Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 16

Page 1

^ B t r k e k y

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f i c t i o n

% e v i e z u


B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

R e v i e w


B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

University of California,

R e v i e w

Berkeley


B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

Editor Associate Editor Art Editor Layout Editor Sales a n d Ad Manager Editorial Assistants

Staff Cover Art by Solveig Roberts Copyright 1997 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. Inquiries, correspondence and submissions should be sent to Berkeley Fiction Review, c/o ASUC Library, 201 Heller Lounge, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-4500. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York ISSN 1087-7053

Cover Art Illustrations

R e v i e w

Daphne Young Michael A. Berry Christine Cilley Jeremy Russell Tom Harberts Grace Fujimoto Nicole Thompson Graham Flanagan Nami M u n Wendy Park Nicholas Petrulakis John Rauschenberg Ryan Stanley Kezia Tang Jennifer Zahigian Solveig Roberts Charles Ellik

Special thanks to George Strlabower, ASUC Publications Advisor, for his professional guidance and infinite patience. Thanks to Nick Petrulakis and David O'Brien for their help and editorial vision. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Committee on Student Publications and the Associated Students of the University of California.


B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

Editor Associate Editor Art Editor Layout Editor Sales a n d Ad Manager Editorial Assistants

Staff Cover Art by Solveig Roberts Copyright 1997 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. Inquiries, correspondence and submissions should be sent to Berkeley Fiction Review, c/o ASUC Library, 201 Heller Lounge, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-4500. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York ISSN 1087-7053

Cover Art Illustrations

R e v i e w

Daphne Young Michael A. Berry Christine Cilley Jeremy Russell Tom Harberts Grace Fujimoto Nicole Thompson Graham Flanagan Nami M u n Wendy Park Nicholas Petrulakis John Rauschenberg Ryan Stanley Kezia Tang Jennifer Zahigian Solveig Roberts Charles Ellik

Special thanks to George Strlabower, ASUC Publications Advisor, for his professional guidance and infinite patience. Thanks to Nick Petrulakis and David O'Brien for their help and editorial vision. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Committee on Student Publications and the Associated Students of the University of California.


C o n t e n t s

P a t r o n s

Haymow and Hooves

Gabriel Hudson

14

Effluvi, Effluvb, Effluvobo

Kevin Stein

26

Hemingway Is Not My Husband

Michelle Rys

44

The Visit

Gregory Chaimov

46

Kindness

Tamara Jane

58

Swallowing My Mother

Leslie Absher

76

Measure

Joanna Yas

78

Wonder Emma

Gwen Larsen

84

Solarcaine and Smut

Matthew Gross

96

Chicken Man

Augustus Rose

112

Stethoscope Sights

D. Foy O'Brien

114

Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel

Lin Carlson

134

Rich In Chavih de Huantar

Dennis Sherman

136

Twin Bridges

Caleb Smith

150

Landmarks

Lauren Alwan

160

H . Robert D o w n s W.D.P. Enterprises Holiday I n n Select Foster City Kay a n d M a c MacAndrews M o e s Books

Thank You to our generous patrons. With your support the Berkeley Fiction Review and literary arts continue to thrive.


C o n t e n t s

P a t r o n s

Haymow and Hooves

Gabriel Hudson

14

Effluvi, Effluvb, Effluvobo

Kevin Stein

26

Hemingway Is Not My Husband

Michelle Rys

44

The Visit

Gregory Chaimov

46

Kindness

Tamara Jane

58

Swallowing My Mother

Leslie Absher

76

Measure

Joanna Yas

78

Wonder Emma

Gwen Larsen

84

Solarcaine and Smut

Matthew Gross

96

Chicken Man

Augustus Rose

112

Stethoscope Sights

D. Foy O'Brien

114

Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel

Lin Carlson

134

Rich In Chavih de Huantar

Dennis Sherman

136

Twin Bridges

Caleb Smith

150

Landmarks

Lauren Alwan

160

H . Robert D o w n s W.D.P. Enterprises Holiday I n n Select Foster City Kay a n d M a c MacAndrews M o e s Books

Thank You to our generous patrons. With your support the Berkeley Fiction Review and literary arts continue to thrive.


Sudden

Fiction

Contest

Winners:

First Prize: "Chicken Man" Augustus Rose, Berkeley, California F o r e w o r d

This has been a remarkable year for the staff of the Berkeley Fiction Review. Efforts to expand our readership have produced not only an issue we are proud of, but a larger circulation of enthusiastic, new readers. We look forward to the challenges of growth and the continued opportunity to publish exciting new writers. New to the Berkeley Fiction Review is the "Sudden Fiction Contest." We plan to make this a regular feature in bur publication. (Guidelines in our ad at the back of this issue.) Sudden Fiction, (also known as the Short Short, Microfiction, Flash Fiction) is a growing form of the short story, and the hundreds of Sudden Fiction submissions we received during the year reflect this popularity. In addition to two Sudden Fiction stories selected from our regular submissions, we proudly publish the winning stories from our first contest-Chicken Mem, Landmarks, and Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel. A list of the winners is on the following page, along with the Honorable Mentions. Thanks to all the participants for sharing their work and making our first contest a success. We hope you enjoy Berkeley Fiction Review #16, as we begin work on #17. We look forward to another great year. —D. Young,

Tie for Second Prize: "Landmarks" Lauren Alwan, Oakland, California "Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel" Lin Carlson, San Ramon, California

Honorable

Mention:

"My Friend Gibby McCallum Becomes a Heart Surgeon" Rod Evans, Prescott, Arizona "Jab" Judith Sternlight, NewYork, New York "Dinnertime Tales" D. Foy O'Brien, Berkeley, California "Morning" Kerry Langan, Qberlin, Ohio

editor' T h e Brighter Vagina", Marianna Cherry, San Francisco, California


Sudden

Fiction

Contest

Winners:

First Prize: "Chicken Man" Augustus Rose, Berkeley, California F o r e w o r d

This has been a remarkable year for the staff of the Berkeley Fiction Review. Efforts to expand our readership have produced not only an issue we are proud of, but a larger circulation of enthusiastic, new readers. We look forward to the challenges of growth and the continued opportunity to publish exciting new writers. New to the Berkeley Fiction Review is the "Sudden Fiction Contest." We plan to make this a regular feature in bur publication. (Guidelines in our ad at the back of this issue.) Sudden Fiction, (also known as the Short Short, Microfiction, Flash Fiction) is a growing form of the short story, and the hundreds of Sudden Fiction submissions we received during the year reflect this popularity. In addition to two Sudden Fiction stories selected from our regular submissions, we proudly publish the winning stories from our first contest-Chicken Mem, Landmarks, and Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel. A list of the winners is on the following page, along with the Honorable Mentions. Thanks to all the participants for sharing their work and making our first contest a success. We hope you enjoy Berkeley Fiction Review #16, as we begin work on #17. We look forward to another great year. —D. Young,

Tie for Second Prize: "Landmarks" Lauren Alwan, Oakland, California "Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel" Lin Carlson, San Ramon, California

Honorable

Mention:

"My Friend Gibby McCallum Becomes a Heart Surgeon" Rod Evans, Prescott, Arizona "Jab" Judith Sternlight, NewYork, New York "Dinnertime Tales" D. Foy O'Brien, Berkeley, California "Morning" Kerry Langan, Qberlin, Ohio

editor' T h e Brighter Vagina", Marianna Cherry, San Francisco, California


w

If

hour, sometimes fourteen. Eight is just what I shoot for/'

That's

t h e

C h o o s e

Way t o

Yd L i v e

As a writer, I have tried to immerse myself in various circles of writers. I want to know what they know, do what they do. If I wanted to be a baseball player, I'd drive out to Candlestick and hang out with pro baseball players. If I wanted to learn Kung Fu or some fancy new style of urban karate, I'd go to the local dojo, take lessons for a couple a hundred bucks a month from a master—a master of the Craft. But I don't want to roundhouse kick or hit home runs (not literally anyway), I want to write. My masters, the black belts I can learn from, are published writers. I posed the following question to some writers I've met in the last year: How much do you write? This sounds simple, but every writer I asked had to stop and think. They seemed to picture themselves at their computer or typewriter; at their pad and pencil. Each one seemed to realize that the answer to this question, although simple, is one of the most important aspects of their craft. Richard Ford (Pulitzer Prize Winner, Independence Day) "I don't calibrate in terms of page count or hours. Your question is so offbeat of the way I think about it, but I can answer this: I write as m u t h as I possibly can." Bharati Mukherjee (Jasmine^Middleman and Other Stories) "There is never a moment when I'm not thinking about the project Pnvworking on. O n a final draft I sometimes write twenty hours a day, for two of three months, then I collapse. Like now." Mark Childress (Crazy in Alabama) "Eight hours a day, five days a week. But sometimes I write one A i

Robert "Bud" Roper (Cuervo Tales) "I write five or six days a week. In the mornings, about four hours a day." Gary Soto (Baseball in April & Other Stories) "I try tq work on one project at a t i m e . . . about five or six hours a d a y . . . whenever my mind is freshest. T h e morning does pretty good." Lynn Freed (The Bungalow) "When I'm writing, I write everyday in the afternoon. Mornings are useless. I get going around noon, and at six p.m. I don't want to stop, but I must." Susan Trott (The Holy Man) "I love to write. I do it four hours a day, nine in the morning until one, then another hour to look it over in the evening. I take the weekends off." James Brown (Lucky Town) "Four to six hours a day, four days a week." Jim Frey (How to Write a Damn Good Novel 16*2) "Sixty to seventy hours a week if I'm not teaching." Dewitt Henry (Executive Director of Ploughshares) "I write about twenty-five pages a day and about twenty of that are e-mail and business correspondence-—five pages aspire to be art. T h e calisthenics of correspondence serves as my pre-writing. T h e perplexing experiences of business and everyday life are the fuel for my journal, and the art builds up in the journal over the years until I can feel it reaching critical mass, I write about seventy to eighty pages of finished 'art' per year." (Interview by Tom Harberts)


w

If

hour, sometimes fourteen. Eight is just what I shoot for/'

That's

t h e

C h o o s e

Way t o

Yd L i v e

As a writer, I have tried to immerse myself in various circles of writers. I want to know what they know, do what they do. If I wanted to be a baseball player, I'd drive out to Candlestick and hang out with pro baseball players. If I wanted to learn Kung Fu or some fancy new style of urban karate, I'd go to the local dojo, take lessons for a couple a hundred bucks a month from a master—a master of the Craft. But I don't want to roundhouse kick or hit home runs (not literally anyway), I want to write. My masters, the black belts I can learn from, are published writers. I posed the following question to some writers I've met in the last year: How much do you write? This sounds simple, but every writer I asked had to stop and think. They seemed to picture themselves at their computer or typewriter; at their pad and pencil. Each one seemed to realize that the answer to this question, although simple, is one of the most important aspects of their craft. Richard Ford (Pulitzer Prize Winner, Independence Day) "I don't calibrate in terms of page count or hours. Your question is so offbeat of the way I think about it, but I can answer this: I write as m u t h as I possibly can." Bharati Mukherjee (Jasmine^Middleman and Other Stories) "There is never a moment when I'm not thinking about the project Pnvworking on. O n a final draft I sometimes write twenty hours a day, for two of three months, then I collapse. Like now." Mark Childress (Crazy in Alabama) "Eight hours a day, five days a week. But sometimes I write one A i

Robert "Bud" Roper (Cuervo Tales) "I write five or six days a week. In the mornings, about four hours a day." Gary Soto (Baseball in April & Other Stories) "I try tq work on one project at a t i m e . . . about five or six hours a d a y . . . whenever my mind is freshest. T h e morning does pretty good." Lynn Freed (The Bungalow) "When I'm writing, I write everyday in the afternoon. Mornings are useless. I get going around noon, and at six p.m. I don't want to stop, but I must." Susan Trott (The Holy Man) "I love to write. I do it four hours a day, nine in the morning until one, then another hour to look it over in the evening. I take the weekends off." James Brown (Lucky Town) "Four to six hours a day, four days a week." Jim Frey (How to Write a Damn Good Novel 16*2) "Sixty to seventy hours a week if I'm not teaching." Dewitt Henry (Executive Director of Ploughshares) "I write about twenty-five pages a day and about twenty of that are e-mail and business correspondence-—five pages aspire to be art. T h e calisthenics of correspondence serves as my pre-writing. T h e perplexing experiences of business and everyday life are the fuel for my journal, and the art builds up in the journal over the years until I can feel it reaching critical mass, I write about seventy to eighty pages of finished 'art' per year." (Interview by Tom Harberts)


ir

Mary Rose Hayes (The Caller) "Depends on what stage. First draft, four hours every morning, straight out of my head. At the end of four hours I'm burned out. Five pages a day even if it's garbage." ClaTk Blaise (I Had a Father, The Border as Fiction) "My schedule doesn't allow me to write everyday. I can get things done late at night, after a fall day. Then, if I find time, I can go all day, last rush, all day everyday. My longest book . . . was the result of having a year off, on a grant, in India. No kids around, wife busy. I had servants. Nothing to do but sit and write . . . four hours a day. That's the way I'd choose to live." The willingness to write is not enough. This sounds simple, but I've discovered that to be a successful writer you not only have to be good, but most of all, you have to write—a lot. —M. A. Berry, associate editor—

j < i 1*


ir

Mary Rose Hayes (The Caller) "Depends on what stage. First draft, four hours every morning, straight out of my head. At the end of four hours I'm burned out. Five pages a day even if it's garbage." ClaTk Blaise (I Had a Father, The Border as Fiction) "My schedule doesn't allow me to write everyday. I can get things done late at night, after a fall day. Then, if I find time, I can go all day, last rush, all day everyday. My longest book . . . was the result of having a year off, on a grant, in India. No kids around, wife busy. I had servants. Nothing to do but sit and write . . . four hours a day. That's the way I'd choose to live." The willingness to write is not enough. This sounds simple, but I've discovered that to be a successful writer you not only have to be good, but most of all, you have to write—a lot. —M. A. Berry, associate editor—

j < i 1*


T h e

S t o r i e s


T h e

S t o r i e s


Haymow and Hooves

H a y m o w

a n d

H o o v e s

Gabriel Hudson

F

rom where he is laying on his back u n d e r the bull Daniel can see the pink skin of its drooping testicles. I see you brought your helper along tonight Doc. T h e y almost always say this when the father and the boy are standing there newly arrived. T h e testicles jiggle just slightly when the beast occasionally stamps but the boy knows h e is safe from the hooves. H e studies this and the rib-lined swell of its stomach. T h e three farmers have the beast pushed u p tight against the barn wall and his father holds the tail straight up, perpendicular to its spine. A slide and the boy is up and off the hay and m a n u r e of the barn floor. H e quickly pulls from the case at his father's feet the large steel tongs, and comes round the bull till h e is square on with its ponderous head. H e leans in close feeling the beast's heated breath on his hands and clasps its soft u p per lip in the tongs, twisting the tongs just a bit until the h t o w n eyes bulge and the tongue lolls. O n a day before Daniel saw this beast run down and flick a m a n crossways the fence slats lining its pen. He watches the surprised bull work the zigzag of its jaw. He likes the clean feel of the tongs in his hands. Then-he sets the clamp of the tongs in the bull's nose, fastens a rope in the handles of the tongs, leads the other end of the rope to circle it around a beam , pulling it quickly tight, securing it. H e whispers to the bull a thing or two in its

14

twitching ear. Tells it that he knows it is a big tough sonofabitch but that h e bets h e can make it cry. T h e n the boy says to the father Go. Another m a n holds the tail now and the father h u n c h e s u n d e r its anus, busies himself with the scalpel-knife, pierc T ing deep two slits in the beast's testicle sac. It stamps. It shudders. It shits full down the chest of the father. T h e farmers shuffle against its weight, grunting. Pulling harder yet the boy snubs the rope tighter to the barn, revealing all but a few of the bull's teeth, the tongue full out. His arms shimmer-rattle and he hears the squawk, the soft cursing of the other m e n . O n e of the farmers is b e n t clutching his lower leg where a hoof had clean peeled back the skin, b u n c h i n g it up in a mess under the knee, leaving a strip of white th^ length of his shin. Fuck. This man howls again and stutter-walks out the barn door moaning. T h e father turns to one of the men. Goddammit hold that tail straight up. They jostle-push until the bull is again pinned tight against the wall. Oil t h e way h o m e , the car full of their stink, the boy will laugh with 5 the father who allows that if he had balls that big he wouldn't l e a t h e rn go that easy either. They always keep this joke between t h e m and he is not allowed to repeat it to the mother. T h e tongs are doing their work on the bull and the knuckles pulling on the rope going white. T h e boy does not hesitate to really lean into it. N o words are spoken by the m e n as they scuttle abou t and against t h e bull. In this quiet amid their grunts they ljear t h e wet sounds from where the father is. After a time the father flings something to t h e floor, wipes his hands on his p a n t legs, comes round the side of the bull and stares a m o m e n t at its owner. I'm done. Everyone steps back a considerable distance from the bull and begins to gather their things.

15


Haymow and Hooves

H a y m o w

a n d

H o o v e s

Gabriel Hudson

F

rom where he is laying on his back u n d e r the bull Daniel can see the pink skin of its drooping testicles. I see you brought your helper along tonight Doc. T h e y almost always say this when the father and the boy are standing there newly arrived. T h e testicles jiggle just slightly when the beast occasionally stamps but the boy knows h e is safe from the hooves. H e studies this and the rib-lined swell of its stomach. T h e three farmers have the beast pushed u p tight against the barn wall and his father holds the tail straight up, perpendicular to its spine. A slide and the boy is up and off the hay and m a n u r e of the barn floor. H e quickly pulls from the case at his father's feet the large steel tongs, and comes round the bull till h e is square on with its ponderous head. H e leans in close feeling the beast's heated breath on his hands and clasps its soft u p per lip in the tongs, twisting the tongs just a bit until the h t o w n eyes bulge and the tongue lolls. O n a day before Daniel saw this beast run down and flick a m a n crossways the fence slats lining its pen. He watches the surprised bull work the zigzag of its jaw. He likes the clean feel of the tongs in his hands. Then-he sets the clamp of the tongs in the bull's nose, fastens a rope in the handles of the tongs, leads the other end of the rope to circle it around a beam , pulling it quickly tight, securing it. H e whispers to the bull a thing or two in its

14

twitching ear. Tells it that he knows it is a big tough sonofabitch but that h e bets h e can make it cry. T h e n the boy says to the father Go. Another m a n holds the tail now and the father h u n c h e s u n d e r its anus, busies himself with the scalpel-knife, pierc T ing deep two slits in the beast's testicle sac. It stamps. It shudders. It shits full down the chest of the father. T h e farmers shuffle against its weight, grunting. Pulling harder yet the boy snubs the rope tighter to the barn, revealing all but a few of the bull's teeth, the tongue full out. His arms shimmer-rattle and he hears the squawk, the soft cursing of the other m e n . O n e of the farmers is b e n t clutching his lower leg where a hoof had clean peeled back the skin, b u n c h i n g it up in a mess under the knee, leaving a strip of white th^ length of his shin. Fuck. This man howls again and stutter-walks out the barn door moaning. T h e father turns to one of the men. Goddammit hold that tail straight up. They jostle-push until the bull is again pinned tight against the wall. Oil t h e way h o m e , the car full of their stink, the boy will laugh with 5 the father who allows that if he had balls that big he wouldn't l e a t h e rn go that easy either. They always keep this joke between t h e m and he is not allowed to repeat it to the mother. T h e tongs are doing their work on the bull and the knuckles pulling on the rope going white. T h e boy does not hesitate to really lean into it. N o words are spoken by the m e n as they scuttle abou t and against t h e bull. In this quiet amid their grunts they ljear t h e wet sounds from where the father is. After a time the father flings something to t h e floor, wipes his hands on his p a n t legs, comes round the side of the bull and stares a m o m e n t at its owner. I'm done. Everyone steps back a considerable distance from the bull and begins to gather their things.

15


Berkeley Fiction Review

li!t

That day he had been carrying things from his father's office to the empty room upstairs. A tray of syringes, a needleeye flashlight, the sterilizing machine. Coming out of the room he saw the mother standing there leaning with one hand on the banister and the other holding together the front of her bathrobe. Her small smile. What are you doing, she said. You said to bring everything up here. You were going to clean the office. She stood studying him for a moment. I am not feeling well. Would you mind a bath. Are you sick, he said. No, nothing like that, she said. Would you. H e stood looking at her. Yes. Good. She smiled. I'll be in there in a minute. He set down what he was carrying and went to the bathroom. He bent and turned the water spigots in the tub. He held this position on his knees, feeling the smooth porcelain lip of the tub cupped under his armpits. Then he went to the cabinet, rattled arouiid, drew out the sponge and the bucket. He filled the bucket, dropped in the sponge. Sat on the toilet, waited. When she came in the room she went to the tub, turned off the water; He turned away until her small splashing stopped and she was still. She was laying on her stomach and had her face turned to the side so that he could see her right eye which was closed. He looked at how her sparse dark hair fanned thinly on the surface of the water. He ran his eyes over her body, then again more slowly, lingering over the scars that started somewhere in the front and came round in raised strips to cover her shoulder blades. You are so quiet Daniel. Did it hurt. She lifted her head to look at him. Not as much as the treatment. He began to busy himself with the bucket, testing the water with an index finger, waiting for it to cool. The doc-

16 Ltote

Haymow and Hooves tor said that if you massage the scars it should help. I told him all about you. He started with the sponge at the back of her neck. When he squeezed it the rivulets scurried tracing the rounds of her high back and disappeared. Setting aside the sponge he worked the grainy skin where it looked the worst with his fingertips. Mmmm. That feels good Danny. His fingers traced slowly over the rough spots until they were at her sides. Between the ribs and her arms. He drew his hands out from there and flicked them some times, starting back where it wasn't so bad, where he could still make out the dimples of her spine. Danny I went over to the Riggens' yesterday. They had new cabinets in their kitchen. Real nice. I talked to your father last night and he said I could buy some and do the sanding and varnish myself. T h e boy pricked up the soap, wrung his hands with it a few times, started in on the rest of her body. He spoke. I don't like the Riggens boy. I know honey. He's touched a little in the head. But I'm friends with his mother. You need to be nice. He chases people at school. Daniel. She lifted and turned her head a little to watch him with the corner of her eye. You leave that boy be. Martha Riggerts is my oldest friend. He stopped what he was doing with the sponge. He did nothing. & She turned her head and brought it all the way out of the #ater to face him. Did you hear me. N He looked at her and how the water dribbled down the Âť o o t h parts of her head. He saw the fuzz that should have been hair and what the water did with it. Yes, he said. She sighed. Lowered herself back in slowly. She sighed again. About those cabinets. I figure I can do the work in the A e d . I don't know though. He began on her feet which she brought up out of the water by pushing her knees back and this made an underwater rubbing noise on the tub. He worked the flats of her feet

17


Berkeley Fiction Review

li!t

That day he had been carrying things from his father's office to the empty room upstairs. A tray of syringes, a needleeye flashlight, the sterilizing machine. Coming out of the room he saw the mother standing there leaning with one hand on the banister and the other holding together the front of her bathrobe. Her small smile. What are you doing, she said. You said to bring everything up here. You were going to clean the office. She stood studying him for a moment. I am not feeling well. Would you mind a bath. Are you sick, he said. No, nothing like that, she said. Would you. H e stood looking at her. Yes. Good. She smiled. I'll be in there in a minute. He set down what he was carrying and went to the bathroom. He bent and turned the water spigots in the tub. He held this position on his knees, feeling the smooth porcelain lip of the tub cupped under his armpits. Then he went to the cabinet, rattled arouiid, drew out the sponge and the bucket. He filled the bucket, dropped in the sponge. Sat on the toilet, waited. When she came in the room she went to the tub, turned off the water; He turned away until her small splashing stopped and she was still. She was laying on her stomach and had her face turned to the side so that he could see her right eye which was closed. He looked at how her sparse dark hair fanned thinly on the surface of the water. He ran his eyes over her body, then again more slowly, lingering over the scars that started somewhere in the front and came round in raised strips to cover her shoulder blades. You are so quiet Daniel. Did it hurt. She lifted her head to look at him. Not as much as the treatment. He began to busy himself with the bucket, testing the water with an index finger, waiting for it to cool. The doc-

16 Ltote

Haymow and Hooves tor said that if you massage the scars it should help. I told him all about you. He started with the sponge at the back of her neck. When he squeezed it the rivulets scurried tracing the rounds of her high back and disappeared. Setting aside the sponge he worked the grainy skin where it looked the worst with his fingertips. Mmmm. That feels good Danny. His fingers traced slowly over the rough spots until they were at her sides. Between the ribs and her arms. He drew his hands out from there and flicked them some times, starting back where it wasn't so bad, where he could still make out the dimples of her spine. Danny I went over to the Riggens' yesterday. They had new cabinets in their kitchen. Real nice. I talked to your father last night and he said I could buy some and do the sanding and varnish myself. T h e boy pricked up the soap, wrung his hands with it a few times, started in on the rest of her body. He spoke. I don't like the Riggens boy. I know honey. He's touched a little in the head. But I'm friends with his mother. You need to be nice. He chases people at school. Daniel. She lifted and turned her head a little to watch him with the corner of her eye. You leave that boy be. Martha Riggerts is my oldest friend. He stopped what he was doing with the sponge. He did nothing. & She turned her head and brought it all the way out of the #ater to face him. Did you hear me. N He looked at her and how the water dribbled down the Âť o o t h parts of her head. He saw the fuzz that should have been hair and what the water did with it. Yes, he said. She sighed. Lowered herself back in slowly. She sighed again. About those cabinets. I figure I can do the work in the A e d . I don't know though. He began on her feet which she brought up out of the water by pushing her knees back and this made an underwater rubbing noise on the tub. He worked the flats of her feet

17


Berkeley Fiction Review with the palm of his hand. You could help me, she said. With his fingers he started on the in-betweens of her toes, then he spoke. Sure.

11 W

Like most nights after dinner, Daniel holds a fiddle to his shoulder. Let's get that fiddle hot the father says. Its wood grain" marbled brown and black in the light of the shadeless lamp. From where his head is cupped in the chinrest Daniel watches his fingers leap about the neck of the instrument. His father sits across from him and leaning in claps his hands in time with the click of the metronome, whispering excited encouragement. Daniel plays, falters, takes a breath, starts again. The- * small fingernails pressed white and flat over the strings. The father yells. When the boy is really going he can push the father up out of his chair and pin him there with the precision-flit of his fingertips. Daniel attacks and reattacks until his shoulder burns and his head is swimming. The father stands quickly tipping over his chair slow. He breathes into Daniel's ear. Focus. Daniel plays quicker. He is sawing and pulling on the fiddlestick to nail the notes full into the air. That's it boy. Yes. Daniel is breathing fast now not even knowing his gasps when he is quick-pumping on the up-downs of the bow. The boy pulling even harder yet on the fiddle, standing himself slpw frojn the chair until he is all the way up. The father is just quiet and still now. Daniel is really picking up on speed and begins t o cry a little. He is already thinking of the finish and to go where "he wants to hide, pulled in tight to the father's chest who will sometimes reach for him after he plays. This is playing to drown them, and Daniel closes his eyes during his flurry bowing, to slow the currents easy until he is shooting tight wavelets of sound up into the ceiling.

18

Haymow and Hooves T h e mother can hold him there in the cockcrow sunlight at the breakfast table—how her thumb lays on the ring of the coffee cup when she tips it just slightly to her mouth. In the afternoons she will sit in the sun room with the three big windows. When he-plays out back riding his bike or climbing the big maple or whatever he acts as if he believes he is alone, cannot see her or know of her there watching from a window. He casts exaggerated squints around the yard in between somersaults without registering his private audience, not daring to look directly where he knows she is.

Out behind the house is a huge old barn that can be seen from a good way off. It is where the father will keep someone's livestock. The barn has two levels and a top level, the haymow. The haymow goes right up into the slope of the roof. At the apex of the roof a thick rope is tied which dangles from its end some thirty feet down an old tire or if none be found then just knots. Going up the walls to each level of the barn are a series of boards nailed parallel to the floor and are used as footholds for climbing children. The children carry the rope with them as they climb the steps, then jump off from the haymow and swing out. Daniel and his older sister take turns swinging from the rope. He swings the farthest every time no matter what he does. He sits down amongst the hay on the floor and watches her and listens to the small field mice skitter about. You are a chicken she says from way up there. He does not reply. They go like this in silence for awhile, him sitting there and she swinging from the jope. He sees the gray flit of a mouse dartle in front of him and. he lunges for it too late. He remembers when he was younger how he and the Riggens boy used to catch them in empty jelly jars. The Riggens boy showed hiin to push the firecracker down the mouse's mouth. Did you see 'em jumping around, he had said, grinning and holding up the jar. Another time he almost lost his allowance

19


Berkeley Fiction Review with the palm of his hand. You could help me, she said. With his fingers he started on the in-betweens of her toes, then he spoke. Sure.

11 W

Like most nights after dinner, Daniel holds a fiddle to his shoulder. Let's get that fiddle hot the father says. Its wood grain" marbled brown and black in the light of the shadeless lamp. From where his head is cupped in the chinrest Daniel watches his fingers leap about the neck of the instrument. His father sits across from him and leaning in claps his hands in time with the click of the metronome, whispering excited encouragement. Daniel plays, falters, takes a breath, starts again. The- * small fingernails pressed white and flat over the strings. The father yells. When the boy is really going he can push the father up out of his chair and pin him there with the precision-flit of his fingertips. Daniel attacks and reattacks until his shoulder burns and his head is swimming. The father stands quickly tipping over his chair slow. He breathes into Daniel's ear. Focus. Daniel plays quicker. He is sawing and pulling on the fiddlestick to nail the notes full into the air. That's it boy. Yes. Daniel is breathing fast now not even knowing his gasps when he is quick-pumping on the up-downs of the bow. The boy pulling even harder yet on the fiddle, standing himself slpw frojn the chair until he is all the way up. The father is just quiet and still now. Daniel is really picking up on speed and begins t o cry a little. He is already thinking of the finish and to go where "he wants to hide, pulled in tight to the father's chest who will sometimes reach for him after he plays. This is playing to drown them, and Daniel closes his eyes during his flurry bowing, to slow the currents easy until he is shooting tight wavelets of sound up into the ceiling.

18

Haymow and Hooves T h e mother can hold him there in the cockcrow sunlight at the breakfast table—how her thumb lays on the ring of the coffee cup when she tips it just slightly to her mouth. In the afternoons she will sit in the sun room with the three big windows. When he-plays out back riding his bike or climbing the big maple or whatever he acts as if he believes he is alone, cannot see her or know of her there watching from a window. He casts exaggerated squints around the yard in between somersaults without registering his private audience, not daring to look directly where he knows she is.

Out behind the house is a huge old barn that can be seen from a good way off. It is where the father will keep someone's livestock. The barn has two levels and a top level, the haymow. The haymow goes right up into the slope of the roof. At the apex of the roof a thick rope is tied which dangles from its end some thirty feet down an old tire or if none be found then just knots. Going up the walls to each level of the barn are a series of boards nailed parallel to the floor and are used as footholds for climbing children. The children carry the rope with them as they climb the steps, then jump off from the haymow and swing out. Daniel and his older sister take turns swinging from the rope. He swings the farthest every time no matter what he does. He sits down amongst the hay on the floor and watches her and listens to the small field mice skitter about. You are a chicken she says from way up there. He does not reply. They go like this in silence for awhile, him sitting there and she swinging from the jope. He sees the gray flit of a mouse dartle in front of him and. he lunges for it too late. He remembers when he was younger how he and the Riggens boy used to catch them in empty jelly jars. The Riggens boy showed hiin to push the firecracker down the mouse's mouth. Did you see 'em jumping around, he had said, grinning and holding up the jar. Another time he almost lost his allowance

19


BerketeyFiction Review when a red ant straddled and killed two black ants in just such a jar. He would not pay, and the Riggens boy, with small hard fists, raised the skin under his eyes and made it fatty and pink. He told him if he did not pay there would be more but they both knew this to be a lie. The Riggens boy had been lucky and it would not be so again. So he did not pay. After awhile the sister says let's go out to the field and see if anyone is out there. They set forth crossing the tree hedge and then into the pasture. The pasture eases up some and gives way to fields of knee-high grass and yellow grasshoppers that leap and pinwheel out from under where their feet fall. Presently they come upon a dusty field mottled with yellow clumps of weeds. Daniel eyes the field and spits. It beads brown on the dirt. He turns to the sister. Nobody. A gust of wind breaks her hair about her face. Follow me. Where. Nowhere. Come on. They start out across the field. Turning up shards of rock, pausing to bend and pull the hind legs off grasshoppers. After a time Daniel stops, looking in the direction that the sister is staring. He sees them too. The silver coins on the dirt lay blinking in the sunlight. She turns to Daniel and speaks. . I saw 'em first. I guess you did, he says, starting to run. Daniel is slower and lunges to grab from the sister these coins. There are the child grunts aud their jostling feet working onto the dirtand grass. Plumes of dust rise swirling. They punch and roll and Daniel feels the softness with his elbow and pushes ther,e hard. She gasps and Daniel is up, scooping the change with the other hand, the one that had not pushed up off the ground. He turns and runs. O n the ground is a rock and the elbow hwi not pushed hard enough. He is high-legged and running fast and there is a thud and yellow dots go swimming. The stone lamming the heel of his head. He topples to the ground and lays belly up, eyes widening then just wide, open-mouthed, ltings jarring inward but not breath.

20

Haymow and Hooves He cannot see her, the one shaking her face and whispering, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. . . . There is another voice low and steady against the silence. Then all quiet. He stares up at the wide blue sky. A sparrow hawk spindles broad winged paths, slowly canting. Daniel starts up with a croak-squall, sucking oval mouth deep blasts of air. The low voice returns and breaks high and loud. It is his own.

If the mother is well enough Daniel will sit in the room with her and they will watch the neighbor's dog that can never quite catch the gray squirrels. She reads to him from a book. During this time after school if a friend comes to the door with a slingshot in his back pocket he will tell him that his mother says he has to do his homework and then return to the pillow next to hers. She tells him stories about their family. She tells him how she noticed the tiny shake in the father's hands on their first date and how she would have to ask him questions so that he would raise his eyes to look at her.

This night like others sleep will not come to him. He lays still in bed for awhile. He flops around. Then tries to lay still again. There is the moonlight falling long on the far wall to keep with his meandering thoughts. He stirs. He slides out of bed, makes his way in darkness down the staircase, passes through the rooms of the house to the back door, slips into his boots. All this time careful not to look at the stupid dachshund that will piss wherever if you pet it. He steps out the door. Outside he stays in the shadows alongside the house with the best quiet he can until he has passed the parents' window and then goes on. The boy silt houette taking the starlight, unbetrayed but for a smarter of crickets and a bullfrog. He cuts a path for the hedge of maples

21


BerketeyFiction Review when a red ant straddled and killed two black ants in just such a jar. He would not pay, and the Riggens boy, with small hard fists, raised the skin under his eyes and made it fatty and pink. He told him if he did not pay there would be more but they both knew this to be a lie. The Riggens boy had been lucky and it would not be so again. So he did not pay. After awhile the sister says let's go out to the field and see if anyone is out there. They set forth crossing the tree hedge and then into the pasture. The pasture eases up some and gives way to fields of knee-high grass and yellow grasshoppers that leap and pinwheel out from under where their feet fall. Presently they come upon a dusty field mottled with yellow clumps of weeds. Daniel eyes the field and spits. It beads brown on the dirt. He turns to the sister. Nobody. A gust of wind breaks her hair about her face. Follow me. Where. Nowhere. Come on. They start out across the field. Turning up shards of rock, pausing to bend and pull the hind legs off grasshoppers. After a time Daniel stops, looking in the direction that the sister is staring. He sees them too. The silver coins on the dirt lay blinking in the sunlight. She turns to Daniel and speaks. . I saw 'em first. I guess you did, he says, starting to run. Daniel is slower and lunges to grab from the sister these coins. There are the child grunts aud their jostling feet working onto the dirtand grass. Plumes of dust rise swirling. They punch and roll and Daniel feels the softness with his elbow and pushes ther,e hard. She gasps and Daniel is up, scooping the change with the other hand, the one that had not pushed up off the ground. He turns and runs. O n the ground is a rock and the elbow hwi not pushed hard enough. He is high-legged and running fast and there is a thud and yellow dots go swimming. The stone lamming the heel of his head. He topples to the ground and lays belly up, eyes widening then just wide, open-mouthed, ltings jarring inward but not breath.

20

Haymow and Hooves He cannot see her, the one shaking her face and whispering, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. . . . There is another voice low and steady against the silence. Then all quiet. He stares up at the wide blue sky. A sparrow hawk spindles broad winged paths, slowly canting. Daniel starts up with a croak-squall, sucking oval mouth deep blasts of air. The low voice returns and breaks high and loud. It is his own.

If the mother is well enough Daniel will sit in the room with her and they will watch the neighbor's dog that can never quite catch the gray squirrels. She reads to him from a book. During this time after school if a friend comes to the door with a slingshot in his back pocket he will tell him that his mother says he has to do his homework and then return to the pillow next to hers. She tells him stories about their family. She tells him how she noticed the tiny shake in the father's hands on their first date and how she would have to ask him questions so that he would raise his eyes to look at her.

This night like others sleep will not come to him. He lays still in bed for awhile. He flops around. Then tries to lay still again. There is the moonlight falling long on the far wall to keep with his meandering thoughts. He stirs. He slides out of bed, makes his way in darkness down the staircase, passes through the rooms of the house to the back door, slips into his boots. All this time careful not to look at the stupid dachshund that will piss wherever if you pet it. He steps out the door. Outside he stays in the shadows alongside the house with the best quiet he can until he has passed the parents' window and then goes on. The boy silt houette taking the starlight, unbetrayed but for a smarter of crickets and a bullfrog. He cuts a path for the hedge of maples

21


r Berkeley Fiction Review and elms, moving on even further yet, a dark shape blent among others. To get to the north pasture he has to pass through the trees and some fields and farm houses and what seem to him endless bundles of hay. There in the moon-dark of a field a dog's growl, or at least the jangling of its tags running sidelong a fence will cause him to turn to what is sometimes no fence but only the dog. He has a thing with his boot he does just for this. Walking under the slivered moon the boy does not notice the slick horse apples under his soles but how the night breeze sets the meadow in furls, sucking the dust and down seedlings of the dandelions, wrested upward spiraling in gusts. He pauses every so often to watch this completely. When he gets there he does not stop but walks up as close to them as he knows he can. The herd of cattle standing before him asleep and somber. He lowers himself to the ground slowly flat and lays there for a time. Later he will think he might have dreamt all of this before. He tucks and mounts his joints and begins to crawl forward. Wriggling this way till he is underneath some fifty cows among the manure paddies and new-mown hay. He closes his eyes and continues. He moves among them sometimes half-crouching, rolling or ducking to one side. Covered completely in the darkness behind his eyelids. Relying on delicate, secretive touch. He holds his breath to focus. He crawls quickly. Blows a blast of breath. He opens his eyes and looks about, then closes them and quicker yet goes on with a new held breath.

C o m e on Danny. You can get up now, says the teacher. Mrs. Jenkins. He rises from the chair, the one facing the corner: He steps into the line of classmates already outside the door. N o cuts, says the girl behind him. They file slowly down the hall toward the sounds of clacking silverware and the thrum of the other children. In the cafeteria he moves in side step, watching the swol-

22

Haymow and Hooves len Negro women who with long spoons tump food on his fcray. Pull&frpm a pocket four silver coins and drops them onto the palm^of a woman that does not look at him. Turns aside, finds a seat. He hears the commotion behind him. His head swivels with the others toward the far end of the cafeteria and the high voice of the teacher. Get back here, she says again. There is the figure of a boy crawling atop a table. He is up. The child voices swell. Daniel bangs the fork and spoon on his fin tray; alongside the others. Howling at the cretin child lumping about the table. Dwarf boy with stumped white limbs flailing and moon face ahuff. In the bathroom Daniel had seen the cretin's thing and it was pointed at the tip. He had giggled at Daniel when he caught him looking, the yellow stream driving wide of the porcelain bowl and pooling on the tile. He had told his father about this boy. He had asked why it was so sharp. The teachers yell and gesture, closing on the cretin, a grin spread across his face. They tell him to get down. That he is in big trouble. He is flat-nosed and breathing fast and falls from the tabte mooing. There is the clatter of chairs upended where he felL Their swell dwindles.The children turn back in amongst themselves, laughing and talking. Drawing forksprung green beans to their mouths. Sucking Jell-O. On the playground the girls huddle in, gawking. Daniel describes to them the operation, pulling back the skin. The pants crumpled in a heap about his ankles. It is small, white and withered, piropped between thumb and index finger. His leer runs the length of their faces. It is not there for the teacher who steps out from behind the tree. On the way home from the principal's office the boy sits watching in the car seat next to the father, waiting for the palm and fingers to cover him. The father's voice is big and his spittle freckles the windshield.

Daniel lays still in the shed. The wood floor flush beneath

23


r Berkeley Fiction Review and elms, moving on even further yet, a dark shape blent among others. To get to the north pasture he has to pass through the trees and some fields and farm houses and what seem to him endless bundles of hay. There in the moon-dark of a field a dog's growl, or at least the jangling of its tags running sidelong a fence will cause him to turn to what is sometimes no fence but only the dog. He has a thing with his boot he does just for this. Walking under the slivered moon the boy does not notice the slick horse apples under his soles but how the night breeze sets the meadow in furls, sucking the dust and down seedlings of the dandelions, wrested upward spiraling in gusts. He pauses every so often to watch this completely. When he gets there he does not stop but walks up as close to them as he knows he can. The herd of cattle standing before him asleep and somber. He lowers himself to the ground slowly flat and lays there for a time. Later he will think he might have dreamt all of this before. He tucks and mounts his joints and begins to crawl forward. Wriggling this way till he is underneath some fifty cows among the manure paddies and new-mown hay. He closes his eyes and continues. He moves among them sometimes half-crouching, rolling or ducking to one side. Covered completely in the darkness behind his eyelids. Relying on delicate, secretive touch. He holds his breath to focus. He crawls quickly. Blows a blast of breath. He opens his eyes and looks about, then closes them and quicker yet goes on with a new held breath.

C o m e on Danny. You can get up now, says the teacher. Mrs. Jenkins. He rises from the chair, the one facing the corner: He steps into the line of classmates already outside the door. N o cuts, says the girl behind him. They file slowly down the hall toward the sounds of clacking silverware and the thrum of the other children. In the cafeteria he moves in side step, watching the swol-

22

Haymow and Hooves len Negro women who with long spoons tump food on his fcray. Pull&frpm a pocket four silver coins and drops them onto the palm^of a woman that does not look at him. Turns aside, finds a seat. He hears the commotion behind him. His head swivels with the others toward the far end of the cafeteria and the high voice of the teacher. Get back here, she says again. There is the figure of a boy crawling atop a table. He is up. The child voices swell. Daniel bangs the fork and spoon on his fin tray; alongside the others. Howling at the cretin child lumping about the table. Dwarf boy with stumped white limbs flailing and moon face ahuff. In the bathroom Daniel had seen the cretin's thing and it was pointed at the tip. He had giggled at Daniel when he caught him looking, the yellow stream driving wide of the porcelain bowl and pooling on the tile. He had told his father about this boy. He had asked why it was so sharp. The teachers yell and gesture, closing on the cretin, a grin spread across his face. They tell him to get down. That he is in big trouble. He is flat-nosed and breathing fast and falls from the tabte mooing. There is the clatter of chairs upended where he felL Their swell dwindles.The children turn back in amongst themselves, laughing and talking. Drawing forksprung green beans to their mouths. Sucking Jell-O. On the playground the girls huddle in, gawking. Daniel describes to them the operation, pulling back the skin. The pants crumpled in a heap about his ankles. It is small, white and withered, piropped between thumb and index finger. His leer runs the length of their faces. It is not there for the teacher who steps out from behind the tree. On the way home from the principal's office the boy sits watching in the car seat next to the father, waiting for the palm and fingers to cover him. The father's voice is big and his spittle freckles the windshield.

