To be still. To not matter at all. That was what it was like to feel this way, to close his eyes and make everything go away, to not have to defend himself from attacks, from the weather, from himself. He sat there with his eyes closed, head against the window, hand around his coffee mug, and pretended he did not exist.
“Hey. Dough head. Wake up and smell the coffee.” Alice slammed her fists down on the table and the window shook and rapped against Stan’s head.
“Ow. What’s your deal?”
“Two pair. Queens. What do you got?”
“A headache. Thanks.”
The long laminated skin of the back of Alice's menu reflected distortions of the booth and Stan’s face as Alice held it up in front of her, going over the items with her finger and sticking her tongue out slightly. “Man. Everything looks good. Ah. I’m so hungry. I feel like I could eat two breakfasts.”
“Nobody can eat two breakfasts at once Alice. What happened in the bathroom?”
“Ah. You know, just had to see about a horse. Turns out it wasn’t house broken. It stunk too. Bad deal. I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“The horse. I wouldn’t bet on the horse. I think it had some kind of gastrointestinal disorder.”
“Figures. Hey, this waitress is cool. She keeps calling me honey.”
“Really? You don’t look like a honey. Where is she? I’m gonna have to have a little tête-à-tête with her about this appellation.”
“Aren’t those mountains?”
“You’re an idiot. Wait, here she comes.” Alice waved at her emphatically, like an excited little girl. The waitress came over, looking very nonplussed, and pulled out a small notepad from the pocket of her hip strap.
“So, you’re a party of two finally.” She winked at them and popped her gum loudly. “What’ll it be kiddos?”
Alice scanned her menu quickly. “Uh. Um. Uh. Stan, you go first.”
“Ok. I’ll have the Salisbury steak please.”
“Comes with fries, coleslaw, or a baked potato.”
“Baked potato please.”
The waitress chewed her gum loudly and turned to Alice. “He’s polite, this one. He belong to you?”
Alice laughed. “Me? No. I just met him. We’re,” she sang, “strangers in the night. Exchanging clothing…”
“Alice. Shut up. We’re brother and sister. At least that’s what our parents told us. I find it hard to believe.”
With some confusion and consternation the waitress gave a weak smile, and then asked if Stan wanted anything to drink. He told her no, that he just wanted a water, prompting the waitress to say, “Well, that’s a drink, isn’t it,” which made Alice giggle and point a waggling finger at him, to which Stan responded with a menacing glare, surreptitiously flipping Alice off behind the menu so the waitress couldn’t see.
“And for you my dear?”
“Um. Uh.” Alice dragged her finger along the menu. “Yes. I will have the bleu cheese hamburger…um, no tomatoes, and cooked medium rare.”
“Yeah. Fries.”
“Salad dressing?”
“Um. Salad…dressing…um.”
“You get a salad with the burger. We’ve got Thousand Island, Ranch, Italian, Honey Mustard…”
“Thousand Island,” she blurted out, slamming the menu down on the table, glad to be done with it.
“You can just hand it to me hon.” The waitress gathered up the menus and put her notepad away. “That’s it?”
They both nodded in affirmative.
“Okay. Need a warm up on that coffee?”
They told her they were fine for now, and the waitress slumped off towards the kitchen.
“Hey. She called me hon. See? You’re not so special.”
“I never said I was…”
“I can’t believe you ordered Salisbury steak. What do you want, a microwave dinner, a Hungry Man?”
“Shut up. It sounded good. I got nervous. It was the first thing I saw when I looked at the menu.”
“You fucked up. It’s gonna be gross. Like all slimy with mushrooms all over it.”
“Drink your coffee.”
They sat there and sipped at their coffees for a few minutes. Alice tried to balance the saltshaker on its edge. It fell over.
“Here. Give me that. I’ll show you how it’s done.”
She handed the tiny white shaker to him and he poured some salt on the table. He pushed it into a thin line and put the bottom edge of the shaker against it. He then tilted it at about a 45-degree angle. It wobbled there between his thumb and index finger, falling down on one and then getting tapped back up against the other.
“Speaking of gross. That Bleu Cheese shit burger you got is going to stink like hell. And Thousand Island? Might as well pour some ketchup on your salad.”
Alice was watching his saltshaker-balancing act intently. “I don’t care.” She smiled at him. “You’re never going to get that to balance. I was just screwing around. It can’t be done.”
“I’ll get it. Just don’t hit against the table, okay?”
“Okay. Jeez.”
He kept tapping it back and forth, and it kept not balancing.
Lifting both elbows onto the table, Alice put her chin in her hands and scrunched up her nose. “Where do you think he is?”
“I don’t know. Palm Springs. Reno. Hell. Somewhere stupid.”
“What if he’s dead? Have you ever thought about that? I mean, we haven’t heard from him in so long, or anything about him even.”
“He’s not dead Alice. We would’ve heard about it. Mom would know.”
“Why? She doesn’t give a shit about him. She probably wishes he were dead anyway.”
“That’s what I mean. She would know.”
“No. Not necessarily. What if he changed his name, slipped through the cracks, went underground.”
“He’s not that cool.” Stan laughed a little and the saltshaker slipped out of his hands and fell over. “Damn. See what you made me do? I almost had it.”
“No you didn’t”
He picked it back up and pushed the granules of salt closer together. “Just got to get this edge straight here. Needs to have a solid line of support. Something to brace it so it can balance.”
“But, don’t you wonder what he’s doing sometimes? Where he works? What kinds of things he does with his days? If he…I don’t know. Maybe has another family somewhere, and that maybe he’s forgotten about us?”
“I don’t care if he has. We’re better off without him.”
“Jeez Stan. Your bitter. You know that? You’ve got all that bottled up unresolved anger. It can’t be good for you.”
Stan took a deep breath and lay back in the booth, still holding the saltshaker in an outstretched hand.
“Don’t you think that maybe…I don’t know…maybe you could try to forgive him? I mean, if you had the chance. If you got to know him again, now, like you are now, not like you were ten years ago. Don’t you think it might be different? I mean, maybe he’s changed too. I’m not saying it would be all rosy and wonderful and that everything would work out and you’d be best buddies and go fishing together. But, maybe, well…it might be worth it to try.”
He just looked at her and took a few more deep breaths, exhaling with a distressed, throaty whine.
“Remember that Andy Kaufman quote you always used to say to me. What was it?” She puffed out her cheeks and tapped her fingertips against them like she was playing scales on a piano. “Oh yeah. Failing is okay…not trying isn’t.”
“But I am a failure. That’s all that I am. What’s okay about that?”
“I don’t know. At least you tried? It’s your quote. Anyway…that’s not true. You know that’s not true.”
Stan shrugged.