Daniel lays still in the shed. The wood floor flush beneath

23


Haymow and Hooves

Berkeley Fiction Review

H

I, h H

his belly. He sighs. Pushes dust motes and wood shavings up off the floor in front of him with hushed gusts of breath. He listens to the father call again his name into the night from the back stoop. He hears the father mutter something and then hears him speak to the mother. I don't know where that boy got off to. There is no time. Al's heifer is down. I'll be back late. The crunch of car tires on gravel. Then just quiet and darkness out there through the slightly open door of the shed. He starts to crawl toward the door. Shuffling knees and elbows. Stops and rolls onto his back, letting the ache drain from the sharp parts. He straightens his joints, rubs them. He starts back on a crawl. He lays himself flat upon the floor so that his face sets alongside the door jamb. Peeks out. He feels the scratchy wood on the stomach, the shirt slid up apiece: He sees close in front of him there the house, the parents' window lit and quartered, the mother in it. She goes to the dresser and pulls a drawer. She quits her clothes. She stands for a moment, peering down, then makes a pawing motion in the drawer with her arm, pulls out a garment. She steps into the nightshirt, eases onto the bed, reaches for the lamp, makes it dark in there. He lays still, staring where she was. He gets himself up and pulls shut the door. He feels along in the darkness for the string by the bulb, pulls it. He blinks and knuckles his eyes. Then he starts for the house. He stands in the dark of her bedroom and looks at where the blanket buckles about her body, where the moonlight through the window shows on the bed, and where it doesn't. She rises up on her palms and elbows slowly and turns and looks at him. Where were you, she says. Working on the cabinets, he says. She is quiet for awhile. Then she points to the empty side of her bed. The Griffiths' heifer is down with milk fever. He nods. How are the cabinets comings she says.

24

He looks at her and at her shoulders where they slope into her neck. He stares a moment or two more and then pulls back the covers and lays up against her. He lays himself up against her so that he feels the warmth inside her legs with his. He does this for awhile until he feels her shiver.

Some nights the boy will stand at his window looking at how the quiet of the moon rubs behind the house and the fields and pastures beyond the wooded hedge. There is only the sound of the crickets.

'-if. .*4

%

25


Haymow and Hooves

Berkeley Fiction Review

H

I, h H

his belly. He sighs. Pushes dust motes and wood shavings up off the floor in front of him with hushed gusts of breath. He listens to the father call again his name into the night from the back stoop. He hears the father mutter something and then hears him speak to the mother. I don't know where that boy got off to. There is no time. Al's heifer is down. I'll be back late. The crunch of car tires on gravel. Then just quiet and darkness out there through the slightly open door of the shed. He starts to crawl toward the door. Shuffling knees and elbows. Stops and rolls onto his back, letting the ache drain from the sharp parts. He straightens his joints, rubs them. He starts back on a crawl. He lays himself flat upon the floor so that his face sets alongside the door jamb. Peeks out. He feels the scratchy wood on the stomach, the shirt slid up apiece: He sees close in front of him there the house, the parents' window lit and quartered, the mother in it. She goes to the dresser and pulls a drawer. She quits her clothes. She stands for a moment, peering down, then makes a pawing motion in the drawer with her arm, pulls out a garment. She steps into the nightshirt, eases onto the bed, reaches for the lamp, makes it dark in there. He lays still, staring where she was. He gets himself up and pulls shut the door. He feels along in the darkness for the string by the bulb, pulls it. He blinks and knuckles his eyes. Then he starts for the house. He stands in the dark of her bedroom and looks at where the blanket buckles about her body, where the moonlight through the window shows on the bed, and where it doesn't. She rises up on her palms and elbows slowly and turns and looks at him. Where were you, she says. Working on the cabinets, he says. She is quiet for awhile. Then she points to the empty side of her bed. The Griffiths' heifer is down with milk fever. He nods. How are the cabinets comings she says.

24

He looks at her and at her shoulders where they slope into her neck. He stares a moment or two more and then pulls back the covers and lays up against her. He lays himself up against her so that he feels the warmth inside her legs with his. He does this for awhile until he feels her shiver.

Some nights the boy will stand at his window looking at how the quiet of the moon rubs behind the house and the fields and pastures beyond the wooded hedge. There is only the sound of the crickets.

'-if. .*4

%

25


Effluvi, Effliivo, Effluvobo

Effluvi,

EffluvOy

E f f l u v o b o

Kevin Stein

F

or a little over a m o n t h I was one of the foremost coffee tasters in the world. T h e New York Times Magazine even ran a small piece on my sense of taste's "haunting precision." And not to brag, but it wasn't just coffee. I was also good with teas, chocolates, olive oils and preserves. T h e job was perfectly suited to my interests a n d skills, as I am a tagger of days, a numberer of experiences, a quantifier of emotions. People like m e usually find their way into the library sciences or statistical analysis, t h e wilder ones track h u g e pods of Blue Whales across the world's oceans. Over the years I have counted u p such things as the n u m b e r of months I lived with my mother and father (251), the hours I spent in college classrooms and auditoriums (2130), and the n u m b e r of w o m e n I have kissed (134), masturbated (74), a n d o n whom I have performed cunnilingus (23). 173 hours after my girlfriend left m e — I had caught her layering sweaters into one of the ugly suitcases I brought with m e when 1 first arrived in Ann Arbor—I marched into my boss's office and d e m a n d e d a raise. This was all part of a 4-point plan to remain a whole a n d happy person. Step 1 was to avoid m a u d l i n dwelling, so I wished my girlfriend well, kissed her hard on the m o u t h , and walked out the door. I let her keep the suitcase. Step 2 was celibacy. A strange belief pervades the lesbian world that o n e must be involved in a relationship to b e a true lesbian—as if a huge, undergroun d cult of fake lesbians lies 26

waiting for their c h a n c e to hijack the bullet train known as the Lesbian Community. Not that I was suddenly possessed with puritanical zeal, but there is a sense of latitude in Ann Arbor, a town where only 42% of the people claim p e r m a n e n t residency. People take chances, stumble into unknown territory, defend themselves with sweeping gestures and then someone gets hurt. Like BUGs: Bisexual Until Graduation. BUGs come in 2 major varieties, Granolus Exploritorius and Activisto Curioso. I have only dated one BUG in my life and I will not make the same mistake twice. S h e wore liberal amounts of patchouli which m a d e my nose itch. We saw each other for 26 days. I gave her 4 plants during the time we were together. We had IS conversations about what it "meant" for us to see each other. She would sit quietly, twirling a lock of her long red hair and nod. I felt like a m a t h professor explaining calculus to a thick-headed student. Eventually, she told me that she could not love me physically. " T h e love I have for you is like the love that Carrie Avery felt for the other female characters in The Awakening." And so I gave her a piece of advice from one who had recently escaped academia. "Carrie Avery didn't feel anything. Linguistic representations were used by the author to symbolize feelings, b u t in the e n d , she was fust a character in a book." Step 3 was to take better care of my body. If my body was active and healthy, I could avoid those long bouts of binge eating and isolation which might leave me a balloon dyke with the kind of self-esteem problem that leads to late nights, deserted bridges and one overblown decision. I quit smoking, started jogging, and cut off my long, blue-black hair. I sought the advice of Tish, my best friend a n d a counselor over at the University Student Health Center . Tish thought that Step 3 was the strongest part of-the plan. "You have a relationship with your body and now is no time to let that relationship go to seed," she said. W h e n I first met Tish, I was a grad student obsessing over my thesis, searching for textual support backing the hypoth-

27


Effluvi, Effliivo, Effluvobo

Effluvi,

EffluvOy

E f f l u v o b o

Kevin Stein

F

or a little over a m o n t h I was one of the foremost coffee tasters in the world. T h e New York Times Magazine even ran a small piece on my sense of taste's "haunting precision." And not to brag, but it wasn't just coffee. I was also good with teas, chocolates, olive oils and preserves. T h e job was perfectly suited to my interests a n d skills, as I am a tagger of days, a numberer of experiences, a quantifier of emotions. People like m e usually find their way into the library sciences or statistical analysis, t h e wilder ones track h u g e pods of Blue Whales across the world's oceans. Over the years I have counted u p such things as the n u m b e r of months I lived with my mother and father (251), the hours I spent in college classrooms and auditoriums (2130), and the n u m b e r of w o m e n I have kissed (134), masturbated (74), a n d o n whom I have performed cunnilingus (23). 173 hours after my girlfriend left m e — I had caught her layering sweaters into one of the ugly suitcases I brought with m e when 1 first arrived in Ann Arbor—I marched into my boss's office and d e m a n d e d a raise. This was all part of a 4-point plan to remain a whole a n d happy person. Step 1 was to avoid m a u d l i n dwelling, so I wished my girlfriend well, kissed her hard on the m o u t h , and walked out the door. I let her keep the suitcase. Step 2 was celibacy. A strange belief pervades the lesbian world that o n e must be involved in a relationship to b e a true lesbian—as if a huge, undergroun d cult of fake lesbians lies 26

waiting for their c h a n c e to hijack the bullet train known as the Lesbian Community. Not that I was suddenly possessed with puritanical zeal, but there is a sense of latitude in Ann Arbor, a town where only 42% of the people claim p e r m a n e n t residency. People take chances, stumble into unknown territory, defend themselves with sweeping gestures and then someone gets hurt. Like BUGs: Bisexual Until Graduation. BUGs come in 2 major varieties, Granolus Exploritorius and Activisto Curioso. I have only dated one BUG in my life and I will not make the same mistake twice. S h e wore liberal amounts of patchouli which m a d e my nose itch. We saw each other for 26 days. I gave her 4 plants during the time we were together. We had IS conversations about what it "meant" for us to see each other. She would sit quietly, twirling a lock of her long red hair and nod. I felt like a m a t h professor explaining calculus to a thick-headed student. Eventually, she told me that she could not love me physically. " T h e love I have for you is like the love that Carrie Avery felt for the other female characters in The Awakening." And so I gave her a piece of advice from one who had recently escaped academia. "Carrie Avery didn't feel anything. Linguistic representations were used by the author to symbolize feelings, b u t in the e n d , she was fust a character in a book." Step 3 was to take better care of my body. If my body was active and healthy, I could avoid those long bouts of binge eating and isolation which might leave me a balloon dyke with the kind of self-esteem problem that leads to late nights, deserted bridges and one overblown decision. I quit smoking, started jogging, and cut off my long, blue-black hair. I sought the advice of Tish, my best friend a n d a counselor over at the University Student Health Center . Tish thought that Step 3 was the strongest part of-the plan. "You have a relationship with your body and now is no time to let that relationship go to seed," she said. W h e n I first met Tish, I was a grad student obsessing over my thesis, searching for textual support backing the hypoth-

27


Berkeley Fiction Review esis that the majority of Brecht's works were actually written by women. I was smoking 3 packs a day and couldn't get more than 1 or 2 hours of sleep at a time. Tish had leaned back in her chair, swung her shit-kicking-dyke-and-a-half cowboy boots onto the center of the desk and asked, "How would you describe your relationship with your thesis?" "Adversarial," I said. A week later I had left school. I never thanked her. Step 4 was to march into Paul's office and demand a raise. Paul owns Goldensteins, a specialty food emporium and cafe. Goldensteins carries 317 different cheeses, 112 varieties of olive oil and a selection of teas, chocolates and coffees that spill out in huge displays across the tops of precisely refrigerated cases. Weekends, a line stretches across the black and white checkerboard floor, out the door, and down two shaded city blocks. The average order is $127. Every employee memorizes a list of products and their corresponding flavors. They are also given monthly exams on product history and relevant geopolitical information. Paul believes that if you just teach people the art of food appreciation, if you help them to develop a sensitive palate, you can change the world. He's a round, pastyskinned, epicurean revolutionary with a cholesterol count near 400. For 28 months I managed the coffee shop side of Goldensteins. "You know your review isn't for another four months," he said. "So give me a new job," I said. A new title would mean a new salary. He opened his desk, pulled out something wrapped in gold foil then handed it to me. "Taste it." It was chocolate. I let it rest on my tongue while I slowly pulled breath across the melting square, allowing my sense of smell and taste to work together to dissect the complicated essence. "Well?'\ Iran through all the common undertones and overtones I

28

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo knew for chocolate, then tried to match the flavors with the piece slowly melting in my mouth. "It's good," I said. "Yes?" he prodded. "Well, it's got a high cocoa count, probably up around 70%." Texture is the easy part of taste. Doesn't matter if you smoke or if you're completely without a sense of smell, you can still distinguish the way something feels against your tongue. "And?" "And it has a rich vanilla overtone with a hint of apricot." I felt a drop of sweet apricot juice roll down my throat; a blazing sun traced a path across the nape of my neck; the hay had been rolled into damp blankets that spotted a field of brown. "And something else, like grass, but not. Almost like marijuana." Paul slammed his hand against the desk. "You got it! D o you know only one in ten thousand people can taste the hempy flavor of African chocolate? Baby, your sense of smell hasn't gotten better since you quit smoking, it's positively acute! Congratulations, you're the new product scout." Paul unleashed a tidal wave of press releases. A fax deluge rained at every trade publication that had anything to do with food products or services. I was described as having "an almost supernatural ability to recognize the subtlest flavors." In one, Paul said that my powers of discernment were "eerie." All in all, 112 faxes raced across the country. I was going to be, Paul said, the new Houdini of taste, the Picasso of the palate, the Gertrude Stein of flavor. I got home, lit a triangle of musk incense and kicked my Air Walks into the corner of the room, right next to the potted philodendrons. I tumbled onto the couch —it smelled much more like dog than I had remembered when pulling it from one of the University dumpsters-^picked up a book and lost myself in the gray skies of Balzac, the tall masts of the ships stretching up from the fog that rolled orito the beach, the warning clang of the sea-bell which became the ringing of the phone

29


Berkeley Fiction Review esis that the majority of Brecht's works were actually written by women. I was smoking 3 packs a day and couldn't get more than 1 or 2 hours of sleep at a time. Tish had leaned back in her chair, swung her shit-kicking-dyke-and-a-half cowboy boots onto the center of the desk and asked, "How would you describe your relationship with your thesis?" "Adversarial," I said. A week later I had left school. I never thanked her. Step 4 was to march into Paul's office and demand a raise. Paul owns Goldensteins, a specialty food emporium and cafe. Goldensteins carries 317 different cheeses, 112 varieties of olive oil and a selection of teas, chocolates and coffees that spill out in huge displays across the tops of precisely refrigerated cases. Weekends, a line stretches across the black and white checkerboard floor, out the door, and down two shaded city blocks. The average order is $127. Every employee memorizes a list of products and their corresponding flavors. They are also given monthly exams on product history and relevant geopolitical information. Paul believes that if you just teach people the art of food appreciation, if you help them to develop a sensitive palate, you can change the world. He's a round, pastyskinned, epicurean revolutionary with a cholesterol count near 400. For 28 months I managed the coffee shop side of Goldensteins. "You know your review isn't for another four months," he said. "So give me a new job," I said. A new title would mean a new salary. He opened his desk, pulled out something wrapped in gold foil then handed it to me. "Taste it." It was chocolate. I let it rest on my tongue while I slowly pulled breath across the melting square, allowing my sense of smell and taste to work together to dissect the complicated essence. "Well?'\ Iran through all the common undertones and overtones I

28

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo knew for chocolate, then tried to match the flavors with the piece slowly melting in my mouth. "It's good," I said. "Yes?" he prodded. "Well, it's got a high cocoa count, probably up around 70%." Texture is the easy part of taste. Doesn't matter if you smoke or if you're completely without a sense of smell, you can still distinguish the way something feels against your tongue. "And?" "And it has a rich vanilla overtone with a hint of apricot." I felt a drop of sweet apricot juice roll down my throat; a blazing sun traced a path across the nape of my neck; the hay had been rolled into damp blankets that spotted a field of brown. "And something else, like grass, but not. Almost like marijuana." Paul slammed his hand against the desk. "You got it! D o you know only one in ten thousand people can taste the hempy flavor of African chocolate? Baby, your sense of smell hasn't gotten better since you quit smoking, it's positively acute! Congratulations, you're the new product scout." Paul unleashed a tidal wave of press releases. A fax deluge rained at every trade publication that had anything to do with food products or services. I was described as having "an almost supernatural ability to recognize the subtlest flavors." In one, Paul said that my powers of discernment were "eerie." All in all, 112 faxes raced across the country. I was going to be, Paul said, the new Houdini of taste, the Picasso of the palate, the Gertrude Stein of flavor. I got home, lit a triangle of musk incense and kicked my Air Walks into the corner of the room, right next to the potted philodendrons. I tumbled onto the couch —it smelled much more like dog than I had remembered when pulling it from one of the University dumpsters-^picked up a book and lost myself in the gray skies of Balzac, the tall masts of the ships stretching up from the fog that rolled orito the beach, the warning clang of the sea-bell which became the ringing of the phone

29


Ill'' Berkeley Fiction Review through persistence on its part and not a lack of imagination on my own. "Are you still a Lesbian?" my mother asked. My mother has always explained away my sexuality as a phase, one lasting 413 weeks. She is 1 part goddess and 2 parts Napoleon Bonaparte, a large, broad-shouldered woman and a professional gardener by trade. When she heads out to work, hand spades hang from her belt like knives, long wooden dowels poke from her belt like swords, and she wears a large sun bonnet tipped to one side with a dash of zinc oxide war paint on the tip of her nose. She marshals the plant world into an army of marching colors. Even her rose bushes are utilitarian. I told her about my new job. "So you're gaining weight?" she asked. When I was a child, she was convinced that 1 had some form of growth disorder. No matter how much food she heaped on my plate, I remained a scarecrow. "No, I only eat a small amount of chocolate. If you eat too much, you overload your sense receptors and you actually taste less." This was all explained to me a day earlier by some man in California with an awful, nasally voice. Supposedly he was one of the greatest food tasters who has ever lived. "Well, perhaps you can take the extra chocolate home with you and eat it later," my mom suggested. She paused. "I was just reading this article in the New York Times" she said. There was another long pause. I believe it would be called a pregnant pause in stage direction. "There seem to be a number of single women who are having children through artificial insemination. Did you see that article?" "No, but I'll be sure to check it out." "Good," she said, and hung up. There is a marriage between sound and smell; like fingers, they can weave together and carry us off. The click of the phone returning to its cradle became the closing of a car door. Jerome Horton^ my first real date, smelling like stale cigarettes and cheap cologne, pushed his lips against my neck.

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Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo I shoved him away when he groped at my breasts. T h e room shrank and filled with a hundred groping hands, a thousand sloppy lips, dozens of bottles of spilled cologne. 1 coughed, tried to fake a breath and coughed again. Eventually I was hacking. My lungs were clawing their way up my throat. I ran tb the wipdow. The sweet scent of lilacs brought me back to Ann Arbor, to my apartment, to the deep blue, musky, psuedohormonal scented incense smoke curling its way to the ceiling. There are almost 10 times as many receptor sites in the nose to help identify smell as there are receptor sites in the mouth to distinguish taste. That is why one flavor can so easily overpower and replace another flavor. Eat a sour strawberry and all you have to do is pop a sweet one in your mouth to cleanse the palate. But scents mingle, overlap and linger. They are carried by the weakest breezes and cling to everything they pass. It takes a totalitarian hand to keep smells contained, and so my office walls were lined with 40 airtight, stainless steel cabinets where I detained products before they were sampled. And to clear the smells from my nose, I carried a small Tupperware container filled with fresh lavender petals. Lavender, thankfajly, has the ability to overload the sense receptors and lead to a complete, although temporary, inability to smell. I worked accompanied by the constant hum of the air filtration system, which, within 5 minutes of any given breath, pulled every molecule in the room through a series of 50filters.The office was maintained at 75% humidity and 69 degrees Fahrenheit, both optimum conditions for accurate food tasting. It was like working for 8 hours in that usually brief period of expectancy preceding a spring shower. Only there was never that rush of smell that sweeps over you right before the rain comes down, the smell of the earth opening up, the earth worms crawling for sanctuary. I sat in my little kingdom and imposed absolute and total authority over all odors. When not sampling foods, I tracked down new products. I loved to hear the tick-tick-tick of the

31


Ill'' Berkeley Fiction Review through persistence on its part and not a lack of imagination on my own. "Are you still a Lesbian?" my mother asked. My mother has always explained away my sexuality as a phase, one lasting 413 weeks. She is 1 part goddess and 2 parts Napoleon Bonaparte, a large, broad-shouldered woman and a professional gardener by trade. When she heads out to work, hand spades hang from her belt like knives, long wooden dowels poke from her belt like swords, and she wears a large sun bonnet tipped to one side with a dash of zinc oxide war paint on the tip of her nose. She marshals the plant world into an army of marching colors. Even her rose bushes are utilitarian. I told her about my new job. "So you're gaining weight?" she asked. When I was a child, she was convinced that 1 had some form of growth disorder. No matter how much food she heaped on my plate, I remained a scarecrow. "No, I only eat a small amount of chocolate. If you eat too much, you overload your sense receptors and you actually taste less." This was all explained to me a day earlier by some man in California with an awful, nasally voice. Supposedly he was one of the greatest food tasters who has ever lived. "Well, perhaps you can take the extra chocolate home with you and eat it later," my mom suggested. She paused. "I was just reading this article in the New York Times" she said. There was another long pause. I believe it would be called a pregnant pause in stage direction. "There seem to be a number of single women who are having children through artificial insemination. Did you see that article?" "No, but I'll be sure to check it out." "Good," she said, and hung up. There is a marriage between sound and smell; like fingers, they can weave together and carry us off. The click of the phone returning to its cradle became the closing of a car door. Jerome Horton^ my first real date, smelling like stale cigarettes and cheap cologne, pushed his lips against my neck.

30

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo I shoved him away when he groped at my breasts. T h e room shrank and filled with a hundred groping hands, a thousand sloppy lips, dozens of bottles of spilled cologne. 1 coughed, tried to fake a breath and coughed again. Eventually I was hacking. My lungs were clawing their way up my throat. I ran tb the wipdow. The sweet scent of lilacs brought me back to Ann Arbor, to my apartment, to the deep blue, musky, psuedohormonal scented incense smoke curling its way to the ceiling. There are almost 10 times as many receptor sites in the nose to help identify smell as there are receptor sites in the mouth to distinguish taste. That is why one flavor can so easily overpower and replace another flavor. Eat a sour strawberry and all you have to do is pop a sweet one in your mouth to cleanse the palate. But scents mingle, overlap and linger. They are carried by the weakest breezes and cling to everything they pass. It takes a totalitarian hand to keep smells contained, and so my office walls were lined with 40 airtight, stainless steel cabinets where I detained products before they were sampled. And to clear the smells from my nose, I carried a small Tupperware container filled with fresh lavender petals. Lavender, thankfajly, has the ability to overload the sense receptors and lead to a complete, although temporary, inability to smell. I worked accompanied by the constant hum of the air filtration system, which, within 5 minutes of any given breath, pulled every molecule in the room through a series of 50filters.The office was maintained at 75% humidity and 69 degrees Fahrenheit, both optimum conditions for accurate food tasting. It was like working for 8 hours in that usually brief period of expectancy preceding a spring shower. Only there was never that rush of smell that sweeps over you right before the rain comes down, the smell of the earth opening up, the earth worms crawling for sanctuary. I sat in my little kingdom and imposed absolute and total authority over all odors. When not sampling foods, I tracked down new products. I loved to hear the tick-tick-tick of the

31


Berkeley Fiction Review phones transferring to international lines. I wrote 17 memos on the importance of aroma in customer education. As I sampled product 37—a Brazilian coffee grown through a careful irrigation process which allows the. beans to actually dry while still attached to the tree—Paul sauntered into my office. When he left, the coffee had a slightly milky flavor. I quickly shot off a memo explaining that people, unlike dogs, have no need to pee on their property because we have reached an evolutionary level of sophistication which allows for a more subtle form of spraying what is ours. I kindly asked all staff to meet me outside my office if they had concerns, instructions or requests. One of my first stipulations to Paul was that he purchase a Nakamichi digital tape recorder. I wanted to speak about the flavors of the foods as I was tasting them. I argued that the $567.99 expenditure was justifiable in that only a precision recorder could capture the nuances of my descriptions. The changes in tone and inflection of my voice were crucial aspects of the tasting experience. What I didn't realize was that spoken language* with it's lack of structure and visual moors, would often result in ethereal descriptions of dubious value. My description of a cinnamon banana chutney, the fourth product I sampled, is a perfect example. "The flavor is subtle and woody, pretty mellow, but kind of caramely, all wrapped up in a heavy peppery bow that is wrapped in a blanket of banana and cinnamon." String upon string of hollow adjectives nuanced and filled with inflection on tape, but on paper, were afflicted with a sort of descriptive anemia. To avoid being wasteful, I used the copper-plated recorder as a paper weight for my descriptions, which I decided were more substantial when written as a flavor poem. I thought of different names for my descriptions: taste narratives, foodstories, palate prose. I started to see myself in the forefront of a new movement, The Sensory Movement, a return to the exploration of the senses through art. I counted the number of flavor interpretations that I thought were publishable (7) and then tabulated how many months until I would

32

Effluviy Effluvo, Effluvobo have enough works to publish a small book (a little over 26). When I wrote one that I particularly liked, I would call Tish. Most of Tish's down time is spent reading. She sits in her small, plant-filled, sun-dappled office and devours mysteries, thrillers and schlock romances. When we go out shopping, she buys books by the cart full. All of which made her my perfect audience. The first description 1 ever read to her was for LapSang Souchong, a black tea from the Fukian province in China: lam walking through a pine forest and the damp leaves brush against my ankles like the hands of ghosts. I am in the company of a group of women and we are all somber, dressed in black. We must stop and make a fire for we are freezing arid have not eaten in over two days. The wood is damp and it is only with much effort that the sparks catch and grow. And the thick, gray smoke climbs up and we are warmed by the faint yellow tongue of flame. And the smoke is sweet on our tongues and it warms our bones and we can travel through the night. There was a long pause and then Tish blurted out, "It's a tea that puts you in a place." Dreams, I have read, are nothing more than a rapid random firing of the synapses found in the frontal lobes of the brain. A million separate thunder storms of images cascading across our memory. The images that speak to us are the images we hold onto when we wake. After 14 days in my new position 1 picked up the first check which reflected my 44% pay increase. It was for $917 after taxes. That night I drifted off to sleep while calculating the amount of extra money ($412) I would have to pay on my student loans in order to yank myself out of debt in 3 years. I woke up bathed in sweat and straining to catch my breath.

•33


Berkeley Fiction Review phones transferring to international lines. I wrote 17 memos on the importance of aroma in customer education. As I sampled product 37—a Brazilian coffee grown through a careful irrigation process which allows the. beans to actually dry while still attached to the tree—Paul sauntered into my office. When he left, the coffee had a slightly milky flavor. I quickly shot off a memo explaining that people, unlike dogs, have no need to pee on their property because we have reached an evolutionary level of sophistication which allows for a more subtle form of spraying what is ours. I kindly asked all staff to meet me outside my office if they had concerns, instructions or requests. One of my first stipulations to Paul was that he purchase a Nakamichi digital tape recorder. I wanted to speak about the flavors of the foods as I was tasting them. I argued that the $567.99 expenditure was justifiable in that only a precision recorder could capture the nuances of my descriptions. The changes in tone and inflection of my voice were crucial aspects of the tasting experience. What I didn't realize was that spoken language* with it's lack of structure and visual moors, would often result in ethereal descriptions of dubious value. My description of a cinnamon banana chutney, the fourth product I sampled, is a perfect example. "The flavor is subtle and woody, pretty mellow, but kind of caramely, all wrapped up in a heavy peppery bow that is wrapped in a blanket of banana and cinnamon." String upon string of hollow adjectives nuanced and filled with inflection on tape, but on paper, were afflicted with a sort of descriptive anemia. To avoid being wasteful, I used the copper-plated recorder as a paper weight for my descriptions, which I decided were more substantial when written as a flavor poem. I thought of different names for my descriptions: taste narratives, foodstories, palate prose. I started to see myself in the forefront of a new movement, The Sensory Movement, a return to the exploration of the senses through art. I counted the number of flavor interpretations that I thought were publishable (7) and then tabulated how many months until I would

32

Effluviy Effluvo, Effluvobo have enough works to publish a small book (a little over 26). When I wrote one that I particularly liked, I would call Tish. Most of Tish's down time is spent reading. She sits in her small, plant-filled, sun-dappled office and devours mysteries, thrillers and schlock romances. When we go out shopping, she buys books by the cart full. All of which made her my perfect audience. The first description 1 ever read to her was for LapSang Souchong, a black tea from the Fukian province in China: lam walking through a pine forest and the damp leaves brush against my ankles like the hands of ghosts. I am in the company of a group of women and we are all somber, dressed in black. We must stop and make a fire for we are freezing arid have not eaten in over two days. The wood is damp and it is only with much effort that the sparks catch and grow. And the thick, gray smoke climbs up and we are warmed by the faint yellow tongue of flame. And the smoke is sweet on our tongues and it warms our bones and we can travel through the night. There was a long pause and then Tish blurted out, "It's a tea that puts you in a place." Dreams, I have read, are nothing more than a rapid random firing of the synapses found in the frontal lobes of the brain. A million separate thunder storms of images cascading across our memory. The images that speak to us are the images we hold onto when we wake. After 14 days in my new position 1 picked up the first check which reflected my 44% pay increase. It was for $917 after taxes. That night I drifted off to sleep while calculating the amount of extra money ($412) I would have to pay on my student loans in order to yank myself out of debt in 3 years. I woke up bathed in sweat and straining to catch my breath.

•33


Berkeley Fiction Review Amidst the jagged shards of images, I remembered seeing a puppy. It looked just like the puppy I got as a present for my 8th birthday. Eleven days after I first held it in my lap, it froze to death because my mother thought its new fur would protect ii against the harsh Michigan winter. I rolled my shoulders and took deep breaths, but then I suddenly began to cry. I stepped outside and thought I saw a blue-black fog rolling across the front yard. I stumbled through the patch of irises, marigolds, and tangles of bougainvillea that grew in front of my house, but it wasn't until I reached the day-lilies that I was overwhelmed and fainted. I must have been out for a few seconds* and when I wok£ up, I saw a pink petal drift to the ground.. The interviewer from the -New York Times Magazine was a little man with a short temper. I think he saw himself as something of a dandy He wore a brown bowler and a paisley bow tie which he kept straightening with quick, pale fingers. I had an overwhelming urge to ask him to join the 20th century. When I told him he could not open any of the cabinets in my office he got really pissed off. "Are you saying," he asked, waves of incredulity floating off him like stale toffee, "that by just opening these doors, I would contaminate your samples?" Eventually I dragged him to the back porch where I had planned on us sampling 3 teas, 2 coffees and 1 chocolate. I thought that the back porch, with its whitewashed, wooden fence, its three bent willows providing shade, and a ground covered in a patchwork of red and brown cobblestones, would lend the descriptions a sense of place. "This is a silver-tipped Keemun," I said as I poured the cerise-colored tea, "which means it has had longer to grow which accounts for its deeper level of complexity." The man from the magazine just nodded his head—it's strange, but soon after my sense of smell became acute, I noticed certain gestures carried with them their own particular odor. There is a curious sweetness, almost like sugar burning

34

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo when a woman nods her head during a conversation. When a man nods his head I smell burning rubber, like a gloating. As I described the overtones and undertones found in most Hoy Ya Keemuns, the man from the magazine kept nodding, a thin smile curling his lips. At first I was offended, but then I grew desperate, "Hand me you wallet," I finally demanded. Holding the wallet to my nose I said, "You ate lunch at McDonalds where you were given these bills as change." I pulled out three single dollar bills. I proceeded to tell him what colognes he had used over the past eight months (Old Spice, Polo, and Drakkar, scents I have always associated with date rape), and that his clothes were commercially cleaned. The last I saw of him, he was sitting in his car, furiously scribbling in a small notebook. So many of the terms and cliches for happiness relate to floating or a sense of weightlessness: walking on air, elated, buoyant. As my sense of smell developed, I began to realize that people who are happy smell happy. They give off a powerful odor. Perhaps this aromatic release gives them the sensation of floating. Whatever the case, as I walked the 4 blocks back to my apartment, my feet barely touched the ground. If you take a dog for a drive, I would suggest that you keep the speed to 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour is just slow enough to distinguish each smell as you cruise past. Any faster and the world becomes an indistinguishable stew of odor, almost nauseating. Tish picked me up to attend a poetry reading at People Like Us Books. She was going to write an article for the Ann Arbor News and wanted my impression of the reading. As we drove, I stuck my head out the window. Occasionally I pulled it in and yelled at Tish to slow down. Passing Cottage Inn, I wanted to smell the beer, the cigarettes and the pepperoni from the pizza dripping with grease. When we passed the University Laundry my nose itched from the bristly smell of soap. From far off I caught hurts of burning leaves and hot tar. I made, her take a circuitous route to the book store and

35


Berkeley Fiction Review Amidst the jagged shards of images, I remembered seeing a puppy. It looked just like the puppy I got as a present for my 8th birthday. Eleven days after I first held it in my lap, it froze to death because my mother thought its new fur would protect ii against the harsh Michigan winter. I rolled my shoulders and took deep breaths, but then I suddenly began to cry. I stepped outside and thought I saw a blue-black fog rolling across the front yard. I stumbled through the patch of irises, marigolds, and tangles of bougainvillea that grew in front of my house, but it wasn't until I reached the day-lilies that I was overwhelmed and fainted. I must have been out for a few seconds* and when I wok£ up, I saw a pink petal drift to the ground.. The interviewer from the -New York Times Magazine was a little man with a short temper. I think he saw himself as something of a dandy He wore a brown bowler and a paisley bow tie which he kept straightening with quick, pale fingers. I had an overwhelming urge to ask him to join the 20th century. When I told him he could not open any of the cabinets in my office he got really pissed off. "Are you saying," he asked, waves of incredulity floating off him like stale toffee, "that by just opening these doors, I would contaminate your samples?" Eventually I dragged him to the back porch where I had planned on us sampling 3 teas, 2 coffees and 1 chocolate. I thought that the back porch, with its whitewashed, wooden fence, its three bent willows providing shade, and a ground covered in a patchwork of red and brown cobblestones, would lend the descriptions a sense of place. "This is a silver-tipped Keemun," I said as I poured the cerise-colored tea, "which means it has had longer to grow which accounts for its deeper level of complexity." The man from the magazine just nodded his head—it's strange, but soon after my sense of smell became acute, I noticed certain gestures carried with them their own particular odor. There is a curious sweetness, almost like sugar burning

34

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo when a woman nods her head during a conversation. When a man nods his head I smell burning rubber, like a gloating. As I described the overtones and undertones found in most Hoy Ya Keemuns, the man from the magazine kept nodding, a thin smile curling his lips. At first I was offended, but then I grew desperate, "Hand me you wallet," I finally demanded. Holding the wallet to my nose I said, "You ate lunch at McDonalds where you were given these bills as change." I pulled out three single dollar bills. I proceeded to tell him what colognes he had used over the past eight months (Old Spice, Polo, and Drakkar, scents I have always associated with date rape), and that his clothes were commercially cleaned. The last I saw of him, he was sitting in his car, furiously scribbling in a small notebook. So many of the terms and cliches for happiness relate to floating or a sense of weightlessness: walking on air, elated, buoyant. As my sense of smell developed, I began to realize that people who are happy smell happy. They give off a powerful odor. Perhaps this aromatic release gives them the sensation of floating. Whatever the case, as I walked the 4 blocks back to my apartment, my feet barely touched the ground. If you take a dog for a drive, I would suggest that you keep the speed to 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour is just slow enough to distinguish each smell as you cruise past. Any faster and the world becomes an indistinguishable stew of odor, almost nauseating. Tish picked me up to attend a poetry reading at People Like Us Books. She was going to write an article for the Ann Arbor News and wanted my impression of the reading. As we drove, I stuck my head out the window. Occasionally I pulled it in and yelled at Tish to slow down. Passing Cottage Inn, I wanted to smell the beer, the cigarettes and the pepperoni from the pizza dripping with grease. When we passed the University Laundry my nose itched from the bristly smell of soap. From far off I caught hurts of burning leaves and hot tar. I made, her take a circuitous route to the book store and

35


Berkeley Fiction Review we ended up gliding down Huron River Drive, the car passing through broad bands of leafy shade. The river smelled like all of Michigan, of its trfces, its pollution, its black top tar and top soil, it's fruits and flowers. At o n e point I turned to Tish and said, "A man up the river ate hot dogs for lunch." I could smell it in his urine slowly washing downstream. Earlier that day I had considered going to a doctor. I was staring to experience synesthesia. Looking up at the yellow sun left a coppery taste on my tongue. The next door neighbors shouting at each other flooded my house with the acrid odor of cat piss. And when my mom called, I thought I had smelled burning toast. Not a localized smell. It wasn't as if I could smell smoke from the kitchen, still, I put the phone down and checked the kitchen, but the toaster was unplugged. I said, "Mom, don't spend the whole day in the sun. And wear your sun block. People do get melanoma you know." "How did you know I forgot sun block?" she had asked. At the reading, I tried to remain focused on the poet. She was a beautiful Jamaican woman with a lilting, sing-song voice that smelled like waves slowly rolling up onto the sand, but the room was small and there were 11 of us sitting so close to each other that my legs kept brushing against the woman sitting next to me. Her hands occasionally wandered to the heel of her silver Converse One Stars, the emerald ascot around her neck, her platinum hair, the corner of her eyes—eyes almost all pupil with a thin corona of blue—and she touched these things as if they were unfamiliar, stolen; as if they could explain the apple blossom scent of youthful exploration that surrounded her like a cloud. I used to believe that pictures were a way to hold onto memories. Now I know that memories and pictures are adversarial. Pictures circumvent memory. They allow the details of a moment to be lostin fading colors and the residue of time. It is memories that remain focused, that grow sharper as we age. My first memories aire filled with the kinds of details that never translate onto film: the drab olive of my father's Duster, the dents

36

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo running along the rusted chrome of the bumper; how I held my breath as the car choked on gas and sparks and finally caught to life; driving through the city, windows down; the sweet smell of my father's cigar smoke; passing by row upon row of empty buildings, some of them charred shells of concrete; a pack of mint wafers to savor as we drove out of the city. When the reading ended, I asked the woman in the emerald ascot if she wanted to go out for coffee, but before she could give me an answer I grabbed her hand and headed for the door. When we reached the street, her scent changed. It was like a cat scurrying under a bed, the click of claws against linoleum and the flash of a slick body. I tightened my grip on her hand and stroked the inside of her sweaty palm; my thumb glided smoothly across her skin. I pressed my other hand against the small of her back where 1 discovered a knot of muscles, like a child's fist, and I worked it until it came loose and the apple blossom scent returned; Walking up 5th Avenue the world faded. The colors washed into shades of brown and the light slipping through the leaves fell like crescents of gray against the sidewalk. Every time she tried to pull away I stroked the inside of her arm or let the outside of my leg brush against hers and her reassuring scent would return. At the door I turned my head sharply and my hair brushed across her neck. Then we ran up the steps and fell onto my bed. I have heard the nape of the neck described as a robin's egg. The hollow where the soul rests when driven from the house of the heart. The smoothest skin on the body covers the nape, where the spinal cord ends and the brain stem begins. It is where our ideas and emotions overlap. I dove into the .mystery of my partner's body, the tip of my nose rested against the nape of her neck. Our senses melded, my every action a reaction to a scent, a toijeh* a caress. When the sharp edge of the bed frame pressed against her thighs, I wrapped my hands around them and rolled her to the center of the mattress. Her moans were like the scent of an apple blossom

37


Berkeley Fiction Review we ended up gliding down Huron River Drive, the car passing through broad bands of leafy shade. The river smelled like all of Michigan, of its trfces, its pollution, its black top tar and top soil, it's fruits and flowers. At o n e point I turned to Tish and said, "A man up the river ate hot dogs for lunch." I could smell it in his urine slowly washing downstream. Earlier that day I had considered going to a doctor. I was staring to experience synesthesia. Looking up at the yellow sun left a coppery taste on my tongue. The next door neighbors shouting at each other flooded my house with the acrid odor of cat piss. And when my mom called, I thought I had smelled burning toast. Not a localized smell. It wasn't as if I could smell smoke from the kitchen, still, I put the phone down and checked the kitchen, but the toaster was unplugged. I said, "Mom, don't spend the whole day in the sun. And wear your sun block. People do get melanoma you know." "How did you know I forgot sun block?" she had asked. At the reading, I tried to remain focused on the poet. She was a beautiful Jamaican woman with a lilting, sing-song voice that smelled like waves slowly rolling up onto the sand, but the room was small and there were 11 of us sitting so close to each other that my legs kept brushing against the woman sitting next to me. Her hands occasionally wandered to the heel of her silver Converse One Stars, the emerald ascot around her neck, her platinum hair, the corner of her eyes—eyes almost all pupil with a thin corona of blue—and she touched these things as if they were unfamiliar, stolen; as if they could explain the apple blossom scent of youthful exploration that surrounded her like a cloud. I used to believe that pictures were a way to hold onto memories. Now I know that memories and pictures are adversarial. Pictures circumvent memory. They allow the details of a moment to be lostin fading colors and the residue of time. It is memories that remain focused, that grow sharper as we age. My first memories aire filled with the kinds of details that never translate onto film: the drab olive of my father's Duster, the dents

36

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo running along the rusted chrome of the bumper; how I held my breath as the car choked on gas and sparks and finally caught to life; driving through the city, windows down; the sweet smell of my father's cigar smoke; passing by row upon row of empty buildings, some of them charred shells of concrete; a pack of mint wafers to savor as we drove out of the city. When the reading ended, I asked the woman in the emerald ascot if she wanted to go out for coffee, but before she could give me an answer I grabbed her hand and headed for the door. When we reached the street, her scent changed. It was like a cat scurrying under a bed, the click of claws against linoleum and the flash of a slick body. I tightened my grip on her hand and stroked the inside of her sweaty palm; my thumb glided smoothly across her skin. I pressed my other hand against the small of her back where 1 discovered a knot of muscles, like a child's fist, and I worked it until it came loose and the apple blossom scent returned; Walking up 5th Avenue the world faded. The colors washed into shades of brown and the light slipping through the leaves fell like crescents of gray against the sidewalk. Every time she tried to pull away I stroked the inside of her arm or let the outside of my leg brush against hers and her reassuring scent would return. At the door I turned my head sharply and my hair brushed across her neck. Then we ran up the steps and fell onto my bed. I have heard the nape of the neck described as a robin's egg. The hollow where the soul rests when driven from the house of the heart. The smoothest skin on the body covers the nape, where the spinal cord ends and the brain stem begins. It is where our ideas and emotions overlap. I dove into the .mystery of my partner's body, the tip of my nose rested against the nape of her neck. Our senses melded, my every action a reaction to a scent, a toijeh* a caress. When the sharp edge of the bed frame pressed against her thighs, I wrapped my hands around them and rolled her to the center of the mattress. Her moans were like the scent of an apple blossom