“Don’t you think he’s suffered? Leaving us all behind, his whole family, the only life he’d ever known. Can’t you see that, just maybe, that could’ve been extremely fucking hard for him to do? I mean…”
“Then why’d he do it? Huh? Explain that to me.”
The waitress arrived, deftly balancing two steaming hot plates of food in one hand, and holding the tops of two very full water glasses in the other. “Salisbury Steak, baked potato. It’s hot, be careful hon.” She set the plate down in front of Stan and he immediately grabbed his fork and knife and held them above it. “And your Bleu Burger my dear.” Alice smiled and rubbed her hands together with anticipation, making sure to comment on how wonderful it smelled. “And a Thousand Island salad.” The plate was chilled and Alice rubbed her fingers on it and winced. “So, let me know if you two need anything. Okay? How’s everything look?” They both said it looked great. The waitress nodded and left them alone.
A tempered strangulation hovered about the two siblings, constricting the paths of communication, leaving them chewing and swallowing their food, taking gulps of water and sips of coffee, wiping at their mouths with napkins, not making much eye contact, and generally pretending that the other did not exist, at least it would seem so to the impartial observer. Stan cut up his steak with the dull knife, which shook the table some, getting it all into small pieces before he started eating it. Alice took whopping wide-mouthed bites of her burger, and washed them down with long swallows of water, breathing like a rabid dog between bites. The world outside seemed to be closing in on them again, as if they’d outrun it for a little while, got free of its sharp-taloned restraints, but that now it had caught up with them again, found them stuck in this diner sitting under the oppressive lights, filling their mouths with gobbled cheap food, slowing their pace against the onslaught of destiny’s febrile hands. The world outside was waiting; the parking lot loaded up with darkness.
The diner filled with a steady clatter, the tinkle of the few patrons’ silverware scraping against plates, the tines of forks clacking against the serrated grooves of knife blades, the chomping grind of masticating teeth, the eddying murmur in the ebb and flow of conversation, the faint banter and jibes of the waitresses and the cooks, and the humming sound hammering down from the light fixtures. The two youngest Munson siblings sat eating, not talking, through it all. The waitress came by a few more times to refill their water glasses, calling them hon and dear. They made motions at her for more, and Alice gave her the circle okay signal with her hand when she asked if everything was up to snuff. The lettuce in Alice’s salad was wilted, the tomatoes were mealy, and the dressing was laid on thick and abundantly. She picked at it with her fork once in a while, but mostly just chomped on her hamburger and nodded her head a little in the jubilance of satiation.
After Stan finished bolting down all the pieces of steak on his plate, and had winkled the potato’s guts, along with the chives, butter, and sour cream, from its skin—leaving it devoured and shredded and blown apart, gutted and empty, forsaken like an emaciated carcass left in the desert to rot under the high noon sun—, he pushed his plate aside and across the table so that it was next to his sister’s plate.
“Why do you always have to do that? Every time you finish anything you always have to push your empty plate over by somebody else.”
“I don’t know. I just want it away from me. As far as it’ll go.” He put his arms up behind him, resting them on the top of the booth, and started staring out the window again. The darkness was closing in. He could feel it. It was like the bulbs in the light stanchions were losing wattage, slowing fading and growing dim. And there was something else too, something malevolent hovering there in the glowing lamplight, getting closer, closer still. It made him feel nauseated. He moaned softly and looked back at his sister. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Told you that steak was a bad idea.”
“No. It’s…” He groaned again and rubbed his stomach. “It’s something else. Like something coming from…out there.” He pointed out to the parking lot.
“Outside? What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I feel like we’re being chased or something. That something’s…wrong. I don’t know. It’s weird.”
She put the last bite of her hamburger into her mouth and shook her head at him as she chewed. After wiping her mouth off with her napkin she said, “Sometimes, I just don’t get you. What the hell are you talking about?”
Stan didn’t say anything. He just sat there grabbing his stomach while making a face like he was suffering from severe indigestion.
“You okay?”
“Yeah. I’ll be alright.” Stan pushed his lower jaw out and blew air up into his face. He did this a few more times before putting his arms back behind him on the booth.
“What do you mean there’s something outside?”
“I’m not sure anymore. Never mind. I’m just feeling kind of awful right now.”
The waitress came and asked if they were all done working on their meals, and they both said yes, and Stan said thank you, and the waitress took their plates away and asked how everything was, and they both said it was great, yeah, it was all so good, and the waitress asked if they wanted to see a dessert menu, and Alice said yes, yes, yes, please, and the waitress said she’d be right back with them and would bring a warm up on their coffee, and then she left with their empty plates and Alice and Stan were alone again.


A few moss-covered tree trunks were hanging out into the path, as if frozen in mid-fall, held up by a thick tangle of shrubs and the thick low limbs of another tree. The moss was fuzzy, almost hair-like, and asparagus green, with a rough texture like Velcro or cheap needlefelt carpet. The trees hung low over the trail, making any hiker passing through that way have to duck down to get by. They’d fallen right next to each other, both cracking along the base of their trunk and falling over to catch on the dense foliage and hang there at about the same angle over the trail. Marked and dismembered, drained of sap and separated from their roots, deteriorated, their bark shed, which had scaled off in crusty flakes leaving the insides to rot and ossify, the trees slowly turned to stone.
Jamie had no idea how he’d gotten to this place deep in the forest. It was twilight, which was strange because the last he remembered he’d been lying in a field in the dead of night. This crepuscular light didn’t make sense. Was the sun moving backwards? Was it going from west to east in the sky? The fading daylight was painting long shadows over the forest. Trees were blocking out a lot of the light, but he could see some daubs of sun here and there, like golden trinkets spilled throughout the greenery. A large plant that resembled a feather duster brushed against his face; it tickled his nose, and made him sneeze. He pushed it away and moved on, careful to duck his head under those dead trees hanging over the path. Insects swarmed, gathering in the last hoops and parabolas and splintering cracks of sunlight, which traversed the length of the trail, this trail that he for some reason was walking on, walking towards something, something close, closer still, but still not close enough. He walked on.
His hands made decent machetes, cutting through the overhanging vines and the nettled plant life, clearing a path, trailblazing, protecting his face and his eyes as he tried to keep low and squint his way through the underbrush. It was slow going, but he didn’t mind. There was something out there, and it might have been, at least the way he was starting to figure it, that he was stalking it, hunting it down, as if maybe it were his prey. This somehow made sense to him without ever clearly coming into his head as a thought. It was not a well-adjusted bit of perspicacity on his part. It was merely just something that smoked through his brains, leaving him none the wiser, but with a hint that something had occurred. Time, the only real distance between events, was starting to unwind, and it was making it hard for him to tell what things had already happened and what things were going to happen, and if there were any difference anyway between what he was currently doing and what he had done before or was going to do at some later point…but there was no later point. And there was no before. Certainly there couldn’t have been a now without the other two. It wasn’t any good thinking about it. He walked on.