37


Berkeley Fiction Review bursting open. My hands wandered, I floated on a wave of scent that carried me into a thunderstorm of images. I was in a field of tall, golden reeds. In the center of the meadow, almost hidden, a young woman with bright red hair lay curled up on herself. She looked up with wide, doe eyes, as if she was jacklighted. I lifted her to her feet and the long shadows grew longer as we stood there, staring at each other. The sky turned gray and the grass swayed in a cold breeze. It began to rain. I woke up and the window was open. A cool wind pushed aside the curtains. My skin was covered in a sheen of sweat. The next day, I woke up to an empty room. Covers and sheets were scattered on the floor. Beneath the upended night stand I found the emeraW ascot. It reeked. The entire room smelled of burning fur, of blood, of the blue ice of a glacier, of the tight white strain of knuckles. Under it all was the lingering, simple scent of apple blossoms. N o matter how hard I tried I could not rid myself of that smell. It clung fiercely to the inside of my nose. Even the lavender was impotent, unable to erase a memory of odor. I threw the sheets in the hamper and straightened my room. I called som^ friends; 3 people said to forget it, 1 told me to track the woman down at all costs and profess my love for her, and 1 closet Catholic told me to go to confession: "It always makes me feel better." Tish said, "So what?" "I think she's straight," I said. "Let me play the devil's advocate," she said. "This woman's an adult and spent one night with you. So why the fuck do you think you can settle her sexuality issues?" And here Tish and I were at an impasse. For her, it was a question of demarcation. She wanted an answer to "What is yours and what is hers?" But the minty ascot and the vanilla of my partner^ hair were inside me. And I had somehow reached irito her and pulled at something beyond reason and choice. I had had an unfair advantage. My language bypassed the head and Controlled the heart. It was a language to which a body could only "react. And so when Tish thought she would get

38

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo me to focus on myself by asking how I could take care of myself, I said, simply, "By finding her." 1 left my lavender at home, clutched the ascot in one hand and began to wander down State Street, East University Drive, 4th Avenue. I stumbled on the cobblestones of Carry Town and flinched at the smell of decades-old horse manure. Wanderingpast the art museum, my head grew light from the paint fumes seeping from the canvases. I searched the Arboretum and sat by the dirty banks of the Huron River, hoping to catch a hint of apple blossoms carried by a strong wind. I was a bloodhound, smelling my way to the heart of the problem. I stopped people at random and asked them stupid questions, the time, what book they were carrying, where the Fish Bowl was located. I figured that even if she had talked to someone a week earlier, I would be able to catch a hint of her scent. And I did not want to ask about her directly. I imagined her sitting at coffee with her friends, someone saying, "that woman you slept with last night is looking for you." And then everyone would grovtf silent so that the noise of a spoon clinking against china would ring out loudly. A shabbily dressed young man passed me on my way into the Graduate Library. I grabbed his arm and did not even bother to ask a. question. I just took a deep breath. He smelled of Barbasol and nicked flesh. Inside, I walked through "the Stacks," a maze of dusty tombs that smelled of coal and tar and pipe smoke. I was accosted by memories. A jumble of images, my grandfather, leaves burning in the back yard, a school yard with heatshimmering up from the blacktop. I stood in front of the blazing marquee of the Michigan Theater each time a movie let out. My hair was unkempt, I had not showered since the day of the poetry reading and I had not eaten either. One of my friends who saw me said that she could see my skull, as if my skin had b e e n pulled tight against bone. When the movies let out, I swam through a sea of s c e n t Bodies brushed against me and I was nearly pulled under by the drumming smell of popcorn, the slippery smell

39


Berkeley Fiction Review bursting open. My hands wandered, I floated on a wave of scent that carried me into a thunderstorm of images. I was in a field of tall, golden reeds. In the center of the meadow, almost hidden, a young woman with bright red hair lay curled up on herself. She looked up with wide, doe eyes, as if she was jacklighted. I lifted her to her feet and the long shadows grew longer as we stood there, staring at each other. The sky turned gray and the grass swayed in a cold breeze. It began to rain. I woke up and the window was open. A cool wind pushed aside the curtains. My skin was covered in a sheen of sweat. The next day, I woke up to an empty room. Covers and sheets were scattered on the floor. Beneath the upended night stand I found the emeraW ascot. It reeked. The entire room smelled of burning fur, of blood, of the blue ice of a glacier, of the tight white strain of knuckles. Under it all was the lingering, simple scent of apple blossoms. N o matter how hard I tried I could not rid myself of that smell. It clung fiercely to the inside of my nose. Even the lavender was impotent, unable to erase a memory of odor. I threw the sheets in the hamper and straightened my room. I called som^ friends; 3 people said to forget it, 1 told me to track the woman down at all costs and profess my love for her, and 1 closet Catholic told me to go to confession: "It always makes me feel better." Tish said, "So what?" "I think she's straight," I said. "Let me play the devil's advocate," she said. "This woman's an adult and spent one night with you. So why the fuck do you think you can settle her sexuality issues?" And here Tish and I were at an impasse. For her, it was a question of demarcation. She wanted an answer to "What is yours and what is hers?" But the minty ascot and the vanilla of my partner^ hair were inside me. And I had somehow reached irito her and pulled at something beyond reason and choice. I had had an unfair advantage. My language bypassed the head and Controlled the heart. It was a language to which a body could only "react. And so when Tish thought she would get

38

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo me to focus on myself by asking how I could take care of myself, I said, simply, "By finding her." 1 left my lavender at home, clutched the ascot in one hand and began to wander down State Street, East University Drive, 4th Avenue. I stumbled on the cobblestones of Carry Town and flinched at the smell of decades-old horse manure. Wanderingpast the art museum, my head grew light from the paint fumes seeping from the canvases. I searched the Arboretum and sat by the dirty banks of the Huron River, hoping to catch a hint of apple blossoms carried by a strong wind. I was a bloodhound, smelling my way to the heart of the problem. I stopped people at random and asked them stupid questions, the time, what book they were carrying, where the Fish Bowl was located. I figured that even if she had talked to someone a week earlier, I would be able to catch a hint of her scent. And I did not want to ask about her directly. I imagined her sitting at coffee with her friends, someone saying, "that woman you slept with last night is looking for you." And then everyone would grovtf silent so that the noise of a spoon clinking against china would ring out loudly. A shabbily dressed young man passed me on my way into the Graduate Library. I grabbed his arm and did not even bother to ask a. question. I just took a deep breath. He smelled of Barbasol and nicked flesh. Inside, I walked through "the Stacks," a maze of dusty tombs that smelled of coal and tar and pipe smoke. I was accosted by memories. A jumble of images, my grandfather, leaves burning in the back yard, a school yard with heatshimmering up from the blacktop. I stood in front of the blazing marquee of the Michigan Theater each time a movie let out. My hair was unkempt, I had not showered since the day of the poetry reading and I had not eaten either. One of my friends who saw me said that she could see my skull, as if my skin had b e e n pulled tight against bone. When the movies let out, I swam through a sea of s c e n t Bodies brushed against me and I was nearly pulled under by the drumming smell of popcorn, the slippery smell

39


Berkeley Fiction Review of butter. At one point I looked down and saw the silhouettes of couples' hands as they swung intertwined against the pavement. I wandered through the computer labs, the faint burning of ozone from the electrical charge of the monitors assaulted my nose. Occasionally I would hold the ascot to my nose and breathe. Each time I did, I wanted to run, to cower under the bushes in front of Rakham Hall, or retreat to the odorless whiteness of my office. I drifted in and out of my house looking for some hint as to who my partner had been, searching under the bed and pulling the pillows from the pillow cases. There were always new messages from Tish. The last one let me know that if I felt my relationship with my sense of smell was out of hand that she was there for me. At 4 a.m. thjere were no people out on the streets, no chance of setting things right. I wandered and cataloged the smells. On my third day of wandering, my eyes were slits, my body directed by my nose. I was occasionally snapped out of my reveries by the sharp bleat of a car horn. Most people never comment on it, because almost no one is aware that night and day smell differently. Ann Arbor has particular overtones during the day. They are the heavy-handed smells which change with the opening and closing of doors. During a spring day in Ann Arbor the overtones are paper, coffee, cigarettes, exhaust fumes, dry grass, sweat and a particular odor I can only describe as concentration; concentration as a scent is very similar to the deliberate odor of a tree growing, it's bark slowly stretching over time. When the sun began to set, the odors changed and my nose was saturated with the smell of grease, beer, cologne, mild and lemony perfumes, tnnsk and the smell of loneliness which is similar to the srriefl of stagnant water at the bottom of a deep, stone well. But b d o w these overtones, there are the midtones and undertones. The earth breathes at night as if the beating of the sun and the trampling of feet cause it to close tip on itself during the day. At night, when there is a slight breeze, you

40

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo cdn even smell tulips, a weak-scented flower, and they smell like the taut skin of a pregnant woman's belly. At night you c a n smell the buildings, old scents seeping from the concrete. Nightis filled with smells of the past, ghosts that draw us deep into ourselves. As the sun rose, just a light dab of talcum-scented pink at the edge of the horizon, I felt my body tremble. I was standing in front of Angel Hall. The streets were so empty I could hear t h e click of the traffic lights as they changed from red to green. I could smell the shifting of night to day. And then, my scent alarm jarred me awake, and clawed at me. A woman in her mid-3O's, with bleached blond hair wais walking towards me. I ran up and grabbed her arm but realized too late that the smell was wrong. There was a hint of apple blossoms, but also lemon and garlic and leather. She yelled something about assault and calling the police as I wandered away. When students began straggling to early morning classes, I o n c e again caught that hint of apple blossoms. This time I stopped an older woman who was pushing a shopping cart of old books down the street. At first I thought the smell was coming from her books. "Where did you get these," I yelled, waving my hands over her books. She leaned over conspiratorially. "They were my husband s," she answered. She had silver hair that stood up on her head, and wore polyester pants that must have been uncomfortably hot in *he spring sun. "He just died a week ago. Now I have all these things to take care of," she said, nodding towards the books. The smell had not c o m e from the books, but flowed from the woman in large, sweeping waves. I stopped, and in quick succession, a young girl in cut-off jeans giggled and ran away before I could ask her any questions; an African-American woman yelled, "Don't you lay your hands on me," and the last, the most traumatic; a professor I hadhadfor a class on existential literature. She Wore a Chanel suit and smoked her trademark Benson and Hedges 100s. She gave me a cursory, black-licorice-glance and said, "You look

41


Berkeley Fiction Review of butter. At one point I looked down and saw the silhouettes of couples' hands as they swung intertwined against the pavement. I wandered through the computer labs, the faint burning of ozone from the electrical charge of the monitors assaulted my nose. Occasionally I would hold the ascot to my nose and breathe. Each time I did, I wanted to run, to cower under the bushes in front of Rakham Hall, or retreat to the odorless whiteness of my office. I drifted in and out of my house looking for some hint as to who my partner had been, searching under the bed and pulling the pillows from the pillow cases. There were always new messages from Tish. The last one let me know that if I felt my relationship with my sense of smell was out of hand that she was there for me. At 4 a.m. thjere were no people out on the streets, no chance of setting things right. I wandered and cataloged the smells. On my third day of wandering, my eyes were slits, my body directed by my nose. I was occasionally snapped out of my reveries by the sharp bleat of a car horn. Most people never comment on it, because almost no one is aware that night and day smell differently. Ann Arbor has particular overtones during the day. They are the heavy-handed smells which change with the opening and closing of doors. During a spring day in Ann Arbor the overtones are paper, coffee, cigarettes, exhaust fumes, dry grass, sweat and a particular odor I can only describe as concentration; concentration as a scent is very similar to the deliberate odor of a tree growing, it's bark slowly stretching over time. When the sun began to set, the odors changed and my nose was saturated with the smell of grease, beer, cologne, mild and lemony perfumes, tnnsk and the smell of loneliness which is similar to the srriefl of stagnant water at the bottom of a deep, stone well. But b d o w these overtones, there are the midtones and undertones. The earth breathes at night as if the beating of the sun and the trampling of feet cause it to close tip on itself during the day. At night, when there is a slight breeze, you

40

Effluvi, Effluvo, Effluvobo cdn even smell tulips, a weak-scented flower, and they smell like the taut skin of a pregnant woman's belly. At night you c a n smell the buildings, old scents seeping from the concrete. Nightis filled with smells of the past, ghosts that draw us deep into ourselves. As the sun rose, just a light dab of talcum-scented pink at the edge of the horizon, I felt my body tremble. I was standing in front of Angel Hall. The streets were so empty I could hear t h e click of the traffic lights as they changed from red to green. I could smell the shifting of night to day. And then, my scent alarm jarred me awake, and clawed at me. A woman in her mid-3O's, with bleached blond hair wais walking towards me. I ran up and grabbed her arm but realized too late that the smell was wrong. There was a hint of apple blossoms, but also lemon and garlic and leather. She yelled something about assault and calling the police as I wandered away. When students began straggling to early morning classes, I o n c e again caught that hint of apple blossoms. This time I stopped an older woman who was pushing a shopping cart of old books down the street. At first I thought the smell was coming from her books. "Where did you get these," I yelled, waving my hands over her books. She leaned over conspiratorially. "They were my husband s," she answered. She had silver hair that stood up on her head, and wore polyester pants that must have been uncomfortably hot in *he spring sun. "He just died a week ago. Now I have all these things to take care of," she said, nodding towards the books. The smell had not c o m e from the books, but flowed from the woman in large, sweeping waves. I stopped, and in quick succession, a young girl in cut-off jeans giggled and ran away before I could ask her any questions; an African-American woman yelled, "Don't you lay your hands on me," and the last, the most traumatic; a professor I hadhadfor a class on existential literature. She Wore a Chanel suit and smoked her trademark Benson and Hedges 100s. She gave me a cursory, black-licorice-glance and said, "You look

41


T Berkeley Fiction Review like shit." In class I had respected the precision of her tightly woven and directed words, words that could steer a class straight to the heart of the problem. But all around us, I recognized the salty echoes of travelers who ignored the heart of the problem. I leaned forward and touched the professor's hand, hoping perhaps we could walk through the vast space that separated us from them. But the professor's hands were knuckle-white tight, ice-blue and frozen to the. line of her words. She hurried away, steel, wire-thin fear tightening around a small patch of apple green; I ran looking for hands I had passed in the dark. Out of breath, I stopped and leaned against the base of the Bell Tower. Biting into the skin of my hands, the concrete smelled like a gravel road. A group of skater punks glided by. They smelled like a teenage boy's room; secrecy, dried semen, spit. Among them was one scrawny young woman, her laces dangling dangerously loose. She smelled Jike Sally Dansworth. Sally Dansworth, the girl who had lived in the run-down house up the block. The girl whose mother never made her shower. I would masturbate with her behind the back of my garage. She never spoke and never looked in my eyes. When she had threatened to tell, I had pulled out Polaroids surreptitiously taken while she played with herself. I had considered the m insurance. I stumbled away from the University, past Goldensteins— I hadn't shown up for work or bothered to call in for 3 days— and stopped on the bridge overlooking the squat Amtrak station and a broad ribbon of tracks. I pulled myself up and sat on the narrow ledge and waited there, letting the breeze that carried the smell of apple blossoms from all directions sway me back and forth. I considered (1) buying a lavender plantation, (2) living in a very clean cave, (3) joining a monastery, or, (4) perhaps pulling a perverted Van Gogh. I realized I wanted a cigarette, that I needed the feel of the smoke winding down my throat, filling my lungs. Occasionally my fingers, like a kiss, brushed against my lips., Far off I could see a train traveling away, a brillet into the heart of the horizon.

42


T Berkeley Fiction Review like shit." In class I had respected the precision of her tightly woven and directed words, words that could steer a class straight to the heart of the problem. But all around us, I recognized the salty echoes of travelers who ignored the heart of the problem. I leaned forward and touched the professor's hand, hoping perhaps we could walk through the vast space that separated us from them. But the professor's hands were knuckle-white tight, ice-blue and frozen to the. line of her words. She hurried away, steel, wire-thin fear tightening around a small patch of apple green; I ran looking for hands I had passed in the dark. Out of breath, I stopped and leaned against the base of the Bell Tower. Biting into the skin of my hands, the concrete smelled like a gravel road. A group of skater punks glided by. They smelled like a teenage boy's room; secrecy, dried semen, spit. Among them was one scrawny young woman, her laces dangling dangerously loose. She smelled Jike Sally Dansworth. Sally Dansworth, the girl who had lived in the run-down house up the block. The girl whose mother never made her shower. I would masturbate with her behind the back of my garage. She never spoke and never looked in my eyes. When she had threatened to tell, I had pulled out Polaroids surreptitiously taken while she played with herself. I had considered the m insurance. I stumbled away from the University, past Goldensteins— I hadn't shown up for work or bothered to call in for 3 days— and stopped on the bridge overlooking the squat Amtrak station and a broad ribbon of tracks. I pulled myself up and sat on the narrow ledge and waited there, letting the breeze that carried the smell of apple blossoms from all directions sway me back and forth. I considered (1) buying a lavender plantation, (2) living in a very clean cave, (3) joining a monastery, or, (4) perhaps pulling a perverted Van Gogh. I realized I wanted a cigarette, that I needed the feel of the smoke winding down my throat, filling my lungs. Occasionally my fingers, like a kiss, brushed against my lips., Far off I could see a train traveling away, a brillet into the heart of the horizon.

42


Hemingway Is Not My Husband

H e m i n g w a y

I s

N o t

M y

and please G o d don't let her read it out loud. But her eyes keep low so I know she'll scream it, in bright yellow letters on t h e chalkboard and up and down the hallway for the world to hear. And I Just sit quiet while she figures out some sort of hurt so I see the principal's knees and my mother's bottom lip and no dance, no flowers, no nothing. T h e n her tipping. And that's it, right there, carved into my desk. And closer, pounding in my throat. Even closer. Her eyes. C o m i n g at me. Straight for me. And softly, You're not Mrs. Elizabeth Bishop yet. You need to know Hemingway.

H u s b a n d Michelle Rys

W

hat matters is three minutes because that's all I need. She only has to turn and blah blah to the chalkboard. So her crooked toe is not pointing this way. Like at the e n d of every day. Dirty slippers with the fronts cut out scraping against orange and blue squares, the same thirty-nine minutes, the same ugly toe, pointing right at me, over and over, so when she finally turns I am ready, real ready. Just a deep breath and the silver edge of my pencil. So tiny wooden peels, that peel away, easy. Letters. Letters. Swimming into each other. As if they were m e a n t to be p u t together i n just this way. T h e M like waves. And sweet Patrick Bishop. His wavy brown hair. And the way his feet turn in a little. He's even a grade ahead. But h e asked m e to the dance, me, Lizzy Morgan. And I can't wait. And my new dress. With sleeves that whisper like a dream. And he'll give m e flowers, pink and red. And he'll dance with m e so everyone knows. And he'll take m e to the music room, and look into my eyes, and p u t his h a n d down my bra, and we'll be as good as engaged. But instead of my long white veil, it's her swollen face coming down the aisle. T h e n her eyes over me. Not saying m u c h of anything except: Got you. So I forget about Sorrys and Dances. So I r e m e m b er the book I didn't read. And I want to disappear

44

45


Hemingway Is Not My Husband

H e m i n g w a y

I s

N o t

M y

and please G o d don't let her read it out loud. But her eyes keep low so I know she'll scream it, in bright yellow letters on t h e chalkboard and up and down the hallway for the world to hear. And I Just sit quiet while she figures out some sort of hurt so I see the principal's knees and my mother's bottom lip and no dance, no flowers, no nothing. T h e n her tipping. And that's it, right there, carved into my desk. And closer, pounding in my throat. Even closer. Her eyes. C o m i n g at me. Straight for me. And softly, You're not Mrs. Elizabeth Bishop yet. You need to know Hemingway.

H u s b a n d Michelle Rys

W

hat matters is three minutes because that's all I need. She only has to turn and blah blah to the chalkboard. So her crooked toe is not pointing this way. Like at the e n d of every day. Dirty slippers with the fronts cut out scraping against orange and blue squares, the same thirty-nine minutes, the same ugly toe, pointing right at me, over and over, so when she finally turns I am ready, real ready. Just a deep breath and the silver edge of my pencil. So tiny wooden peels, that peel away, easy. Letters. Letters. Swimming into each other. As if they were m e a n t to be p u t together i n just this way. T h e M like waves. And sweet Patrick Bishop. His wavy brown hair. And the way his feet turn in a little. He's even a grade ahead. But h e asked m e to the dance, me, Lizzy Morgan. And I can't wait. And my new dress. With sleeves that whisper like a dream. And he'll give m e flowers, pink and red. And he'll dance with m e so everyone knows. And he'll take m e to the music room, and look into my eyes, and p u t his h a n d down my bra, and we'll be as good as engaged. But instead of my long white veil, it's her swollen face coming down the aisle. T h e n her eyes over me. Not saying m u c h of anything except: Got you. So I forget about Sorrys and Dances. So I r e m e m b er the book I didn't read. And I want to disappear

44

45


The Visit

T h e

V i s i t

Gregory C h a i m o v

T

he woods open into a clearing, and the Land Rover rolls to a stop. A small goat tethered to a post struggles to its feet and lopes out of the way. Black chickens screech as they race for grass at the edge of the c o m p o u n d . In the shade of a stunted oak tree lies a mottled dog. His ears flick away gnats. After twenty-five years, Ted has finally arrived. He leans on the steering wheel and squints through the grimy windshield at the powdered clay that billows up from the road. T h e sun ignites the cloud of yellow earth, blinding h i m for a m o m e n t . W h e n the dust settles, he sees m u d walls rise from the dirt and melt into the late afternoon sky. A section of thatched roof sags from its timbers. Broken pots lie scattered along a wall. He pulls wire glasses from his shirt pocket, snaps the frames open, and balances the m on the bridge of his nose. T h e n he lifts her faded letter from the seat beside him. Frayed at the creases, the thin blue paper droops from his fingers. H e tilts his head back, peers through the half-lenses, and for the last time reads the precise feminine script. La Venta south to Santa Maria. Then south/southwest to Mirador. Follow the river to Altamira, then northwest toward Izapa. Ted folds the glasses and letter and slips t h e m back into his pocket, leans his head back, and rests it against the seat.

46

H e sifts through photographs h e has removed from a packet in the glove compartment. T i m e and light have bleached the color from the once-bright pictures, and dried emulsion binds some of t h e m together. Memory is mysterious, he thinks, and pries two pictures apart. N o matter how long he looks at the photographs he took of Karen that day they m e t in Lissithi, he still has no recollection of gazing out across the valley and its surreal water works. T h e pictures show windmills as far as the eye can see; wind turning arms draped with ragged sheets. An armada floating across a patchwork sea: white sails furling and unfurling on squares of brown and green, the surface itself laid out before sawtooth mountains, a backdrop of wind-scoured granite. H e remembers the pictures, but the image of the excursion that his mind conjures is of Karen lifting the hair from the nape of her neck so the breeze off the ocean could reach and dry her sweat. H e sees her sitting on a boulder overlooking the valley. She rests like a child, legs bent neatly straight back at the knees with her heels flanking her hips, as if her joints had extra hinges. W h a t comes to him too is the flex of her calves on the uphill grade, sweat pooling and darkening her clothes. By the time they reached the cliffs that looked out over t h e harbor the temperature had dropped from comfortable to cool. Soon, a wind from the mainland filled the sky with clouds, blew rain against the bluffs, and whipped the tender growth from the few bent and stunted pines that had threaded their roots into cracks among the rocks. They huddled together on a ledge far above the swells. Karen leaned close a n d sheltered her head against Ted's chest, and he combed his fingers through her hair. "I'm heading for the mainland in the morning. Gotta catch a train to Paris," she said. She squeezed his hand, drew it u p to her m o u t h , and kissed it. " O n e week from today, I'll be on the top of Notre D a m e . If you want to see m e again, that's where I'll be."

47


The Visit

T h e

V i s i t

Gregory C h a i m o v

T

he woods open into a clearing, and the Land Rover rolls to a stop. A small goat tethered to a post struggles to its feet and lopes out of the way. Black chickens screech as they race for grass at the edge of the c o m p o u n d . In the shade of a stunted oak tree lies a mottled dog. His ears flick away gnats. After twenty-five years, Ted has finally arrived. He leans on the steering wheel and squints through the grimy windshield at the powdered clay that billows up from the road. T h e sun ignites the cloud of yellow earth, blinding h i m for a m o m e n t . W h e n the dust settles, he sees m u d walls rise from the dirt and melt into the late afternoon sky. A section of thatched roof sags from its timbers. Broken pots lie scattered along a wall. He pulls wire glasses from his shirt pocket, snaps the frames open, and balances the m on the bridge of his nose. T h e n he lifts her faded letter from the seat beside him. Frayed at the creases, the thin blue paper droops from his fingers. H e tilts his head back, peers through the half-lenses, and for the last time reads the precise feminine script. La Venta south to Santa Maria. Then south/southwest to Mirador. Follow the river to Altamira, then northwest toward Izapa. Ted folds the glasses and letter and slips t h e m back into his pocket, leans his head back, and rests it against the seat.

46

H e sifts through photographs h e has removed from a packet in the glove compartment. T i m e and light have bleached the color from the once-bright pictures, and dried emulsion binds some of t h e m together. Memory is mysterious, he thinks, and pries two pictures apart. N o matter how long he looks at the photographs he took of Karen that day they m e t in Lissithi, he still has no recollection of gazing out across the valley and its surreal water works. T h e pictures show windmills as far as the eye can see; wind turning arms draped with ragged sheets. An armada floating across a patchwork sea: white sails furling and unfurling on squares of brown and green, the surface itself laid out before sawtooth mountains, a backdrop of wind-scoured granite. H e remembers the pictures, but the image of the excursion that his mind conjures is of Karen lifting the hair from the nape of her neck so the breeze off the ocean could reach and dry her sweat. H e sees her sitting on a boulder overlooking the valley. She rests like a child, legs bent neatly straight back at the knees with her heels flanking her hips, as if her joints had extra hinges. W h a t comes to him too is the flex of her calves on the uphill grade, sweat pooling and darkening her clothes. By the time they reached the cliffs that looked out over t h e harbor the temperature had dropped from comfortable to cool. Soon, a wind from the mainland filled the sky with clouds, blew rain against the bluffs, and whipped the tender growth from the few bent and stunted pines that had threaded their roots into cracks among the rocks. They huddled together on a ledge far above the swells. Karen leaned close a n d sheltered her head against Ted's chest, and he combed his fingers through her hair. "I'm heading for the mainland in the morning. Gotta catch a train to Paris," she said. She squeezed his hand, drew it u p to her m o u t h , and kissed it. " O n e week from today, I'll be on the top of Notre D a m e . If you want to see m e again, that's where I'll be."

47


Berkeley Fiction Review The truck shudders when Ted turns off the ignition and diesel fumes waft through the floorboards. He opens the door and steps out, shakes one leg and then the other. His back and legs ache from the drive. He stretches, removes his hat, and with his sleeve, wipes his dripping brow. Hot dry air bakes his bare head and the stink of heated dung sucks the breath from his lungs. Scanning the yard, he listens to the dog pant and cicadas drone. He slaps the hat against his leg, startling crows perched overhead. They flap, cawing, into the sky. He holds the hat at arm's length in front of him, straightens the brim, and brushes away the grime. His fingers move in firm, even strokes. He wishes the hat looked as good as it did when Karen bought it for him years ago. Ted had found the box on his pillow when he finally dimmed the study lights and climbed the stairs to the bedroom. On the edge of the bed, he sat carefully, trying not to disturb Karen, who breathed heavily under the covers beside him. He lifted the lid and peeled back the white tissue inside. There sat the hat with two plane tickets stuck in the band. Karen's note read: "To protect all those brains while we explore the real Mexico." When he laughed, she threw back the sheets and sprang to her knees. He modeled the hat, preened, and smiled. She sat in his lap, her legs wrapped around his waist, and he listened, rapt, as she recited her plans. What she said to him rang true. Their vacations had become stale; summers of turquoise pools and chrome-trimmed cafes mirrored the life they left behind. Holidays brought rest but not renewal. Memories of Acapulco and Mazatlan faded with their tans. Karen found the answer in her winter's reading: like Matthiessen and Theroux, they would visit people instead of places. And they would begin their adventure in the rain forests of Chiapas, hills of verdant decay where the Lacandon Indians lived. Their expedition nearly ended before it began. Shocked by dull eyes and distended bellies, Karen filled every small hand that tugged at her skirt. By their second night, she had

48

The Visit given away all the food they had packed for the two-week trek. With their supplies gone, Ted counseled aborting the trip and returning to a more civilized location, but Karen, her fists burrowing into her waist, insisted that they finish what they had begun. Ted relented, and against all advice they purchased provisions— fresh fruit and dried fish —from a local curb-market, and set out on the trail again. The next night, Ted woke up and reached for Karen, touching only her dampened bedroll. He dozed, waiting for her to return, but bolted awake when he heard the groan outside. He swept the ground with his flashlight and found her lying in mud, pants at her knees, a roll of toilet paper clutched in a sweaty hand. After carrying her into the tent, he laid her carefully on his pad, then pulled all of their covers over them and held her to him. She slept in fits and starts, crept toward him, then curled herself into a ball, still shivering in the wet, sylvan heat. The next morning, Karen was pale, rambling incoherently about children with dark eyes. Ted nestled close, stroking her matted yellow hair. Clothes clung to her skin and she smelled of ammonia, a rankness that overpowered the sulfur of rot and muck outside. Through the din of chirps and trills, chatter and howls, he strained to hear her breathing, which grew more shallow as the hours passed. By sunset he could not rouse her. Ted lifted Karen into his arms, and abandoning their gear, staggered back down the path. His arms burned under the weight, and her head and legs flopped heavily with each stride. Sweat pooled where their bodies rubbed, chafing him. Flies and mosquitoes swarmed. After nightfall, he met two native men, a father and son traveling on the trail. When he saw them, Ted slumped to the ground, his legs splayed out in front of him. He shook his head and bent over Karen, who sprawled in his lap. The men stepped forward. Ted collapsed, felt Karen pulled from his arms, then a rough hand, cool against his brow. "The doctor," the father told the son. "Now." The young

49


Berkeley Fiction Review The truck shudders when Ted turns off the ignition and diesel fumes waft through the floorboards. He opens the door and steps out, shakes one leg and then the other. His back and legs ache from the drive. He stretches, removes his hat, and with his sleeve, wipes his dripping brow. Hot dry air bakes his bare head and the stink of heated dung sucks the breath from his lungs. Scanning the yard, he listens to the dog pant and cicadas drone. He slaps the hat against his leg, startling crows perched overhead. They flap, cawing, into the sky. He holds the hat at arm's length in front of him, straightens the brim, and brushes away the grime. His fingers move in firm, even strokes. He wishes the hat looked as good as it did when Karen bought it for him years ago. Ted had found the box on his pillow when he finally dimmed the study lights and climbed the stairs to the bedroom. On the edge of the bed, he sat carefully, trying not to disturb Karen, who breathed heavily under the covers beside him. He lifted the lid and peeled back the white tissue inside. There sat the hat with two plane tickets stuck in the band. Karen's note read: "To protect all those brains while we explore the real Mexico." When he laughed, she threw back the sheets and sprang to her knees. He modeled the hat, preened, and smiled. She sat in his lap, her legs wrapped around his waist, and he listened, rapt, as she recited her plans. What she said to him rang true. Their vacations had become stale; summers of turquoise pools and chrome-trimmed cafes mirrored the life they left behind. Holidays brought rest but not renewal. Memories of Acapulco and Mazatlan faded with their tans. Karen found the answer in her winter's reading: like Matthiessen and Theroux, they would visit people instead of places. And they would begin their adventure in the rain forests of Chiapas, hills of verdant decay where the Lacandon Indians lived. Their expedition nearly ended before it began. Shocked by dull eyes and distended bellies, Karen filled every small hand that tugged at her skirt. By their second night, she had

48

The Visit given away all the food they had packed for the two-week trek. With their supplies gone, Ted counseled aborting the trip and returning to a more civilized location, but Karen, her fists burrowing into her waist, insisted that they finish what they had begun. Ted relented, and against all advice they purchased provisions— fresh fruit and dried fish —from a local curb-market, and set out on the trail again. The next night, Ted woke up and reached for Karen, touching only her dampened bedroll. He dozed, waiting for her to return, but bolted awake when he heard the groan outside. He swept the ground with his flashlight and found her lying in mud, pants at her knees, a roll of toilet paper clutched in a sweaty hand. After carrying her into the tent, he laid her carefully on his pad, then pulled all of their covers over them and held her to him. She slept in fits and starts, crept toward him, then curled herself into a ball, still shivering in the wet, sylvan heat. The next morning, Karen was pale, rambling incoherently about children with dark eyes. Ted nestled close, stroking her matted yellow hair. Clothes clung to her skin and she smelled of ammonia, a rankness that overpowered the sulfur of rot and muck outside. Through the din of chirps and trills, chatter and howls, he strained to hear her breathing, which grew more shallow as the hours passed. By sunset he could not rouse her. Ted lifted Karen into his arms, and abandoning their gear, staggered back down the path. His arms burned under the weight, and her head and legs flopped heavily with each stride. Sweat pooled where their bodies rubbed, chafing him. Flies and mosquitoes swarmed. After nightfall, he met two native men, a father and son traveling on the trail. When he saw them, Ted slumped to the ground, his legs splayed out in front of him. He shook his head and bent over Karen, who sprawled in his lap. The men stepped forward. Ted collapsed, felt Karen pulled from his arms, then a rough hand, cool against his brow. "The doctor," the father told the son. "Now." The young

49


Berkeley Fiction Review man draped Karen across a broad, bare shoulder. The father helped. Ted up, and the group marched silently on narrow tracks, fronds and branches whipping them as they passed. While the night was still dark, Ted heard the rush of a bonfire and smelled its pungent petroleum odor. Across a field of giant stumps, a slash pile raged, throwing black smoke and embers into the violet sky. The young man turned off the path and toward the blaze, stepping high and raising Karen above the scrub. Ted stumbled on behind with his companion. Families milled around the blaze. Women in bright shawls tended smoldering coals, carving gourds as they spoke. Old men sat on their haunches, smoking pipes and throwing twigs into the flames. Children, barechested and shoeless, scampered through the debris, their whoops and shouts mixing with the fire's roar. The son carried Karen to a large canvas tent at the edge of the clearing. There, he called out to a small boy who lifted a flap from a knob on a rough pine pole. The young man brushed past two women holding babies, ducked, and guided Karen's body through the opening. When they were inside, the young sentry drew the curtain closed and fastened it with a leather thong. Ted tried to follow Karen, but the father held him back. The old man shook his head and lowered Ted to the ground, then propped his head against soft moss that covered a fallen tree. Side-by-side, they waited through the night, watching silhouettes inside the tent framed in a pale propane glow. The furtive movements in the tent stopped as dawn shimmered above the forest canopy. The old man squeezed Ted's thigh, and Ted lifted his head from the wood. He saw a young man, thinner than the one who had carried Karen, push through the heavy flap. The man, whose skin was not as dark as that of the Indians, wore a tattered white smock, stained yellow and stxeaked with brown and red. He pulled a stethoscope from arourid his neck, wound the instrument into a ball, and shoved the wad into a deep front pocket. A flock of small green parrots dove noisily from one vine-choked tree to the next. In the highest branches, monkeys leapt and howled. The man looked

50

. The Visit up at the brightening sky and blinked, then scratched his closecropped hair. He rested his hands on his hips, arched his back, and swayed from side-to-side. Smoke drifted around the clearing. In the field, women used sticks to scoop burning embers from the evening's blaze and pile the coals on hissing plantains. Children saw the man, left their places at the fire, and rushed to his side. The old man waved to the doctor, who looked up and nodded, Ted pushed at the moist soil with his arms, but slumped back. The doctor spread a hand to stop the children, then trudged across the cropped grass, his trousers obscured by imist-that clung to the ground. When he reached the log, the doctor knelt and cradled Ted's head. He leaned close and whispered. Ted smiled, then lay back, closed his eyes, and let the tears come. On the flight home, Ted watched Karen as she stared out at the clouds. Her fingers kneaded the hand he rested on her knee. She turned away from the window and lifted the headset from his ear. Muffled pop music filled the space between them. She raised her voice. "How can I repay him?" Ted frowned and cocked his head toward her. "How can I repay him?" He laughed, replaced the earphone, and patted her leg. She folded her hands in her lap and looked out at the silver light flashing off the wing. A few weeks later, Karen was dressed in blu^ gingham and walking down the ramp toward the waiting airplane. From this distance, she looks so young, Ted thought. Like a child. At the gate, she slung her green duffel from her shoulder, and with both arms, dropped it to the ground. She turned and waved, her arm sweeping in a broad arc. Then she waited for a family to pass between them and yelled that she would call him on Thanksgiving and be back by Christmas. He tried to smile.,

51


Berkeley Fiction Review man draped Karen across a broad, bare shoulder. The father helped. Ted up, and the group marched silently on narrow tracks, fronds and branches whipping them as they passed. While the night was still dark, Ted heard the rush of a bonfire and smelled its pungent petroleum odor. Across a field of giant stumps, a slash pile raged, throwing black smoke and embers into the violet sky. The young man turned off the path and toward the blaze, stepping high and raising Karen above the scrub. Ted stumbled on behind with his companion. Families milled around the blaze. Women in bright shawls tended smoldering coals, carving gourds as they spoke. Old men sat on their haunches, smoking pipes and throwing twigs into the flames. Children, barechested and shoeless, scampered through the debris, their whoops and shouts mixing with the fire's roar. The son carried Karen to a large canvas tent at the edge of the clearing. There, he called out to a small boy who lifted a flap from a knob on a rough pine pole. The young man brushed past two women holding babies, ducked, and guided Karen's body through the opening. When they were inside, the young sentry drew the curtain closed and fastened it with a leather thong. Ted tried to follow Karen, but the father held him back. The old man shook his head and lowered Ted to the ground, then propped his head against soft moss that covered a fallen tree. Side-by-side, they waited through the night, watching silhouettes inside the tent framed in a pale propane glow. The furtive movements in the tent stopped as dawn shimmered above the forest canopy. The old man squeezed Ted's thigh, and Ted lifted his head from the wood. He saw a young man, thinner than the one who had carried Karen, push through the heavy flap. The man, whose skin was not as dark as that of the Indians, wore a tattered white smock, stained yellow and stxeaked with brown and red. He pulled a stethoscope from arourid his neck, wound the instrument into a ball, and shoved the wad into a deep front pocket. A flock of small green parrots dove noisily from one vine-choked tree to the next. In the highest branches, monkeys leapt and howled. The man looked

50

. The Visit up at the brightening sky and blinked, then scratched his closecropped hair. He rested his hands on his hips, arched his back, and swayed from side-to-side. Smoke drifted around the clearing. In the field, women used sticks to scoop burning embers from the evening's blaze and pile the coals on hissing plantains. Children saw the man, left their places at the fire, and rushed to his side. The old man waved to the doctor, who looked up and nodded, Ted pushed at the moist soil with his arms, but slumped back. The doctor spread a hand to stop the children, then trudged across the cropped grass, his trousers obscured by imist-that clung to the ground. When he reached the log, the doctor knelt and cradled Ted's head. He leaned close and whispered. Ted smiled, then lay back, closed his eyes, and let the tears come. On the flight home, Ted watched Karen as she stared out at the clouds. Her fingers kneaded the hand he rested on her knee. She turned away from the window and lifted the headset from his ear. Muffled pop music filled the space between them. She raised her voice. "How can I repay him?" Ted frowned and cocked his head toward her. "How can I repay him?" He laughed, replaced the earphone, and patted her leg. She folded her hands in her lap and looked out at the silver light flashing off the wing. A few weeks later, Karen was dressed in blu^ gingham and walking down the ramp toward the waiting airplane. From this distance, she looks so young, Ted thought. Like a child. At the gate, she slung her green duffel from her shoulder, and with both arms, dropped it to the ground. She turned and waved, her arm sweeping in a broad arc. Then she waited for a family to pass between them and yelled that she would call him on Thanksgiving and be back by Christmas. He tried to smile.,

51


Berkeley Fiction Review She dragged her duffel bag behind her, handed her ticket to an agent, and disappeared down the tunnel. Summer faded into fall. The call came while Ted was in the yard. He dropped his rake and dashed toward the faint rings, scattering the leaves he had just piled. In the kitchen, he lunged for the receiver. At the sound of her voice among the hisses and cracks, he took a deep breath and clenched his fist. Yes, she was fine. Better than fine. She was doing good work for a change. More than giving money. Making a difference. But, no, she would not be home for the holidays. Why? They had so much more to do; the clinic was overflowing with patients. And oh, she was, well, pregnant. Ted takes a short step then studies the dog, which stares back, its ears erect, motionless despite the flies that hover and land. Across the yard, wood beams creak. The dog lifts its head and looks toward the house. A sliver of black splits the beige facade. The dog unfolds spindly deer legs, stands, and shakes dirt from its calico coat. Ted steps again and the dog scuttles across the yard and through the narrow doorway. Ted frowns and shades his eyes as he follows the skulking movement into the darkness. The doorway opens wider. A young woman peers from the rough-cut frame. She is tall, her long hair is golden brown, and her skin against the white of her dress is the color of teak. Ted breathes deeply. Exhales slowly. Steadies his knees. "Hola" He snatches the stained canvas from his head and curls the brim in his wet palms. She smiles. "Hello." "You speak English." His voice is high; the words burst out. She nods. "Yes, of course." H e twists the hat. "Where did you learn?" "From my mother." He takes another step forward, then stops. Tears join the sweat and dust on his cheeks. "My name is Ted." "I have seen your picture." She opens the door wider. "Come,"

52

The Visit she say$, waving him into the house. "Out of the sun." Then she disappears into the darkness. A mustiness hits Ted when he crosses the threshold; the smell of a long-sealed urn draws him past adobe walls until he can see the silhouette of the young woman, Clara. She is standing at a table, pouring water from a pitcher into a rusted cup. When he moves closer, she hands him the cup, and riudging a chair with her foot, invites him to sit. She smiles again, pats the seat. "Please." He drops his hat on the table and settles into the chair, feels the sag of the woven cane beneath him. Tilting the cup back, he drinks until the water fills his mouth and flows onto h i s collar. "Thank you." He wipes his lips with his sleeve, sets the cup down. "I had no idea I was so thirsty." The dog nuzzles past Clara, laps at the drops on the floor, then lifts its head and sniffs Ted's thigh. He reaches down; the dog ducks and backs under the table. "We get few visitors these days." Ted recognizes the lilting tones as Karen's. "And none," she sits and stretches her arms wide, "from so far away." At once, her hands dancing in front of her, she starts to tell him about the days when their courtyard overflowed with people. As she talks, he adjusts to the dimness, the deep shadows sliced by thin rays of light. His eyes trace the bones of her face, lingering on lines he feared he had irretrievably lost. She sees that his eyes have left hers, and she stops speaking. A fly's faint buzz replaces her voice. He blinks, scoots forward; his feet nudge the dog that now sleeps at his feet. He bends so he can pull a pouch.from his pants pocket. "I thought that you would want to see these." He peels the stack of photographs from their pouch and slides them across the table. "Your mother.'- Clara lifts the top print and turns the pale pastel image towatd the window. "She was lovely." She holds the picture in front of her widening eyes. "Such beautiful skin." She returns the photograph Jo the pile* "Like a newborn's." She spreads her fingers. "Not like this," she says, rotating her hands. "Baked and

53


Berkeley Fiction Review She dragged her duffel bag behind her, handed her ticket to an agent, and disappeared down the tunnel. Summer faded into fall. The call came while Ted was in the yard. He dropped his rake and dashed toward the faint rings, scattering the leaves he had just piled. In the kitchen, he lunged for the receiver. At the sound of her voice among the hisses and cracks, he took a deep breath and clenched his fist. Yes, she was fine. Better than fine. She was doing good work for a change. More than giving money. Making a difference. But, no, she would not be home for the holidays. Why? They had so much more to do; the clinic was overflowing with patients. And oh, she was, well, pregnant. Ted takes a short step then studies the dog, which stares back, its ears erect, motionless despite the flies that hover and land. Across the yard, wood beams creak. The dog lifts its head and looks toward the house. A sliver of black splits the beige facade. The dog unfolds spindly deer legs, stands, and shakes dirt from its calico coat. Ted steps again and the dog scuttles across the yard and through the narrow doorway. Ted frowns and shades his eyes as he follows the skulking movement into the darkness. The doorway opens wider. A young woman peers from the rough-cut frame. She is tall, her long hair is golden brown, and her skin against the white of her dress is the color of teak. Ted breathes deeply. Exhales slowly. Steadies his knees. "Hola" He snatches the stained canvas from his head and curls the brim in his wet palms. She smiles. "Hello." "You speak English." His voice is high; the words burst out. She nods. "Yes, of course." H e twists the hat. "Where did you learn?" "From my mother." He takes another step forward, then stops. Tears join the sweat and dust on his cheeks. "My name is Ted." "I have seen your picture." She opens the door wider. "Come,"

52

The Visit she say$, waving him into the house. "Out of the sun." Then she disappears into the darkness. A mustiness hits Ted when he crosses the threshold; the smell of a long-sealed urn draws him past adobe walls until he can see the silhouette of the young woman, Clara. She is standing at a table, pouring water from a pitcher into a rusted cup. When he moves closer, she hands him the cup, and riudging a chair with her foot, invites him to sit. She smiles again, pats the seat. "Please." He drops his hat on the table and settles into the chair, feels the sag of the woven cane beneath him. Tilting the cup back, he drinks until the water fills his mouth and flows onto h i s collar. "Thank you." He wipes his lips with his sleeve, sets the cup down. "I had no idea I was so thirsty." The dog nuzzles past Clara, laps at the drops on the floor, then lifts its head and sniffs Ted's thigh. He reaches down; the dog ducks and backs under the table. "We get few visitors these days." Ted recognizes the lilting tones as Karen's. "And none," she sits and stretches her arms wide, "from so far away." At once, her hands dancing in front of her, she starts to tell him about the days when their courtyard overflowed with people. As she talks, he adjusts to the dimness, the deep shadows sliced by thin rays of light. His eyes trace the bones of her face, lingering on lines he feared he had irretrievably lost. She sees that his eyes have left hers, and she stops speaking. A fly's faint buzz replaces her voice. He blinks, scoots forward; his feet nudge the dog that now sleeps at his feet. He bends so he can pull a pouch.from his pants pocket. "I thought that you would want to see these." He peels the stack of photographs from their pouch and slides them across the table. "Your mother.'- Clara lifts the top print and turns the pale pastel image towatd the window. "She was lovely." She holds the picture in front of her widening eyes. "Such beautiful skin." She returns the photograph Jo the pile* "Like a newborn's." She spreads her fingers. "Not like this," she says, rotating her hands. "Baked and

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Berkeley Fiction Review broken like clay pots." She picks up another print and looks past a grinning Karen to the wooded background. "Is that a musician?" "Yes and no." Ted laughs. "It's a statue," he says, "of a man playing a double bass." He notices her brow furrow, and he taps the table with the cup. "Metal. It's made of metal." At his feet, the dog dreams, drumming a paw on the table leg. Clara's head bobs. "I understand." She grabs his wrist and winks. "Your house is like a cemetery for the wealthy." Ted pulls from her grip and crosses his arms. She turns her palms up and smiles. "That's what my father says." "The place seemed alive to me." He shuffles the pictures, tossing aside shots of Karen posing in the yard. "At least for a time." "It looks beautiful to me." She runs a finger across another view of the grounds, stopping at a spout of water. "What do you call this?" She squints. "A fountain," he offers. She nods again and points to the sparkling pool. "And there are fish in this, yes?" "Yes, koi." He holds his hands a yard apart. "Big and bright. Orange, like a parrot." She raises her eyebrows, then one-by-one, arranges photographs into a panorama of the estate. When she finishes, she claps her hands. "So much green!" The dog starts from beneath the table. Clara glances down, lowers a hand, then looks up at Ted. "And such a big house for one person." With a flip of her head, she flings away hair that has fallen and draped her eyes, a motion that causes Ted to sigh as he remembers when he first saw Karen reveal her eyes that way. They sit so close he can smell the garlic and onions that have saturated the cotton of her broadcloth dress. He rests his elbows o n the table and cradles his chin in the heels of his hands, curling his fingers over his nose. "Yes." Then he rubs the sweat 6ff the back of his neck, dries his hands on his pants. "But I amnotalone." In one picture, he points to a man and

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The Visit two women, all three white-clad, lined up in front of a laurel hedge. "They live upstairs and take care of the place." He touches the image of the man. "That is Tran, the gardener." His fingers slide down the photograph. "And that is his wife and her mother. They do the cooking and cleaning." Clara stares at the family. One word leaks out under her breath: "Servants." Her mouth opens, and her eyes unfocus. After a few moments, she blinks and rubs her palms against her cheeks. "Tell me more. Have you TV?'* "Of course," Ted laughs and waggles his thumb at an imaginary button. "Large screen, complete with MTV." He watches her pupils shrink and her lips part. "And every other convenience known to man: a stereo, a spa." He chops the air. "Even a bed that massages your aching bones." "With so many things, is there room in your house for another?" "Another?" He tightens his jaw to keep the corners of his mouth from turning up. She looks at her feet, smoothes the cloth that hangs from her knees. "Me." She raises her head; her eyes meet his. "Take me with you." She grabs hissleeve and pulls him so close that he feels her whisper burst against his lips. "Please." "What about your father?" he whispers back. She shakes her head slowly. "He has his patients." Before Ted can nod his answer, the dog pricks its ears, then shoves past them to the door where it whimpers and wags. Clara releases Ted and jumps to her feet, squares her chair with the fable. Standing erect, she dabs at the corners of her eyes. The door opens and the dog bounds in front of a slender, stooped man. The man pats the dog's chest, then tilts his head and looks up at Ted. Ted remembers the bright, dark eyes even though they have receded into their sockets and are now veiled by long, unruly eyebrows. The man shuffles toward Ted and extends a callused hand. "Bienvenida." Ted grips the hand tightly and returns theman's gaze. "Hello, Arturo." With his other hand, the man clasps Ted's wrist and squeezes.

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Berkeley Fiction Review broken like clay pots." She picks up another print and looks past a grinning Karen to the wooded background. "Is that a musician?" "Yes and no." Ted laughs. "It's a statue," he says, "of a man playing a double bass." He notices her brow furrow, and he taps the table with the cup. "Metal. It's made of metal." At his feet, the dog dreams, drumming a paw on the table leg. Clara's head bobs. "I understand." She grabs his wrist and winks. "Your house is like a cemetery for the wealthy." Ted pulls from her grip and crosses his arms. She turns her palms up and smiles. "That's what my father says." "The place seemed alive to me." He shuffles the pictures, tossing aside shots of Karen posing in the yard. "At least for a time." "It looks beautiful to me." She runs a finger across another view of the grounds, stopping at a spout of water. "What do you call this?" She squints. "A fountain," he offers. She nods again and points to the sparkling pool. "And there are fish in this, yes?" "Yes, koi." He holds his hands a yard apart. "Big and bright. Orange, like a parrot." She raises her eyebrows, then one-by-one, arranges photographs into a panorama of the estate. When she finishes, she claps her hands. "So much green!" The dog starts from beneath the table. Clara glances down, lowers a hand, then looks up at Ted. "And such a big house for one person." With a flip of her head, she flings away hair that has fallen and draped her eyes, a motion that causes Ted to sigh as he remembers when he first saw Karen reveal her eyes that way. They sit so close he can smell the garlic and onions that have saturated the cotton of her broadcloth dress. He rests his elbows o n the table and cradles his chin in the heels of his hands, curling his fingers over his nose. "Yes." Then he rubs the sweat 6ff the back of his neck, dries his hands on his pants. "But I amnotalone." In one picture, he points to a man and

54

The Visit two women, all three white-clad, lined up in front of a laurel hedge. "They live upstairs and take care of the place." He touches the image of the man. "That is Tran, the gardener." His fingers slide down the photograph. "And that is his wife and her mother. They do the cooking and cleaning." Clara stares at the family. One word leaks out under her breath: "Servants." Her mouth opens, and her eyes unfocus. After a few moments, she blinks and rubs her palms against her cheeks. "Tell me more. Have you TV?'* "Of course," Ted laughs and waggles his thumb at an imaginary button. "Large screen, complete with MTV." He watches her pupils shrink and her lips part. "And every other convenience known to man: a stereo, a spa." He chops the air. "Even a bed that massages your aching bones." "With so many things, is there room in your house for another?" "Another?" He tightens his jaw to keep the corners of his mouth from turning up. She looks at her feet, smoothes the cloth that hangs from her knees. "Me." She raises her head; her eyes meet his. "Take me with you." She grabs hissleeve and pulls him so close that he feels her whisper burst against his lips. "Please." "What about your father?" he whispers back. She shakes her head slowly. "He has his patients." Before Ted can nod his answer, the dog pricks its ears, then shoves past them to the door where it whimpers and wags. Clara releases Ted and jumps to her feet, squares her chair with the fable. Standing erect, she dabs at the corners of her eyes. The door opens and the dog bounds in front of a slender, stooped man. The man pats the dog's chest, then tilts his head and looks up at Ted. Ted remembers the bright, dark eyes even though they have receded into their sockets and are now veiled by long, unruly eyebrows. The man shuffles toward Ted and extends a callused hand. "Bienvenida." Ted grips the hand tightly and returns theman's gaze. "Hello, Arturo." With his other hand, the man clasps Ted's wrist and squeezes.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Come. I will take you to her." The path through the woods is soft with dust and duff. The sun has slipped below the trees, turning the sky to pewter, but even in the dimming light, Ted can see how the brush has been clipped to keep the way clear. He takes one long step to Arturo's short two, keeping pace with his host's rolling gait. He feels his heart pulse against the wall of his chest and he listens to their huffing over the patter of fluttering leaves. When he inhales, he smells the salt that has dried on his clothes. Around a bend, Ted slows, cups his hands to his ears, and hears the tinkle of chimes, a jangle of metal that grows louder every step. His heart pumps faster. Blood rushes through his temples. They crest a knoll. Below them, the trail ends at a spring sheltered in a willow grove. From every drooping branch hang forks, knives, spoons; from some, tiny silver bells. The utensils sway in the wind. Collide. Clang. The bells twirl and ring. At a gust, the whole wood peals. Arturo folds to a knee and crosses himself; Ted passes him and slides down into the forest carillon. His eyes move to the tree tops; when the ringing fills his ears, he spins slowly in a circle, his arms outstretched and palms open wide. He pivots, swaying, until, at the base of the oldest tree, he sees a long, low mound of earth and stones. Huddled beside it are a cluster of women and girls, all wrapped in bright, rainbow brocade. He follows them as they retreat, genuflect, and weave among the waves of yellowing leaves. As he watches, the women stop limbs from swinging; the girls dip into a sack for bells, and working quickly in the fading light, tie them to low-hanging branches with strips of beaded cloth. Ted feels a rough hand against his shoulder and looks down. Arturo stands next to him and calls out in a language Ted does not recognize. A woman turns her broad dark face, frees the branch she has been holding, takes a small girl's hand, and leads her to them. The girl shuffles her bare feet and smiles. Arturo strokes her thick black hair. "This child," he says, pressing his fingers into Ted's flesh, "is their miracle." He tips his head

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The Visit toward the mother. "Her parents did not expect her to live, but we were able to save her." He squats and kisses the girl's cheek. "Her name is Karen." When the sun sets, Arturo leads the families back up the path. Alone in the grove, Ted sits beside the piled dirt and stone and rests his back against the trunk of a tree. Around him, the darkness chirps and barks, and without the desiccating daylight rays, the woods release theirfetidness, a smell he remembers as the odor of decay. Stars begin to fill the gaps between the branches. Then, he talks. He tells Karen about his life, his successes, his failures, the outcomes of his hopes and dreams. After several hours, he flexes his stiff legs and stands. He lifts his hat and empties the air from his lungs. A shiver ripples along Ted's spine, and when it passes, he bends and lays the hat gently on the grave. Afterwards, he closes his eyes, lowers his head, and says good-bye. Back at the compound, Ted finds Arturo in front of the house, flinging kernels of corn to chickens that scramble across the yard, pecking at each other and the dust. The smell of charred pork blows from the hearth. He thanks Arturo, smiles and shakes his head at an offer to spend the night, and, squeezing the smaller man's shoulders, wishes him well with his life and his work. Arturo walks with Ted to the truck and opens the door for him. Ted hoists himself into the seat and turns the key. The Land Rover chugs and rumbles, spews exhaust into the night. Arturo steps back, wishes Ted a safe journey. Ted releases the parking brake, shifts into reverse, and, pulling on the wheel, backs up in a, wide arc. As the truck rolls back, the beams from the headlights sweep from the woods to the house, and he stops. In the doorway, Clara stands in blue gingham, her fingers wrapped around the worn handles of the tightlypacked duffel. Ted swallows, then slides the truck into a forward gear. He cranks the wheel tighter, and when the lights find the way to the road, begins the long, rutted drive toward home.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Come. I will take you to her." The path through the woods is soft with dust and duff. The sun has slipped below the trees, turning the sky to pewter, but even in the dimming light, Ted can see how the brush has been clipped to keep the way clear. He takes one long step to Arturo's short two, keeping pace with his host's rolling gait. He feels his heart pulse against the wall of his chest and he listens to their huffing over the patter of fluttering leaves. When he inhales, he smells the salt that has dried on his clothes. Around a bend, Ted slows, cups his hands to his ears, and hears the tinkle of chimes, a jangle of metal that grows louder every step. His heart pumps faster. Blood rushes through his temples. They crest a knoll. Below them, the trail ends at a spring sheltered in a willow grove. From every drooping branch hang forks, knives, spoons; from some, tiny silver bells. The utensils sway in the wind. Collide. Clang. The bells twirl and ring. At a gust, the whole wood peals. Arturo folds to a knee and crosses himself; Ted passes him and slides down into the forest carillon. His eyes move to the tree tops; when the ringing fills his ears, he spins slowly in a circle, his arms outstretched and palms open wide. He pivots, swaying, until, at the base of the oldest tree, he sees a long, low mound of earth and stones. Huddled beside it are a cluster of women and girls, all wrapped in bright, rainbow brocade. He follows them as they retreat, genuflect, and weave among the waves of yellowing leaves. As he watches, the women stop limbs from swinging; the girls dip into a sack for bells, and working quickly in the fading light, tie them to low-hanging branches with strips of beaded cloth. Ted feels a rough hand against his shoulder and looks down. Arturo stands next to him and calls out in a language Ted does not recognize. A woman turns her broad dark face, frees the branch she has been holding, takes a small girl's hand, and leads her to them. The girl shuffles her bare feet and smiles. Arturo strokes her thick black hair. "This child," he says, pressing his fingers into Ted's flesh, "is their miracle." He tips his head

56

The Visit toward the mother. "Her parents did not expect her to live, but we were able to save her." He squats and kisses the girl's cheek. "Her name is Karen." When the sun sets, Arturo leads the families back up the path. Alone in the grove, Ted sits beside the piled dirt and stone and rests his back against the trunk of a tree. Around him, the darkness chirps and barks, and without the desiccating daylight rays, the woods release theirfetidness, a smell he remembers as the odor of decay. Stars begin to fill the gaps between the branches. Then, he talks. He tells Karen about his life, his successes, his failures, the outcomes of his hopes and dreams. After several hours, he flexes his stiff legs and stands. He lifts his hat and empties the air from his lungs. A shiver ripples along Ted's spine, and when it passes, he bends and lays the hat gently on the grave. Afterwards, he closes his eyes, lowers his head, and says good-bye. Back at the compound, Ted finds Arturo in front of the house, flinging kernels of corn to chickens that scramble across the yard, pecking at each other and the dust. The smell of charred pork blows from the hearth. He thanks Arturo, smiles and shakes his head at an offer to spend the night, and, squeezing the smaller man's shoulders, wishes him well with his life and his work. Arturo walks with Ted to the truck and opens the door for him. Ted hoists himself into the seat and turns the key. The Land Rover chugs and rumbles, spews exhaust into the night. Arturo steps back, wishes Ted a safe journey. Ted releases the parking brake, shifts into reverse, and, pulling on the wheel, backs up in a, wide arc. As the truck rolls back, the beams from the headlights sweep from the woods to the house, and he stops. In the doorway, Clara stands in blue gingham, her fingers wrapped around the worn handles of the tightlypacked duffel. Ted swallows, then slides the truck into a forward gear. He cranks the wheel tighter, and when the lights find the way to the road, begins the long, rutted drive toward home.

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fiW Kindness protected by forces that in most other contexts are the forces we should fear. We can be targets, though of a different sort from my junkie friend with his heartstop tremors, his aband o n e d children and laconic pain, and his maleness so close to childness at first it seemed like some prank. Don't misunderstand. This is crucial. I stumble downtown, down stairs, through automatic doors into markets that astound me. I am an adult orphaned by habits I grew to love. I am impatient to burn. I prowl through cabinets searching for remnants of fire. And, truth telling, I detest the rattlings of solitude, that inculcation from everywhere that we are only, only alone. I detest it, but better, I fight it with my hands, my teeth, my refusal to isolate, to s u c c u m b to pressing inertia. It's all here anyway, scratched into my palms a n d tables, an animal sound I hear in my sleep like a train or a child. Love congeals, as do epiphanies, and so many people lie that there is often absence where there rightly should be clutter. My body is becoming quieter now, restrained by fever, by thirst, the alchemy of delirium.

K i n d n e s s Tamara Jane

L

et m e explain: My body is a candle, a flickering thing. I surge from low-grade panic, from flashbacks, from following the haloed faces of con-men straight into hell. I a m ripe from yearning and sick from the discipline of starvation, from wrongful calculations of time and. mute spaces. Lately, I have reaped the destitute angers of people I otherwise do not know, strangers in parking lots, in laundromats, riding the subway beneath the Bay. I am afraid of t h e m and for t h e m . I do not know t h e m , and I know t h e m all. I tell myself my need is not quite real. I insist it is not as real as other times, earlier times. I know I am lying. Just last week, I sat next to an alcoholic junkie on a train from the City. We were instant friends. Twenty-four hours clean, h e was ticking like a gash. H e was seeing just one color. We told each other secrets in coded language, a lexicon of locks and corridors, revelations, rooms without gravity, natural disasters. We ate anti-depressants. We conspired retrospectively. Still, I tell myself I am different from his cloudy lips, his fingers flying at bottles, matches, powders, the utensils of salvation. I tell myself l a m different when my fingers fly because for one thing, I do not go to jail. Women like m e , women with reptile eyes and pretty faces, can consort with contraband and felons and the guns usually remain hidden, as do, incidentally, the badges. We can go to India, to Europe, to Mexico, and be

Lucky days are those with surprises, a sudden intimacy, a p h o n e call instigating travel. At first, I didn't even like him that m u c h . I m e a n , I liked him but not in a transformative way. I did not kid myself: he is, after all, a man. I knew immediately the shape and texture of what he offered. Crucially, h e was blunt: "I want you to come with me to Kansas City." Sudden travel suggestions kindle visions in my head: open windows, sunrise over two-laned roads, that stayed-up-all-night curdling swell in my throat and accompanying vertigo. This time my vision was quietly precise: I saw arms, longer than most, wrapping around and around and around me. I said: " W h e n are you leaving?" T h e n , I said: "Okay." For him , it was a casual run, a pick-up in Houston, a drop in Kansas City, a stop in Tucson, then we could come h o m e . O r , go somewhere for fun. "You like Mexico?" he said; "You like Puerto Vallarta?" "No," I said. "Too many tourists. I'd feel like a colonizer."

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58 A .


fiW Kindness protected by forces that in most other contexts are the forces we should fear. We can be targets, though of a different sort from my junkie friend with his heartstop tremors, his aband o n e d children and laconic pain, and his maleness so close to childness at first it seemed like some prank. Don't misunderstand. This is crucial. I stumble downtown, down stairs, through automatic doors into markets that astound me. I am an adult orphaned by habits I grew to love. I am impatient to burn. I prowl through cabinets searching for remnants of fire. And, truth telling, I detest the rattlings of solitude, that inculcation from everywhere that we are only, only alone. I detest it, but better, I fight it with my hands, my teeth, my refusal to isolate, to s u c c u m b to pressing inertia. It's all here anyway, scratched into my palms a n d tables, an animal sound I hear in my sleep like a train or a child. Love congeals, as do epiphanies, and so many people lie that there is often absence where there rightly should be clutter. My body is becoming quieter now, restrained by fever, by thirst, the alchemy of delirium.

K i n d n e s s Tamara Jane

L

et m e explain: My body is a candle, a flickering thing. I surge from low-grade panic, from flashbacks, from following the haloed faces of con-men straight into hell. I a m ripe from yearning and sick from the discipline of starvation, from wrongful calculations of time and. mute spaces. Lately, I have reaped the destitute angers of people I otherwise do not know, strangers in parking lots, in laundromats, riding the subway beneath the Bay. I am afraid of t h e m and for t h e m . I do not know t h e m , and I know t h e m all. I tell myself my need is not quite real. I insist it is not as real as other times, earlier times. I know I am lying. Just last week, I sat next to an alcoholic junkie on a train from the City. We were instant friends. Twenty-four hours clean, h e was ticking like a gash. H e was seeing just one color. We told each other secrets in coded language, a lexicon of locks and corridors, revelations, rooms without gravity, natural disasters. We ate anti-depressants. We conspired retrospectively. Still, I tell myself I am different from his cloudy lips, his fingers flying at bottles, matches, powders, the utensils of salvation. I tell myself l a m different when my fingers fly because for one thing, I do not go to jail. Women like m e , women with reptile eyes and pretty faces, can consort with contraband and felons and the guns usually remain hidden, as do, incidentally, the badges. We can go to India, to Europe, to Mexico, and be

Lucky days are those with surprises, a sudden intimacy, a p h o n e call instigating travel. At first, I didn't even like him that m u c h . I m e a n , I liked him but not in a transformative way. I did not kid myself: he is, after all, a man. I knew immediately the shape and texture of what he offered. Crucially, h e was blunt: "I want you to come with me to Kansas City." Sudden travel suggestions kindle visions in my head: open windows, sunrise over two-laned roads, that stayed-up-all-night curdling swell in my throat and accompanying vertigo. This time my vision was quietly precise: I saw arms, longer than most, wrapping around and around and around me. I said: " W h e n are you leaving?" T h e n , I said: "Okay." For him , it was a casual run, a pick-up in Houston, a drop in Kansas City, a stop in Tucson, then we could come h o m e . O r , go somewhere for fun. "You like Mexico?" he said; "You like Puerto Vallarta?" "No," I said. "Too many tourists. I'd feel like a colonizer."

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58 A .


Berkeley Fiction Review His scoff made me smile. "You purists, huh? In one year you'll spend more money on their exports than most people down there see in a lifetime and you think that doesn't fuck with their culture?" He emphasized the word 'exports' as if it was something he could lick. We were sitting in the cockpit of somebody's boat a few hours before leaving. We were sitting side by side, a bottle of Courvoisier between us. It was a beautiful night. Religious images hovered in my head: phantom madonnas, an emaciated Christ dripping off some cross, his body nearly naked, his face in stilled agony. I thought, stigmata. I said: "I just don't like Puerto Vallarta." Driving makes me remember. I have a cadre of apparitions that dance all over roads I travel, the flashback faces, scenes, and commotion that partially own me. It is not precisely bad to be haunted in this way, names pour in rivers and heat can be created out of nothing, road shoulders hunching into black, and moonlight playing like a living thing as speedy forms fly and each detail keeps me heading further away, further inside. In Reno, in a small parlor with would-be bandits and glass-eyed patrons swarming, a woman asked me my name. I stared at her. "Oh," she said. "Oh, I mean, I am sorry. I thought you looked like someone I knew." I wanted to ask her about that person. I wanted to know if it might have been me. Derek is basically okay. When I drive, he tries to stay awake to tell stories. His contact in Houston was a Marine in Beirut in the early 80's, who came home to cocaine and job offers as a mere in exotic locales. Derek tells me tales told to him. Always, guns outnumber people, somebody makes a mistake and someone else is Israeli. Derek explains: "We fund them to do this shit for us." I listen like a bird, like a crow, tilting my head, sporadically staring. There are pieces flying at me, and sometimes I think they fly from Derek's lips, shards and pinpoints and acids sent out to destroy me. I am not destroyed. Instead, I think about the mere. I think I know him. I think I know the taste of

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Kindness his habit. I think I would like him at first, though I make no promises. I think I would feel safe around him; imagining him as a stylized cowboy and knowing details about weapons I will never know. Time, for him, is the staccato minutes of danger crouched in pockets, closets, crevices, the exquisite time of secrets and cash. I know that breathlessness, that perfection, of parts. I know it like lemon on my tongue, that fresh. I do not say any of this to Derek. Instead, I say: "And what about you?" He was raised rich. He knows some questions are not for answering. He knows it can be mysterious, albeit annoying, to give no reply. Then, he says: "You probably know my story as good as me. Hell, better." I nod. I probably do. He begins talking about a trip he once took to Alaska. He drove all the way. He asks if I have been up there. I say no. "North of Portland," he says, "things start getting bigger." He shakes his head. "No way to explain it, but things keep growing and growing the further north you go. Even the sky." In another lifetime, I would have loved Derek like a wound, attentive to his changes, his color. He would have been perfect for me. He has read a lot of books, can talk responsibly about esoterica. And he understands drugs, even pharmaceuticals, and always has containers close by. Critically, he has the reserve of a watchman. I have no plans to act on it, but I sometimes think it would be nice to sleep with him, no euphemism, just to share a bed, touch casually, but not naked. I would wear cotton panties and a shirt, preferably one of his shirts rolled up at the wrists, flannel, the heavy expensive kind. I don't like it when men want me. I like it wheri they keep things hidden and don't blame me for their little desires. Probably, that is part of the reason I am comfortable with Derek. His vagueness soothes me, his non-reactivity to moods and appetites. For the most part, I have given up sex with men. Even riding through a desert at night with Derek, fingers hooked into infinity, I know there are limits to what bodies can share

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Berkeley Fiction Review His scoff made me smile. "You purists, huh? In one year you'll spend more money on their exports than most people down there see in a lifetime and you think that doesn't fuck with their culture?" He emphasized the word 'exports' as if it was something he could lick. We were sitting in the cockpit of somebody's boat a few hours before leaving. We were sitting side by side, a bottle of Courvoisier between us. It was a beautiful night. Religious images hovered in my head: phantom madonnas, an emaciated Christ dripping off some cross, his body nearly naked, his face in stilled agony. I thought, stigmata. I said: "I just don't like Puerto Vallarta." Driving makes me remember. I have a cadre of apparitions that dance all over roads I travel, the flashback faces, scenes, and commotion that partially own me. It is not precisely bad to be haunted in this way, names pour in rivers and heat can be created out of nothing, road shoulders hunching into black, and moonlight playing like a living thing as speedy forms fly and each detail keeps me heading further away, further inside. In Reno, in a small parlor with would-be bandits and glass-eyed patrons swarming, a woman asked me my name. I stared at her. "Oh," she said. "Oh, I mean, I am sorry. I thought you looked like someone I knew." I wanted to ask her about that person. I wanted to know if it might have been me. Derek is basically okay. When I drive, he tries to stay awake to tell stories. His contact in Houston was a Marine in Beirut in the early 80's, who came home to cocaine and job offers as a mere in exotic locales. Derek tells me tales told to him. Always, guns outnumber people, somebody makes a mistake and someone else is Israeli. Derek explains: "We fund them to do this shit for us." I listen like a bird, like a crow, tilting my head, sporadically staring. There are pieces flying at me, and sometimes I think they fly from Derek's lips, shards and pinpoints and acids sent out to destroy me. I am not destroyed. Instead, I think about the mere. I think I know him. I think I know the taste of

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Kindness his habit. I think I would like him at first, though I make no promises. I think I would feel safe around him; imagining him as a stylized cowboy and knowing details about weapons I will never know. Time, for him, is the staccato minutes of danger crouched in pockets, closets, crevices, the exquisite time of secrets and cash. I know that breathlessness, that perfection, of parts. I know it like lemon on my tongue, that fresh. I do not say any of this to Derek. Instead, I say: "And what about you?" He was raised rich. He knows some questions are not for answering. He knows it can be mysterious, albeit annoying, to give no reply. Then, he says: "You probably know my story as good as me. Hell, better." I nod. I probably do. He begins talking about a trip he once took to Alaska. He drove all the way. He asks if I have been up there. I say no. "North of Portland," he says, "things start getting bigger." He shakes his head. "No way to explain it, but things keep growing and growing the further north you go. Even the sky." In another lifetime, I would have loved Derek like a wound, attentive to his changes, his color. He would have been perfect for me. He has read a lot of books, can talk responsibly about esoterica. And he understands drugs, even pharmaceuticals, and always has containers close by. Critically, he has the reserve of a watchman. I have no plans to act on it, but I sometimes think it would be nice to sleep with him, no euphemism, just to share a bed, touch casually, but not naked. I would wear cotton panties and a shirt, preferably one of his shirts rolled up at the wrists, flannel, the heavy expensive kind. I don't like it when men want me. I like it wheri they keep things hidden and don't blame me for their little desires. Probably, that is part of the reason I am comfortable with Derek. His vagueness soothes me, his non-reactivity to moods and appetites. For the most part, I have given up sex with men. Even riding through a desert at night with Derek, fingers hooked into infinity, I know there are limits to what bodies can share

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Berkeley Fiction Review and a disciplined beauty in maintaining them. Anyway, rich kids are different from me. They have friends from college all over the country. They always have places to stay, safe drugs, numbers to call in case of an emergency. It is a network, a sealed bay. It is the circling of secret money, connections, palpable renderings of graces poorer kids will never own. I do not hate Derek for this because he willingly confesses each detail, each outrageous consistency. He admits using these arbitrary resources to his advantage, and now, inadvertently, to mine. We are in Nevada, driving along a two-lane road between hills gleaming in the cold, clear night. I drink from a bottle. I recite lyrics like a prayer. I attempt conversation, spreading rumors about myself that I hope will get him thinking. I want to narrow abstractions, the rules of possession, tedium, expectations measured, then thrown away. I want to hear more about people. Derek says: "Okay. You should meet Tony. He is probably interesting enough for you." He says this like an accusation, like I am begging for a gratuity, an armed robbery, or a sniper captured alive. I snap: "Clearly, I'm not that picky." If I say flashback, Derek thinks LSD. He knows little about true chaos, the cut-off-your-own-hand kind of desperation, the bursting with secrets that could get you killed. He talks about Columbians, the Nuestra Familia and some gangs in Folsom, but he doesn't know them by their real names. He speaks of them in the same sentences as counter-culture legends and rappers. He creates them from scratch in a safe, dark spot in his mind. His hands are smooth like treated leather. His fingers narrow at their tips, a sure sign of safe living. I like this about him, though sometimes I want to stab through. It's easy to want because I know I can't do it. I know he has parts that are impenetrable by ordinary interaction. He has parts that cannot be changed by me. He, on the other hand, plots risk: hallucinations, brain-damage, revenge. Even

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Kindness driving to Houston, alternately pumping speed and Valium, cocaine and California wine, he is pretending something. He is part-time and he likes it that way, a foot in the door with an option to straddle. Derek says: "Tony used to run cargo from Istanbul. He's fucking insane." I like this. I like knowing details before I meet people. I like the juxtapositions of amenities offered amongsecrets bled. I like the unpunctuated tedium of daily living in spite of memories burning holes in quieted heads and hands momentarily stilled in air. "He been to jail?" I ask. "Yeah," Derek says. "So he has tattoos," I announce, smiling. One hundred years ago when people would steal from you but not dismember you and hide the pieces, I was a child. I knew all the songs on the radio. I catalogued a thousand promises of belonging and escape and the far reaches of possible transformations. I wrote poems about animals and watched people fuck in groups on living room floors. I hid under beds from men I did not want to know, men I did not want to touch me. My elementary school teachers said I was crazy. This is so unimportant I almost cannot recall the face of that child, her pony head and desperations. However, I recall other faces and those faces keep my foot on the gas, my hands on the wheel. They activate the bottles that maintain me. I know my mother was a criminal and my father some Southern asshole working his way through a second-rate college. I know my mother was mean as a viper and stole from nice people. I know she hates me even today, though I have not spoken with her since I was fifteen. These are also things I like knowing. These are both true and abstract because the people have all disappeared, including the me that was a hundred years ago and the aching, nagging terrors that needled me cross-country dozens of times already, each with lots of chemicals and

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Berkeley Fiction Review and a disciplined beauty in maintaining them. Anyway, rich kids are different from me. They have friends from college all over the country. They always have places to stay, safe drugs, numbers to call in case of an emergency. It is a network, a sealed bay. It is the circling of secret money, connections, palpable renderings of graces poorer kids will never own. I do not hate Derek for this because he willingly confesses each detail, each outrageous consistency. He admits using these arbitrary resources to his advantage, and now, inadvertently, to mine. We are in Nevada, driving along a two-lane road between hills gleaming in the cold, clear night. I drink from a bottle. I recite lyrics like a prayer. I attempt conversation, spreading rumors about myself that I hope will get him thinking. I want to narrow abstractions, the rules of possession, tedium, expectations measured, then thrown away. I want to hear more about people. Derek says: "Okay. You should meet Tony. He is probably interesting enough for you." He says this like an accusation, like I am begging for a gratuity, an armed robbery, or a sniper captured alive. I snap: "Clearly, I'm not that picky." If I say flashback, Derek thinks LSD. He knows little about true chaos, the cut-off-your-own-hand kind of desperation, the bursting with secrets that could get you killed. He talks about Columbians, the Nuestra Familia and some gangs in Folsom, but he doesn't know them by their real names. He speaks of them in the same sentences as counter-culture legends and rappers. He creates them from scratch in a safe, dark spot in his mind. His hands are smooth like treated leather. His fingers narrow at their tips, a sure sign of safe living. I like this about him, though sometimes I want to stab through. It's easy to want because I know I can't do it. I know he has parts that are impenetrable by ordinary interaction. He has parts that cannot be changed by me. He, on the other hand, plots risk: hallucinations, brain-damage, revenge. Even

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Kindness driving to Houston, alternately pumping speed and Valium, cocaine and California wine, he is pretending something. He is part-time and he likes it that way, a foot in the door with an option to straddle. Derek says: "Tony used to run cargo from Istanbul. He's fucking insane." I like this. I like knowing details before I meet people. I like the juxtapositions of amenities offered amongsecrets bled. I like the unpunctuated tedium of daily living in spite of memories burning holes in quieted heads and hands momentarily stilled in air. "He been to jail?" I ask. "Yeah," Derek says. "So he has tattoos," I announce, smiling. One hundred years ago when people would steal from you but not dismember you and hide the pieces, I was a child. I knew all the songs on the radio. I catalogued a thousand promises of belonging and escape and the far reaches of possible transformations. I wrote poems about animals and watched people fuck in groups on living room floors. I hid under beds from men I did not want to know, men I did not want to touch me. My elementary school teachers said I was crazy. This is so unimportant I almost cannot recall the face of that child, her pony head and desperations. However, I recall other faces and those faces keep my foot on the gas, my hands on the wheel. They activate the bottles that maintain me. I know my mother was a criminal and my father some Southern asshole working his way through a second-rate college. I know my mother was mean as a viper and stole from nice people. I know she hates me even today, though I have not spoken with her since I was fifteen. These are also things I like knowing. These are both true and abstract because the people have all disappeared, including the me that was a hundred years ago and the aching, nagging terrors that needled me cross-country dozens of times already, each with lots of chemicals and

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Berkeley Fiction Review strangers who sometimes became friends. Now there are other reasons 1 travel. I like night-driving and I like small towns. I like the people who work graveyard in convenience stores. I like to ask if they've been robbed, it they are ever frightened by faces in the night. But most of all I leave home because I no longer expect to belong anywhere except, fleetingly, to the act of unbelonging. I understand the limitations of naming and owning spaces. I know destinations are all temporary. Besides, it is an entertaining way to pass the time, though, admittedly, it is not always fun. After awhile, Derek sleeps and I think more about Tony and the Beirut Marine. I wonder if they will like me, my hair, my voice, my orphan sadness and shaking hands. Maybe they go for rich, smooth women, grown-up debs who drive expensive cars on the sorry sides of towns. It is not so important since I do not want anything from them. But I will confess to loneliness, being alone in a way that seals my body from most of the outside world. Usually, it takes a tiny act of heroism to penetrate my outside layer, genuine interest or an outlandish, though believable tale. I imagine Tony or the mere might have such a tale for me, I am happy imagining this. While he is sleeping in the passenger seat, I put my hand on Derek's leg and rub the fabric of his pants. He wakes a little and covers my hand with his own. In a few hours, we will be in a bathtub smoking gummy opium from a Chinese pipe and staring casually at one another. We will laugh as our heads grow heavy. We will seal a faulty friendship that thrives jumping from ground to cloud, and falling. In Cedar City, Utah, Derek calls his Houston man and changes our route to include El Paso. He mumbles something about having wanted to stay away from borders. It is late afternoon and we have been walking bland streets and fighting cabin fever. It is a freezing, sunny day. I am craving cappuccino and wine. "Get in the car," he says. "I'm driving." It's difficult to tell, though he seems to be in a bad mood

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Kindness so I don't stop talking. I tell him stories that are mostly true. I tell him about a fugitive hatchet man I made friends with under other guises and how, when he was apprehended, my knees gave out, rolled under me like spaghetti onto the ground where I sat on concrete shaking my head, remembering him as an artist, some sketches he had shown me of animals and trees. "He slashed the throats of a family, two parents and three kids," I say to Derek. This is true. This story is absolutely true, though I know it sounds like something I made up to pad my low-rent credentials. "He said his name was 'Angel'," I say. "Before that, I always kind of assumed if I met a person who would slash the throat of an eight-yearrold . . . I'd know. I mean, it changes things, knowing that I might not be able to tell. That I already wasn't able to tell." Derek is silent, so 1 try a different story. I tell him about my friend Jimmy who had M.S. and tried to kill himself once with a flare-gun. "He was so fucking rich, it was almost surreal. Like, every month or two he'd have millions of dollars falling from the sky from some investments his grandfather had made in Florida or one of those other swamp states. But he was cracker trash, too, you know what I mean? He was a poor person with ridiculous amounts of money. Plus, he had this intense neurological disease and still did so much cocaine his eyes turned white, the part that's supposed to be a color." Derek does not seem to care. I continue: "I made friends with his sister, Suzanne. She married a derelict, made that boy richer than he thought it possible in this lifetime. He was my friend, too. Uncle Dave, I called him. He used to sleep on a rickety fishing boat, help fishermen unload their catches for pocket change. He'd do just about anything for money, at least before Suzanne came along. I mean> I think he loved her." My storytelling continues for hours. I imagine I entertain. I imagine there is some sort of exchange going on between us, me giving him something and he taking it in like smoke. Periodically, we snort from a tiny spoon and sip a bottle of Napa Merlot. I imagine I am more talented than some. I imagine

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Berkeley Fiction Review strangers who sometimes became friends. Now there are other reasons 1 travel. I like night-driving and I like small towns. I like the people who work graveyard in convenience stores. I like to ask if they've been robbed, it they are ever frightened by faces in the night. But most of all I leave home because I no longer expect to belong anywhere except, fleetingly, to the act of unbelonging. I understand the limitations of naming and owning spaces. I know destinations are all temporary. Besides, it is an entertaining way to pass the time, though, admittedly, it is not always fun. After awhile, Derek sleeps and I think more about Tony and the Beirut Marine. I wonder if they will like me, my hair, my voice, my orphan sadness and shaking hands. Maybe they go for rich, smooth women, grown-up debs who drive expensive cars on the sorry sides of towns. It is not so important since I do not want anything from them. But I will confess to loneliness, being alone in a way that seals my body from most of the outside world. Usually, it takes a tiny act of heroism to penetrate my outside layer, genuine interest or an outlandish, though believable tale. I imagine Tony or the mere might have such a tale for me, I am happy imagining this. While he is sleeping in the passenger seat, I put my hand on Derek's leg and rub the fabric of his pants. He wakes a little and covers my hand with his own. In a few hours, we will be in a bathtub smoking gummy opium from a Chinese pipe and staring casually at one another. We will laugh as our heads grow heavy. We will seal a faulty friendship that thrives jumping from ground to cloud, and falling. In Cedar City, Utah, Derek calls his Houston man and changes our route to include El Paso. He mumbles something about having wanted to stay away from borders. It is late afternoon and we have been walking bland streets and fighting cabin fever. It is a freezing, sunny day. I am craving cappuccino and wine. "Get in the car," he says. "I'm driving." It's difficult to tell, though he seems to be in a bad mood