Above him the forest became a canopy of leaves and branches, and it grew thicker as he walked on. His feet stumbled over rocks that were stuck into the ground, and he tripped over the rounded bent-in edges of roots, falling forward and grabbing out for something to steady him, getting scratched all up and down his arms and legs by the discerning thorns that seemed to appear just for his skin alone, and then to go into hiding again among the umbrage. He lay there on the ground for a while, stung with a pain that wove its way across his limbs in tingling waves. There was no point to this business of moving onward, of trying to get somewhere, to do something. It was all a bad show. Nothing was going to come of it. There was no here; there is no now; there will not ever be a to-morrow ever again. He lay there and watched the sunlight go away. Watched the forest grow dim. Things began to lose their form, to blend into each other, and it was hard for him to make any kind of a distinction between where he was and where everything else around him was; and he was becoming less and less sure of what those things around him were. A dragonfly sang its motorboat song to him as it flew around his head. There were still things happening. There were still things. Still.
It dawned on him that he had a job to finish. No. He had to finish something. He had to…finish…finish the job. It didn’t make sense at first. It sloshed around in his head. Finish the job. Finish…
There was a hole in his back. There was a bullet inside of him somewhere. A shiny, round-nosed, lead projectile imbedded among his internal organs. It should have been painful to move. It wasn’t—that was until he started thinking about it. Then the pain shot through him, radiating all the way up his back, and he cringed like something being skewered. It was like having a mammoth charley horse that kept getting worse and worse, an unrelenting tightness that sent out a barrage of electric shocks in all directions from the wrenching squelch of its omphalos. He arched his back as far as it would go, and held both his hands over the spot where the pain was coming from, which seemed to be somewhere in the region of the lower part of his latissimus dorsi. The pain was insufferable. He couldn’t make it go away. Eventually it ebbed some, and he became used to it, so it didn’t bother him quite as much.
There was nothing harder than keeping his eyes open. His lids seemed to be tied to anvils. He saw things in half-glimpsed, darkening bits as he dozed off, becoming dizzy and less alert, staving off oblivion for as long as he could. Red streaks sparked in gambades, like the spitting end of a livewire, stamping their blazing paths across his palpebral visions. The ground beneath him, covered in sharp rocks and dead leaves, seemed to be sinking, as if his body weight were creating a depression in the earth, and the walls of this newly formed trench seemed to be wrapping him up, enfolding him in some cocoon-like space, like waves of earth covering him, burying him. He could feel the cold ground turning over on him, pressing down and filling up all the space that was left. Soon, all was dark, and the only sound he could hear, as his eyes finally closed shut, was the steady, bass pounding of his carotid artery ticking rhythmically away like a metronome in his neck.
Breathing happened, somehow, but that was about it. The bass beat of the metronome—steady, deep, substantial enough to give order, to give a sense of time going by—seemed to be the only sound in the world. It filled his head with a painless headache, if there could be such a thing. There wasn’t much room left in there for thoughts. There wasn’t much to think. He saw images grow and fade, come into focus and break apart into fizzling shards that evaporated and disappeared. Faces superimposed on other faces, all of which looked familiar. Dogs drove dump trucks filled with baseball bats into brick walls, and things exploded and were replaced by other things. Flowers dreamed of coffee pots, and moons went skylarking with fire hydrants in a gargoyle filled red and white sky. Champagne ran down the eves of a deserted mansion. A faun stood readying to put an olive over an oatmeal-covered green. A bank was robbed by a He-Man action figure who made his get-a-way on an over-sized tricycle with stone wheels, and the only loot he got were three large duffel bags filled with dirty laundry and peanuts. A bag of marshmallows exploded.
Breathe. Nothing moves. Listen to the metronome pounding inside your skull. Lie there. Wait.

The end of a cigarette glows red in the dark of the kitchen. It darts around like a Junebug trapped inside an invisible box. It is all you can see. She is smoking in the kitchen. The sun has gone down. You are small, and your feet don’t touch the floor because you are sitting on a grownup chair at the dining room table. Everything is large and out of reach. The grandfather clock is making all of its noise in the corner. You imitate it sometimes, with little clicks of your tongue, but not now. You sit silently, and watch the red end of the cigarette move in the dark. It reminds you of those Sparklers that you wave around on the 4th of July, drawing shapes of fading lines in the air with the burning ends of the stick, until the stick gets too short, and you throw it down before it burns your hand. The cigarette end doesn’t make shapes in the dark though. It just glows red and moves around—an ember floating in the darkness. It is keeping a watchful eye on you.
You are sitting at the table. It is getting dark. Slanting lines of light slip down the sliding glass door. You can see rainbows between the glass and the screen door, and dust outlines water spots from the sprinklers along the bottom of the pane. Outside you can see the grass, which is scraggily, in need of a mowing, and choked with flowering weeds. A butterfly skims above it like a hang glider.
The acrid smell of the smoke from the cigarette soothes you; it tells you everything is okay, that all is well with the world. You watch the smoke unfold in curling white tails, like cotton balls being stretched out, snipped into wispy strands, and set adrift over a fan. The smoke hangs there in the kitchen above her head, and then slowly starts to break apart.
You kick the heels of your shoes against the bottom of the chair. Not too loud, but noticeable. It feels good to be sitting there kicking your feet like that against the chair’s bottom. Things are losing their luster. A soft pink hue rises in the windows. The streetlights are coming on. There is a rumbling in the driveway, and then the sound of the garage door opening with a screech and a mad lurch, and then the spluttering roll of wooden panels being pulled up and under the drywall ceiling by a chain. The cigarette goes out; she runs it under water in the sink, and then tosses it out the back door, where you can see it land in the strip of grass behind the concrete patio. She moves fast now, as if she’s woken from a trance and been thrown into a frenzied state of panic. It is hard to see too much in the dark, but she is fixing her hair, pushing it up at the sides and picking at it from the top, and she’s trying to put things in some kind of order, organizing the dirty dishes on the countertop, wiping up some crumbs with her hand and dumping them into the trashcan. She moves with harried diligence, like a panicked fledgling housekeeper making last-minute adjustments before an inspection. She is saying things. It reminds you of a crow’s cawing. You do not know who she is talking to, but it is not you. You sit there kicking at the bottom of your chair and listen.
“That’s the way the pan flashes. Be nice. Be pleasant, there, there, there. You are going to be in tip-top form tonight. For me? Oh…dear. For me! That’s the way…the pan…flashes. Move over Beethoven. I’ve got a dish that needs a place to sit.”
She spins and pirouettes and sings sometimes too.
“Doctor, doctor, nobody’s home, so don’t you come knockin…Oh, my, oh, me, oh…oh shit. Good God. Oh, oh, oh. Watch that tongue. I’ll take sandpaper to it. Wash it out with kerosene. Tiny bubbles! Tiny, tiny, bubbles! Floating away on daffodil dreams. Tiny, tiny…what was that? What? Let me tell you something mister. I cannot fit. Yes! I will not fit. You do not do, you do not do any more, black shoe. Shine my shingles with spit. Take that soup bowl. You cannot outwit me. I am not through. Cleopatra’s wrath will rack your bones. Out damn dust. Into the trash heap you go. Down below. Down below. Try to defy me. Go ahead. It’s all scuttlebutt and fatuity as far as this fair maiden is concerned. Dust to dust. You shall return. Dust. Ha. So, there you are cutlery. Oh, how you are dirtied. Into the sink with you.”
She becomes silent. She looks over at you, but doesn’t seem to see you. She is just an outline of a figure. With her mass of curly hair bouncing around she looks like a mop. Your eyes dilate and adjust to the dark, but she is still just a shadowy shape. There doesn’t seem to be any substance to her.
“You. My child. Be silent. Quick.”
Her finger points and she sways as if the ground below her is unsteady.
“We mustn’t make any noise. We must be on our best behavior, you hear? There are no medals for stentors tonight. Sit straight. You. I am speaking to you. Stop that kicking about.”
She holds up a finger to her lips and shushes you.
“Be happy, happy, happy. Shhhh. Here comes daddy.”
She tries to stifle a laugh. But one comes out anyway, and she clamps both hands over her mouth to staunch the rebellion. You look down at the table. Something is making you nervous. Your stomach cramps up, and there is the taste of bile in your mouth, and you wish with everything you’ve got for the front door not to open. But you hear the garage door going down, and it slams and crashes into the ground sending reverberations all over the house like a swift, small earthquake. She leaps up a little. Then she runs by you, heading down the long hall towards their bedroom, towards the large room where they both sleep, the room that smells of lavender and Old Spice and something else that is musky and strange too. As she goes by she is chanting in a singsong voice, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, once more, for I smell the blood of an English man, once, once more, unto the breach.” She keeps singing it all the way down the hall. You hear a door slam, and then everything is quiet.
There is the sound of keys fitting into the deadbolt, jangling and scratching, and then the doorknob turns. You can see it turning, jerking around in a sudden spin. The doorframe sighs. The door comes unstuck from the gluey hold of the sill and the jambs and the lintel, and it whams open, the stiles, rails, mullions and panels all shuddering in a savage seism. You do not want to look. Everything is going to change now.
A scream comes from the bedroom. “Daddy! Daddy! You bastard! I’m through!”
There will be no ice cream, no bedtime stories, nobody is going to dry you off after your bath, or tuck you in and soothe you before you go to bed. You hold every part of your body as still as you possibly can. It is dark. You don’t want to see anything. You close your eyes and count to ten. It’s as high as you can go. You cross your fingers behind your back. Your eyes are closed. None of this is happening. Nothing is happening at all.

Katydids, crickets, can openers, toads and tornadoes, a melding of all the world’s rhapsodic palaver, collisions of mercurial strains and wending ways of thought, the snagged driftwood of undone events causing this paralysis, damming up the flow that would allow for January to come to its natural end. But he cannot swallow. He cannot breathe. Not here. Not anymore. Non sequitur. Nothing will come of this.
Caryatids, second chances, boilerplate, the small type that nobody ever reads. Because of such and such act that the doer shall heretofore perform, though through no fault of his own nor that of any other person, whomever such a person would care to, or for all intents and purposes tend to be, the party of the first part, from here on to be referred to as the party of the first part, notwithstanding any previous contractual or spiritual obligations, will be led, by any means necessary, to complete the remainder of the party of the first part’s actions, even though the party of the first part may not be in any way responsible for what has previously occurred, which therefore may render him absolutely oblivious of what act he will now have to be performing, or for that matter may not even have the faintest clue as to the how, when, where, why or who of anything about the, in his mind at least, prevaricated situation, though he might sense that it will most likely not be in the party of the first part’s favor, and therefore will not lead him on to glorious budding pastures new where he can lie lazily on the beach and watch the roseate hues of sunset swim over the edge of the ocean, and in fact it may just well be something much more saturnine than saturnalian, something that, for reasoning too specious for him to ever consider even having a lighthearted going-at-it with in his cranium, could cause the most unfortunate kicking of the bucket for the party of the first part, though this is in no way implied by any of this covenant’s language, it must be held tacit, for all intents and purposes of anything that one may just flat out ante up and put on the table of the universe from taxes to kittens to the deep blue sea, that anything is possible, and therefore nothing can be ruled out as being an eventuality for the party of the first part to have to partake in during the fulfillment of his duties, though in all likelihood, well, who the hell knows what’s going to happen to any of us? The party of the first part should take his chances.

Another dizzy spell. Lost. Back before any turnings of time. Eyes eclipsed with a blurry vision, a juxtaposing of objects and ideas, a fade in, a room filled with people.
The walls are dripping with beer and the wallpaper is screaming jazz and there are bodies everywhere so close together they are sharing sweat, and saliva too from time to time, though sometimes on purpose, and other times just in a say-it-don’t-spray-it kind of way, and people are jumping and gamboling around, and the windows are all fogged up and it’s so hot that your underwear is dripping and there is cigarette smoke huddling up by the ceiling and people are standing on furniture and wailing and throwing their arms in the air and doing some kind of jitterbugging free-for-all where they flail their limbs around like lunatics and rend their hair and thrash around on the floor sometimes too like somebody having an epileptic fit and get beer poured all over them, and beer is everywhere, soaking your socks, and you try to find the bathroom, feeling the pinging twinge of your bladder’s fullness almost erupting on you, scurrying your way through masses of hair and teeth, saying excuse me as loud as you can, getting blank and pissed-off looks, fending off elbows and knees, pushing your way madly through the throngs, you make it close to the door where there is, of course, a line of people doing the piss dance while they wait for the door to open and some fresh-faced fair-haired lad to spring out and beckon them on to relief, and so you join the line, which is about five deep , and the guy in front of you starts making small talk, and he’s a big boy, beefy, and he’s got a raunchy odor to him that makes you wonder if he’s already squeezed out a deuce right there in his drawers, but you’ve got to pee so bad that you overlook this possible faux pas and humor the fatso, and the music’s not so loud over by the bathroom so you can almost hear him, but he makes it a whole lot easier by screaming through the horn of his hand right into your ear. He says, “So. I went into a bar. Bartender looks at me. I look back. I sit down on a stool. I ask him, ‘You hiring?’ He says no. I say, ‘Gimme a beer. That’s enough job hunting for today.’ I drank the beer and ordered another. The bartender didn’t like me. That was okay. I didn’t like him much either. I decided to take my business elsewhere after the second beer.”