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Kindness so I don't stop talking. I tell him stories that are mostly true. I tell him about a fugitive hatchet man I made friends with under other guises and how, when he was apprehended, my knees gave out, rolled under me like spaghetti onto the ground where I sat on concrete shaking my head, remembering him as an artist, some sketches he had shown me of animals and trees. "He slashed the throats of a family, two parents and three kids," I say to Derek. This is true. This story is absolutely true, though I know it sounds like something I made up to pad my low-rent credentials. "He said his name was 'Angel'," I say. "Before that, I always kind of assumed if I met a person who would slash the throat of an eight-yearrold . . . I'd know. I mean, it changes things, knowing that I might not be able to tell. That I already wasn't able to tell." Derek is silent, so 1 try a different story. I tell him about my friend Jimmy who had M.S. and tried to kill himself once with a flare-gun. "He was so fucking rich, it was almost surreal. Like, every month or two he'd have millions of dollars falling from the sky from some investments his grandfather had made in Florida or one of those other swamp states. But he was cracker trash, too, you know what I mean? He was a poor person with ridiculous amounts of money. Plus, he had this intense neurological disease and still did so much cocaine his eyes turned white, the part that's supposed to be a color." Derek does not seem to care. I continue: "I made friends with his sister, Suzanne. She married a derelict, made that boy richer than he thought it possible in this lifetime. He was my friend, too. Uncle Dave, I called him. He used to sleep on a rickety fishing boat, help fishermen unload their catches for pocket change. He'd do just about anything for money, at least before Suzanne came along. I mean> I think he loved her." My storytelling continues for hours. I imagine I entertain. I imagine there is some sort of exchange going on between us, me giving him something and he taking it in like smoke. Periodically, we snort from a tiny spoon and sip a bottle of Napa Merlot. I imagine I am more talented than some. I imagine

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Berkeley Fiction Review I can create dynamic artistry from confusion or despair. In no time, we drop through Arizona, and New Mexico. With Derek behind the wheel, we are focused and sleek. I practice Spanish. "I've been to El Paso," I explain to Derek. "There are lots of Mexicans there. Not only that, they're richer than us, you know what I mean?" Finally, we get to El Paso. It is only now that Derek tells me he thinks he should go to Houston alone. He tells me Tony has an 'old lady' I can stay with. He mumbles about danger and Jamaicans and I know he is lying about something, but I am too fucked up to care. "I came here with you," I tell him. "Don't leave me now." I hate those words, they are weak words, words of an accidental bandit, words of a loser. Derek's face has shrunk a bit inward. I notice this watching his profile. I think this is a bad sign, though I anticipate some little thrill of trouble. Tony's old lady doesn't answer the phone. Derek and I sit in a diner drinking coffee, no talking, and looking out the window for two and a half hours before somebody else answers the phone. Derek says it's a kid Tony is trying to salvage. He uses that word, 'salvage'. I imagine this kid is like a car, like a good piece of scrap metal. I imagine he has pieces that can be scavenged by bargain hunters, or artists, or men with hands that never come clean. Derek gets an address. We proceed. Of course, she lives in a residential, middle-middle-class neighborhood. Of course, there is a late-model Toyota in the driveway and decaying flowers in their appropriate spots in the yard. "Why aren't we renting some motel room where you can stash me? Huh? Wouldn't that be better? I'll run up a room service bill, catch up on cable TV. We'll even invent a name." Derek is so indifferent to my anger it makes me indifferent too. * The kid, the salvageable one, is named Chris. He is tall, blonde, shaggy and uncertain as he answers the door. His face

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Kindness is flushed and 1 think it might be from distress, but I don't know him well enough to be sure. The house is full of tacky furniture, square, motel room neutral and utterly uninspiring. There is baby stuff around. There is a bookshelf with a row of self-help books. There is also a clunky 'BIOLOGY' book. I wonder who the student is. I wonder about the baby. I ask: "Who lives here? D o you live here?" Chris looks at me and I think I see him cloud over, then seal away someplace. "Yeah," he says, his voice deepening even as he speaks. He is becoming detached, a poignant pantomime of control. "I live here with Tony and Brenda." He says this like an announcement, like he is not entirely convinced of its truth. I think he wants to say more, but he restrains his urge for mysterious reasons. I decide I like him. He is about seventeen, maybe a year or two older or younger, but wild and hurt, too. I decide to be his friend, even if he doesn't want to be, even if he doesn't do a lot of talking. Derek is looking around. He walks in, then out of the kitchen. He looks into the backyard from the window behind the couch. He starts down the hall. "So," I say to Chris, sounding like a predator even to myself, "are you from this part of the world?" Derek has completed his prowling. "Where exactly is Tony?" he asks. "Tony's gone," Chris says. He refuses to look at Derek. Derek shrugs, refusing to look at him. These stupid contests between people annoy me, these choreographies about what we are saying and what we do not know but pretend to know for spurious reasons. 1 think these things are male-based, though I have certainly seen them in women. I decide to retreat, let the boys circle without me. Anyway, I'm beginning to feel the feathery start of old terror, a seizure-like episode expanding within my body that I will attempt to conceal. These things do happen,, my upheavals, my tiny; volcanic assurances that I am still alive though should be careful. After two full nights awake, I move my eyeballs

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Berkeley Fiction Review I can create dynamic artistry from confusion or despair. In no time, we drop through Arizona, and New Mexico. With Derek behind the wheel, we are focused and sleek. I practice Spanish. "I've been to El Paso," I explain to Derek. "There are lots of Mexicans there. Not only that, they're richer than us, you know what I mean?" Finally, we get to El Paso. It is only now that Derek tells me he thinks he should go to Houston alone. He tells me Tony has an 'old lady' I can stay with. He mumbles about danger and Jamaicans and I know he is lying about something, but I am too fucked up to care. "I came here with you," I tell him. "Don't leave me now." I hate those words, they are weak words, words of an accidental bandit, words of a loser. Derek's face has shrunk a bit inward. I notice this watching his profile. I think this is a bad sign, though I anticipate some little thrill of trouble. Tony's old lady doesn't answer the phone. Derek and I sit in a diner drinking coffee, no talking, and looking out the window for two and a half hours before somebody else answers the phone. Derek says it's a kid Tony is trying to salvage. He uses that word, 'salvage'. I imagine this kid is like a car, like a good piece of scrap metal. I imagine he has pieces that can be scavenged by bargain hunters, or artists, or men with hands that never come clean. Derek gets an address. We proceed. Of course, she lives in a residential, middle-middle-class neighborhood. Of course, there is a late-model Toyota in the driveway and decaying flowers in their appropriate spots in the yard. "Why aren't we renting some motel room where you can stash me? Huh? Wouldn't that be better? I'll run up a room service bill, catch up on cable TV. We'll even invent a name." Derek is so indifferent to my anger it makes me indifferent too. * The kid, the salvageable one, is named Chris. He is tall, blonde, shaggy and uncertain as he answers the door. His face

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Kindness is flushed and 1 think it might be from distress, but I don't know him well enough to be sure. The house is full of tacky furniture, square, motel room neutral and utterly uninspiring. There is baby stuff around. There is a bookshelf with a row of self-help books. There is also a clunky 'BIOLOGY' book. I wonder who the student is. I wonder about the baby. I ask: "Who lives here? D o you live here?" Chris looks at me and I think I see him cloud over, then seal away someplace. "Yeah," he says, his voice deepening even as he speaks. He is becoming detached, a poignant pantomime of control. "I live here with Tony and Brenda." He says this like an announcement, like he is not entirely convinced of its truth. I think he wants to say more, but he restrains his urge for mysterious reasons. I decide I like him. He is about seventeen, maybe a year or two older or younger, but wild and hurt, too. I decide to be his friend, even if he doesn't want to be, even if he doesn't do a lot of talking. Derek is looking around. He walks in, then out of the kitchen. He looks into the backyard from the window behind the couch. He starts down the hall. "So," I say to Chris, sounding like a predator even to myself, "are you from this part of the world?" Derek has completed his prowling. "Where exactly is Tony?" he asks. "Tony's gone," Chris says. He refuses to look at Derek. Derek shrugs, refusing to look at him. These stupid contests between people annoy me, these choreographies about what we are saying and what we do not know but pretend to know for spurious reasons. 1 think these things are male-based, though I have certainly seen them in women. I decide to retreat, let the boys circle without me. Anyway, I'm beginning to feel the feathery start of old terror, a seizure-like episode expanding within my body that I will attempt to conceal. These things do happen,, my upheavals, my tiny; volcanic assurances that I am still alive though should be careful. After two full nights awake, I move my eyeballs

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Berkeley Fiction Review and feel prickling waves and slow-motion crashings inside my head. I like this. It confuses the terror. My picture of Tony has changed since I came inside this house. I know he will have tattoos, and that is a comfort. But what about living in such generic rooms? And what about Brenda? I associate the name with obedient junior high school girls, the ones with ironed collars. I am already suspicious of her. What about the furniture? I understand the insipid styles necessitated by temporary residences, but this seems extreme. Suffocating nothingness. Every single item is oppressively square, not to mention the assortment of sad colors: rust, dulled green, carpeting the color of tarnished brass. And whose baby? There are baby things lying around: a pacifier, a whitish-cotton-pajama-thing, tiny, graspable toys. I look up. "Do Brenda and Tony have a baby?" I ask Chris, who still refuses to look at me possibly more adamantly than he refused before. "Baby died," he says. I don't know what to say, so I say: "Shit, that's tough." I think about the baby things still lying around and realize the death may have been recent. I consider the alternative and begin hoping the death was recent. Derek looks at me, then shakes his head. His face is blank as usual, but I think something inside him is repulsed, annoyed. After about an hour, an hour when Derek stopped looking around, sat down and read a newspaper, and Chris and I drank Dos Equis as I tried to wheedle conversation from him while simultaneously banishing images in my head of breathless, tiny bodies and creeping panic, Tony comes home. He is big and strong. He looks cartoonishly muscular. I can tell from the way his tee shirt fits that he works out hard. I think of convicts lifting weights in prison yards. I think of bodies as weapons. He has whitish-blonde hair and pale blue eyes. He looks at me with an intensity that makes my weakened stomach quiver. As soon as he walks into the room, I feel safe. He is talking about the baby. "We tried the hospital, the

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Kindness university, they couldn't do anything. She was dead when we left the house. Brenda just couldn't let go. I dropped her off at her mother's. She's sedated." His voice is clear, matter-offact. As an afterthought, one he apparently feels is necessary, he says, looking mostly at me: "She wasn't my baby." I am stunned, and morbidly, a little intrigued. This baby died last night, her death hideously though reassuringly recent. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Some sort of mysterious suffocation. I have a hundred questions, none of which I would dream of asking, at least not at the moment; this perfect, dense, moment in a cleaner, thicker measure of time and possibility: stopped hearts, inescapable losses. Suddenly, Derek says something about Houston. I think the subject should not be changed until Tony changes it, though Derek is uncomfortable. There is a collision of doom and banality. I spin. There are noises in my ears no one else is hearing. Chris is still remote in his young head, though he is listening and watching. Right away, Derek and Tony sink into the safety of business talk. The subject is changed, though the little death stays inside the room like the scent of roses, like some grandmother's perfume. Rightaway, they are laying out plans and scheming about how and where to make connections. The conversation is flat now, ordinary. There is no hint of the clandestine, no echo of detail that cannot be measured, manipulated, planned. I realize the risks are secondary, not as important as the process, especially with death hovering close by, a death unconnected to actions or weaknesses of the body inhabited. I realize what they do is the business of refusal, denial, distraction, the piercing of time, years adrift and the emptiness we stuff with abstract clutter. My terror makes me queasy. Well, maybe it's the alcohol, the lack of sleep and food, the sadness, the coffee and the drugs. Anyway, I feel sick. I curl my head over my legs, close my eyes and try to focus on calming whatever is raging in my digestive system. I believe I am subtle, then I hear myself moan

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Berkeley Fiction Review and feel prickling waves and slow-motion crashings inside my head. I like this. It confuses the terror. My picture of Tony has changed since I came inside this house. I know he will have tattoos, and that is a comfort. But what about living in such generic rooms? And what about Brenda? I associate the name with obedient junior high school girls, the ones with ironed collars. I am already suspicious of her. What about the furniture? I understand the insipid styles necessitated by temporary residences, but this seems extreme. Suffocating nothingness. Every single item is oppressively square, not to mention the assortment of sad colors: rust, dulled green, carpeting the color of tarnished brass. And whose baby? There are baby things lying around: a pacifier, a whitish-cotton-pajama-thing, tiny, graspable toys. I look up. "Do Brenda and Tony have a baby?" I ask Chris, who still refuses to look at me possibly more adamantly than he refused before. "Baby died," he says. I don't know what to say, so I say: "Shit, that's tough." I think about the baby things still lying around and realize the death may have been recent. I consider the alternative and begin hoping the death was recent. Derek looks at me, then shakes his head. His face is blank as usual, but I think something inside him is repulsed, annoyed. After about an hour, an hour when Derek stopped looking around, sat down and read a newspaper, and Chris and I drank Dos Equis as I tried to wheedle conversation from him while simultaneously banishing images in my head of breathless, tiny bodies and creeping panic, Tony comes home. He is big and strong. He looks cartoonishly muscular. I can tell from the way his tee shirt fits that he works out hard. I think of convicts lifting weights in prison yards. I think of bodies as weapons. He has whitish-blonde hair and pale blue eyes. He looks at me with an intensity that makes my weakened stomach quiver. As soon as he walks into the room, I feel safe. He is talking about the baby. "We tried the hospital, the

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Kindness university, they couldn't do anything. She was dead when we left the house. Brenda just couldn't let go. I dropped her off at her mother's. She's sedated." His voice is clear, matter-offact. As an afterthought, one he apparently feels is necessary, he says, looking mostly at me: "She wasn't my baby." I am stunned, and morbidly, a little intrigued. This baby died last night, her death hideously though reassuringly recent. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Some sort of mysterious suffocation. I have a hundred questions, none of which I would dream of asking, at least not at the moment; this perfect, dense, moment in a cleaner, thicker measure of time and possibility: stopped hearts, inescapable losses. Suddenly, Derek says something about Houston. I think the subject should not be changed until Tony changes it, though Derek is uncomfortable. There is a collision of doom and banality. I spin. There are noises in my ears no one else is hearing. Chris is still remote in his young head, though he is listening and watching. Right away, Derek and Tony sink into the safety of business talk. The subject is changed, though the little death stays inside the room like the scent of roses, like some grandmother's perfume. Rightaway, they are laying out plans and scheming about how and where to make connections. The conversation is flat now, ordinary. There is no hint of the clandestine, no echo of detail that cannot be measured, manipulated, planned. I realize the risks are secondary, not as important as the process, especially with death hovering close by, a death unconnected to actions or weaknesses of the body inhabited. I realize what they do is the business of refusal, denial, distraction, the piercing of time, years adrift and the emptiness we stuff with abstract clutter. My terror makes me queasy. Well, maybe it's the alcohol, the lack of sleep and food, the sadness, the coffee and the drugs. Anyway, I feel sick. I curl my head over my legs, close my eyes and try to focus on calming whatever is raging in my digestive system. I believe I am subtle, then I hear myself moan

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Berkeley Fiction Review and a reckless shiver begins, emanating not just from my troubled stomach, but someplace close to my core. Almost immediately, I feel hands on the sides of my head and then my shoulders, gentle, firm hands pulling me upward. The movement feels thickly liquid. The arms reaching around my ribcage, the hand grasping then settling on the top curve of my right hipbone, feel more like tendrils. A deeply rooted tremble takes hold inside my torso and I start to retch. Tony holds me against his chest and transports me to a bathroom. I've thrown up on his shirt. I crouch before the toilet and throw up again and again. I hear Water running. When I look up, he is barechested, his chest hair white. I realize he could be twice my age. The shirt he was wearing is lying on the bathroom counter beside the sink. I feel feverish, dizzy. He kneels beside me, puts a cool washcloth on my face, wipes around my mouth and chin. With his fingers, he brushes hair from my eyes. He puts his good arms around me. I press my face against his chest, the hair is soft, curly, comforting on my cheek. I start to cry. "I'm sorry you're sick," he says. "I threw up on you." I tell him, strangely unselfconscious about my tears. "Don't worry about that," he says, and I trust him, suddenly, totally. "Can I get you anything? Maybe after your stomach settles a little." Eventually I stand, wobbling. I rinse my face with cold water. I wash out my mouth. He stands in the doorway, watching me, ready to help. "Would you like to lie down for awhile?" he asks. I shake my head no. I want to hear whatever there is to hear. Even immobilized, I want to be close to the center. Gently, he escorts me back to the living room. Derek is scowling. "I told you to eat something," he says. Then finally: "You O.K.?" Fuck you, I think. You need lessons from this crazy man, now. I am silent. I am sure that I should feel some shame for being fallible, for becoming ill. But I don't. I feel weak, agitated^ exhausted. I look around. Chris is looking at me. "You want to smoke some weed?" he says. "It's good for nausea."

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For at least an hour, I barely move at all. I take a hit from Chris's pipe but even then he has to hold it to my lips, work the lighter. The room is spinning. Tony and Derek are still talking, though I have lost track of what they are saying. The name 'Brian' keeps coming up and I realize Brian must be the mere, the one I expect to like. I learn that Brian is in Brownsville until Tuesday. It is Sunday now. I hope that means we will stay here with Tony and Chris. I feel I must never leave the annoyingly colored room, the generic sofa. I float inside some other time frame. Tony brings me a glass of something carbonated. I keep thinking about Brenda and her baby. I wonder if Tony was gentle with her when the baby died, as considerate as he has been with me. I wonder who the father of the baby was and how details intertwine to complete the sad, prosaic story. I want him to come and sit by me, put his arms around me again and let me rest there. I wonder if I could comfort him, too. I imagine Tony would comply if I asked him to help me, though I would never ask him because I know Derek would be angry if I wasted time on personal nothingness. I am supposed to be helping him with his mission, not leeching tenderness from felons I meet along the way. My body feels empty of everything but a low-grade tremble, half a glass of something carbonated and the resonance of Brenda's new and eternal wound. Still, knowing I can't have something does not erase my craving. I am silent in my desire for assistance, composure, rest. After awhile they are quiet and I realize they are waiting for something, a telephone call. I am not as dizzy as I have been. I am actually sitting up, flipping through a book Chris brought me from the shelf. It is a book about healing oneself. I find it perplexing, arcane. Tony leaves out the back door for a minute, then returns. He says he has turned on the hot-tub. I feel relief. I have been undulating for about a day at one level or another. I imagine the heat will erase my shaking self. I imagine the hot water will recreate me, make me reasonable, healthier, sane. 1 want

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Berkeley Fiction Review and a reckless shiver begins, emanating not just from my troubled stomach, but someplace close to my core. Almost immediately, I feel hands on the sides of my head and then my shoulders, gentle, firm hands pulling me upward. The movement feels thickly liquid. The arms reaching around my ribcage, the hand grasping then settling on the top curve of my right hipbone, feel more like tendrils. A deeply rooted tremble takes hold inside my torso and I start to retch. Tony holds me against his chest and transports me to a bathroom. I've thrown up on his shirt. I crouch before the toilet and throw up again and again. I hear Water running. When I look up, he is barechested, his chest hair white. I realize he could be twice my age. The shirt he was wearing is lying on the bathroom counter beside the sink. I feel feverish, dizzy. He kneels beside me, puts a cool washcloth on my face, wipes around my mouth and chin. With his fingers, he brushes hair from my eyes. He puts his good arms around me. I press my face against his chest, the hair is soft, curly, comforting on my cheek. I start to cry. "I'm sorry you're sick," he says. "I threw up on you." I tell him, strangely unselfconscious about my tears. "Don't worry about that," he says, and I trust him, suddenly, totally. "Can I get you anything? Maybe after your stomach settles a little." Eventually I stand, wobbling. I rinse my face with cold water. I wash out my mouth. He stands in the doorway, watching me, ready to help. "Would you like to lie down for awhile?" he asks. I shake my head no. I want to hear whatever there is to hear. Even immobilized, I want to be close to the center. Gently, he escorts me back to the living room. Derek is scowling. "I told you to eat something," he says. Then finally: "You O.K.?" Fuck you, I think. You need lessons from this crazy man, now. I am silent. I am sure that I should feel some shame for being fallible, for becoming ill. But I don't. I feel weak, agitated^ exhausted. I look around. Chris is looking at me. "You want to smoke some weed?" he says. "It's good for nausea."

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For at least an hour, I barely move at all. I take a hit from Chris's pipe but even then he has to hold it to my lips, work the lighter. The room is spinning. Tony and Derek are still talking, though I have lost track of what they are saying. The name 'Brian' keeps coming up and I realize Brian must be the mere, the one I expect to like. I learn that Brian is in Brownsville until Tuesday. It is Sunday now. I hope that means we will stay here with Tony and Chris. I feel I must never leave the annoyingly colored room, the generic sofa. I float inside some other time frame. Tony brings me a glass of something carbonated. I keep thinking about Brenda and her baby. I wonder if Tony was gentle with her when the baby died, as considerate as he has been with me. I wonder who the father of the baby was and how details intertwine to complete the sad, prosaic story. I want him to come and sit by me, put his arms around me again and let me rest there. I wonder if I could comfort him, too. I imagine Tony would comply if I asked him to help me, though I would never ask him because I know Derek would be angry if I wasted time on personal nothingness. I am supposed to be helping him with his mission, not leeching tenderness from felons I meet along the way. My body feels empty of everything but a low-grade tremble, half a glass of something carbonated and the resonance of Brenda's new and eternal wound. Still, knowing I can't have something does not erase my craving. I am silent in my desire for assistance, composure, rest. After awhile they are quiet and I realize they are waiting for something, a telephone call. I am not as dizzy as I have been. I am actually sitting up, flipping through a book Chris brought me from the shelf. It is a book about healing oneself. I find it perplexing, arcane. Tony leaves out the back door for a minute, then returns. He says he has turned on the hot-tub. I feel relief. I have been undulating for about a day at one level or another. I imagine the heat will erase my shaking self. I imagine the hot water will recreate me, make me reasonable, healthier, sane. 1 want

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Berkeley Fiction Review this to happen. When it is time, I slowly walk outside, Tony and Derek behind me. The hot-tub is built into a small deck. It is about 5:00 p.m., the sun pulling low over the winter skyline. I can only imagine the endless desert horizon coolly blazing behind the tracts of nearly identical homes. Tony says: "If you want, you could wear something of Brenda's." I do not want. I do not need to borrow clothes from a woman who just watched her bahy die. That seems unthinkable to me. Impolite. Improper. I choose to go in naked. Just before undressing, the phone rings and both men go into the house. I am relieved to be alone. I remove my clothes and slip into the water like a snake, concentrating on each limb, each piece fitting and working together. The water is so hot I gasp, it burns. I suck air in through my open lips. I refuse to jump out. I insist I can take it. I like being naked. I like being naked in water after having eaten practically nothing in two days. I feel my bones. They are distinctive, angular, articulate. They promise me I am alive. I feel a becoming inside myself and outside myself, too. I feel like I can glimpse the inner working of some element, rain perhaps or wind. Finally, they return. They seem calmed, resolute. They have made an acceptable plan. My skin is steaming. I am smooth as melted butter. I ask: "So . . . who's going to Houston?" Derek smiles at me. "You are." I laugh, as he knew I would. "And do I get company?" I say. "Sure," he answers. "What company would you prefer?" I know he is playing a game. I know he wants to set me up, demonstrate how much smarter he is, how we are friends only at his discretion. There is no right answer for me so I say nothing. I wait him out. Finally, Tony says: "We're all going to meet up in Houston on Wednesday. Brian'll be back by then." I murmur assent. Dreams often collide with knowledge. Still, I am disappointed. Fantasies can form out of next to nothing, take the shape of something nearly lifelike and call anticipa-

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Kindness tion to the outer reaches of one's skin. I truly know I could not have spent much time with Tony and maintained the fantasy I have of him; even as he sits before me, even if he is everything I want him to be. Dreams, anyway, are just sentimental quests for transformation, the possibility of escape. I recognize him as a kind spirit with blissfully temporal components. I recognize what he has given me already and that it would probably only diminish if I tried to get more. This is one of the beauties and curses of getting older. I know the torture of desires unanswered as well as those completed as dreamed. I feel Derek getting edgy. He wants to hit the road, maybe kick around Houston for a day or two before Brian gets back, maybe stop in San Antonio, see the Alamo, something. I get out of the hot-tub, steam rising from my skin. I cover myself with a towel, gather my clothes, go inside and get dressed in the kitchen. I feel weak, like a bird with mangled wings. I partially wish to evaporate into steam. I drink some juice and eat a piece of bread, plain, soft, the kind you don't actually have to chew. I hold onto the edge of the sink and forbid the reemergence of my pacified tremors. Within the hour, Derek and I are back in the car, finding 1-10 and heading out of town. It is completely dark, a new moon squinting somewhere above. I feel feverish. I think it is more than habitual terror. I think I must have a touch of the flu. Derek puts his hand against my forehead like I am a child. "Yep, you're hot," he says. "We should get you some aspirin." Instead, we drive, listening to the radio. After awhile, I reach over and turn the radio off. I look at his profile, his face directed at the road. He looks at me. I look back. For privacy, I crawl into the back seat and that is how we travel. I am good at my craft, more goal-oriented than I ever have been before. I didn't know I could have so many orgasms in one evening. I thought I needed more recuperation time between. I was wrong. We

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Berkeley Fiction Review this to happen. When it is time, I slowly walk outside, Tony and Derek behind me. The hot-tub is built into a small deck. It is about 5:00 p.m., the sun pulling low over the winter skyline. I can only imagine the endless desert horizon coolly blazing behind the tracts of nearly identical homes. Tony says: "If you want, you could wear something of Brenda's." I do not want. I do not need to borrow clothes from a woman who just watched her bahy die. That seems unthinkable to me. Impolite. Improper. I choose to go in naked. Just before undressing, the phone rings and both men go into the house. I am relieved to be alone. I remove my clothes and slip into the water like a snake, concentrating on each limb, each piece fitting and working together. The water is so hot I gasp, it burns. I suck air in through my open lips. I refuse to jump out. I insist I can take it. I like being naked. I like being naked in water after having eaten practically nothing in two days. I feel my bones. They are distinctive, angular, articulate. They promise me I am alive. I feel a becoming inside myself and outside myself, too. I feel like I can glimpse the inner working of some element, rain perhaps or wind. Finally, they return. They seem calmed, resolute. They have made an acceptable plan. My skin is steaming. I am smooth as melted butter. I ask: "So . . . who's going to Houston?" Derek smiles at me. "You are." I laugh, as he knew I would. "And do I get company?" I say. "Sure," he answers. "What company would you prefer?" I know he is playing a game. I know he wants to set me up, demonstrate how much smarter he is, how we are friends only at his discretion. There is no right answer for me so I say nothing. I wait him out. Finally, Tony says: "We're all going to meet up in Houston on Wednesday. Brian'll be back by then." I murmur assent. Dreams often collide with knowledge. Still, I am disappointed. Fantasies can form out of next to nothing, take the shape of something nearly lifelike and call anticipa-

72

Kindness tion to the outer reaches of one's skin. I truly know I could not have spent much time with Tony and maintained the fantasy I have of him; even as he sits before me, even if he is everything I want him to be. Dreams, anyway, are just sentimental quests for transformation, the possibility of escape. I recognize him as a kind spirit with blissfully temporal components. I recognize what he has given me already and that it would probably only diminish if I tried to get more. This is one of the beauties and curses of getting older. I know the torture of desires unanswered as well as those completed as dreamed. I feel Derek getting edgy. He wants to hit the road, maybe kick around Houston for a day or two before Brian gets back, maybe stop in San Antonio, see the Alamo, something. I get out of the hot-tub, steam rising from my skin. I cover myself with a towel, gather my clothes, go inside and get dressed in the kitchen. I feel weak, like a bird with mangled wings. I partially wish to evaporate into steam. I drink some juice and eat a piece of bread, plain, soft, the kind you don't actually have to chew. I hold onto the edge of the sink and forbid the reemergence of my pacified tremors. Within the hour, Derek and I are back in the car, finding 1-10 and heading out of town. It is completely dark, a new moon squinting somewhere above. I feel feverish. I think it is more than habitual terror. I think I must have a touch of the flu. Derek puts his hand against my forehead like I am a child. "Yep, you're hot," he says. "We should get you some aspirin." Instead, we drive, listening to the radio. After awhile, I reach over and turn the radio off. I look at his profile, his face directed at the road. He looks at me. I look back. For privacy, I crawl into the back seat and that is how we travel. I am good at my craft, more goal-oriented than I ever have been before. I didn't know I could have so many orgasms in one evening. I thought I needed more recuperation time between. I was wrong. We

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Berkeley Fiction Review are driving along the edge of Mexico and I have felt sweetness so near it hums on my skin. I am feverish, weak, growing weaker. It is night and we will not stop traveling until morning, though I let Derek do all the driving. I do not want to help him with anything. I do not even think to volunteer.

3 r

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Berkeley Fiction Review are driving along the edge of Mexico and I have felt sweetness so near it hums on my skin. I am feverish, weak, growing weaker. It is night and we will not stop traveling until morning, though I let Derek do all the driving. I do not want to help him with anything. I do not even think to volunteer.

3 r

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Swallowing My Mother habit of presenting myself and the habit of expecting judgment. Now it is all mine. T h e eye that looks out and in with the power to see everything ugly or deeply beautiful. It is m i n e because when I swallowed my mother, I didn't swallow her in bits, bite by bite, picking and choosing. W h e n I swallowed my mother, I swallowed her whole. S w a l l o w i n g

M y

M o t h e r

Leslie Absher

W

h e n I swallowed my mother, I swallowed her thick dark hair and smooth teeth. I swallowed her tapered legs and tiny wrists. I swallowed her full round breasts. I swallowed the distant look in her eyes. I swallowed most of the features of her face. I swallowed her smile. W h e n I swallowed my mother, I thought, This is good. This is what I want. Now she is mine. W h e n I swallowed my mother, I swallowed her black pubic hair and the mole just below her trachea. I swallowed her instinct for arranging colors. Her preferences for browns, sometimes sandy, sometimes chocolatey. Bright colors too. Fiesta reds and yellows. I swallowed her p e n c h a n t for opening boxes of cookies in the store and eating t h e m as she strolled down the aisles. But w h e n I swallowed my mother, 1 saw how I had also swallowed her scolding. "Hold your shoulders back. Sit u p straight." Her standards of behavior. "Offer to help. Smile. R e m e m b e r to say please." Her meticulous measure of cordiality. " D i d you send a thank-you note?" All the don't-do-thats. And with the scolding, I swallowed her carefully appraising eye.5 The; one that follows m e around at parties, pitting .people against each other, against me, against those I love. It is t h e eye that used to judge m e and that now looks out at others. W h e n I swallowed the appraising eye, I swallowed the

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Swallowing My Mother habit of presenting myself and the habit of expecting judgment. Now it is all mine. T h e eye that looks out and in with the power to see everything ugly or deeply beautiful. It is m i n e because when I swallowed my mother, I didn't swallow her in bits, bite by bite, picking and choosing. W h e n I swallowed my mother, I swallowed her whole. S w a l l o w i n g

M y

M o t h e r

Leslie Absher

W

h e n I swallowed my mother, I swallowed her thick dark hair and smooth teeth. I swallowed her tapered legs and tiny wrists. I swallowed her full round breasts. I swallowed the distant look in her eyes. I swallowed most of the features of her face. I swallowed her smile. W h e n I swallowed my mother, I thought, This is good. This is what I want. Now she is mine. W h e n I swallowed my mother, I swallowed her black pubic hair and the mole just below her trachea. I swallowed her instinct for arranging colors. Her preferences for browns, sometimes sandy, sometimes chocolatey. Bright colors too. Fiesta reds and yellows. I swallowed her p e n c h a n t for opening boxes of cookies in the store and eating t h e m as she strolled down the aisles. But w h e n I swallowed my mother, 1 saw how I had also swallowed her scolding. "Hold your shoulders back. Sit u p straight." Her standards of behavior. "Offer to help. Smile. R e m e m b e r to say please." Her meticulous measure of cordiality. " D i d you send a thank-you note?" All the don't-do-thats. And with the scolding, I swallowed her carefully appraising eye.5 The; one that follows m e around at parties, pitting .people against each other, against me, against those I love. It is t h e eye that used to judge m e and that now looks out at others. W h e n I swallowed the appraising eye, I swallowed the

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Measure There's another man I might want to sleep with. Alex. He knows Max is leaving soon. H e also knows we haven't touched each other in six months. I can't believe I told him that. It really hasn't been that long, anyway. I said it for effect as I wrapped u p his flowers. They're for my mother, he said. H e didn't have to say that; Max is still here.

M e a s u r e Joanna Yas

We can't. It hurts. T h e n we won't. It's fine. I stay up and do a crossword. I know the light is keeping him up, but h e won't say anything. Max hates that we've stopped having sex, especially because he's about to leave. He wants to get it all in now, soak each other up before it's too late. For me, it already is.

I.

I

can't seem to keep myself away from my pulse. W h e n ever I see a clock on a wall or a c h u r c h or the side of a bank, I grab my wrist and begin to count.

Max and I are on the porch. T h e paint up there is chipping. It's blue underneath . This house used to be blue? I ask. Max doesn't know, because he moved in here after me. In the South, all porch ceilings are painted blue, he says. People can pretend to be looking at the sky without worrying about rain. H e knows this, even though he's never left the Northeast. Max is an authority on everything. My first kiss lives in Georgia, I say. I've heard he's gay now. I was fourteen. We went to a Halloween party wrapped in sheets. Max isn't listening anymore. He's too busy looking for an artificial sky. How are you going to get your stuff to New York? Max doesn't like this question because it means, You can't leave anything here. I don't know, h e says. I'll rent something, a truck. Max is leaving in a month. If I were moving, I'd be planning, making arrangements. Max will be figuring things out the day before h e leaves. Of course, I'll have to help him.

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T h e clock in our room is digital, so I have to wait for the exact m o m e n t when the minute changes. No. You have to do one corner, then the diagonal one. Max is having a hard time with the fitted sheet. It's too small for the bed, he grumbles, as if it's gotten smaller after all this time. We should have done this more often, I say, meaning laundry. Why? So I would know how to put the sheet on right? He's on his stomach, arms spread out, one hand at each elastic corner. His fingers are spread out, too. So wide that it looks painful. W h e n are you leaving? You know. Around the 8th or 9th. T h r e e weeks. Seventy-two. My pulse is always the same. I do know. I just wanted to hear how the question sounds now. Max thinks of this leaving as something he's about to become, rather than do. Instead of, W h e n are you going to leave because it's what you've planned and you can't stay here because I can't be the only reason? he hears, W h e n are you going to turn into that monster with skin that falls off when it talks? Max caught on to my pulse thing. H e thinks I'm crazy. Yesterday he caught me, counting, and asked, Are you still alive? T h a t was a joke, but neither of us laughed.

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Measure There's another man I might want to sleep with. Alex. He knows Max is leaving soon. H e also knows we haven't touched each other in six months. I can't believe I told him that. It really hasn't been that long, anyway. I said it for effect as I wrapped u p his flowers. They're for my mother, he said. H e didn't have to say that; Max is still here.

M e a s u r e Joanna Yas

We can't. It hurts. T h e n we won't. It's fine. I stay up and do a crossword. I know the light is keeping him up, but h e won't say anything. Max hates that we've stopped having sex, especially because he's about to leave. He wants to get it all in now, soak each other up before it's too late. For me, it already is.

I.

I

can't seem to keep myself away from my pulse. W h e n ever I see a clock on a wall or a c h u r c h or the side of a bank, I grab my wrist and begin to count.

Max and I are on the porch. T h e paint up there is chipping. It's blue underneath . This house used to be blue? I ask. Max doesn't know, because he moved in here after me. In the South, all porch ceilings are painted blue, he says. People can pretend to be looking at the sky without worrying about rain. H e knows this, even though he's never left the Northeast. Max is an authority on everything. My first kiss lives in Georgia, I say. I've heard he's gay now. I was fourteen. We went to a Halloween party wrapped in sheets. Max isn't listening anymore. He's too busy looking for an artificial sky. How are you going to get your stuff to New York? Max doesn't like this question because it means, You can't leave anything here. I don't know, h e says. I'll rent something, a truck. Max is leaving in a month. If I were moving, I'd be planning, making arrangements. Max will be figuring things out the day before h e leaves. Of course, I'll have to help him.

78

T h e clock in our room is digital, so I have to wait for the exact m o m e n t when the minute changes. No. You have to do one corner, then the diagonal one. Max is having a hard time with the fitted sheet. It's too small for the bed, he grumbles, as if it's gotten smaller after all this time. We should have done this more often, I say, meaning laundry. Why? So I would know how to put the sheet on right? He's on his stomach, arms spread out, one hand at each elastic corner. His fingers are spread out, too. So wide that it looks painful. W h e n are you leaving? You know. Around the 8th or 9th. T h r e e weeks. Seventy-two. My pulse is always the same. I do know. I just wanted to hear how the question sounds now. Max thinks of this leaving as something he's about to become, rather than do. Instead of, W h e n are you going to leave because it's what you've planned and you can't stay here because I can't be the only reason? he hears, W h e n are you going to turn into that monster with skin that falls off when it talks? Max caught on to my pulse thing. H e thinks I'm crazy. Yesterday he caught me, counting, and asked, Are you still alive? T h a t was a joke, but neither of us laughed.

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Berkeley Fiction Review II. Last night I went to a party. Max had to work. I wanted to pretend that I was single for a few hours. I wore high heels. In line for the bathroom, Nora said, You must be so sad. When's he going? You'll keep in touch, I know you will. She squeezed my hand, then pushed past me to fix her lipstick. Nora thinks that Max is only leaving because of a job and that I'll meet up with him when I have enough money. Max thinks so, too. Our goodbye will be so lopsided. I'll be sweaty and annoyed from carrying his poorly packed boxes. He'll be saying, Until then . . . . Did you enjoy the party? Max asks, later that night. You're so dressed up. His pointing this out embarrasses me. I know, I say. Everyone else was wearing jeans. You should've come. They asked about you. I realize we are talking like strangers. I've started running for the bus, even if I have enough time to walk. Today I sat next to a man reading the paper; his sleeves were pushed up, so I could see his watch. D o you want the time? No. I touch my pulse. The running makes a slight difference. Alex came back to the store. She must be very sick, I said. Who? Your mother. Oh. What do I want from this man? I think I want him to wait around for me, to be ready as soon as Max leaves. Before that, he is not allowed to be with anyone else. Even though we barely know each other. I can't stand this waiting around, piles of books and boxes that make my house feel like purgatory* I'm already planning what I'm going to do with the extra space. Don't ever get involved with someone who's going to leave you behind, my mother says, now that it's happened twice. I still have the boxes from the first one in my attic.

It's a break that was always there for Max and me, like a crack in the earth, or in the sidewalk. We stepped over it millions of times. I waited around for the moment when we would both see it at once, our eyes locking on it, and now he's gone, waiting for me to come to him. Alex hasn't come around in days. He must know that Max is gone, that our flirting is no longer harmless. I'm grateful for his absence; I can stop looking up anxiously every time someone opens the door. I'm trying to enjoy the shop: the flowers, the crinkling of wrapping paper, the lovers and wives and husbands. I try not to think about the relatives of the sick and dying, my arrangements beside hospital beds, but I can't help it. The stories keep me from constantly looking at the clock, waiting for the end of my shift. What's going to happen at five o'clock that can't happen now? Before the party tonight, I spent a long time in front of the mirror, trying to connect the face in the glass to the one in my head. I decided not to put on lipstick; it would be too much like drawing on someone else's face. And this time, no teetering around in high heels, no pretending. In the car, I realize that this is the first time I've gone anywhere but work in a week. I haven't wanted to, because my empty house feels so new, like a baby that can't be left alone. Alex is at the party. How are you? he says. I open my mouth to tell him that Max is gone, that I have the house to myself. But I don't Instead I say, Good, to him, and to myself. In the bathroom, I try to convince myself that the face in the mirror is not really me. I manage to do it, to completely cut

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Berkeley Fiction Review II. Last night I went to a party. Max had to work. I wanted to pretend that I was single for a few hours. I wore high heels. In line for the bathroom, Nora said, You must be so sad. When's he going? You'll keep in touch, I know you will. She squeezed my hand, then pushed past me to fix her lipstick. Nora thinks that Max is only leaving because of a job and that I'll meet up with him when I have enough money. Max thinks so, too. Our goodbye will be so lopsided. I'll be sweaty and annoyed from carrying his poorly packed boxes. He'll be saying, Until then . . . . Did you enjoy the party? Max asks, later that night. You're so dressed up. His pointing this out embarrasses me. I know, I say. Everyone else was wearing jeans. You should've come. They asked about you. I realize we are talking like strangers. I've started running for the bus, even if I have enough time to walk. Today I sat next to a man reading the paper; his sleeves were pushed up, so I could see his watch. D o you want the time? No. I touch my pulse. The running makes a slight difference. Alex came back to the store. She must be very sick, I said. Who? Your mother. Oh. What do I want from this man? I think I want him to wait around for me, to be ready as soon as Max leaves. Before that, he is not allowed to be with anyone else. Even though we barely know each other. I can't stand this waiting around, piles of books and boxes that make my house feel like purgatory* I'm already planning what I'm going to do with the extra space. Don't ever get involved with someone who's going to leave you behind, my mother says, now that it's happened twice. I still have the boxes from the first one in my attic.

It's a break that was always there for Max and me, like a crack in the earth, or in the sidewalk. We stepped over it millions of times. I waited around for the moment when we would both see it at once, our eyes locking on it, and now he's gone, waiting for me to come to him. Alex hasn't come around in days. He must know that Max is gone, that our flirting is no longer harmless. I'm grateful for his absence; I can stop looking up anxiously every time someone opens the door. I'm trying to enjoy the shop: the flowers, the crinkling of wrapping paper, the lovers and wives and husbands. I try not to think about the relatives of the sick and dying, my arrangements beside hospital beds, but I can't help it. The stories keep me from constantly looking at the clock, waiting for the end of my shift. What's going to happen at five o'clock that can't happen now? Before the party tonight, I spent a long time in front of the mirror, trying to connect the face in the glass to the one in my head. I decided not to put on lipstick; it would be too much like drawing on someone else's face. And this time, no teetering around in high heels, no pretending. In the car, I realize that this is the first time I've gone anywhere but work in a week. I haven't wanted to, because my empty house feels so new, like a baby that can't be left alone. Alex is at the party. How are you? he says. I open my mouth to tell him that Max is gone, that I have the house to myself. But I don't Instead I say, Good, to him, and to myself. In the bathroom, I try to convince myself that the face in the mirror is not really me. I manage to do it, to completely cut

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Berkeley Fiction Review myself off from that image, but only for an instant, because someone knocks on the door. Is someone dying in there? an annoyed female voice yells. I open the door abruptly, wearing my own face again. No. T h e face I see in my head is more like my mother's face. It's as if I'm constantly waiting for the wrinkles, for the wisdom of age, constantly missing what fills the present m o m e n t , like the feeling of my feet on the tile floor. Leaving so early? Nora asks. She's standing by the door with a drink, monitoring guests as they come and go. W h a t she means is, Leaving alone? Yes. Back at h o m e , there is still time to enjoy the night. It's early and the sky is light because of the clouds, and it's warm enough to sit on the porch wearing only my nightgown. No. I don't want to wait for the wrinkles, for time, for living. I know that when I really do see the gray hairs and the lines around my eyes, the face in my head will be a young o n e , the one I have now but don't see.