Spelunking through craggy fistulas, newly opened narrow stretches of space in his memory, Jamie lost all conscious perception of who he was. Even the idea of there being an entity that constituted the thing that everyone, himself included, had always assumed had been him, was unthinkable. But there he was, wherever this place was outside of the realm of time, and there must have been something besides this accumulation of atoms, strings of things that together still constituted a whole, that made him the person he was—if there still was such a thing. It was like moving in a dream, an underwater type of feeling, and it seemed he could move, could get around so to speak, without any effort, without even any physicality to his movements. The space he was currently occupying—which wasn’t really an area or a place at all, it was more like a twist of ideas upon a blank canvas with no end or beginning to it—wasn’t bound by any of the rules or restrictions that all spaces he’d ever known had been beholden to. He didn’t need a body to do his bidding. It was like existing in the midst of forever-fluctuating horizons, among the scattering sands of timelessness consistently tapping away on the skin of a kettledrum that stretches out beyond any imaginable end over a bottomless bowl. There was no recognizable “I” in this place that he could associate himself with. Here there were only electric currents rippling through the void, and he was only a tiny looped vibrating line sliding and smoothly splitting itself over and over between them. But there was something pulling at him, an ache that soon filled out and became his stomach again, and the parts of him that he had always known began to reform and take shape. Something was putting him back together, positioning things in a well-orchestrated arrangement, and he was barreling downward, at least as far he could tell, thinking down was where his feet were. It was he again, corkscrewing through sheets of a billion paint-like globules, a scream in search of a mouth. Falling back together again, unwound and forever winding back up, he felt the pain of existence strolling back through him again. Something was undone. Something, maybe just one last thing, was in need of doing. Jamie crumpled like a Bunraku puppet when he hit the parking lot’s asphalt.


“I’m like a universal remote. Just point me in any direction, and I’ll find a signal I can use. A way of being I can try on for size.”
With his arms still up resting on the booth behind him, Stan pointed two index fingers at Alice and pushed his thumbs down a few times, imitating a gunfighter, and making firing sounds with his puckered lips.
“You are what you’re around, right? Didn’t Sammy used to say that all the time? Something about being a chameleon?”
Stan straightened in mock formality, sticking his chin out and leveling his head. “I blend and mix, in circles and in pairs, watching ever thoughtful, of who to be ere I dare, to act a way, to be a thing, to venture forth just a word, for to be a part is better, than being never heard, to stand alone is lonely, to fit in is quite divine, so chameleon-like I bandy, for others I fall in line, bid by their actions, I have now none of mine, my own self is a stranger, someone who’s never known, my ego spit into the wind, a dandelion blown.”
Alice gave him an elegant golf clap. “Kudos. Wow. That’s it, isn’t it? Sounds like it anyway. That Sammy. He always used to go around reciting things. I never knew if they were somebody else’s or what. How’d you remember that?”
“I dunno. Just reckon I’m kind a smart that way.”
“I think you screwed it up anyway.”
“Probably. It goes something like that.”
“It makes you think. Doesn’t it. I mean, how the hell do any of us know who we really are?”
“Bibo ergo sum. I drink, therefore I am.”
“Ha. Not tonight. You seem to be on the water wagon with me.”
“That’s right sis.” He finished off what was left of his water in a giant gulp, and slammed the empty glass back down on the table. “It’s all clean and sober living from here on out. I’m sticking to the straight and narrow.”
“Yeah right. I find that hard to believe.”
The waitress came back with the dessert menus. “Here ya go kiddos. Sweets and treats. I’ll be back in jiffy.” And then she was gone again, making a beeline for the kitchen.
Alice glanced absently at the menu, looking a bit lost in her thoughts.
“Sammy knew something about being alone.” She bit her lower lip, and continued rolling her eyes over the menu’s laminated letters, and the pictures of banana splits and slices of pie without seeing them. “He knew what it meant. He spent all that time when he was a kid holed-up in that room. Never seeing anyone. All alone. He was always sick. It was always, ‘Sammy’s sick. You can’t go in there. Don’t bother him,’ and stuff like that. Remember? When we were really young.”
“Many other Januarys on rain-soaked lawns.”
Stan was smiling towards the window. “Nothing. Just a thought. Did I say that out loud? God. That keeps happening.” He put his hands up against the sides of his head. “It’s getting harder to tell the inside from the outside. I feel like a balloon that’s slowly leaking out all of its air.” He made a flapping sound with his lips. “I don’t know. It’s nothing. I’m okay. Don’t worry.”
“What, me worry? Na. I want some pie. With whipped cream.”
They both looked over the dessert menus for a while.
Something was agitating Stan, and he threw his menu down in disgust, as if it were the cause of his distress. “I can’t make these kinds of decisions anymore. Nothing, everything…it’s all the same.”
“I know what I want. Pecan pie covered in gobs of whipped cream.”
Stan shook his head and went back to looking out the window. “Nothing was ever good enough for him.”
“For dad?”
“Yeah. It was always, ‘Well, you know what was wrong with that was…' You never felt like he was proud of you, of anything you did. No matter how good it was, it was never good enough. There was always something wrong, even some the tiniest insignificant things, and he’d find it. And that was all he wanted to talk about. Everything had to be perfect. Shit. That’s the one thing nothing can ever be. Perfect. It’s so stupid.”
“He just wanted us to try harder, to get closer, you know? The attempt at perfection. That was what mattered. He just wasn’t good at positive reinforcement.”
“Ha. That’s for sure. Everything…everything was negative with him. He could find fault with anything. It was like he was making up for something he was lacking in himself, putting all of this crap on us to be something he could never be, to live vicariously through us…Shit. It made me want to fail on purpose. To make him give up on me so I wouldn’t have to try so hard all the time, so I wouldn’t have to work my ass off and still never be good enough for him. Maybe I was just rebelling. I don’t know. All I know is that whenever I came real close to getting good at something, to kind of making it over the cusp of success, to leaping that hurdle to the next level, I kind of just shut down. It was like I was afraid to be too good at things, to succeed. I always felt for some reason like I didn’t deserve it.” He coughed and gave a dismissive laugh. “I don’t take compliments very well. That’s part of it, right?”
“That makes sense. You’re afraid of disappointing him. You want to give yourself an out, a reason that the things you do aren’t up to snuff. You put a disclaimer on your deeds.”