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Berkeley Fiction Review myself off from that image, but only for an instant, because someone knocks on the door. Is someone dying in there? an annoyed female voice yells. I open the door abruptly, wearing my own face again. No. T h e face I see in my head is more like my mother's face. It's as if I'm constantly waiting for the wrinkles, for the wisdom of age, constantly missing what fills the present m o m e n t , like the feeling of my feet on the tile floor. Leaving so early? Nora asks. She's standing by the door with a drink, monitoring guests as they come and go. W h a t she means is, Leaving alone? Yes. Back at h o m e , there is still time to enjoy the night. It's early and the sky is light because of the clouds, and it's warm enough to sit on the porch wearing only my nightgown. No. I don't want to wait for the wrinkles, for time, for living. I know that when I really do see the gray hairs and the lines around my eyes, the face in my head will be a young o n e , the one I have now but don't see.

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Wonder Emma Her flashing eyes are obscured by a lock of her equally perfect hair as she bends to press her lips to his . . .

W o n d e r ft ||i

E m m a

h Šweft Worsen

he drops from the tree to the ground, silent as a par^J ihef, breaking her fall with a roll. She's upMja flash, lasso in hdnd> alert for Nazis. Where vQuld'they be * holding Steve? He is no doubt tied up somewhere, some black* booted commander slappinghim around, plying him with truth / serum, mussing his perfect hair. She creeps behind an abandoned farmhouse, a secret ammunition store. The Amazon blood boiling in her veins, she is a predator, ready to pounce on the tormentors of her beloved. At a noise from behind the shed's door, she bursts in, howling her battle cry. The commander freezes, fist raised above Steve's handsome face, andshe can see Steve's head hanging limply to one side. With a snap of her wrists she deflects a volley of bullets, then lassoes the guard. With one swing of her arm the commander flies through the air to land unconscious on the floor. u Steve? Speak to me. We gotta get you outta hem,"she says, loosening the ropes that hold him. * His eyes flicker open. '^Wonder Woman, I thought you were in Washington . . . " "J go where I can fight for my country." ~ ' "Kiss me, Wonder Woman." ; "" "But the guards, we better leave." "I may die now, and I want you to know . . . I love you." "Well" she sdys, "all right..."

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" E M M A ! W h a t the hell . . . what was that scream?" E m m a ' s father stood in the doorway staring dumbfounded at her. " W h a t have you done to the lawn mower?" he asked, pointing at the ropes holding the lassoed guard. E m m a scratched around her magic bracelets as she inched towards the door. T h e aluminum foil was starting to itch. "Daddy, I was-" "You know I don't like you playing in here, you could h u rt yourself on these garden tools." H e picked up the dropped m a c h i n e gun and h u n g it back with the other rakes. "But-" "Your mother's been calling you for five minutes," he said. "She needs you to watch your sister while she gets dinner ready, now go!" H e pushed the frayed office chair that held Steve Trevor's unconscious body into the shadows. E m m a trotted back to the house. She spun around a few times to change back into Diana Prince, mild-mannered intelligence agent. In the kitchen her six-year-old sister, MeiMei, was building a tower on the table with wooden blocks. E m m a narrowed her eyes in resentment. She couldn't help but feel betrayed by the recollection of promises of a baby sister who "will play with you . . . b e your best friend." Lies, she t h o u g h t , all lies. After all this time, Mei-Mei still followed her around like a sheep and d i d n ' t know how to kill Nazis as Wonder Woman's Amazon sister, Drucilla. E m m a flounced by the table, leveling Mei-Mei's tower. "Stop it!" Mei-Mei whined, "Ma!" "Emma, take her upstairs and play," her mother said, chopping scallions. "But M o m , she can't even spin without falling on her face." H e r m o t h e r stopped chopping. "An-Mai," she warned. W h e n e v e r her mother used her Vietnamese n a m e she meant business. E m m a glared at Mei-Mei who had already forgotten about

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Wonder Emma Her flashing eyes are obscured by a lock of her equally perfect hair as she bends to press her lips to his . . .

W o n d e r ft ||i

E m m a

h Šweft Worsen

he drops from the tree to the ground, silent as a par^J ihef, breaking her fall with a roll. She's upMja flash, lasso in hdnd> alert for Nazis. Where vQuld'they be * holding Steve? He is no doubt tied up somewhere, some black* booted commander slappinghim around, plying him with truth / serum, mussing his perfect hair. She creeps behind an abandoned farmhouse, a secret ammunition store. The Amazon blood boiling in her veins, she is a predator, ready to pounce on the tormentors of her beloved. At a noise from behind the shed's door, she bursts in, howling her battle cry. The commander freezes, fist raised above Steve's handsome face, andshe can see Steve's head hanging limply to one side. With a snap of her wrists she deflects a volley of bullets, then lassoes the guard. With one swing of her arm the commander flies through the air to land unconscious on the floor. u Steve? Speak to me. We gotta get you outta hem,"she says, loosening the ropes that hold him. * His eyes flicker open. '^Wonder Woman, I thought you were in Washington . . . " "J go where I can fight for my country." ~ ' "Kiss me, Wonder Woman." ; "" "But the guards, we better leave." "I may die now, and I want you to know . . . I love you." "Well" she sdys, "all right..."

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" E M M A ! W h a t the hell . . . what was that scream?" E m m a ' s father stood in the doorway staring dumbfounded at her. " W h a t have you done to the lawn mower?" he asked, pointing at the ropes holding the lassoed guard. E m m a scratched around her magic bracelets as she inched towards the door. T h e aluminum foil was starting to itch. "Daddy, I was-" "You know I don't like you playing in here, you could h u rt yourself on these garden tools." H e picked up the dropped m a c h i n e gun and h u n g it back with the other rakes. "But-" "Your mother's been calling you for five minutes," he said. "She needs you to watch your sister while she gets dinner ready, now go!" H e pushed the frayed office chair that held Steve Trevor's unconscious body into the shadows. E m m a trotted back to the house. She spun around a few times to change back into Diana Prince, mild-mannered intelligence agent. In the kitchen her six-year-old sister, MeiMei, was building a tower on the table with wooden blocks. E m m a narrowed her eyes in resentment. She couldn't help but feel betrayed by the recollection of promises of a baby sister who "will play with you . . . b e your best friend." Lies, she t h o u g h t , all lies. After all this time, Mei-Mei still followed her around like a sheep and d i d n ' t know how to kill Nazis as Wonder Woman's Amazon sister, Drucilla. E m m a flounced by the table, leveling Mei-Mei's tower. "Stop it!" Mei-Mei whined, "Ma!" "Emma, take her upstairs and play," her mother said, chopping scallions. "But M o m , she can't even spin without falling on her face." H e r m o t h e r stopped chopping. "An-Mai," she warned. W h e n e v e r her mother used her Vietnamese n a m e she meant business. E m m a glared at Mei-Mei who had already forgotten about

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the tower and was gazing with admiration at Emma's foil bracelets. "Look at you," her mother sighed. She turned around, taking in Emma's dirty knees and socks with a glance. A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth, and Emma could see the laughter hiding behind her black eyes. Emma stuck her chin out defiantly. Her mother couldn't seem to grasp the importance of ridding the world of evil Germans. She came over and took off Emma's cardboard tiara, affectionately smoothing her straight dark hair back into two long braids. "Why can't you play nicely like your sister?" she said in Vietnamese. "Now go and wash up before dinner."

kitchen. When her parents spoke in Vietnamese, she knew they were talking about her. Mei-Mei sat at the coffee table haying a pretend dinner with her Raggedy Ann. Emma closed her eyes and saw troops surrounding the house, holding her family ransom for government secrets. She would save her parents from the Nazis, but they could have Mei-Mei. "Brat," she mouthed at Mei-Mei. "Spoiled brat." "Mommy, Emma s bothering me!" "Emma!" Emma returned her attention to the Lido deck and hummed the Love Boat theme song under her breath.

Emma's tiara sat on the corner of the table. Her parents cleared the table while the TV blared from the living room. They spoke quietly in Vietnamese. "I don't care where she plays, as long as she stays out of the shed," her father said. "She knotted an old rope around the lawn mower and I had to practically saw it off." "Did you see this?" her mother held up the tiara, crayoned gold cardboard with a tiny red star in.the middle. "She's Wonder Woman," she said, smiling. "She looks more like a Maoist revolutionary with that star." "She has an active imagination for ten." "I think you should teach her to behave more like a girl," he said. "All that screaming, the neighbors will think we beat her." • "Good thing the neighbors moved then," her mother said. "Maybe she'll meet some nice new girl and decide she likes to have tea parties." "I wouldn't count on it," he said.

That Sunday afternoon, her mother returned from the store with a Barbie doll for Emma and a stuffed seal for Mei-Mei. Mei-Mei squealed and hugged the plush seal with idiot joy Emma gaped at the pink Barbie cellophane. Her mother smiled. "Isn't she pretty?" Emma nodded. Every girl at school was dying for a Barbie. But those who had one just sat around on the playground combing the golden hair and talking about the latest accessories. Emma secretly coveted the boys' GI Joes. "But I wanted a tank," she said, envisioning Wonder Woman demolishing an army to save Steve. "You can play with her outside," her mother said. "And there's another dress in the back of the box." Emma looked at her mother in disbelief. "What do you say, Emma?" "Thank you," Emma whispered. Upstairs, she gingerly took Barbie out of the box and examined her. Her arms wouldn't straighten, and she walked on her toes. Emma tried to twist her into a few action poses, but somehow the doll didn't look fierce at all. She looked like she wanted to go to a party, not save the world. She was blond, as well. Wonder Woman had dark wavy hair. Mei-Mei watched with envy as Emma examined the doll. "Can I have your clothes?" she asked, pointing to the abandoned evening gown in the box. Emma ignored her and flung the doll as hard as she could

In the other room, Emma was lying on her stomach watching Love Boat, the last show before bedtime on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was the two hour Hawaii cruise and there was little chance of her bargaining for that extra hour when she'd already been scolded for making Mei-Mei play Clean Up My Bedroom. Emma listened to the soft voices coming from the

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the tower and was gazing with admiration at Emma's foil bracelets. "Look at you," her mother sighed. She turned around, taking in Emma's dirty knees and socks with a glance. A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth, and Emma could see the laughter hiding behind her black eyes. Emma stuck her chin out defiantly. Her mother couldn't seem to grasp the importance of ridding the world of evil Germans. She came over and took off Emma's cardboard tiara, affectionately smoothing her straight dark hair back into two long braids. "Why can't you play nicely like your sister?" she said in Vietnamese. "Now go and wash up before dinner."

kitchen. When her parents spoke in Vietnamese, she knew they were talking about her. Mei-Mei sat at the coffee table haying a pretend dinner with her Raggedy Ann. Emma closed her eyes and saw troops surrounding the house, holding her family ransom for government secrets. She would save her parents from the Nazis, but they could have Mei-Mei. "Brat," she mouthed at Mei-Mei. "Spoiled brat." "Mommy, Emma s bothering me!" "Emma!" Emma returned her attention to the Lido deck and hummed the Love Boat theme song under her breath.

Emma's tiara sat on the corner of the table. Her parents cleared the table while the TV blared from the living room. They spoke quietly in Vietnamese. "I don't care where she plays, as long as she stays out of the shed," her father said. "She knotted an old rope around the lawn mower and I had to practically saw it off." "Did you see this?" her mother held up the tiara, crayoned gold cardboard with a tiny red star in.the middle. "She's Wonder Woman," she said, smiling. "She looks more like a Maoist revolutionary with that star." "She has an active imagination for ten." "I think you should teach her to behave more like a girl," he said. "All that screaming, the neighbors will think we beat her." • "Good thing the neighbors moved then," her mother said. "Maybe she'll meet some nice new girl and decide she likes to have tea parties." "I wouldn't count on it," he said.

That Sunday afternoon, her mother returned from the store with a Barbie doll for Emma and a stuffed seal for Mei-Mei. Mei-Mei squealed and hugged the plush seal with idiot joy Emma gaped at the pink Barbie cellophane. Her mother smiled. "Isn't she pretty?" Emma nodded. Every girl at school was dying for a Barbie. But those who had one just sat around on the playground combing the golden hair and talking about the latest accessories. Emma secretly coveted the boys' GI Joes. "But I wanted a tank," she said, envisioning Wonder Woman demolishing an army to save Steve. "You can play with her outside," her mother said. "And there's another dress in the back of the box." Emma looked at her mother in disbelief. "What do you say, Emma?" "Thank you," Emma whispered. Upstairs, she gingerly took Barbie out of the box and examined her. Her arms wouldn't straighten, and she walked on her toes. Emma tried to twist her into a few action poses, but somehow the doll didn't look fierce at all. She looked like she wanted to go to a party, not save the world. She was blond, as well. Wonder Woman had dark wavy hair. Mei-Mei watched with envy as Emma examined the doll. "Can I have your clothes?" she asked, pointing to the abandoned evening gown in the box. Emma ignored her and flung the doll as hard as she could

In the other room, Emma was lying on her stomach watching Love Boat, the last show before bedtime on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was the two hour Hawaii cruise and there was little chance of her bargaining for that extra hour when she'd already been scolded for making Mei-Mei play Clean Up My Bedroom. Emma listened to the soft voices coming from the

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Berkeley Fiction Review against the wall on her way out. Diana Prince spins into action at a call from the president. Reports of an American base being surrounded have been confirmed. Only one woman can stop them. Sprinting down the stairwell she hears the enemy in pursuit. She leaps over obstacles in her path . . . . "Emma, what did I tell you about jumping on the couch?" Her mother's voice was sharp. "Look at those footprints! Go upstairs and play quietly or else no TV this weekend." Emma returned to her bedroom to find Mei-Mei about to dress Barbie in a sparkly ball gown. Emma sprang on the bed with a vicious growl and snatched Barbie from Mei-Mei's sticky fingers. "This is mine, dummy. If you touch it again, I'll break your fingers, and if you tell Mom I told you that, I'll break your whole arm!" Mei-Mei shrank in fear and grabbed her seal. Emma took a closer look at the doll. Undressed, Barbie had some potential. The face and clothes were all wrong, but Barbie was shaped like Wonder Woman. Emma had an idea. It would be risky. Barbies were expensive, and it was probably not what her mother had in mind as "playing nicely." But the idea would have to wait, she thought, she had to do it outside the house. She went to Mrs. Yee's after school on Mondays, she could do it there. With a final warning glance at Mei-Mei, who was now obliviously talking to her seal, Emma stuffed Barbie into her knapsack. After school on Mondays and Wednesdays, Emma and MeiMei walked together to Mrs. Yee's. They were there for an hour with Mrs. Yee's two nieces, Agnes and Maya, who played the piano and still wore ribbons in their hair. Emma looked forward to the ritual of graham crackers with jelly and milk for snack time. It made listening to Mrs. Yee more bearable. She was a short, round, Chinese woman with a heavy accent.

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Wonder Emma She had an enormous dark brown mole on her neck sprouting two hairs, which both fascinated and repelled all the children. The smell of Tiger Balm and mothballs emanated from Mrs. Yee's clothes, reminding Emma of the Chinatown antique shops her mother liked to look through in L.A. Mrs. Yee's two favorite subjects were her nieces and Jesus. "Emma, did Agnes and Maya tell you they won the AllSouthern Young Musicians Competition this weekend?" Mrs. Yee was beaming. Emma already knew this from share time. Aggie had shown her trophy to the class that morning. They had won playing their duet, "The Little Turtle." Emma had imagined Aggie and Maya in their matching jumpers, lined up with all the other prissy kids on stage like ducks in a shooting gallery. Emma liked those quarter arcade games. At Knott's Berry Farm, if you hit one it did a little dance. Emma imagined Aggie the Baggie doing a little dance, and snickered loud enough that Mrs. Warren made her leave the sharing circle. Emma wrinkled her nose at Aggie. "They played that song," Mrs. Yee said, The Little Turtle. "Does that mean they'll finally stop practicing it?" Mrs. Yee gave Emma a look and left the snack table to refill the graham cracker plate. "You're just jealous because you can't do anything," Aggie whispered as her aunt disappeared into the kitchen. "I can do a lot if you don't watch out, garbage-baggie." Emma made a fist and then hid it under the table as Mrs. Yee returned. Emma shoved a cracker in her mouth and slipped off the seat. As she did, her knapsack fell off the chair and the nude Barbie tumbled out. Mrs. Yee gasped. "Your mother," Mrs. Yee stuttered, "she let you plav with V 7 that?" . Emma shrugged. "That doll is not good." Mrs. Yee frowned. "Why is she got no clothes on?" "She's got lots of clothes," Mei-Mei said, her mouth full.

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Berkeley Fiction Review against the wall on her way out. Diana Prince spins into action at a call from the president. Reports of an American base being surrounded have been confirmed. Only one woman can stop them. Sprinting down the stairwell she hears the enemy in pursuit. She leaps over obstacles in her path . . . . "Emma, what did I tell you about jumping on the couch?" Her mother's voice was sharp. "Look at those footprints! Go upstairs and play quietly or else no TV this weekend." Emma returned to her bedroom to find Mei-Mei about to dress Barbie in a sparkly ball gown. Emma sprang on the bed with a vicious growl and snatched Barbie from Mei-Mei's sticky fingers. "This is mine, dummy. If you touch it again, I'll break your fingers, and if you tell Mom I told you that, I'll break your whole arm!" Mei-Mei shrank in fear and grabbed her seal. Emma took a closer look at the doll. Undressed, Barbie had some potential. The face and clothes were all wrong, but Barbie was shaped like Wonder Woman. Emma had an idea. It would be risky. Barbies were expensive, and it was probably not what her mother had in mind as "playing nicely." But the idea would have to wait, she thought, she had to do it outside the house. She went to Mrs. Yee's after school on Mondays, she could do it there. With a final warning glance at Mei-Mei, who was now obliviously talking to her seal, Emma stuffed Barbie into her knapsack. After school on Mondays and Wednesdays, Emma and MeiMei walked together to Mrs. Yee's. They were there for an hour with Mrs. Yee's two nieces, Agnes and Maya, who played the piano and still wore ribbons in their hair. Emma looked forward to the ritual of graham crackers with jelly and milk for snack time. It made listening to Mrs. Yee more bearable. She was a short, round, Chinese woman with a heavy accent.

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Wonder Emma She had an enormous dark brown mole on her neck sprouting two hairs, which both fascinated and repelled all the children. The smell of Tiger Balm and mothballs emanated from Mrs. Yee's clothes, reminding Emma of the Chinatown antique shops her mother liked to look through in L.A. Mrs. Yee's two favorite subjects were her nieces and Jesus. "Emma, did Agnes and Maya tell you they won the AllSouthern Young Musicians Competition this weekend?" Mrs. Yee was beaming. Emma already knew this from share time. Aggie had shown her trophy to the class that morning. They had won playing their duet, "The Little Turtle." Emma had imagined Aggie and Maya in their matching jumpers, lined up with all the other prissy kids on stage like ducks in a shooting gallery. Emma liked those quarter arcade games. At Knott's Berry Farm, if you hit one it did a little dance. Emma imagined Aggie the Baggie doing a little dance, and snickered loud enough that Mrs. Warren made her leave the sharing circle. Emma wrinkled her nose at Aggie. "They played that song," Mrs. Yee said, The Little Turtle. "Does that mean they'll finally stop practicing it?" Mrs. Yee gave Emma a look and left the snack table to refill the graham cracker plate. "You're just jealous because you can't do anything," Aggie whispered as her aunt disappeared into the kitchen. "I can do a lot if you don't watch out, garbage-baggie." Emma made a fist and then hid it under the table as Mrs. Yee returned. Emma shoved a cracker in her mouth and slipped off the seat. As she did, her knapsack fell off the chair and the nude Barbie tumbled out. Mrs. Yee gasped. "Your mother," Mrs. Yee stuttered, "she let you plav with V 7 that?" . Emma shrugged. "That doll is not good." Mrs. Yee frowned. "Why is she got no clothes on?" "She's got lots of clothes," Mei-Mei said, her mouth full.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "She's so Emma can play like a lady." Aggie giggled into her milk. "Who told you that?" Emma snapped. "Mommy." "That is not a good toy for young girls," Mrs. Yee continued, fingering the gold cross around her neck. Emma shrugged and ran outside. One good thing about her afternoons with Mrs. Yee was the big yard to run around in. Sometimes there were Mrs. Yee's nephews to play with, even though they were scared of her because she made them be Nazis one time and almost strangled one with her jumprope. Mrs. Yee, though, was harder to like, especially when she started talking about Jesus. It was like she knew him, like he lived next door and came over for Dim Sum on Sundays. She was always telling Emma about His love or His miracles, and how being a "child of God" was so great. Mrs. Yee had made Emma sign something a few weeks ago that said she was a child of God. It seemed like a good deal. Jesus was apparently very forgiving, even if you hit your sister or told a lie. As long as you said you were sorry you could still go to heaven, and you didn't even have to say it out loud. Plus, she figured Aggie and Maya were children of God and they always got a few more graham.crackers. When she signed on, Mrs. Yee had smiled mysteriously and then gave her an extra serving and a picture of Jesus to color. Mei-Mei asked for one to color, too. Outside, Emma fished out Barbie and a black magic marker and started working. Fifteen minutes later Barbie was a brunette. Emma thought a few moments, then inked the corners of Barbie's eyes so that they tipped upwards like her own. Emma smeared her blackened hands on her shorts as she planned her next move. She crept back in the house. Aggie pounded out piano scales while Maya and Mei-Mei chased each other in a game of tag. Mrs. Yee didn't notice as Emma slipped the pinking

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Wonder Emma shears out of the sewing basket. The outfit was a problem. Wonder Woman's bustier was hard to cut from the tiny piece of cloth. The material kept slipping until all Emma had left was a jagged scrap of red spandex that needed a rubber band to keep it up over Barbie's prodigious bosom. The blue jeans Barbie wore needed to go as well r and Emma worked diligently, her lips pressed into a thin line of concentration. Finally, Emma fished out the crumpled foil bracelets and tore and reshaped them to fit her creation. She sat back and assessed her work. Barbie now sported a pair of jagged cut off shorts and a red halter top that kept slipping promiscuously off her left breast. Emma pushed a tiny roll of tin foil into Barbie's dark mane and noticed that the black ink was smudging off on Barbie's face and shoulders. "Bomb smoke!" Emma said, and added a few more smudges of black to Barbie's legs and arms for effect. Barbie now looked like a cross between Daisy Duke and one of the guys in KISS. Emma now got out her red marker for the final touch. Since there were no Barbie knee high red boots, Emma inked Barbie's legs to the knees. "There," she said with satisfaction, holding up Barbie for full appreciation. Mei-Mei ran into the yard, looking for a hiding place. "Oooohhh . . ." she gasped. "Mommy's gonna be mad . . ." "She's not if she doesn't see her and you don't tell." Then, Emma's voice sweetening, she beckoned Mei-Mei over. "If you don't tell, next time we play Princess and Slave, I'll let you be the Princess." Mei-Mei smiled. "OK!" she said. Maya came flying out of the house and Mei-Mei was again sWept away in their game of tag. Emma spun Wonder Woman around and maneuvered her arms in bullet deflection poses, but there was still something missing. Now that she had a Wonder Woman doll, she needed a Steve too, or at least a boy who could be Steve and the entire Nazi army.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "She's so Emma can play like a lady." Aggie giggled into her milk. "Who told you that?" Emma snapped. "Mommy." "That is not a good toy for young girls," Mrs. Yee continued, fingering the gold cross around her neck. Emma shrugged and ran outside. One good thing about her afternoons with Mrs. Yee was the big yard to run around in. Sometimes there were Mrs. Yee's nephews to play with, even though they were scared of her because she made them be Nazis one time and almost strangled one with her jumprope. Mrs. Yee, though, was harder to like, especially when she started talking about Jesus. It was like she knew him, like he lived next door and came over for Dim Sum on Sundays. She was always telling Emma about His love or His miracles, and how being a "child of God" was so great. Mrs. Yee had made Emma sign something a few weeks ago that said she was a child of God. It seemed like a good deal. Jesus was apparently very forgiving, even if you hit your sister or told a lie. As long as you said you were sorry you could still go to heaven, and you didn't even have to say it out loud. Plus, she figured Aggie and Maya were children of God and they always got a few more graham.crackers. When she signed on, Mrs. Yee had smiled mysteriously and then gave her an extra serving and a picture of Jesus to color. Mei-Mei asked for one to color, too. Outside, Emma fished out Barbie and a black magic marker and started working. Fifteen minutes later Barbie was a brunette. Emma thought a few moments, then inked the corners of Barbie's eyes so that they tipped upwards like her own. Emma smeared her blackened hands on her shorts as she planned her next move. She crept back in the house. Aggie pounded out piano scales while Maya and Mei-Mei chased each other in a game of tag. Mrs. Yee didn't notice as Emma slipped the pinking

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Wonder Emma shears out of the sewing basket. The outfit was a problem. Wonder Woman's bustier was hard to cut from the tiny piece of cloth. The material kept slipping until all Emma had left was a jagged scrap of red spandex that needed a rubber band to keep it up over Barbie's prodigious bosom. The blue jeans Barbie wore needed to go as well r and Emma worked diligently, her lips pressed into a thin line of concentration. Finally, Emma fished out the crumpled foil bracelets and tore and reshaped them to fit her creation. She sat back and assessed her work. Barbie now sported a pair of jagged cut off shorts and a red halter top that kept slipping promiscuously off her left breast. Emma pushed a tiny roll of tin foil into Barbie's dark mane and noticed that the black ink was smudging off on Barbie's face and shoulders. "Bomb smoke!" Emma said, and added a few more smudges of black to Barbie's legs and arms for effect. Barbie now looked like a cross between Daisy Duke and one of the guys in KISS. Emma now got out her red marker for the final touch. Since there were no Barbie knee high red boots, Emma inked Barbie's legs to the knees. "There," she said with satisfaction, holding up Barbie for full appreciation. Mei-Mei ran into the yard, looking for a hiding place. "Oooohhh . . ." she gasped. "Mommy's gonna be mad . . ." "She's not if she doesn't see her and you don't tell." Then, Emma's voice sweetening, she beckoned Mei-Mei over. "If you don't tell, next time we play Princess and Slave, I'll let you be the Princess." Mei-Mei smiled. "OK!" she said. Maya came flying out of the house and Mei-Mei was again sWept away in their game of tag. Emma spun Wonder Woman around and maneuvered her arms in bullet deflection poses, but there was still something missing. Now that she had a Wonder Woman doll, she needed a Steve too, or at least a boy who could be Steve and the entire Nazi army.

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UfÂŤ"i Berkeley Fiction Review

That night she heard her mother talking on the phone. "Yes, Mrs. Yee. I gave her that Barbie . . . No, I don't think it's i n d e c e n t . . . She's almost eleven now . . . I will. Thank you." Her mother frowned and hung up the phone. "That woman is too strict," she muttered. "Emma, are you playing nicely with your doll?" "Yes, Mama, I put her in all new clothes today." "Good!" "Mama, can I have another doll like that, only a boy? Maybe she can go with him to parties." Her mother looked at her suspiciously, then smiled. "Of course." Ken needed almost no transformation, except, of course, for the dark hair and eyes. The next Wednesday at Mrs. Yee's, Emma took a piece of twine and tied Ken to a small branch stuck in the ground. She practiced rescuing him with Wonder Woman. The dolls felt awkward to move simultaneously, but Ken made a nice Steve Trevor, and his hair never did get mussed. But Ken would also have to be a Nazi from time to time. She worked on his clothes with a brown marker, but her attempts to dye his pants brown had left them wet and unusable for this particular episode. For the time being, the Nazi would have to go without pants. The air is thick with smoke. Outside her invisible jet Wonder Woman hears the explosions of bombs, but there is no sign of Steve. She makes a perfect landing and exits the jet, golden lasso in hand. She crosses a field just minutes from the heart of the battle. The Nazi camp must be close by, Diana Prince has seen the stolen battle plans, and what she knows, Wonder Woman also knows. Voices come from above, heavy German voices and one clear, deep, American voice tells them they can torture him if they want, but he'll never tell who Wonder Woman really is. How brave he is to withstand such cruelty!

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Wonder Emma Wonder Woman skirts the camp, planning her attack, hoping it's not too late. She takes out a guard with one blow and creeps toward the tent where Steve is waiting. But they know she is coming! It's a trap! It's not Steve at all, just a German with a good accent! She is outnumbered and she leaps and rolls from bullets, her superhuman strength allowing her to outdistance the guards. But they have a jeep, and they chase her towards a cliff, gunfire at her spiked heels. With one flying leap, Wonder Woman loops her lasso around a tree and plunges over the side of the cliff. The jeep, full of screaming Nazis, loses Qontrol and speeds over the edge, plummetingto the ground to explode in a fiery blaze as Wonder Woman clings to her lasso, once again outsmarting the enemy.. "Oh my GOD," Mrs. Yee gasped. She stood in the doorway, one hand over her mouth. The Barbie doll was grotesquely painted. It was suspended aerially, breasts revealed like some cheap hooker doing an obscene carnival stunt. This doll was hanging over the male doll, also partially naked and sprawled on the ground below. Mrs. Yee grabbed Emma and the dolls and marched them inside where she made Emma call her mother, then write a letter to Jesus apologizing for her dirty mind. "Why do I have to write a letter if I say I'm sorry? You said H e would forgive me for anything! What good is being a child of God if I gotta write Him a letter every time I get in trouble?" Emma's mother grounded her for a week, first for what she called "destroying a perfectly good Barbie," and second, for insulting Mrs. Yee. She sat glumly on the stoop that Saturday morning as a yellow and green moving truck idled in the driveway next door. She imagined the entire truck filled with armed soldiers, and felt powerless without her bracelets and her tiara, which her mother forbade her to wear until she learned to play "like a lady" A battered Dodge pulled up behind the van and Emma

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UfÂŤ"i Berkeley Fiction Review

That night she heard her mother talking on the phone. "Yes, Mrs. Yee. I gave her that Barbie . . . No, I don't think it's i n d e c e n t . . . She's almost eleven now . . . I will. Thank you." Her mother frowned and hung up the phone. "That woman is too strict," she muttered. "Emma, are you playing nicely with your doll?" "Yes, Mama, I put her in all new clothes today." "Good!" "Mama, can I have another doll like that, only a boy? Maybe she can go with him to parties." Her mother looked at her suspiciously, then smiled. "Of course." Ken needed almost no transformation, except, of course, for the dark hair and eyes. The next Wednesday at Mrs. Yee's, Emma took a piece of twine and tied Ken to a small branch stuck in the ground. She practiced rescuing him with Wonder Woman. The dolls felt awkward to move simultaneously, but Ken made a nice Steve Trevor, and his hair never did get mussed. But Ken would also have to be a Nazi from time to time. She worked on his clothes with a brown marker, but her attempts to dye his pants brown had left them wet and unusable for this particular episode. For the time being, the Nazi would have to go without pants. The air is thick with smoke. Outside her invisible jet Wonder Woman hears the explosions of bombs, but there is no sign of Steve. She makes a perfect landing and exits the jet, golden lasso in hand. She crosses a field just minutes from the heart of the battle. The Nazi camp must be close by, Diana Prince has seen the stolen battle plans, and what she knows, Wonder Woman also knows. Voices come from above, heavy German voices and one clear, deep, American voice tells them they can torture him if they want, but he'll never tell who Wonder Woman really is. How brave he is to withstand such cruelty!

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Wonder Emma Wonder Woman skirts the camp, planning her attack, hoping it's not too late. She takes out a guard with one blow and creeps toward the tent where Steve is waiting. But they know she is coming! It's a trap! It's not Steve at all, just a German with a good accent! She is outnumbered and she leaps and rolls from bullets, her superhuman strength allowing her to outdistance the guards. But they have a jeep, and they chase her towards a cliff, gunfire at her spiked heels. With one flying leap, Wonder Woman loops her lasso around a tree and plunges over the side of the cliff. The jeep, full of screaming Nazis, loses Qontrol and speeds over the edge, plummetingto the ground to explode in a fiery blaze as Wonder Woman clings to her lasso, once again outsmarting the enemy.. "Oh my GOD," Mrs. Yee gasped. She stood in the doorway, one hand over her mouth. The Barbie doll was grotesquely painted. It was suspended aerially, breasts revealed like some cheap hooker doing an obscene carnival stunt. This doll was hanging over the male doll, also partially naked and sprawled on the ground below. Mrs. Yee grabbed Emma and the dolls and marched them inside where she made Emma call her mother, then write a letter to Jesus apologizing for her dirty mind. "Why do I have to write a letter if I say I'm sorry? You said H e would forgive me for anything! What good is being a child of God if I gotta write Him a letter every time I get in trouble?" Emma's mother grounded her for a week, first for what she called "destroying a perfectly good Barbie," and second, for insulting Mrs. Yee. She sat glumly on the stoop that Saturday morning as a yellow and green moving truck idled in the driveway next door. She imagined the entire truck filled with armed soldiers, and felt powerless without her bracelets and her tiara, which her mother forbade her to wear until she learned to play "like a lady" A battered Dodge pulled up behind the van and Emma

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Berkeley Fiction Review watched a family of four get out: mother, father, little brother, big sister. The girl looked about ten, with narrow, freckled arms and a stringy blond ponytail. Her shoulders hunched as she crossed her arms and tugged at her blue tank top. Emma saw scratches on her knees in the same places as Emma's own. The girl looked over to Emma's stoop and her posture straightened a bit. Light blue eyes peered through jaggedly cut bangs. Emma opened and then closed her mouth, suddenly feeling shy. She looked down until a pair of scuffed tennis shoes came into view. "My name's Shelby Schermer. That's Abraham," she said, jerking her thumb towards the little brother. "You live here?" Her breath smelled like Bubble Yum. Emma nodded. The girl's collarbones were sharp, pushing out her tank top. She gazed at Emma as she picked at a scab on her elbow. "You Chinese or something? You speak English?" Emma noticed she lisped a little on her S's. "I'm Vietnamese and I speak English fine." She was trying to decide whether she liked her new neighbor. "You want gum? You play stuff?" Emma held out her hand for the gum. "I'm grounded. My mom took away my Wonder Woman dolls." "No kidding?" Shelby looked impressed. In the driveway, Shelby's father's face reddened as he hiked up the back end of a green sofa. Shelby's mother called out. "Shelby? You making new friends? Keep an eye on Abe, honey." Shelby's mother turned to help her father and whispered to h i m , "She looks like a nice little friend." "Who?" the father grunted. "That little Oriental girl next door. I'll bet she'll be a nice little friend for Shelby, you know how they are, quiet and sweet."

Wonder Emma into her mouth. "My mom says I need to play nicely." "Yea," Shelby grinned, "my mom does too. Come on, we can tie up Abe and pretend he's being held by the Legion of Doom."

Shelby made a face and turned back to Emma. "You like Superfriends? I used to play Wonder Twins back at my old house. You wanna play?" Emma's spirits lifted as she pushed the pink cube of gum

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Berkeley Fiction Review watched a family of four get out: mother, father, little brother, big sister. The girl looked about ten, with narrow, freckled arms and a stringy blond ponytail. Her shoulders hunched as she crossed her arms and tugged at her blue tank top. Emma saw scratches on her knees in the same places as Emma's own. The girl looked over to Emma's stoop and her posture straightened a bit. Light blue eyes peered through jaggedly cut bangs. Emma opened and then closed her mouth, suddenly feeling shy. She looked down until a pair of scuffed tennis shoes came into view. "My name's Shelby Schermer. That's Abraham," she said, jerking her thumb towards the little brother. "You live here?" Her breath smelled like Bubble Yum. Emma nodded. The girl's collarbones were sharp, pushing out her tank top. She gazed at Emma as she picked at a scab on her elbow. "You Chinese or something? You speak English?" Emma noticed she lisped a little on her S's. "I'm Vietnamese and I speak English fine." She was trying to decide whether she liked her new neighbor. "You want gum? You play stuff?" Emma held out her hand for the gum. "I'm grounded. My mom took away my Wonder Woman dolls." "No kidding?" Shelby looked impressed. In the driveway, Shelby's father's face reddened as he hiked up the back end of a green sofa. Shelby's mother called out. "Shelby? You making new friends? Keep an eye on Abe, honey." Shelby's mother turned to help her father and whispered to h i m , "She looks like a nice little friend." "Who?" the father grunted. "That little Oriental girl next door. I'll bet she'll be a nice little friend for Shelby, you know how they are, quiet and sweet."

Wonder Emma into her mouth. "My mom says I need to play nicely." "Yea," Shelby grinned, "my mom does too. Come on, we can tie up Abe and pretend he's being held by the Legion of Doom."

Shelby made a face and turned back to Emma. "You like Superfriends? I used to play Wonder Twins back at my old house. You wanna play?" Emma's spirits lifted as she pushed the pink cube of gum

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Solarcaine and Smut

S o l a r c a i n e

a n d

S m u t

Matthew Gross

S

he was a twenty-four-year-old anti-depressant blonde, complete with watery eyes that seemed to hide something so deeply from m e that I would lose myself searching, before she shut the window by looking away. She h a d secrets. I didn't love her, which didn't seem to bother her too m u c h except, I suppose, when we were alone and didn't have anything to talk about but the coke. Like two horseflies getting kicks off Lysol, this didn't bother me too m u c h — s h e would shake and slither like a New Mexican sidewinder you just discovered planted between the sheets. In the end there was always that payoff. W h e n she went clammy around noon, pushing m e away from the refrigerator to grab her tomato juice, I would surrender to the duplex pool and start the morning all over again. A reminder: I had my limits. D u r i n g the drive to the airport, when the planes started cresting into view, Jeanne thanked m e for the ride. T h e n t h e money. I'm no delinquent, I can read between the lines. W h e n the call came, I had to set my drink down and bite back a sense of nausea, a throbbing wah-wah at the back of my neck. Years later, long before I found God screwing around with ingestible chemistry and a tube shoved down my throat in a Corpus Christi emergency room, this same uneasy feel-

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ing overtook m e o n a desolate stretch of Oregon highway. I got popped for a mindless seventy in a fifty-five, transporting e n o u g h T N T in my trunk to raise t h e Edmund Fitzgerald, the o n l y way I could even out a long standing debt of self-preservation I'm not gonna go into here. But I laughed every time I saw that speeding ticket taped to my freezer door, and never forgot that warning of impending doom once reserved for African elephants and the Lorax. My spidey-sense. But, not yet afflicted with hindsight, on this day I ended u p frozen to the wicker chair when Jeanne left the balcony to answer the p h o n e . I looked out to the vast expanse of bright land, blocked on both sides by the rest of the complex, b u t with heat still shimmering in the distance through the marsh u p onto 1-35. I heard someone dive into the pool and arched just e n o u g h to see Carla Alvistes swim a lap and rise like a sunfish up out of the water. She wrapped a white towel around her waist and started squeezing chlorine out of the curls in her hair. She stared right back at me, and when her dark eyes narrowed I raised my fingers slowly until my palm faced down to her. From the sliding doorway, Jeanne asked, "Who is that?" a n d I pulled back, spilling dribbles of rum all over a tattered Aloha shirt I kept finding thrown in the trash. "You r e m e m b er G a r y . . . what's his n a m e . . . Gears? Gary Gears. Tall black dude, always used to throw those out-of-handers at his place in San Marcos until they busted him for child e n d a n g e r m e n t or something?" "No." I shrugged. " T h e n she's nobody. She's a waitress down at the Moonshot." I noticed, without really paying attention, that h e r fingers were shaking, and that her posture reminded m e of an old farm wife hauling ten-pound pails into the dairy. I asked her who was on the phone. "My sister's in the hospital. I'm supposed to meet my mother in San Antonio." Carla Alvistes vanished through the ventilation of the balcony ledge and I knew what was coming next. It bubbled up

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Solarcaine and Smut

S o l a r c a i n e

a n d

S m u t

Matthew Gross

S

he was a twenty-four-year-old anti-depressant blonde, complete with watery eyes that seemed to hide something so deeply from m e that I would lose myself searching, before she shut the window by looking away. She h a d secrets. I didn't love her, which didn't seem to bother her too m u c h except, I suppose, when we were alone and didn't have anything to talk about but the coke. Like two horseflies getting kicks off Lysol, this didn't bother me too m u c h — s h e would shake and slither like a New Mexican sidewinder you just discovered planted between the sheets. In the end there was always that payoff. W h e n she went clammy around noon, pushing m e away from the refrigerator to grab her tomato juice, I would surrender to the duplex pool and start the morning all over again. A reminder: I had my limits. D u r i n g the drive to the airport, when the planes started cresting into view, Jeanne thanked m e for the ride. T h e n t h e money. I'm no delinquent, I can read between the lines. W h e n the call came, I had to set my drink down and bite back a sense of nausea, a throbbing wah-wah at the back of my neck. Years later, long before I found God screwing around with ingestible chemistry and a tube shoved down my throat in a Corpus Christi emergency room, this same uneasy feel-

96

ing overtook m e o n a desolate stretch of Oregon highway. I got popped for a mindless seventy in a fifty-five, transporting e n o u g h T N T in my trunk to raise t h e Edmund Fitzgerald, the o n l y way I could even out a long standing debt of self-preservation I'm not gonna go into here. But I laughed every time I saw that speeding ticket taped to my freezer door, and never forgot that warning of impending doom once reserved for African elephants and the Lorax. My spidey-sense. But, not yet afflicted with hindsight, on this day I ended u p frozen to the wicker chair when Jeanne left the balcony to answer the p h o n e . I looked out to the vast expanse of bright land, blocked on both sides by the rest of the complex, b u t with heat still shimmering in the distance through the marsh u p onto 1-35. I heard someone dive into the pool and arched just e n o u g h to see Carla Alvistes swim a lap and rise like a sunfish up out of the water. She wrapped a white towel around her waist and started squeezing chlorine out of the curls in her hair. She stared right back at me, and when her dark eyes narrowed I raised my fingers slowly until my palm faced down to her. From the sliding doorway, Jeanne asked, "Who is that?" a n d I pulled back, spilling dribbles of rum all over a tattered Aloha shirt I kept finding thrown in the trash. "You r e m e m b er G a r y . . . what's his n a m e . . . Gears? Gary Gears. Tall black dude, always used to throw those out-of-handers at his place in San Marcos until they busted him for child e n d a n g e r m e n t or something?" "No." I shrugged. " T h e n she's nobody. She's a waitress down at the Moonshot." I noticed, without really paying attention, that h e r fingers were shaking, and that her posture reminded m e of an old farm wife hauling ten-pound pails into the dairy. I asked her who was on the phone. "My sister's in the hospital. I'm supposed to meet my mother in San Antonio." Carla Alvistes vanished through the ventilation of the balcony ledge and I knew what was coming next. It bubbled up

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§r Berkeley Fiction Review

Solarcaine and Smut

my throat, releasing like a popped cork to flat champagne. "You gonna go?" She rested her chin against her palm and started looking around for something. She found a poor-man's menthol and I handed her my lighter. The floor started vibrating and I heard a weak grunt off to my left. I got up and peered around the corner to see the neighbor's rodent kid—the boy Jeanne always sent out for fresh limes in trade for cigarettes—balancing up on the terrace railing, Converse canvas swishing against gray corduroy as he walked an imaginary tightrope four stories high. Jeanne said, "Hey, better get down from there, you." "Stick it." He spun around to perch the other way. He stopped when he got to the far wall, pressing dirty hands against stucco. He seemed to lose his equilibrium for a second, and his skinny arms flailed down towards the tennis court. Jeanne squeaked. He recovered and jumped back onto the balcony, laughing as he entered his apartment. I turned back to Jeanne with a thumb jutted over my shoulder, saying, "That kid's like a little fucking monkey. Shouldn't h e be in school or county lock-up or something?" "Sunday is Easter, Martin. He's probably on vacation." It was Thursday. 1 moved past her into the living room, feeling an immediate cool-down, wiping beads of sweat off my forehead. "I've seen him do that before. You seen his mother, lately?" "I've never seen her." I flopped onto a black leather couch I bartered from the previous tenants and my calves were stuck like glue over the armrest. Across the bridge of my nose I could feel the uneven stretch of a sunburn. "You should go, Jeanne." I watched her light her cigarette and come to sit on the floor, her head against me, running a hand through dark roots. "Why?" "I'll give you enough for expenses. But I need you to do something for me."