“You’re starting to sound like Sammy.”
“If you fail, if the things you do aren’t ever going to be good enough, then what’s the point of putting all of this effort into them? You want people to think you aren’t trying. That way they’ll be impressed by whatever it is that you do, because you’ve set the bar so low, and they won’t put any expectations on you.”
“Blah, blah, blah. Let’s get some dessert.”
“Hey, is that a brick wall you’re putting up or is it just made with Styrofoam bricks like the ones we played with when we were kids? I can’t tell.”
“Okay. You want me talk. I’ll talk. I’ll talk a fucking blue streak. I’ll harangue you until the cows come home.”
“Stan. Cool it, okay. It’s nothing. Forget it.”
The waitress was standing by with her notepad ready and an odd look on her face. “You two ready for some dessert here, or is this a bad time?”
“No. We’re okay. I want the pecan pie with extra whipped cream.”
The waitress turned to Stan. “And for you?”
“Just more coffee.”
“Okey dokey, my dears. I’ll take those.” She grabbed up the menus and disappeared towards the kitchen again.
Stan was pawing at his cheeks. “What happened to us? Why are we like this?”
Alice waggled her head at him. “Why is anyone the way they are? The past keeps gnawing away at us, no matter how hard we try to keep it locked far away from us. It keeps coming back to haunt us. Maybe we aren’t ever done with it? Maybe it’s always like this. Maybe you can’t ever escape it.” She paused. “I’m not sure I mind that so much. It keeps me company.”
“Keeps you from feeling alone.”
Stan scooted closer to the window. He started poking at it with a few of his fingers, creating a waltzing beat that he whistled along with. “It’s so dark out there. Don’t you think? It’s always darkest before…what was it?”
“Before the dessert comes.”
“Oh yeah. That’s it.” He continued with his tapping on the glass and whistling. “You know, I should’ve learned to play an instrument. Done something more musical with my life. Music is the only thing that makes me feel anything…anything worth feeling at least. There are so many unhappy people in the world. I used to be resolved to never become one of them. Now, I just say I don’t know instead of I don’t care. It seems like enough. I don’t know.”
“Happiness is an act put on by those who don’t want to be seen for who they really are.” Alice growled like a bear felled by a tranquilizer gun—a slow motion, gurgling roar that almost sounded like a long burp. “The monster lurks inside. Raaaahhh!” She made an exaggerated swipe with her hands across the table towards Stan.
He leaned back away from her blow. “I thought happiness was a warm gun.” He started laughing. “What are you doing?”
“I’m barely doing anything. Nothing. See?” She sat with a perfect, rigid posture, and laid her hands palms down on the table. Her mouth became a thin, straight line.
The waitress reached in to fill up Stan’s coffee mug. She also filled Alice’s, and then was off again. Alice put her face over the mug. The steam rose up and shrouded her features for a moment.
“Ah. Nothing like a hot cup of coffee. Wish I could smoke in here. I’d like to sit here with you, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes all night. That’d be a great birthday.”
“Remember? It’s not your birthday anymore. It’s too late. It might even be early it’s so late.”
There was a tintinnabular crash and a short scream, and then the sound of plates and silverware hurtling to the floor and clattering around. A couple busboys bent down to pick up the mess of food scraps and soiled utensils.
“I can talk. I can out-talk anyone. You want me to talk? Try me. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
Alice put both her hands around her coffee mug. “Fine with me. I’ll just sit here and drink my coffee and eat my pie.”
Right as she finished speaking the waitress swooped in with the Pecan pie. “There ya go hon. Extra whip cream. How’s that look?”
“Great. Thanks.”
“Here’s the check. You two take your time now, ok? No rush.” The waitress gave them a winking smile and was gone, maybe forever this time.
“So, you ready to start spilling your guts? I’m gonna be busy with this pie for a while.”
Stan pulled at his face and yawned. “Sure thing. Okay. Whatever.” He rubbed at his eyes and craned his neck out a few times. “Do you think he made us this way? They way we are, I mean. Like this. So bad at…I don’t know—expressing ourselves. All of that pressure. Lining us up to inspect our fingernails before meals, making us finish every last bite of food on our plates. Using force. Always using intimidation and threatening us. Beating us. Remember that? How he slammed Sammy in the back when he spilled his milk, made him choke on his peas, and threw him on the ground, pushed his face up against the screen door, cussing at him and calling him a goddamn no-good cripple? That kind of stuff. He did those kinds of things all the time…to all of us. Force-feeding us his rage and fury. Pitting us against each other. Shit. I mean, why do you think we can’t really have a decent conversation about anything real in this family? It’s all bullshit. It’s all avoiding what we really want to be saying.”
He stopped and looked out the window again. Alice slowly chewed her pie, savoring every last bite.
“I don’t know. What does it matter why? Maybe he did do some things to us that screwed us up, but, I mean…I’m tired of making excuses for the things I do. We don’t have to be the all of the things that life has made us become. We can choose to be something else, can’t we? It isn’t predetermined…the way we are, the things we do, the thoughts we think that make us do those things. It’s all under our own control, isn’t it? We have a choice. Shit. He was coward. A fucking coward. Beating up little kids. There’s nothing more craven. Yeah, sure, maybe his father beat him up, and before that his father’s father chapped his father’s little hide or beat him with a switch, or whatever they did back then, you know, spare the rod and all that crap, but it doesn’t mean…He didn’t have to do it. He had a choice just like I would have the choice not to beat the hell out of my kid, if I had one. I don’t know. Maybe I would. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to control it. Maybe there’s nothing you can do about these things…they just happen. Like love or the sound of pine needles rustling in the wind. Some things are beyond our control. Jesus. How do we undo the things that life has done to us?”
“You sure can talk, can’t you?” Alice forked a piece of corn-syrup-soaked crust and held it level with her eyes. “This pie is Dee-Leash-Shee-Us. That’s all I know.” She slowly moved the fork closer to her mouth. “I love this last moment of looking forward to something. That space in time, kind of in-between moments, between heartbeats, when all that’s left is anticipation, and there’s no time to think. One last broken piece of eternity to savor. This piecrust, this tiny bite of sugary goodness, is going to taste so wonderful. Waiting for it, knowing that it’s going to happen soon, is almost better than it happening. Sometimes I wonder if looking forward to things is really better than the actual doing of the things.” She put the piecrust in her mouth. “Things are never as good as you imagine they could have been.” She chewed and shook her head from side to side, as if in modest disagreement with something.
“Nobody cares. Nobody listens. I’m just blowing hot air into a gutted fish trapped inside the wind again.”