She said nothing. Her eyes floated to the television, as if I was again talking about that evac-station near Penh Phu, that nine-minute sanctuary she reminded me of at three in the morning "I want you to drop something off with my brother." I swung my legs up and over her head and moved off into the kitchen. I opened one of the dilapidated cupboards and pulled the wad out, twisting off the rubberband, letting greens upon greens spread open. I separated three-hundred dollars from the fifteen-hundred I inserted into a brown envelope. It was a tight squeeze, but it sealed. I wrote some bogus address on it and walked back to Jeanne. "Here. You know where this place is?" "I've never heard of it. Is it down by the river?" *'No. It's near China Grove." She tossed the envelope onto the cushion and lowered her brows at me, folding away the three-hundred. "I'm not your l i t t l e - " "I can't get down there anytime soon," I said. "I have to report into the VA tomorrow. But I hope your sister turns out to be okay, whatever the problem is." I was a step behind, not even knowing she had a sister, and I never had a thought one way or the other about her mother. She eyeballed the envelope again, picking it up as she rose from the couch. She bent over slightly grilling half of hit menthol into a ceramic ashtray, then went towards the bedroom. "Fine," she said, and I heard her unzip a tote bag. At the airport I bought her an open-ended ticket and waited a lenfig forty minutes until her flight left. Neither of us spoke a word. At one point, she gave an apparently deaf woman a dollar for a valueless, wallet-sized sign language chart, which Jeanne tossed on my lap and I promptly handed back to the mute. She solicited an elderly couple across the aisle, their matching frowns painted above withered chins for all eternity. When it came time to board, Jeanne threw her bagstrap over a shoulder and kissed me quickly on the cheek, nfever

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Solarcaine and Smut

my throat, releasing like a popped cork to flat champagne. "You gonna go?" She rested her chin against her palm and started looking around for something. She found a poor-man's menthol and I handed her my lighter. The floor started vibrating and I heard a weak grunt off to my left. I got up and peered around the corner to see the neighbor's rodent kid—the boy Jeanne always sent out for fresh limes in trade for cigarettes—balancing up on the terrace railing, Converse canvas swishing against gray corduroy as he walked an imaginary tightrope four stories high. Jeanne said, "Hey, better get down from there, you." "Stick it." He spun around to perch the other way. He stopped when he got to the far wall, pressing dirty hands against stucco. He seemed to lose his equilibrium for a second, and his skinny arms flailed down towards the tennis court. Jeanne squeaked. He recovered and jumped back onto the balcony, laughing as he entered his apartment. I turned back to Jeanne with a thumb jutted over my shoulder, saying, "That kid's like a little fucking monkey. Shouldn't h e be in school or county lock-up or something?" "Sunday is Easter, Martin. He's probably on vacation." It was Thursday. 1 moved past her into the living room, feeling an immediate cool-down, wiping beads of sweat off my forehead. "I've seen him do that before. You seen his mother, lately?" "I've never seen her." I flopped onto a black leather couch I bartered from the previous tenants and my calves were stuck like glue over the armrest. Across the bridge of my nose I could feel the uneven stretch of a sunburn. "You should go, Jeanne." I watched her light her cigarette and come to sit on the floor, her head against me, running a hand through dark roots. "Why?" "I'll give you enough for expenses. But I need you to do something for me."

She said nothing. Her eyes floated to the television, as if I was again talking about that evac-station near Penh Phu, that nine-minute sanctuary she reminded me of at three in the morning "I want you to drop something off with my brother." I swung my legs up and over her head and moved off into the kitchen. I opened one of the dilapidated cupboards and pulled the wad out, twisting off the rubberband, letting greens upon greens spread open. I separated three-hundred dollars from the fifteen-hundred I inserted into a brown envelope. It was a tight squeeze, but it sealed. I wrote some bogus address on it and walked back to Jeanne. "Here. You know where this place is?" "I've never heard of it. Is it down by the river?" *'No. It's near China Grove." She tossed the envelope onto the cushion and lowered her brows at me, folding away the three-hundred. "I'm not your l i t t l e - " "I can't get down there anytime soon," I said. "I have to report into the VA tomorrow. But I hope your sister turns out to be okay, whatever the problem is." I was a step behind, not even knowing she had a sister, and I never had a thought one way or the other about her mother. She eyeballed the envelope again, picking it up as she rose from the couch. She bent over slightly grilling half of hit menthol into a ceramic ashtray, then went towards the bedroom. "Fine," she said, and I heard her unzip a tote bag. At the airport I bought her an open-ended ticket and waited a lenfig forty minutes until her flight left. Neither of us spoke a word. At one point, she gave an apparently deaf woman a dollar for a valueless, wallet-sized sign language chart, which Jeanne tossed on my lap and I promptly handed back to the mute. She solicited an elderly couple across the aisle, their matching frowns painted above withered chins for all eternity. When it came time to board, Jeanne threw her bagstrap over a shoulder and kissed me quickly on the cheek, nfever

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fr Berkeley Fiction Review making eye contact, but whispering, "Bye, Martin" before she paced off into the gateway tube. I watched heir hair swing until she was gone, then faded back into the terminal. Where cracked lines of pavement ended, dark blue tiles fell into twelve feet of water. I swung a foot into the calm and was genuinely surprised by the late-afternoon warmth. There was nobody on duty to guard my life, only a circle of empty rubberized deck chairs broken by the reddening back of some tenant across the pool, her arms hanging limply over the sides. I sat myself in a corner, next to a latched gate which opened onto crisp yellow grass leading up to the netless tennis court. Sticky plastic pinching the hair on my arms and legs, I sipped from a Thermos that was quickly becoming watered down in melted ice. Drifting, I avoided thinking about Jeanne. The tangled bleached strands that would hang over my eyes when she hovered, or her winter worship of the sun until she was as brown as a tarantula. The way she blamed her nosebleeds on non-existent air conditioning. In the wingseat of that small plane, heading for dirt and going down in flames, and when I avoided thinking about her hard enough I could smell her everywhere — stale fifty-dollar perfume burning under the fuselage. Less than a week after she moved in I saw her roll a guy in an Austin disco by pouring a vial of LSD into his drink while he chatted it up with a pretty barfly. Later, when I asked her why she did it, watching the dance floor swallow this polyester iguana while he was screaming, Oonada! Someday I will see Qoriada again!, Jeanne explained that it was for my own benefit: the guy was a stinking nark, had her ex-boyfriend busted, and that she, naturally, didn't want to see this happen to me. Confused by her own leather innocence, she must've thought I was an idiot. For Jeanne, there were no ex-boyfriends, only this endless rotation of snowmen who liked to take care of her. Someone blocked the sun and I squinted up to find Carla

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Solarcaine and Smut Alvistes standing there, looking over my head. I swiveled slightly. "I didn't know you lived here," I said. S h e looked down to me and I realized that her eyes were roasted almonds, light brown, almost mauve. They were dubiously unreal. She sat down on a stretched chair across from me. "I moved in last week. It's quiet, here. I haven't seen hardly anybody." "People work." She reached over for a cigarette after a pleasant "may I," and 1 lit it for her. "I haven't seen you at the Moonshot in a while." I smirked and felt instantly irritable. "Disagreement with management," I said, which was true. I remember overhearing someone say, "stuff him," and stopped arguing just long enough to be escorted out. I never got a straight answer, but I was deeply offended that they figured I was dumb enough to create a disturbance, holding, for chrissakes. I carried my act over to a club on 6th street, which is actually where I first met Jeanne gyrating under the mirrored ball and strobes, floating her a gram in the deepest corner of a men's room stall. Somebody kept turning up the bass levels, bottoming-out unseen speakers, and I took her home. And that was it. I hadn't been to the Moonshot in four months. "That's a nasty burn," she said and ran a long crimson fingernail down the line of her sharp nose. "It happens." "I have some balm that'll keep you from blistering." "You don't strike me as the type prone to this kind of suffering." "What kind of suffering do I look prone to?" And I smiled at that, shaking my head at her offer of sharing the remainder of my last smoke, then watched her flick it off between the fence links until the coals shattered bright orange against the sidewalk. "How's Gary?" I asked her, and gauged her pupils. "He went back to his wife."

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fr Berkeley Fiction Review making eye contact, but whispering, "Bye, Martin" before she paced off into the gateway tube. I watched heir hair swing until she was gone, then faded back into the terminal. Where cracked lines of pavement ended, dark blue tiles fell into twelve feet of water. I swung a foot into the calm and was genuinely surprised by the late-afternoon warmth. There was nobody on duty to guard my life, only a circle of empty rubberized deck chairs broken by the reddening back of some tenant across the pool, her arms hanging limply over the sides. I sat myself in a corner, next to a latched gate which opened onto crisp yellow grass leading up to the netless tennis court. Sticky plastic pinching the hair on my arms and legs, I sipped from a Thermos that was quickly becoming watered down in melted ice. Drifting, I avoided thinking about Jeanne. The tangled bleached strands that would hang over my eyes when she hovered, or her winter worship of the sun until she was as brown as a tarantula. The way she blamed her nosebleeds on non-existent air conditioning. In the wingseat of that small plane, heading for dirt and going down in flames, and when I avoided thinking about her hard enough I could smell her everywhere — stale fifty-dollar perfume burning under the fuselage. Less than a week after she moved in I saw her roll a guy in an Austin disco by pouring a vial of LSD into his drink while he chatted it up with a pretty barfly. Later, when I asked her why she did it, watching the dance floor swallow this polyester iguana while he was screaming, Oonada! Someday I will see Qoriada again!, Jeanne explained that it was for my own benefit: the guy was a stinking nark, had her ex-boyfriend busted, and that she, naturally, didn't want to see this happen to me. Confused by her own leather innocence, she must've thought I was an idiot. For Jeanne, there were no ex-boyfriends, only this endless rotation of snowmen who liked to take care of her. Someone blocked the sun and I squinted up to find Carla

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Solarcaine and Smut Alvistes standing there, looking over my head. I swiveled slightly. "I didn't know you lived here," I said. S h e looked down to me and I realized that her eyes were roasted almonds, light brown, almost mauve. They were dubiously unreal. She sat down on a stretched chair across from me. "I moved in last week. It's quiet, here. I haven't seen hardly anybody." "People work." She reached over for a cigarette after a pleasant "may I," and 1 lit it for her. "I haven't seen you at the Moonshot in a while." I smirked and felt instantly irritable. "Disagreement with management," I said, which was true. I remember overhearing someone say, "stuff him," and stopped arguing just long enough to be escorted out. I never got a straight answer, but I was deeply offended that they figured I was dumb enough to create a disturbance, holding, for chrissakes. I carried my act over to a club on 6th street, which is actually where I first met Jeanne gyrating under the mirrored ball and strobes, floating her a gram in the deepest corner of a men's room stall. Somebody kept turning up the bass levels, bottoming-out unseen speakers, and I took her home. And that was it. I hadn't been to the Moonshot in four months. "That's a nasty burn," she said and ran a long crimson fingernail down the line of her sharp nose. "It happens." "I have some balm that'll keep you from blistering." "You don't strike me as the type prone to this kind of suffering." "What kind of suffering do I look prone to?" And I smiled at that, shaking my head at her offer of sharing the remainder of my last smoke, then watched her flick it off between the fence links until the coals shattered bright orange against the sidewalk. "How's Gary?" I asked her, and gauged her pupils. "He went back to his wife."

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Is that what he said?" "That's what he did." I nodded slowly. "I didn't know he was married." She crossed a leg, and her sandal fell against the edge of my chair. She let out a breath and moved damp hair away from her brows. "So . . . " I said. "You have something to soothe my burn." Her apartment was identical in design to my own, with the assorted exceptions that marked her individuality: Tight, precise Latino ornamentation, great careful tapestries stretching across the walls, looming over a vast collection of earth-toned pottery. She was neat and everything seemed to have its order here. Where I had a Zenith (with the built-in record player), she had a bookshelf of Spanish-named titles, none of which I recognized. I looked to a small Star of David hanging on one of the walls between several framed photographs and I drew closer. "You're from Costa Rica," I remembered. "Cuba." She disappeared into her bedroom, leaving me to gaze over the pictures. "Is this family, here? The black-and-white one." Five brighteyed toughs, a few in olive drab, playing it up for the camera. They encircled a sullen, oval-faced woman perhaps beautiful, once—here obscured by the folded crease that cut down her cheek. I noticed that Carla was in none of the photos. She reappeared next to me and pointed. "That's my mother, and that's my brother Alex. The others are friends of his." She spread her arms. "I'm sorry. I guess I don't have anything after all." "That's okay." . "Would you like a drink?" "Sure." And then I remembered leavingmy Thermos out by the pool. I could actually see it from across her patio. "Excuse me for a couple minutes?" "Do you want a beer?" "That's fine. Thank you."

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Solarcaine and Smut She went around the corner in through her kitchen doorway, and I followed her movements closely, complicated by what felt like a thousand fire-ant bites under my skin. 1 stepped out across the patio and bypassed the pool, and waited impatiently for the elevator. I found a hazy reflection in my bathroom mirror. I had a third-degree burn when I was a kid, which required a prescription of steroids to repair damaged skin, and I never grew smart enough to avoid passing out in the middle of the Texas bowels. Inside the medicine cabinet I reached for the can of Solarcaine, spraying generously on my arms and the front of my legs, the foam liquefying momentarily until I felt more even-mannered. I ran cool water through my hair and searched the kitchen for another pack of Camels, which I inserted into my shirt pocket on the way out. "Martin." She handed me a bottle of Dixie, of all things, and sat at the other end of a long L-shaped couch, her bare legs pushing in towards the angle. I watched her take a rough swig and thought about how out of place it looked, until I nearly missed my mouth to spill my own. "May I see your hand?" "What?" She slid over next to me, lifting my right hand to the light. My most attractive feature. "Are you gonna read my palm?" "I'm looking at your finger. They did a rough job, whoever closed this up." Hector Cornwall. Posthumous winner of the too-/ive 2-5 Cav Meatball Medic competition during that dreary thousand day summer in '68. When gangrene finally made it to the second digit, Hector pushed on a velvet reality with a one-shot morphine syringe then set my middle finger like a Yakuza enforcer. Squatting in smoldering cat-grass, he waited for that beautiful moment when the sun broke across his black face and I had no doubt who was in control. I never saw my fuck-you finger again, truly an irrevocable loss, and Hector—he missed

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Is that what he said?" "That's what he did." I nodded slowly. "I didn't know he was married." She crossed a leg, and her sandal fell against the edge of my chair. She let out a breath and moved damp hair away from her brows. "So . . . " I said. "You have something to soothe my burn." Her apartment was identical in design to my own, with the assorted exceptions that marked her individuality: Tight, precise Latino ornamentation, great careful tapestries stretching across the walls, looming over a vast collection of earth-toned pottery. She was neat and everything seemed to have its order here. Where I had a Zenith (with the built-in record player), she had a bookshelf of Spanish-named titles, none of which I recognized. I looked to a small Star of David hanging on one of the walls between several framed photographs and I drew closer. "You're from Costa Rica," I remembered. "Cuba." She disappeared into her bedroom, leaving me to gaze over the pictures. "Is this family, here? The black-and-white one." Five brighteyed toughs, a few in olive drab, playing it up for the camera. They encircled a sullen, oval-faced woman perhaps beautiful, once—here obscured by the folded crease that cut down her cheek. I noticed that Carla was in none of the photos. She reappeared next to me and pointed. "That's my mother, and that's my brother Alex. The others are friends of his." She spread her arms. "I'm sorry. I guess I don't have anything after all." "That's okay." . "Would you like a drink?" "Sure." And then I remembered leavingmy Thermos out by the pool. I could actually see it from across her patio. "Excuse me for a couple minutes?" "Do you want a beer?" "That's fine. Thank you."

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Solarcaine and Smut She went around the corner in through her kitchen doorway, and I followed her movements closely, complicated by what felt like a thousand fire-ant bites under my skin. 1 stepped out across the patio and bypassed the pool, and waited impatiently for the elevator. I found a hazy reflection in my bathroom mirror. I had a third-degree burn when I was a kid, which required a prescription of steroids to repair damaged skin, and I never grew smart enough to avoid passing out in the middle of the Texas bowels. Inside the medicine cabinet I reached for the can of Solarcaine, spraying generously on my arms and the front of my legs, the foam liquefying momentarily until I felt more even-mannered. I ran cool water through my hair and searched the kitchen for another pack of Camels, which I inserted into my shirt pocket on the way out. "Martin." She handed me a bottle of Dixie, of all things, and sat at the other end of a long L-shaped couch, her bare legs pushing in towards the angle. I watched her take a rough swig and thought about how out of place it looked, until I nearly missed my mouth to spill my own. "May I see your hand?" "What?" She slid over next to me, lifting my right hand to the light. My most attractive feature. "Are you gonna read my palm?" "I'm looking at your finger. They did a rough job, whoever closed this up." Hector Cornwall. Posthumous winner of the too-/ive 2-5 Cav Meatball Medic competition during that dreary thousand day summer in '68. When gangrene finally made it to the second digit, Hector pushed on a velvet reality with a one-shot morphine syringe then set my middle finger like a Yakuza enforcer. Squatting in smoldering cat-grass, he waited for that beautiful moment when the sun broke across his black face and I had no doubt who was in control. I never saw my fuck-you finger again, truly an irrevocable loss, and Hector—he missed

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Berkeley Fiction Review his last LZ before clearing back to Texas by triggering a toepopper twenty feet in front of me, the poor bastard. "You might say it was a rush job." She bit her lip. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I was once a medical student, if you can believe it." She laughed, but there was tension. "Why aren't you now?" She lowered my hand. "I can't afford it." That was all she said about it. She sipped at her beer more carefully. "English is immaculate," I said, and she smiled. There was a familiar uneasiness. "I have to work tonight." UT Âť 1 see. "Maybe you can stop by the club later." "I don't know if that's such a good idea." And that's exactly when I heard the thump. I looked out her window into darkness. "Did you just hear something?" she asked. I got up and carried my bottle out across the cement and towards the pool, stopping the moment she grabbed my arm from behind. She pointed to a lump at the center of the tennis court and I stepped closer, dimestore flip-flops whapping against my heels. There was an offshoot of blood, like somebody had just stepped on a massive ketchup pack until the contents burst, and not much left of his nose, but I recognized the shoes and the clothes. I looked up at my apartment, then shifted my gaze to the adjoining terrace in amazement, retracing the motion of the fall. I imagined the sudden loss of cabin pressure he must've felt. "You know this boy?" Carla asked me. She was kneeling next to him and pushing a matte of hair away from his face. She was calm, like maybe she had seen a lot of this somewhere, like maybe Ihad, in two separate places a million miles away. I saw somebody appear behind the glass of the apartment in front of me,,some shirtless old man rubbing the gray hairs on a deeply tanned pot-belly. 104

Solarcaine and Smut "Call an ambulance," I told him. A lot of vacant faces were staring out then, more than anybody I'd ever seen in the duplex, from down off their balconies and behind vertical blinds. There was music pouring out from a couple of places, but nothing succinct enough to dance to. "It's my neighbor's son. He climbs on the ledges." She rose. "Why?" "Don't know. Attention? I have no idea." She stood an easy five inches shorter than me. I set the beer down and pointed to my apartment. "Maybe I should go look for his mother." His shoes were splayed like a circus clown. "I don't even know his name." Carla began to sob, a quivering little hum it seemed, and I couldn't formulate any other reason for it but foreplay. This was the way it usually worked. Later, after I followed her into darkness, the sirens pulled up—distantly, in the parking lot. Shestarted in on the tears again, though, beneath my heaves, until the flashing lights stopped whipping against the bedroom window. I pulled her in, leading her back to her apartment. The neighbor's kid was dead on impact, almost definitely. I remember hearing somewhere how people jumping from heights, like the Empire State Building, were more likely to die of shock before they even hit concrete, and I told her this, but she moaned. I brought her to the couch when I realized I left my beer out there, thinking of the puzzled looks on the paramedics' faces when they finally showed. "Hold on a second," I told her. I recovered the Dixie and spotted the Thermos I forgot by the pool. I reached over the fence and grabbed it, moving back down the sidewalk and into her living room. Good Friday. At ten-thirty in the morning I was sucking down coffee in the kitchen of my apartment when Jeanne called, which was surprising. She was chasing rainbows, and I thought less of her.

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Berkeley Fiction Review his last LZ before clearing back to Texas by triggering a toepopper twenty feet in front of me, the poor bastard. "You might say it was a rush job." She bit her lip. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I was once a medical student, if you can believe it." She laughed, but there was tension. "Why aren't you now?" She lowered my hand. "I can't afford it." That was all she said about it. She sipped at her beer more carefully. "English is immaculate," I said, and she smiled. There was a familiar uneasiness. "I have to work tonight." UT Âť 1 see. "Maybe you can stop by the club later." "I don't know if that's such a good idea." And that's exactly when I heard the thump. I looked out her window into darkness. "Did you just hear something?" she asked. I got up and carried my bottle out across the cement and towards the pool, stopping the moment she grabbed my arm from behind. She pointed to a lump at the center of the tennis court and I stepped closer, dimestore flip-flops whapping against my heels. There was an offshoot of blood, like somebody had just stepped on a massive ketchup pack until the contents burst, and not much left of his nose, but I recognized the shoes and the clothes. I looked up at my apartment, then shifted my gaze to the adjoining terrace in amazement, retracing the motion of the fall. I imagined the sudden loss of cabin pressure he must've felt. "You know this boy?" Carla asked me. She was kneeling next to him and pushing a matte of hair away from his face. She was calm, like maybe she had seen a lot of this somewhere, like maybe Ihad, in two separate places a million miles away. I saw somebody appear behind the glass of the apartment in front of me,,some shirtless old man rubbing the gray hairs on a deeply tanned pot-belly. 104

Solarcaine and Smut "Call an ambulance," I told him. A lot of vacant faces were staring out then, more than anybody I'd ever seen in the duplex, from down off their balconies and behind vertical blinds. There was music pouring out from a couple of places, but nothing succinct enough to dance to. "It's my neighbor's son. He climbs on the ledges." She rose. "Why?" "Don't know. Attention? I have no idea." She stood an easy five inches shorter than me. I set the beer down and pointed to my apartment. "Maybe I should go look for his mother." His shoes were splayed like a circus clown. "I don't even know his name." Carla began to sob, a quivering little hum it seemed, and I couldn't formulate any other reason for it but foreplay. This was the way it usually worked. Later, after I followed her into darkness, the sirens pulled up—distantly, in the parking lot. Shestarted in on the tears again, though, beneath my heaves, until the flashing lights stopped whipping against the bedroom window. I pulled her in, leading her back to her apartment. The neighbor's kid was dead on impact, almost definitely. I remember hearing somewhere how people jumping from heights, like the Empire State Building, were more likely to die of shock before they even hit concrete, and I told her this, but she moaned. I brought her to the couch when I realized I left my beer out there, thinking of the puzzled looks on the paramedics' faces when they finally showed. "Hold on a second," I told her. I recovered the Dixie and spotted the Thermos I forgot by the pool. I reached over the fence and grabbed it, moving back down the sidewalk and into her living room. Good Friday. At ten-thirty in the morning I was sucking down coffee in the kitchen of my apartment when Jeanne called, which was surprising. She was chasing rainbows, and I thought less of her.

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couldn't get it out. , She punched me hard in the stomach, harder than 1 would've expected, and glared at me. "Don't you think I know that? Huh? You fucking . . . " She veered around me as I clenched, moving past the elevator towards the brilliant light that drenched the swimming pooh I hunched slightly, walking to my car, spotting Carla across a row of glinting, rusting hulls. I came up on her just as she shut the door to an orange BMW. Looking up at me from behind a cheap pair of mirrored sunglasses, she started the engine. I got down on my haunches to face her at eye-level, which cracked my knees, and I had to stand upright again. "Where you headed?" "I have to go downtown." I told her I was driving to the Gulf that weekend. "That's nice." I asked her if she wanted to come, and she just stared out through the windshield. "You have to work," I said. She hesitated, then said, "Yes." I smirked, looked around, then tapped the hood of the car. "Okay. I'll . . . stop by later or something." "I probably won't be around." "Then I'll just see you." I watched her pull out of the slot and coast down the line to the stop sign leading up onto the freeway.

I asked her how her sister was, and she said: "She had a miscarriage. My mother was looking forward to meeting you, Martin. Wanted to see what kind of man you are." I dumped the grease off the skillet into the trashcan. "You were testing me." There was a static pause. I could hear traffic in her distance. "I'm staying with Foster," she said, finally. "Well, well." Foster Burnett. The chickenhead pill-popper I rescued her from in January. The kind of oxygen-thief who would write the word "food" down on a grocery list and end up spending twenty bucks on ice cream and Royal Crown cola. The kind of Anglo who trapped himself in trendy causes because he wanted to be a part of the action. T h e kind of cocksucker who l a u n c h ed his own excrement like a Molotov cocktail at a friend of mine, Billy Salinger, who —just three hours stateside—tapped his Combat Infantryman's Badge and smiled. You'll never know, baby. You'll just never know. "Interesting," I said. She hung up. On the way down to my car I ran into my neighbor, the rodent kid's mother, a small redhead named Cookie or something. She was staggering towards the elevator, taking off her heels as she crossed the grass. She nearly fell over and 1 stopped in my tracks, not thinking of any reasonable way of getting around her. She was sloppy-drunk, an unattractive grimace across her weary-streaked face. Her make-up was smeared, and her short, choppy hair was sprouting; she looked like she had slept in that dress on the floor somewhere. A red light party, I imagined, with a lot of blow going around, heavy middle-aged bald men tapping cigarillo ashes onto Persian rugs and laughing. "Christ." I took off my sunglasses and waited in the corridor for her to enter, and she did, supporting herself against the wall. "Hey," I said. "There's something . . . " But I ticked and

So I'd get the disability check, cash it, then purchase the dope and drive it down to Vic, my brother in Galveston, and sell it for twice what I paid and still have enough for my own stock. Strictly nickel and dime. It was like exacting revenge against the draft without ever having Asian sweat-shop toys lying around, like footballs or plastic green-faced doughboys beating back the Hun. I always thought it would've been cheaper for Vic to just make his connections in Mexico, but back then I guess brotherly love went a long way.

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couldn't get it out. , She punched me hard in the stomach, harder than 1 would've expected, and glared at me. "Don't you think I know that? Huh? You fucking . . . " She veered around me as I clenched, moving past the elevator towards the brilliant light that drenched the swimming pooh I hunched slightly, walking to my car, spotting Carla across a row of glinting, rusting hulls. I came up on her just as she shut the door to an orange BMW. Looking up at me from behind a cheap pair of mirrored sunglasses, she started the engine. I got down on my haunches to face her at eye-level, which cracked my knees, and I had to stand upright again. "Where you headed?" "I have to go downtown." I told her I was driving to the Gulf that weekend. "That's nice." I asked her if she wanted to come, and she just stared out through the windshield. "You have to work," I said. She hesitated, then said, "Yes." I smirked, looked around, then tapped the hood of the car. "Okay. I'll . . . stop by later or something." "I probably won't be around." "Then I'll just see you." I watched her pull out of the slot and coast down the line to the stop sign leading up onto the freeway.

I asked her how her sister was, and she said: "She had a miscarriage. My mother was looking forward to meeting you, Martin. Wanted to see what kind of man you are." I dumped the grease off the skillet into the trashcan. "You were testing me." There was a static pause. I could hear traffic in her distance. "I'm staying with Foster," she said, finally. "Well, well." Foster Burnett. The chickenhead pill-popper I rescued her from in January. The kind of oxygen-thief who would write the word "food" down on a grocery list and end up spending twenty bucks on ice cream and Royal Crown cola. The kind of Anglo who trapped himself in trendy causes because he wanted to be a part of the action. T h e kind of cocksucker who l a u n c h ed his own excrement like a Molotov cocktail at a friend of mine, Billy Salinger, who —just three hours stateside—tapped his Combat Infantryman's Badge and smiled. You'll never know, baby. You'll just never know. "Interesting," I said. She hung up. On the way down to my car I ran into my neighbor, the rodent kid's mother, a small redhead named Cookie or something. She was staggering towards the elevator, taking off her heels as she crossed the grass. She nearly fell over and 1 stopped in my tracks, not thinking of any reasonable way of getting around her. She was sloppy-drunk, an unattractive grimace across her weary-streaked face. Her make-up was smeared, and her short, choppy hair was sprouting; she looked like she had slept in that dress on the floor somewhere. A red light party, I imagined, with a lot of blow going around, heavy middle-aged bald men tapping cigarillo ashes onto Persian rugs and laughing. "Christ." I took off my sunglasses and waited in the corridor for her to enter, and she did, supporting herself against the wall. "Hey," I said. "There's something . . . " But I ticked and

So I'd get the disability check, cash it, then purchase the dope and drive it down to Vic, my brother in Galveston, and sell it for twice what I paid and still have enough for my own stock. Strictly nickel and dime. It was like exacting revenge against the draft without ever having Asian sweat-shop toys lying around, like footballs or plastic green-faced doughboys beating back the Hun. I always thought it would've been cheaper for Vic to just make his connections in Mexico, but back then I guess brotherly love went a long way.

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-Tffl Solarcaine and Smut

Berkeley Fiction Review

O n the carpet next to the mirrored coffee table I found a tiny snowbox spilling whatever was left of Jeanne's stash—which wasn't much—onto the floor. 1 must've never shut the balcony door and that kid got in hereiooking for cigarettes. Christ, why didn't she take it with her? Half a gram across the table and he just stuck his filthy little nose up to the mirror and moved over it like a Hoover. I gathered the remaining powder into a thin line with my driver's license and snorted it up. It wasn't enough to get off on, but it didn't make any difference. Enraged and enthralled, if Jeanne had been there I would've gone for the jugular. Sprawled across a bed in San Antonio, she was looking for my brother's number in thel>ook (a pipe dream), Foster Burnett and his manicured ape-man hands all over her. I sponged off the table and vacuumed the carpet, ten or twelve times going over that corner next to the couch. I had to do something with Vic's bag. Somewhere, in some bright basement lab, there were pre-teen blood tests and neon signs leading to my apartment.. A knock came at the door just as I was on my way out, and my neighbor—who looked just as haggard as before—stood there. She smelled like bourbon and smoke, intermingled with cheap drugstore aroma. "Hello," I said. "Look, I'm sorry about earlier. I j u s t . . . " "I understand." She stared back at me with pale blue eyes, bloodshot and drooping, and I cocked my head back slightly, tasting blood run back from deep within my nostrils. "I just wanted to apologize." She kept biting the tip of her index finger. "Well, then, I need to get by you, here." She moved and I shut the door, locking it, and headed towards the elevator, looking carefully out across the parking lot and down to my

I had just less than a kilo when I got back to the duplex, having passed the snuff-test, then retested again and again, and becoming more annoyed with the drip that slides down the back of your throat than anything else in the world. In about ten years, when things got complicated with the freebasing epidemic, I would always look back on these moments of clearly defined parameters with a bitter aftertaste, marveling at evolution. The days of toking weed in the backseat of giggling Pauline Taglia's '63 Buick were long ago lost in the bush, at the base of Hill 328, when Billy Salinger photographed that decapitated little head, forever frozen in the face of a little girl, and kept asking what in the hell is she smiling about, what in the fuckingChrist has she got to be so damned happy about? I pulled the emergency brake and reached back for the leather bag. It rested under the passenger seat like a bomb. I strapped it to my shoulder and headed across the parking lot. Taped to the door of my apartment was a business card, belonging to a Deputy Pablo Benitez-Sanchez, with the words "CALL ME" penned on the back. My body temperature plummeted like somebody just jacked a well-chilled needle into my arm and I keyed my way in, running back a hundred sources of self-incrimination. I dropped the bag onto the couch and started to chain smoke, clearing my conscience for the next fifteen minutes. They didn't have anything on me. Maybe a parking ticket, a couple public intoxications. I ran warm water over my face and walked out to the balcony. Down below, police tape squared off the tennis court, where I could see dried blood splattered across the right serving box, looking maroon under a gray sky. The chalk outline looked like a dwarf in paatomime climbing a ladder. I went to the ledge and shot my head around the corner, to the neighbor's, where the sliding door was wide open and peach-colored curtains blew in and out. Charles. That was his name. I walked back into the living room and turned on the television to a soap opera, then flipped it off immediately. I was pacing, and something far removed from spidey sense rushed into my head.

car. "Wait." I turned back.

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108 l


-Tffl Solarcaine and Smut

Berkeley Fiction Review

O n the carpet next to the mirrored coffee table I found a tiny snowbox spilling whatever was left of Jeanne's stash—which wasn't much—onto the floor. 1 must've never shut the balcony door and that kid got in hereiooking for cigarettes. Christ, why didn't she take it with her? Half a gram across the table and he just stuck his filthy little nose up to the mirror and moved over it like a Hoover. I gathered the remaining powder into a thin line with my driver's license and snorted it up. It wasn't enough to get off on, but it didn't make any difference. Enraged and enthralled, if Jeanne had been there I would've gone for the jugular. Sprawled across a bed in San Antonio, she was looking for my brother's number in thel>ook (a pipe dream), Foster Burnett and his manicured ape-man hands all over her. I sponged off the table and vacuumed the carpet, ten or twelve times going over that corner next to the couch. I had to do something with Vic's bag. Somewhere, in some bright basement lab, there were pre-teen blood tests and neon signs leading to my apartment.. A knock came at the door just as I was on my way out, and my neighbor—who looked just as haggard as before—stood there. She smelled like bourbon and smoke, intermingled with cheap drugstore aroma. "Hello," I said. "Look, I'm sorry about earlier. I j u s t . . . " "I understand." She stared back at me with pale blue eyes, bloodshot and drooping, and I cocked my head back slightly, tasting blood run back from deep within my nostrils. "I just wanted to apologize." She kept biting the tip of her index finger. "Well, then, I need to get by you, here." She moved and I shut the door, locking it, and headed towards the elevator, looking carefully out across the parking lot and down to my

I had just less than a kilo when I got back to the duplex, having passed the snuff-test, then retested again and again, and becoming more annoyed with the drip that slides down the back of your throat than anything else in the world. In about ten years, when things got complicated with the freebasing epidemic, I would always look back on these moments of clearly defined parameters with a bitter aftertaste, marveling at evolution. The days of toking weed in the backseat of giggling Pauline Taglia's '63 Buick were long ago lost in the bush, at the base of Hill 328, when Billy Salinger photographed that decapitated little head, forever frozen in the face of a little girl, and kept asking what in the hell is she smiling about, what in the fuckingChrist has she got to be so damned happy about? I pulled the emergency brake and reached back for the leather bag. It rested under the passenger seat like a bomb. I strapped it to my shoulder and headed across the parking lot. Taped to the door of my apartment was a business card, belonging to a Deputy Pablo Benitez-Sanchez, with the words "CALL ME" penned on the back. My body temperature plummeted like somebody just jacked a well-chilled needle into my arm and I keyed my way in, running back a hundred sources of self-incrimination. I dropped the bag onto the couch and started to chain smoke, clearing my conscience for the next fifteen minutes. They didn't have anything on me. Maybe a parking ticket, a couple public intoxications. I ran warm water over my face and walked out to the balcony. Down below, police tape squared off the tennis court, where I could see dried blood splattered across the right serving box, looking maroon under a gray sky. The chalk outline looked like a dwarf in paatomime climbing a ladder. I went to the ledge and shot my head around the corner, to the neighbor's, where the sliding door was wide open and peach-colored curtains blew in and out. Charles. That was his name. I walked back into the living room and turned on the television to a soap opera, then flipped it off immediately. I was pacing, and something far removed from spidey sense rushed into my head.

car. "Wait." I turned back.

109

108 l


Berkeley Fiction Review "Ave you angry?" "No. Of course not." She took her fingernail away from her teeth. "Jeanne. Is she here?" "Jeanne? You know her?" Secrets. If I had known about this I may never have given her the fifteen-hundred. I had sold to this woman once, maybe six months earlier, b ut it just tapered off and I never thought about it again. "She's not around," I told her. "Do you need something?" "Yes." I didn't like the options it presented. I sighed and leaned u p against the wall, lighting another cigarette and shaking my head. "I can't help you." I shrugged. "I'm sorry about your boy." I walked to the end of the landing, shuffling down the emergency stairs and into the parking lot. I never looked back, and never looked up from the seat of my car to see her staring down at me. She would go to the police, then, and p u t the blame on m e for her rodent kid, and I knew it. It didn't even matter if I stuck around, because they had m e dead to rights. I shoved the bag back u n d e r the seat and drove south, into San Marcos, until I could get off the interstate and make the run to Galveston. T h e whole way down I thought about Jeanne, and those moments I'd lie awake and actually wonder why I didn't love her. T h e worst part of this mess was that I lost the disability allotment, my one exacting revenge, because I could never check in again. <-

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Ave you angry?" "No. Of course not." She took her fingernail away from her teeth. "Jeanne. Is she here?" "Jeanne? You know her?" Secrets. If I had known about this I may never have given her the fifteen-hundred. I had sold to this woman once, maybe six months earlier, b ut it just tapered off and I never thought about it again. "She's not around," I told her. "Do you need something?" "Yes." I didn't like the options it presented. I sighed and leaned u p against the wall, lighting another cigarette and shaking my head. "I can't help you." I shrugged. "I'm sorry about your boy." I walked to the end of the landing, shuffling down the emergency stairs and into the parking lot. I never looked back, and never looked up from the seat of my car to see her staring down at me. She would go to the police, then, and p u t the blame on m e for her rodent kid, and I knew it. It didn't even matter if I stuck around, because they had m e dead to rights. I shoved the bag back u n d e r the seat and drove south, into San Marcos, until I could get off the interstate and make the run to Galveston. T h e whole way down I thought about Jeanne, and those moments I'd lie awake and actually wonder why I didn't love her. T h e worst part of this mess was that I lost the disability allotment, my one exacting revenge, because I could never check in again. <-

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Chicken Man First Prize Winner Sudden

Fiction

C h i c k e n

Contest

M a n

by Augustus Rose

S

o I'm driving, I'm driving down T h e Strip, one hand in the glove box, an eye to the radio when I saw the chicken man. I swear I just about lost i t i h e r e , just about took out a whole bevy of nuns there on the sidewalk, m e not having enough eyes in my head to include the road in my sight. Thechic^^ijman was there in front of the new Popeye's: ** hopping and l>alfking/dtit his pleas to passersby to c o m e into the place a n d feast on buffalo wings and we all know w h a t those are. It -fvas a strange and traitorous act, selling out his own kind like that. His massive yellow feathered suit ruffled with t h e wind as he paced and did his chicken dance, which was three jerky movemexits forward, three jerky movements back. Pbople tried to avoid him mostly. But he danced ip their paths,, h a n d e d them unwanted flyers, squawked something I couldn't quite make out. %t drove aroun d the block just to see h i m again, such a signt as h e was, "cause I couldn't just let this chaijce pass m e by/Sroithere was me, p u l l i n g alongside at a slow cruise, and s there was hre, this crazy yellow thing. I leaned out t h d win^ doM "Hey chicken man!" H e turned around on his big chicken feet to. loo k a t me:

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stringy-haired white trash that I was, hanging half out the window of a faded green '68 Impala. I flipped h i m my middle finger, bird to bird, and grinned wide and loopy. "Fuck you, chicken man!" I yelled. And drove. W h e n I looked in my rearview he was there, running beh i n d , skinny chicken legs propelling h i m forward like some d e m o n fowl, his middle finger extended in each hand, p u m p ing out in front of him like a couple of six-shooters. G o d d a m , it was the greatest day of my life. Henry looked u p from his cereal and gave m e one of those older brother stares. H e wiped some milk from his upper lip and nodded sagely. "We're all the C h i c k en Man," h e said, and went back to his cereal.

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Chicken Man First Prize Winner Sudden

Fiction

C h i c k e n

Contest

M a n

by Augustus Rose

S

o I'm driving, I'm driving down T h e Strip, one hand in the glove box, an eye to the radio when I saw the chicken man. I swear I just about lost i t i h e r e , just about took out a whole bevy of nuns there on the sidewalk, m e not having enough eyes in my head to include the road in my sight. Thechic^^ijman was there in front of the new Popeye's: ** hopping and l>alfking/dtit his pleas to passersby to c o m e into the place a n d feast on buffalo wings and we all know w h a t those are. It -fvas a strange and traitorous act, selling out his own kind like that. His massive yellow feathered suit ruffled with t h e wind as he paced and did his chicken dance, which was three jerky movemexits forward, three jerky movements back. Pbople tried to avoid him mostly. But he danced ip their paths,, h a n d e d them unwanted flyers, squawked something I couldn't quite make out. %t drove aroun d the block just to see h i m again, such a signt as h e was, "cause I couldn't just let this chaijce pass m e by/Sroithere was me, p u l l i n g alongside at a slow cruise, and s there was hre, this crazy yellow thing. I leaned out t h d win^ doM "Hey chicken man!" H e turned around on his big chicken feet to. loo k a t me:

112

stringy-haired white trash that I was, hanging half out the window of a faded green '68 Impala. I flipped h i m my middle finger, bird to bird, and grinned wide and loopy. "Fuck you, chicken man!" I yelled. And drove. W h e n I looked in my rearview he was there, running beh i n d , skinny chicken legs propelling h i m forward like some d e m o n fowl, his middle finger extended in each hand, p u m p ing out in front of him like a couple of six-shooters. G o d d a m , it was the greatest day of my life. Henry looked u p from his cereal and gave m e one of those older brother stares. H e wiped some milk from his upper lip and nodded sagely. "We're all the C h i c k en Man," h e said, and went back to his cereal.