“I hear you. I hear you. God. I though you were being rhetorical. I’m just sitting here eating my pie. Really enjoying my pie. Keep going. I’m listening. Really.”
Stan grabbed at his hair, smoothing it out some, and cracked his knuckles a few times out in front of him. “Ah, I don’t know. I’m kind of a mess tonight. You want to know why I went out the bridge tonight? Why I was out there in the freezing wind looking out into the darkness?”
“Um. Sure.”
“Well, it’s not something that is real easy to talk about.”
“Stan, I’m confident you’ll find a way to do it.”
He shook a loose fist around and blew at it, like he was getting ready to roll the dice in a craps game. “It’s hard to let this stuff out. I’ve got to force it. But, I don’t know…when it comes it’s like a landslide, a pouring out of my insides, a catharsis.” He cleared his throat and preened an imaginary mustache. “So. Yeah. I left your party. I was feeling really boxed in. Locked up. And I had this sense of accruing doom coming on, like some catastrophe was headed my way. Everyone seemed to be getting farther and farther away, like I was looking at things through the wrong end of a telescope. There was just so much distance between me and what was happening outside of me. I was getting real panicky. Sweating. Making myself paranoid. It was like a chasm was opening up, and I got the feeling that I had to be very careful of where I stepped, as if some kind of oubliette would open up below me and I’d fall from morn to moon, from noon to fucking dewy eve, you know, a really long time. I just had to get out of there. I mean, I was shaking for christ’s sake. So, I just made this impulsive decision to flee. But, it wasn’t really like I was making the decision. Not totally. I was leaving things behind, trying to get rid of some excess and defect in my soul. I don’t know. It doesn’t even make sense to me. Something, some outside force, was propelling me on. And out the garage door I went with my scooter. I didn’t really know where I was going at first. The night was cold, even though there wasn’t much wind at first, you know, and riding on that scooter without much insulation, no gloves, no heavy clothing, it wasn’t fun. But I kept going, driving around and around the streets, looking at things, as best I could with all the cold air chipping away at my face, and soon I got the idea in my head about going out to the bridge. It was that same kind of compulsion I’ve been feeling a lot tonight, this phenomena or whatever it is that’s getting me to do these things. Something beyond my volition. I don’t know. Before I know it there I am, out there standing on the bridge, looking out into the hills, staring at the lights, thinking about the cold, hard water below. It seems strange to me now. It’s like that was another lifetime ago, or it was somebody else’s life or something, a reconfiguring of events, something outside of the usual ways I have of thinking about things occurring in a linear fashion, like being in a dream where time doesn’t make sense, where things don’t really have a logical timeline way of happening. But no, not like that at all. It’s hard to explain.”
“Your prolixity isn’t helping. And you seem to be impugning yourself suddenly.”
“I can’t help it. I’m a Dadaist. I’m contradictory by nature.”
“Whatever.” She forked some more pie. “Go on. I’ll try not to interrupt anymore. I like listening. Words, words, words. Keep going.”
“Um. Okay.” Stan was staring out the window again. “It’s so dark. So dark out there.”
Alice quietly chewed her pie.
“Anyway. It was so cold out there on that bridge, and even though I knew it was insane to be out there, I mean, with the wind starting to pick up, and I being so ill prepared in my attire, there was this sense of peace that overcame me as I looked out over things. Shit. I know that sounds dumb. It isn’t though. It seems dumb when you think of it in certain situations outside of the actual event, like if you were at some dance club surrounded by sweaty bodies with horrible, loud music pumping and that peaceful, easy feeling seems a million miles away. It might seem dumb then. It may seem dumb in any other kind of social situation when other people are around and making you into something that you’re not. But it isn’t dumb. Really. Not when you’re there standing on that bridge, when you are in the middle of it, when there is no other place to escape to, when you’ve got only that to deal with, that standing on the bridge in the middle of a dark night and it’s so cold and there is nothing you can do to escape this feeling of emptiness that is like trying to make you throw your body into the water below…”
“Stan! What the fuck?”
“Shut up. Listen.”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Okay. So, I guess what I’m getting at is…well. That peaceful feeling, it just kind of saved me from…from myself. From the way my thoughts were heading, those impossible churnings and regurgitations of my mind that wouldn’t let me go, that were directing me towards…towards self-destruction. Towards the annihilation of this thing that I’ve always called me. I know this is kind of hard to take for you, but just hear me out.”
“I’m listening Stan. I am. Just don’t quote the Eagles anymore. You know I can’t stand stuff like that.”
“Huh? Anyway. I’m rocking back and forth up there on the bridge. Checking out the fretwork of the trusses and the nodules protruding from the metal footing below me, as best I could in the semi-darkness there, and skipping imaginary rocks across the water. My nose is starting to run and I’m wiping the snot on my sleeves. I’m kind of delirious to say the least. It’s like I’m outside of my self. That seems stupid now too. But it didn’t then. It was a very real feeling. In fact, it seemed the only thing I’d ever really known for certain. That I was existing in some place between the here that I’d always thought I’d know and the there that I’d never truly be able to know…something…damn, I don’t know. Outside. I keep saying that, but it’s the only thing that gets at it close enough. I was hovering between here and there, inside and outside, in the abyss that knows no boundaries…I can’t get at it close enough. But it saved me. Something did. And I was damn ready to take that plunge into the unknown, to take that fateful leap into the dark. I don’t know what it was.”
“I’m glad it came. I’m glad you didn’t jump Stan.”
Stan looked like he might start to cry, but didn’t. Alice had never seen her brother cry before. She’d thought him incapable of it, thought that maybe he was born without lachrymal glands. Picturing him crying didn’t make sense to her. It didn’t fit with the real world, with the way things worked, with the expectations she had about things. The thought of it made her cringe from some place just behind her bellybutton. For some reason she blurted out, “I care Stan. I care about you. I want you to know that. Even if you already know it. I want you to hear me say it. Okay? I care. I really do.”
Stan kept looking out the window. He was squinting his eyes and rubbing a few fingers against the glass, as if testing out the waters, readying himself for some attempt at maybe touching something out there, preparing for something, though for what he was very unsure.
“I feel like something is out there.”
Alice had stopped eating her pie. She looked out the window too. “In the parking lot?”
“Doesn’t it seem a lot darker out there now then when we came in?”
“I don’t know. I guess…maybe.”
“It’s not a thing that is out there. It’s more like…I don’t know. A gathering of…” his voice trailed off. He drew circles on the glass with his fingers. The pane of glass seemed to flex, to bulge out, and then it popped back, like a baking sheet that is being bent back and forth at then ends. Stan was smiling out into the growing darkness.
“Remember when he were kids and we shared a room?”
“Of course I do Stan.”
“We’d lie there on the floor late at night sometimes, way after we were supposed to be in bed and asleep. We’d lie there on the carpet by the door, and the door would be cracked just enough to let in a thin triangle of light. I had a notebook. Remember? And we used to draw in it. We’d lie there on our stomachs, and the carpet was real scratchy and hard and it would leave indentions and red lines in your elbows, because, remember, it was hard to lie in one place for a long time like that, and you’d prop your head up on your hand with your elbow all dug into the carpet, and it hurt after a while and you’d have to readjust. But we’d draw all those pictures in my notebook late at night there, using pencils, with only that trickle of light coming in so we could see what we were doing there. We had to be really quiet so Dad wouldn’t hear us up so late. So we wouldn’t get beaten with that belt. Remember how I used to put books in my pants so it wouldn’t hurt so bad when he beat me over the ass with that belt. Of course he’d find them and get really pissed. Man, that would really send him into a conniption. He’d beat the hell out of me, throwing the books all over the place. I think I started using magazine at some point. They were less obvious. Not as much padding though.”
“Anyway. Remember how we’d just lie there for so long like that, drawing all those pictures, filling up that notebook with our dreams, not talking, not making a sound, propped up on our elbows drawing pictures by the sliver of hall light that was coming through the crack in our door. He always left that hall light on. The only sounds were the prick and glide of our pencils on the paper, the scrubbing of erasers, and the soft, tiny sound of our breathing. It was like we had our own little world there, and nothing could touch us. We were safe for that little bit of time, as long as we were quite, as long as he didn’t discover us there on the floor when we were supposed to be in bed.”
“I know Stan. I remember. You could always draw so much better than I could. I had trouble with anything beyond stick figures. You know, I used to be kind of in awe of you for being able to draw like that. I’d just lie there next to you, remember? My face really close to the paper, crowding you, so I could see. And you’d always keep trying to push me away, to give you some space. I’d back up, but then I’d scoot back up, inching my way back to the page so I could see what you were drawing. It was always so detailed, so many little lines all over the place, so many things in there, all of those dancing silvery shapes parading around on the paper. It was so beautiful. I think I just ended up watching you draw. I think I gave up trying to draw along with you. I’d just lie there and watch. I didn’t want to ruin what you’d created there with all of my scribbling. I remember how the dust looked in the light. All of these tiny galaxies of dust floating and spinning around there in that cone of light coming through the crack in the door. I would reach out my hand to catch them, but I never could. Tilting at windmills.”
“Yeah. I’d let my imagination run wild. I’d draw anything that came into my head. I remember how I used to have to always keep pushing your fingers off of the paper. You’d be pointing at things, and trying to ask me stuff, and I’d have to shush you, to try to keep you quiet.” Stan put his face up to the glass where his fingers were circling. “The light would come streaming in through the door we’d crack open late at night to draw pictures by as we lay there in our pajamas, couchant, dreaming through the darkness, elbows rubbed raw and Indian-burned by the carpet. The light would come in, a thin triangle of light, and it would give us a small space to call our own, a place we could exist in without restraints, without somebody else telling us who we had to be, or what we had to do, or even what anything meant. It was a world we had, a world of our own, and it was the freest I’ve ever felt and the happiest I’ve ever been, to be lying there like that late at night, drawing and dreaming out into whatever was passing for forever those days. That was what came over me on that bridge tonight. That feeling. That feeling I hadn’t felt in so long. And it was something that was all tangled up with you. You were there. You were a part of it. I wasn’t alone. Little Alice was by my side, watching, dreaming along with me. We were inseparable then. We’d do everything together. And now…now? We’re just like two chance acquaintances, people who feel the need to make small talk and are uncomfortable when they have to be around each other. It’s not the same anymore, now that we’ve done all of this growing up and out of things. But something brought me to you tonight. And it brought you to me too. Everything is happening as it should be happening. This is all supposed to turn out this way. The universe is unfolding as it should. I guess that’s what I’ve kind of been trying to say this whole time. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know.” Alice made both of her hands into fists and held them up beside her. “You do know, Stan. You do. You just don’t want to admit it.”
“What? What do I know?”
“You know what’s going to happen. You know what you are looking for out there in the darkness. You are waiting for it. Tell me what it is Stan. Please. I want to know. I really do.”
The inside of the diner seemed to be frozen in time. Nothing was happening. It was soundless, motionless, without sensation of any kind. It was a dumbshow done with mannequins, pantomiming nothing for nobody to ever see. The air was like glue holding things together. A fly hung suspended, with its wings fully extended out beside it, in mid-air just above Alice’s head.
A shot rang out, out in the darkness, out somewhere in the parking lot, outside, a ways away, out, Stan thought, about where they’d parked the Pontiac, out there where it had grown so dark, so dark that it was hard to see anything, and Stan pushed his face up against the glass and tried to make sense of things, of what was happening, and then it came to him, what he’d known all along but had been refusing to acknowledge, the thing that must occur, and everything had been leading to this event, something that had happened now, had happened out there in the darkness, something that finally would bring an end to this, to this way of being, to this particular brand of existing for him, and for Alice too, and maybe for everyone in this godforsaken place, in this pleasant but destitute place somewhere between Heaven and Hell, this purgatory of the soul that they’d all been wallowing in for so long.
A shot rang out, and it wasn’t his fault. He had nothing to do with it. Everything was going to be okay again.
A shot rang out. A bullet found its target. A man’s head. In through the chin and up and out the back of the skull. The quickest and most surefire way. Nothing left to chance. A purposeful thing.
A shot rang out. A rifle shot. A sound he knew well. And it was the only sound in the whole world just then, and nothing else mattered, and nothing would ever be the same again.

Somewhere in this cold, dark, windy land the lights are shining bright. And maybe there is music playing somewhere, opera drifting from an open window, or the strings of a banjo being plucked around a campfire where people sit and drink warm cider singing folk songs, or maybe it’s just the mating call of crickets trilling all together in a roadside ditch. People might be dancing and frolicking with light hearts and gleeful feet, somewhere. But the small insignificant town of Pleasance is not partaking in this joy. The people there are not skipping around in mirth. They are not laboring contentedly under the sun. They are not profiting satisfactorily, nor are they turning their days into golden hours. They do not look up to the heavens in wonderment, seeking and finding their peace and solace there. Yes, somewhere fathers and mothers sit under the shade of plane trees, sipping mint juleps and counting their many blessings, as their children run and play free, chasing each other over softly rounded hills of grass greener than any green imaginable. And somewhere, in some place, they are all laughing and shouting too. But not here, not in this unassuming little hamlet called Pleasance, where the wind blows cold and the night spreads an all-consuming blackness over everything. There is no joy in Pleasance—a mighty rifle shot has rung out.