113


Stethoscope Sights

S t e t h o s c o p e

S i g h t s

D. Foy O'Brien

O

utside the weekends, we usually indulge in what we have c o m e to call our "ausculatory forays" only during the evenings, since this is the t i m e when people return from work and if they are a family or a couple, relax by means of talking about the day's events, about their lives in general. W h e t h e r low and grave or h u s h ed a n d sibilant or pitched and flighty and jovial, their voices through our stethoscopes sound sharp and clear, as if they were coming from someone in our own living room. Of course now and then we force ourselves from bed in the morning to monitor a conversation, b u t this is rare: often as not, we find these m o m e n t s boring as a body might imagine. We have heard our fill of flushing toilets and blowing noses and we have grown tired of the strangled sounds of gargling, the dissonances of showertime bleating. It has taken us some time to h o n e our techniques, b u t a little patience and a great deal of experience have shown us the windows in the walls, those places through which the voices sound clearest—a small tap here, a light knock there, all matters of divining the chinks and the cracks and the crevices, the spaces devoid of lathing or stud or wiring. It is when o n e of our neighbors moves that problems arise. Because then new neighbors arrive. And new neighbors bring with them not just new faces and new schedules but also new furniture arrange-

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ments. But these have only been minor trappings, nothing we cartnot handle. We always find a way. Vernon Longwright's wife Sandy c a m e h o m e that night only to leave again in a rush, as we knew she would. For the first two m o n t hs they lived here, she left each Thursday night at the same time and then returned later with the same meticulous punctuality. O n this particular evening, though, we had for some reason started late with dinner; when she arrived, we were still at it. Because she first went to her bedroom to change, we set aside our plates and m o u n t ed the stairs hurriedly, knowing of course that Vernon would follow. Sandy was a telephone operator. As a child she had wanted to be a dancer, b ut claiming that dancing's impracticality outweighed its expense, her parents kept her from it. Now she was taking Brazilian d a n ce classes from a private instructor with a studio in San Francisco. We could not help b u t know these things. It seemed the woman rarely spoke of anything else. Anyway, Vernon went on talking according to his habit, picking through the day's trivial happenings, asking Sandy about the next girl's shortcomings and grievances, how many perverts she had talked to, whether she had broached the issue of her long overdue raise with her supervisor, and then from her silence on that matter, a silence which we had taken to m e a n , as h a d Vernon, that she had not yet asked for the raise, whether she p l a n n e d on doing so before she lost the fine looks that had got her the job in the first place. We heard Sandy opening and closing the drawers of her b u r e a u , we heard the bedsprings creaking, the closet doors sliding along their ungreased tracks. We heard everything we expected, save o n e thing: her voice. Instead, there came only the sound of her bare feet slapping about the room, the reverberations caroming from hardwood to plaster and to hardwood and back. Her feet slacked and t h e n the bedsprings creaked o n c e more, but with a difference this time, with a quality of distinct and unrestrained weightiness, and then it dissolved beneath the sound of her feet moving again, slapping noisily about. Still we waited for Sandy's voice,.but nothing. Through

115


Stethoscope Sights

S t e t h o s c o p e

S i g h t s

D. Foy O'Brien

O

utside the weekends, we usually indulge in what we have c o m e to call our "ausculatory forays" only during the evenings, since this is the t i m e when people return from work and if they are a family or a couple, relax by means of talking about the day's events, about their lives in general. W h e t h e r low and grave or h u s h ed a n d sibilant or pitched and flighty and jovial, their voices through our stethoscopes sound sharp and clear, as if they were coming from someone in our own living room. Of course now and then we force ourselves from bed in the morning to monitor a conversation, b u t this is rare: often as not, we find these m o m e n t s boring as a body might imagine. We have heard our fill of flushing toilets and blowing noses and we have grown tired of the strangled sounds of gargling, the dissonances of showertime bleating. It has taken us some time to h o n e our techniques, b u t a little patience and a great deal of experience have shown us the windows in the walls, those places through which the voices sound clearest—a small tap here, a light knock there, all matters of divining the chinks and the cracks and the crevices, the spaces devoid of lathing or stud or wiring. It is when o n e of our neighbors moves that problems arise. Because then new neighbors arrive. And new neighbors bring with them not just new faces and new schedules but also new furniture arrange-

114

ments. But these have only been minor trappings, nothing we cartnot handle. We always find a way. Vernon Longwright's wife Sandy c a m e h o m e that night only to leave again in a rush, as we knew she would. For the first two m o n t hs they lived here, she left each Thursday night at the same time and then returned later with the same meticulous punctuality. O n this particular evening, though, we had for some reason started late with dinner; when she arrived, we were still at it. Because she first went to her bedroom to change, we set aside our plates and m o u n t ed the stairs hurriedly, knowing of course that Vernon would follow. Sandy was a telephone operator. As a child she had wanted to be a dancer, b ut claiming that dancing's impracticality outweighed its expense, her parents kept her from it. Now she was taking Brazilian d a n ce classes from a private instructor with a studio in San Francisco. We could not help b u t know these things. It seemed the woman rarely spoke of anything else. Anyway, Vernon went on talking according to his habit, picking through the day's trivial happenings, asking Sandy about the next girl's shortcomings and grievances, how many perverts she had talked to, whether she had broached the issue of her long overdue raise with her supervisor, and then from her silence on that matter, a silence which we had taken to m e a n , as h a d Vernon, that she had not yet asked for the raise, whether she p l a n n e d on doing so before she lost the fine looks that had got her the job in the first place. We heard Sandy opening and closing the drawers of her b u r e a u , we heard the bedsprings creaking, the closet doors sliding along their ungreased tracks. We heard everything we expected, save o n e thing: her voice. Instead, there came only the sound of her bare feet slapping about the room, the reverberations caroming from hardwood to plaster and to hardwood and back. Her feet slacked and t h e n the bedsprings creaked o n c e more, but with a difference this time, with a quality of distinct and unrestrained weightiness, and then it dissolved beneath the sound of her feet moving again, slapping noisily about. Still we waited for Sandy's voice,.but nothing. Through

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Berkeley Fiction Review our open windows came the faint odor of jasmine and wild rockrose, the steady drone and whir of crickets, the distant hum of eveningtime traffic, all of it gravid with the balmy pith of September evening heat. Just below, the snarl and tangle of uncut grass hished in a quiet, passing breeze. "Have you been able to reach Mrs Kotz?" Sandy's voice came from another room now, the bathroom. Our ears tingled about the stethoscopes' ear nubs. "What?" Vernon said. . Sandy came slapping into the room. "Come on," she said. "You heard me. Have-you-called-Mrs-Kotz?" "Why was I supposed to call Mrs Kotz?" "Jesus Christ, Verny. You know damned well why. You say you will every day, and every day you don't. Or at least you don't say you have. God. Seems like you'd get tired of me harping on you about it, day in and day out. Always the same old things. The clogged sink, the jammed windows upstairs? The broken porch light? Remember them? And that goddamned back door—the dead bolt might as well be a piece of fucking string. If someone wanted in here, they'd only have to lean against the damn thing. God. And they just might too. If you've got anything, you've got two eyes in your head. You've seen all those thugs hanging out in front of the school." Vernon sighed. "I don't know what to tell you," he said. "She won't return my calls. What do you want?" * "I want her to take care of this crap, that's what" , "Okay already," Vernon said. We could hear the clicking of their little pup's nails on the floor, the pup we were to watch the next day while the exterminator fumigated, and then the bedsprings creaking again. "Hey there little fella," Vernon said. "Come on. Let's take you out and get some fresh air." "I'm serious, Verny," Sandy said. "I don't care how it happens. All I know is I'm sick and tired of living in one dump after another. It was supposed to be different this time and it's not." *itwas supposed to be different this time, it was supposed to be different this time," Vernon said, his voice thin and mon-

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Stethoscope Sights strous and heckling. "Hey Am I a goddam retard or what?" The bed creaked and then there came the sound of feet pounding down the stairs and Sandy followed them and so did we. The front door slammed and a car door's slam followed it. Then, comingling with noise, the car itself, unwilling, sputtered out of dormancy, it croaked and it pittered off down the street, a grumbling toad waked from the dreamless sleep of some midwinter's warm and muddy burrow. "For Christ's sake," Vernon said. He sloughed into the kitchen. The sound of something breaking, something hard and plastic, the clinking of ice on glass and a bottle gurgling, fuzzing faintly through the walls. "No. Not right now, boy. I'll get to you in a minute." The puppy whimpered and yipped. "Did you hear me?" Vernon hissed. But the pup would not cease. We heard a sharp screech and then again a fit of shrill and plaintful yelping. "Little bastard. I told you I meant it. Next time you'll listen." In the livingroom the television clicked and pulsed. Presently a man's voice came droning into coherence like some strange butterfly emerging from that familiarly empty chrysalis of glass and churring molecules. With Orellana close behind, the voice said, Gonzalo Pizarro departed Quito in February of 1541. His first barrier... A rapid succession of voices and sounds followed—quacking ducks, bubbling faucets, roaring trains, laughing children —until at last the television settled once more into what must have been a commercial for some ready-made casserole mix. A little girl's voice squawked out, And I helped! and was then swallowed by a flush of glitzy music suggestive of happy families eating good food. "Hamburger Helper my ass!" Vernon shouted. "And fuck Oreo Piss-a-reno or whoever the fuck he is. And fuck history too goddamn it." The channels revolved once more and then came a dry and final click. With that the room fell into a lull which just as quickly broke with the telephone's ringing. Vernon huffed up and shuffled to answer it. "Hello?" he

117


Berkeley Fiction Review our open windows came the faint odor of jasmine and wild rockrose, the steady drone and whir of crickets, the distant hum of eveningtime traffic, all of it gravid with the balmy pith of September evening heat. Just below, the snarl and tangle of uncut grass hished in a quiet, passing breeze. "Have you been able to reach Mrs Kotz?" Sandy's voice came from another room now, the bathroom. Our ears tingled about the stethoscopes' ear nubs. "What?" Vernon said. . Sandy came slapping into the room. "Come on," she said. "You heard me. Have-you-called-Mrs-Kotz?" "Why was I supposed to call Mrs Kotz?" "Jesus Christ, Verny. You know damned well why. You say you will every day, and every day you don't. Or at least you don't say you have. God. Seems like you'd get tired of me harping on you about it, day in and day out. Always the same old things. The clogged sink, the jammed windows upstairs? The broken porch light? Remember them? And that goddamned back door—the dead bolt might as well be a piece of fucking string. If someone wanted in here, they'd only have to lean against the damn thing. God. And they just might too. If you've got anything, you've got two eyes in your head. You've seen all those thugs hanging out in front of the school." Vernon sighed. "I don't know what to tell you," he said. "She won't return my calls. What do you want?" * "I want her to take care of this crap, that's what" , "Okay already," Vernon said. We could hear the clicking of their little pup's nails on the floor, the pup we were to watch the next day while the exterminator fumigated, and then the bedsprings creaking again. "Hey there little fella," Vernon said. "Come on. Let's take you out and get some fresh air." "I'm serious, Verny," Sandy said. "I don't care how it happens. All I know is I'm sick and tired of living in one dump after another. It was supposed to be different this time and it's not." *itwas supposed to be different this time, it was supposed to be different this time," Vernon said, his voice thin and mon-

116

Stethoscope Sights strous and heckling. "Hey Am I a goddam retard or what?" The bed creaked and then there came the sound of feet pounding down the stairs and Sandy followed them and so did we. The front door slammed and a car door's slam followed it. Then, comingling with noise, the car itself, unwilling, sputtered out of dormancy, it croaked and it pittered off down the street, a grumbling toad waked from the dreamless sleep of some midwinter's warm and muddy burrow. "For Christ's sake," Vernon said. He sloughed into the kitchen. The sound of something breaking, something hard and plastic, the clinking of ice on glass and a bottle gurgling, fuzzing faintly through the walls. "No. Not right now, boy. I'll get to you in a minute." The puppy whimpered and yipped. "Did you hear me?" Vernon hissed. But the pup would not cease. We heard a sharp screech and then again a fit of shrill and plaintful yelping. "Little bastard. I told you I meant it. Next time you'll listen." In the livingroom the television clicked and pulsed. Presently a man's voice came droning into coherence like some strange butterfly emerging from that familiarly empty chrysalis of glass and churring molecules. With Orellana close behind, the voice said, Gonzalo Pizarro departed Quito in February of 1541. His first barrier... A rapid succession of voices and sounds followed—quacking ducks, bubbling faucets, roaring trains, laughing children —until at last the television settled once more into what must have been a commercial for some ready-made casserole mix. A little girl's voice squawked out, And I helped! and was then swallowed by a flush of glitzy music suggestive of happy families eating good food. "Hamburger Helper my ass!" Vernon shouted. "And fuck Oreo Piss-a-reno or whoever the fuck he is. And fuck history too goddamn it." The channels revolved once more and then came a dry and final click. With that the room fell into a lull which just as quickly broke with the telephone's ringing. Vernon huffed up and shuffled to answer it. "Hello?" he

117


KTJW Berkeley Fiction Review said. Another silence followed. "Listen," he said, nearly whispering. "I thought we'd decided it wasn't a good idea to do this . . . You're not listening to me . . . Wait, wait. Let's don't start this right now . . . I know she's not here but just the same I'm edgy . . . Okay. I'll call you tomorrow. Promise." We expected to hear the phone tapping into its cradle, yet instead came the cricketsong drowsing through the windows,, copious and soothing and persistent, carrying with it the murmur of grass and leaves, that distant odor of jasmine and rockrose. We set down pur things, turned out the lights. Through the front window and across the way a streetlamp glimmered, its halo turning to smoky blue a portion of the schoolyard, snug and empty beyond its cyclone fence. And then, through the walls, as the weary pale to dreams, so paled Vernon, his breath caught-and-rasping, asleep. We mounted the stairs slowly and said goodnight. The following morning we were waked by an unfamiliar sound. We rose, we listened. Sitting up to better cock our ears, the sound seemed to have given way to the clamorings of sparrows and chittering finches, the steady but unsettling harpings of a mockingbird which when we looked to it through the window sat perched like a happenstance gargoyle at the uppermost reaches of the tallest tree, an old maple, its leaves just turning with the season and thinning some too, so that at its twiggy stand the bird seemed posed in grey relief against a still greyer morning overhang, swaying to its spurious prodding calls, white-throated and stretching. Far to the distance a,siren moaned toward a fire or a hospital, and then nearer, from the street-side of the house, a school bell drilling. Its three short bursts told us the day had got on without our realizing it. Somehow the morning had made ten oclock, it had stole quietly by us and would have continued to do so had not that unfamiliar sound poked at us from beyond. We waited. Then, just as we were beginning to think some strange gambit of the mind had preyed upon us, the sound came on as before: a steady sequence of intermittent hissings, low and steady

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Stethoscope Sights and somehow menacing. It came soughing up from behind us, from behind our heads, through the Longwright's walls. Then we smelled it, a faintly gaseous odor, nearly palpable in its invisibility, we thought, and yet strangely evasive. We had no sooner drawn back the bedding than came a series of knocks on the door, much like Vernon's yesterday-knock, though lacking that quality of insistency, of sharpness. This was a knocking we had come to know—steady, yes, but signal-fraught, no: we could even see the bigknuckled and hairybacked hand as it rose and fell with that certain dull implacability, a careless succession of torpid and metronomic gestures that by virtue of their utterly mindless constancy drew the attention they sought. These were accompanied by the voice to which the hand belonged and which like the hand that had that selfsame: quality of slow, careless, but nonetheless deceptive monotony. "Ey you Gallents," it called. "Vhat'choo doingk in der? E y Today dee bug man come ere and you're next to go, you and your godtamn bugs. G e t . . . " "Good morning, Stan," we said, opening the door. "Thank you for the warning." He stood there with his hammy shoulders and his dark skeptical eyes, running them across us as though we were suspect, as though perhaps we had planted explosives somewhere on the property or perhaps in his truck and that we might suddenly detonate them. "You are velcbme," he said, shifting his feet to stanch a cigarette. "Ey. Vhat'choo doingk in der? You look like you been sleeping, godtamn." He poked a thick finger at us as he said this and he shook his head. "Well, as much as we hate to admit it, it looks like you've caught us." We grinned. "How soon till our turn?" "Your turn. Dee bug man just almost feenished at dee new peoples. You Gallents are next, in five or tengk minutes maybe. But you can go back to dee bed if you just vant to sleep all dee day. D e e godtamn bug man he vill—" "What? The exterminator's next door in the Longwright's

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KTJW Berkeley Fiction Review said. Another silence followed. "Listen," he said, nearly whispering. "I thought we'd decided it wasn't a good idea to do this . . . You're not listening to me . . . Wait, wait. Let's don't start this right now . . . I know she's not here but just the same I'm edgy . . . Okay. I'll call you tomorrow. Promise." We expected to hear the phone tapping into its cradle, yet instead came the cricketsong drowsing through the windows,, copious and soothing and persistent, carrying with it the murmur of grass and leaves, that distant odor of jasmine and rockrose. We set down pur things, turned out the lights. Through the front window and across the way a streetlamp glimmered, its halo turning to smoky blue a portion of the schoolyard, snug and empty beyond its cyclone fence. And then, through the walls, as the weary pale to dreams, so paled Vernon, his breath caught-and-rasping, asleep. We mounted the stairs slowly and said goodnight. The following morning we were waked by an unfamiliar sound. We rose, we listened. Sitting up to better cock our ears, the sound seemed to have given way to the clamorings of sparrows and chittering finches, the steady but unsettling harpings of a mockingbird which when we looked to it through the window sat perched like a happenstance gargoyle at the uppermost reaches of the tallest tree, an old maple, its leaves just turning with the season and thinning some too, so that at its twiggy stand the bird seemed posed in grey relief against a still greyer morning overhang, swaying to its spurious prodding calls, white-throated and stretching. Far to the distance a,siren moaned toward a fire or a hospital, and then nearer, from the street-side of the house, a school bell drilling. Its three short bursts told us the day had got on without our realizing it. Somehow the morning had made ten oclock, it had stole quietly by us and would have continued to do so had not that unfamiliar sound poked at us from beyond. We waited. Then, just as we were beginning to think some strange gambit of the mind had preyed upon us, the sound came on as before: a steady sequence of intermittent hissings, low and steady

118

Stethoscope Sights and somehow menacing. It came soughing up from behind us, from behind our heads, through the Longwright's walls. Then we smelled it, a faintly gaseous odor, nearly palpable in its invisibility, we thought, and yet strangely evasive. We had no sooner drawn back the bedding than came a series of knocks on the door, much like Vernon's yesterday-knock, though lacking that quality of insistency, of sharpness. This was a knocking we had come to know—steady, yes, but signal-fraught, no: we could even see the bigknuckled and hairybacked hand as it rose and fell with that certain dull implacability, a careless succession of torpid and metronomic gestures that by virtue of their utterly mindless constancy drew the attention they sought. These were accompanied by the voice to which the hand belonged and which like the hand that had that selfsame: quality of slow, careless, but nonetheless deceptive monotony. "Ey you Gallents," it called. "Vhat'choo doingk in der? E y Today dee bug man come ere and you're next to go, you and your godtamn bugs. G e t . . . " "Good morning, Stan," we said, opening the door. "Thank you for the warning." He stood there with his hammy shoulders and his dark skeptical eyes, running them across us as though we were suspect, as though perhaps we had planted explosives somewhere on the property or perhaps in his truck and that we might suddenly detonate them. "You are velcbme," he said, shifting his feet to stanch a cigarette. "Ey. Vhat'choo doingk in der? You look like you been sleeping, godtamn." He poked a thick finger at us as he said this and he shook his head. "Well, as much as we hate to admit it, it looks like you've caught us." We grinned. "How soon till our turn?" "Your turn. Dee bug man just almost feenished at dee new peoples. You Gallents are next, in five or tengk minutes maybe. But you can go back to dee bed if you just vant to sleep all dee day. D e e godtamn bug man he vill—" "What? The exterminator's next door in the Longwright's

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Berkeley Fiction Review place—right now?" With his meaty palm Stan hit himself in the forehead. "Vhat I just get feenished tellingk you, uh? D e e bug man vill come to your . . . " Looking to the Longwright's porch we saw nothing unusual. The door was shut, the windows sealed. Since we wouldn't need the key Vernon had given us, we tried the door and as we expected it opened and gave vent to a thick cloud of swampy blue vapors that clotted our nostrils and burned our eyes but which we nonetheless attempted to ignore. Behind us Stan made to follow, though with the fumes h e quit. We could hear him jabbering on about some injustice or another, but as we have grown accustomed to his ramblings we ignored him then as we tried to the fumes. The place might have been some poisonous cave, thick with insecticidal gases. Our robes drawn across our faces, we saw moving through the fumes like a wraith at the far end of the room a rubber mask- and- gloveclad man on whose shoulders was strapped a tank of the type scuba divers wear. A thin black hose protruded from its base. At the hose's end we could vaguely discern the long gunshaped nozzle with which the m a a sprayed the stuff of his trade. Intent on his work, he did not look up. Just beneath Stan's voice the gases shirred and hissed with measured cadence, like padded footsteps in an endless corridor. But nowhere could we see the pup. Neither could we hear it. To the right rose the stairwell. Stiffboned, we mounted it as fast and as best we could, headed for the bedroom we knew was at their top and to the left: In it, i n a box packed with towels and other padding lay the pup, asleep and wheezing harshly. Stan remained outside all the while — we heard him through the windows talking away as much to himself as to anyone. We took the pup and made our way o u t Outside Stan stood hunched over the bed of his clattertrap truck, fishing through the hodgepodge of materials he carted about, looking for what we couldn't tell. He always had these things despite the rarity with which we saw him use them. When we;emerged with the pup he straightened some to look

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Stethoscope Sight* across his shoulder, his voice and the movement one, both fettered and inextricable as the voice and movement of a windup toy, undeviating. Seeing the pup, he turned our way. "Ey," he said in his cruel monotonous way. "Vhat'choo doingk veeth dat puppy dog?" We stood holding the pup, talking to it quietly, trying to rouse it from its stupor. Because Stan would doubtless ramble on so long as we were present, we felt no obligation to answer. He squinted some as he studied the pup, his brow squinched and wrinkled. "Sheet. Dat dog look like it might not be avake. Vhich reminds me. I vill go to sleep vright now but for I got to vork all de day because if I don't dat crazy old Camille gonna fire me." He never calls her Mrs Kotz but always Camille. That is, nearly always. She is our landlady. But above all, she is Stan's lover. And this has for us been the source of endless confusion mainly because neither he nor she have ever vouchsafed for this. Nor have either of them so much as even hinted with a touch or a kiss or a kind and affectionate word that this is so. In fact, more often than not Stan is quick to slight Mrs Kotz in her absence, and this mostly by way of "godtamn beetch" or "dat crazy ol Camille godtamn" or "dis crazy mean lady she is so ugly dat, godtamn, I don't vant to get up in dee morning no more, for to see her ugly face. Godtamn." "It's really nothing to worry yourself over." Stan seemed not to have heard this but went on with his lamentation, thumping a cigarette to his mouth as he did. Meanwhile Miss Thompson, our neighbor on the other side, stepped out with her old basset hound. She is a plain and simple looking woman who rarely has company and who has passed the last five years living quietly alone with only her houseplants and her books and her dog to occupy her time -*- those and her self-defense classes—but who for all her reclusive abnegation is as socially graceful as a body could want. Our yard lies clotted with fading dandelions and thistles and foxtails too. Her dog passed through these, making its way toward Stan, though he acted not to notice it. Another might have thought he resembled an idiot in these moments, mindful only of his

121


Berkeley Fiction Review place—right now?" With his meaty palm Stan hit himself in the forehead. "Vhat I just get feenished tellingk you, uh? D e e bug man vill come to your . . . " Looking to the Longwright's porch we saw nothing unusual. The door was shut, the windows sealed. Since we wouldn't need the key Vernon had given us, we tried the door and as we expected it opened and gave vent to a thick cloud of swampy blue vapors that clotted our nostrils and burned our eyes but which we nonetheless attempted to ignore. Behind us Stan made to follow, though with the fumes h e quit. We could hear him jabbering on about some injustice or another, but as we have grown accustomed to his ramblings we ignored him then as we tried to the fumes. The place might have been some poisonous cave, thick with insecticidal gases. Our robes drawn across our faces, we saw moving through the fumes like a wraith at the far end of the room a rubber mask- and- gloveclad man on whose shoulders was strapped a tank of the type scuba divers wear. A thin black hose protruded from its base. At the hose's end we could vaguely discern the long gunshaped nozzle with which the m a a sprayed the stuff of his trade. Intent on his work, he did not look up. Just beneath Stan's voice the gases shirred and hissed with measured cadence, like padded footsteps in an endless corridor. But nowhere could we see the pup. Neither could we hear it. To the right rose the stairwell. Stiffboned, we mounted it as fast and as best we could, headed for the bedroom we knew was at their top and to the left: In it, i n a box packed with towels and other padding lay the pup, asleep and wheezing harshly. Stan remained outside all the while — we heard him through the windows talking away as much to himself as to anyone. We took the pup and made our way o u t Outside Stan stood hunched over the bed of his clattertrap truck, fishing through the hodgepodge of materials he carted about, looking for what we couldn't tell. He always had these things despite the rarity with which we saw him use them. When we;emerged with the pup he straightened some to look

120

Stethoscope Sight* across his shoulder, his voice and the movement one, both fettered and inextricable as the voice and movement of a windup toy, undeviating. Seeing the pup, he turned our way. "Ey," he said in his cruel monotonous way. "Vhat'choo doingk veeth dat puppy dog?" We stood holding the pup, talking to it quietly, trying to rouse it from its stupor. Because Stan would doubtless ramble on so long as we were present, we felt no obligation to answer. He squinted some as he studied the pup, his brow squinched and wrinkled. "Sheet. Dat dog look like it might not be avake. Vhich reminds me. I vill go to sleep vright now but for I got to vork all de day because if I don't dat crazy old Camille gonna fire me." He never calls her Mrs Kotz but always Camille. That is, nearly always. She is our landlady. But above all, she is Stan's lover. And this has for us been the source of endless confusion mainly because neither he nor she have ever vouchsafed for this. Nor have either of them so much as even hinted with a touch or a kiss or a kind and affectionate word that this is so. In fact, more often than not Stan is quick to slight Mrs Kotz in her absence, and this mostly by way of "godtamn beetch" or "dat crazy ol Camille godtamn" or "dis crazy mean lady she is so ugly dat, godtamn, I don't vant to get up in dee morning no more, for to see her ugly face. Godtamn." "It's really nothing to worry yourself over." Stan seemed not to have heard this but went on with his lamentation, thumping a cigarette to his mouth as he did. Meanwhile Miss Thompson, our neighbor on the other side, stepped out with her old basset hound. She is a plain and simple looking woman who rarely has company and who has passed the last five years living quietly alone with only her houseplants and her books and her dog to occupy her time -*- those and her self-defense classes—but who for all her reclusive abnegation is as socially graceful as a body could want. Our yard lies clotted with fading dandelions and thistles and foxtails too. Her dog passed through these, making its way toward Stan, though he acted not to notice it. Another might have thought he resembled an idiot in these moments, mindful only of his

121


Berkeley Fiction Review immediate surroundings, but we knew otherwise. As Miss Thompson moved across theyard, Stan's eyes glimmered and waxed to a shiny black glow. We watched him watching her, running his eyes across her, pausing now and then at what would have been conspicuous places were it not for Miss Thompson's baggy dropwaist dress. She turned to us and the pup;^ "O, there you are you little cutie," she said. "You little sweet thing you. Yes, you little sleepy head, of course you're tired in this heat." Despite the early hour, the sun had come across the school rooftops and was bearing down on us in its hard September way. She shot a rapid glance at Stan. He was still watching her. "Let me tell you," he said, as though making a general announcement. "Dese is not dee only ting dat is hot in dese places. Godtamn." He stood there grinning, smoke trailing through his teeth. "We hardly know what to do with him," we said. "He's so . . . he's such an unpredictable little creature." "Nothing strange about that," Miss Thompson said. "Puppies are just that way." She stood scratching the pup's belly, talking to it. N o n e of us had kept up with Stan, so that now he was next to us, nearly hovering over Miss Thompson's shoulder, smelling faintly of staling sweat and some other illusory odor, perhaps ChK nesefood or potato chips. "Ey* Patricia/' he said. "You vant for me to feex someding in dee place for you today? I have vith me all my tools for to do dese;" he said, lingering overlong on the word "tools." .Miss Thompson called to her dog. "Lester," she said. "Come on you lucky old goof. We've got to go now. While Mr Exterminator is getting rid of those fleas you've been complaining about all summer, you and I are going on a little trip to the park." Stan's comment reminded us of how on a number of occasions we had heard Miss Thompson crabbing over the phone

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Stethoscope Sights about her broken freezer and a jammed cabinet door, but that she -couldn't afford to call in a repair man. Of this we said nothing. "Good-bye," she called to us. "Not that way silly," she told the dog. "That way." She had got behind it and was now herding it toward the street. "Patricia," Stan said again. "Ey. I guess I must come back ere dese eveningk to do you, no?" Without turning to face him, Miss Thompson stopped. "If you so much as set one foot on my porch after the sun goes down," she said in her sweet voice, "I'll kill you." Stan chuckled lightly and flicked his cigarette. "Heh, heh," he said. "Godtamn. You are funny voman. Dat is vhy I like you so much, you know dese? Because you are funny. But still, dese is your last chance to . . . " A car approached and Stan turned to watch it. As he did his voice trailed off, sliding down his throat like water down a drain. It was Mrs Kotz. In the other car, her hand aflap and waving brightly, Miss Thompson drove off. Stan moved to his truck and his rummaging. Short, frowzy, wrinkle-stamped Mrs Kotz came slouching from her car. In her brown cardigan sweater, polyester slacks and orthopedic shoes, with her cateye half-glasses looped around her neck on a chain of glass beads, she gave the air of some bluehaired clerk from a seldom-shopped small town drugstore. Doubtless we have in our privacy always agreed with Stan that Mrs Kotz is not the most attractive woman to which this world has given life, now or then, physically or otherwise. "Where's the exterminator?" she said, addressing herself to Stan, donning her glasses. But Stan only kept on with his search. After a time, she walked over to us. "Mrs Kotz," we said. "Isn't this is a nice surprise. What brings you out here on such a hot day?" This appeared to annoy her. She huffed savagely and her eyes drew thin, the one slightly larger than the other. "Aren't you the ones to talk," she said, fishing a cigarette from her bag. "I'd've thought a couple a geriatrics like yourselves'd

123


Berkeley Fiction Review immediate surroundings, but we knew otherwise. As Miss Thompson moved across theyard, Stan's eyes glimmered and waxed to a shiny black glow. We watched him watching her, running his eyes across her, pausing now and then at what would have been conspicuous places were it not for Miss Thompson's baggy dropwaist dress. She turned to us and the pup;^ "O, there you are you little cutie," she said. "You little sweet thing you. Yes, you little sleepy head, of course you're tired in this heat." Despite the early hour, the sun had come across the school rooftops and was bearing down on us in its hard September way. She shot a rapid glance at Stan. He was still watching her. "Let me tell you," he said, as though making a general announcement. "Dese is not dee only ting dat is hot in dese places. Godtamn." He stood there grinning, smoke trailing through his teeth. "We hardly know what to do with him," we said. "He's so . . . he's such an unpredictable little creature." "Nothing strange about that," Miss Thompson said. "Puppies are just that way." She stood scratching the pup's belly, talking to it. N o n e of us had kept up with Stan, so that now he was next to us, nearly hovering over Miss Thompson's shoulder, smelling faintly of staling sweat and some other illusory odor, perhaps ChK nesefood or potato chips. "Ey* Patricia/' he said. "You vant for me to feex someding in dee place for you today? I have vith me all my tools for to do dese;" he said, lingering overlong on the word "tools." .Miss Thompson called to her dog. "Lester," she said. "Come on you lucky old goof. We've got to go now. While Mr Exterminator is getting rid of those fleas you've been complaining about all summer, you and I are going on a little trip to the park." Stan's comment reminded us of how on a number of occasions we had heard Miss Thompson crabbing over the phone

122

Stethoscope Sights about her broken freezer and a jammed cabinet door, but that she -couldn't afford to call in a repair man. Of this we said nothing. "Good-bye," she called to us. "Not that way silly," she told the dog. "That way." She had got behind it and was now herding it toward the street. "Patricia," Stan said again. "Ey. I guess I must come back ere dese eveningk to do you, no?" Without turning to face him, Miss Thompson stopped. "If you so much as set one foot on my porch after the sun goes down," she said in her sweet voice, "I'll kill you." Stan chuckled lightly and flicked his cigarette. "Heh, heh," he said. "Godtamn. You are funny voman. Dat is vhy I like you so much, you know dese? Because you are funny. But still, dese is your last chance to . . . " A car approached and Stan turned to watch it. As he did his voice trailed off, sliding down his throat like water down a drain. It was Mrs Kotz. In the other car, her hand aflap and waving brightly, Miss Thompson drove off. Stan moved to his truck and his rummaging. Short, frowzy, wrinkle-stamped Mrs Kotz came slouching from her car. In her brown cardigan sweater, polyester slacks and orthopedic shoes, with her cateye half-glasses looped around her neck on a chain of glass beads, she gave the air of some bluehaired clerk from a seldom-shopped small town drugstore. Doubtless we have in our privacy always agreed with Stan that Mrs Kotz is not the most attractive woman to which this world has given life, now or then, physically or otherwise. "Where's the exterminator?" she said, addressing herself to Stan, donning her glasses. But Stan only kept on with his search. After a time, she walked over to us. "Mrs Kotz," we said. "Isn't this is a nice surprise. What brings you out here on such a hot day?" This appeared to annoy her. She huffed savagely and her eyes drew thin, the one slightly larger than the other. "Aren't you the ones to talk," she said, fishing a cigarette from her bag. "I'd've thought a couple a geriatrics like yourselves'd

123


Berkeley Fiction Review be hiding inside with the air conditioning." Her hand came up and waved dismissively. She might have been tossing something over her shoulder. "Anyhow, business is business," she said. She lighted the cigarette and stood drawing on it with an unsettling fierceness. Its tip grew rapidly grey and then still greyer in the glaring sun and in a moment it was nearly exhausted. She fished another from her bag, lighted it with the nubbins of the first. "I'm due in Tahoe right now," she repeated in the same tone as before, flat and inflectionlessand harshly direct. "Where's the exterminator?" The pup in our arms gazed up at us with its sleepy eyes and murmured. "Dee bug man he is in der," Stan said over his shoulder. Presently a man wearing a rubber mask and a white jumpsuit emerged from the Longwright's place, the tank strapped to his back as before, the spraynozzle tucked neatly in a plastic holster. "Mornin folks," he said in his polite southern drawl, drawing the mask from his face. He brought out a handkerchief and proceeded to sponge his brow, and then from another he took a plastic bottle filled with water and he drank from it slowly as if to savor it in the heat. "I'll tell you what though," he said. "It doesn't get much worse than this for heat. It's gotta be hotter'n the insides of a nucular generator out here." Mrs Kotz stood smoking in silence. After a time the mockingbird harped out a series of shrill and lingering notes, rapidly and without pause between, as though it were seizing that single opportunity to make itself known. Stan-leaned on the truck, smoking, a look of dull impassivity palling his features. "I cannot do nothingk vith dese vindows in der today," he said abruptly, looking toward the Longwright's place. He spit, threw down his cigarette, lighted another, fingers sticky and hairy. "Vhen I come here dese morningk and go to dese room vith dee broken vindows, I see it is filled vith all dese tings for babies and tings. Everyvhere Ilook, godtamn, dere is nothingk but dese cradles and dese little rattles and other tings in boxes

1Z4

Stethoscope Sights and all of dem dey are in front of dee vindows dey vant for me to open and everyting. So I cannot do nothingk vith dem today." "Well," Mrs Kotz said. She dropped her cigarette butt and stood looking at it for a moment with a savage vengeful expression before finally squashing it. From her bag she drew a massive ring of keys on which also hung an oversized pair of shiny red dice. She started toward her car. "I'm due in Tahoe right now," she said. Had the exterminator not come that day and had we not agreed to care for the Longwright's pup we most surely would not have left the house and so just as surely we would not have spent our day driving through the dry and languorous and dustspeckled heat of these September Oakland Hills with a tired puppy wheezing in the back seat and we straining to uphold a measure of interest in the surrounding country with its hazelnut and oak and laurel and buckeye and its poison oak twining too, and here and there through the racing trees a glimpse of baytwinkling view yawning beyond that curtain of hazy smog, it taupetinctured and looming, the bay beyond this city, beyond its near-deserted port, stretching out with its bridges and its islands and its flickering sailboats and trudging barges and tankers and then the bigger city running up and away from the jetties and wharves beyond further still, the skyscrapers clawing at the cloudless heavens. We would not have done this. In fact, talking it over later that day, neither of us could figure ou t how Vernon had gotten us to watch the little thing; For all our years together, we have never had a pet, much less a dog or a puppy. Vernon had simply stood there squinting beneath that hard red sun, the pup wriggling in his arms quickblooded and feisty and he now and then poking its belly, all the while smiling that big whitetoothed smile of his, edging toward his request. "I suppose you folks know I didn't come over to ask you for a c u p of sugar," he ended up saying. "See, me and the gal

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Berkeley Fiction Review be hiding inside with the air conditioning." Her hand came up and waved dismissively. She might have been tossing something over her shoulder. "Anyhow, business is business," she said. She lighted the cigarette and stood drawing on it with an unsettling fierceness. Its tip grew rapidly grey and then still greyer in the glaring sun and in a moment it was nearly exhausted. She fished another from her bag, lighted it with the nubbins of the first. "I'm due in Tahoe right now," she repeated in the same tone as before, flat and inflectionlessand harshly direct. "Where's the exterminator?" The pup in our arms gazed up at us with its sleepy eyes and murmured. "Dee bug man he is in der," Stan said over his shoulder. Presently a man wearing a rubber mask and a white jumpsuit emerged from the Longwright's place, the tank strapped to his back as before, the spraynozzle tucked neatly in a plastic holster. "Mornin folks," he said in his polite southern drawl, drawing the mask from his face. He brought out a handkerchief and proceeded to sponge his brow, and then from another he took a plastic bottle filled with water and he drank from it slowly as if to savor it in the heat. "I'll tell you what though," he said. "It doesn't get much worse than this for heat. It's gotta be hotter'n the insides of a nucular generator out here." Mrs Kotz stood smoking in silence. After a time the mockingbird harped out a series of shrill and lingering notes, rapidly and without pause between, as though it were seizing that single opportunity to make itself known. Stan-leaned on the truck, smoking, a look of dull impassivity palling his features. "I cannot do nothingk vith dese vindows in der today," he said abruptly, looking toward the Longwright's place. He spit, threw down his cigarette, lighted another, fingers sticky and hairy. "Vhen I come here dese morningk and go to dese room vith dee broken vindows, I see it is filled vith all dese tings for babies and tings. Everyvhere Ilook, godtamn, dere is nothingk but dese cradles and dese little rattles and other tings in boxes

1Z4

Stethoscope Sights and all of dem dey are in front of dee vindows dey vant for me to open and everyting. So I cannot do nothingk vith dem today." "Well," Mrs Kotz said. She dropped her cigarette butt and stood looking at it for a moment with a savage vengeful expression before finally squashing it. From her bag she drew a massive ring of keys on which also hung an oversized pair of shiny red dice. She started toward her car. "I'm due in Tahoe right now," she said. Had the exterminator not come that day and had we not agreed to care for the Longwright's pup we most surely would not have left the house and so just as surely we would not have spent our day driving through the dry and languorous and dustspeckled heat of these September Oakland Hills with a tired puppy wheezing in the back seat and we straining to uphold a measure of interest in the surrounding country with its hazelnut and oak and laurel and buckeye and its poison oak twining too, and here and there through the racing trees a glimpse of baytwinkling view yawning beyond that curtain of hazy smog, it taupetinctured and looming, the bay beyond this city, beyond its near-deserted port, stretching out with its bridges and its islands and its flickering sailboats and trudging barges and tankers and then the bigger city running up and away from the jetties and wharves beyond further still, the skyscrapers clawing at the cloudless heavens. We would not have done this. In fact, talking it over later that day, neither of us could figure ou t how Vernon had gotten us to watch the little thing; For all our years together, we have never had a pet, much less a dog or a puppy. Vernon had simply stood there squinting beneath that hard red sun, the pup wriggling in his arms quickblooded and feisty and he now and then poking its belly, all the while smiling that big whitetoothed smile of his, edging toward his request. "I suppose you folks know I didn't come over to ask you for a c u p of sugar," he ended up saying. "See, me and the gal

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Berkeley Fiction Review were wondering if maybe you could look after little Sir Isaac here tomorrow while we're at work, what with the place being fumigated and all. He won't be any trouble for you, 1 prom^ ise, and we'd be more than happy to—" "Don't give it a second thought, Mr Lorigwright. You kids just go about your business. Your little baby boy'll be in good hands." Upon returning that afternoon we found that Sandy had come home earlier than usual. She was sitting on the nowshaded porch in a posture nearly slumped, barefoot and drink in hand, wearing a lilac summerdress whose close fitting bodice revealed her slender figure, her bare arms, her full breasts. Her face was slightly downturned, her eyes locked to some random spot in the weeds. At first she seemed either not to notice our approach or not to care, but then she raised her head and brushed her hair from her face and looked at us blankly. In her other hand we saw she held a cigarette. This was unusual if only because we had never seen her smoke. Neither she nor her husband had ever smoked so far as we knew. And although she must have seen the pup with us as we left our car, her face gave no hint of this. She took a drink as we neared her and then sat chewing a piece of ice, saying nothing. "Your boss must think the world of you to have let you off this early," we said. Still, she remained silent. "How're you doing?" At this she smiled a bit, just the shadow of a smile. "Me," she said, training her eyes on us now. Her voice sounded vague, empty, as if her "me" had no reference. "How am I doing," she said. She went on chewing her ice. "What difference does it make, because I don't think it matters. Does it matter?" "We should hope so/' we said, mustering as much conviction as we could. "In fact, we think it very important that it does, don't we?" We looked at one another, nodding. "There you are, Isaac," she said. Her face glimmered momentarily but then dulled again. "How you doing there little guy?" She dropped the cigarette and reached out. We handed

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Stethoscope Sights her the pup. "I hope he wasn't too much," she said. "I know he's an armful. A downright monster at times. Aren't you?" It lay motionless in her arms, faintly murmuring. "Actually, he was just fine. N o problems at all." "This heat must be killing him," she said. "He looks absolutely beat." She scratched the pup's head with her long fingernails, swayed with it to a gentle coo, back and forth, cooing gently and scratching. She did this unconsciously, we thought, the swaying and scratching at the pup's ears with her long and fine and slender fingers. She looked up at us again, her pretty face a little pale, a little drawn. Tears swelled in her eyes now, her voice trembling. "Verny and I can't say how much we appreciate your doing this for us, taking care of our little baby." "Honestly, Mrs Longwright, it was nothing. It was a pleasure for us to watch your pup. A real pleasure. Besides, we needed a change of pace. It's been too long." "Really?" she said. "Really?" We might have assured her further but this wasn't what she wanted. We didn't know what she wanted. Because her voice broke through then in a long sobbing moan and then she was weeping, there on the porch with the pup in the heat, and there was nothing to say to this. What could we say?—a woman's pain, we have always said, has no words. There in the sad heat we left her, saying nothing, the angry foxtails stretching toward her ankles and the evening glowering. We went inside where the shades hung drawn and it was cool and dark and quiet, and we waited for Vernon to arrive. A faint odor lingered in our rooms, but it was merely faint, a merely suggestive lick, skulking, toxic, insinuating, a darkly quiet flickering to remind us that we had done well not to have been here, and so we sat with a drink in the cool dark shade and waited. Toward dusk the heat gave way, leaving in its wake that myriad calm peacefulness which always seems to follow savage things, a kind of thankfulness almost, a sanctity not even the unknowing creatures of this world will breech, in which

127


Berkeley Fiction Review were wondering if maybe you could look after little Sir Isaac here tomorrow while we're at work, what with the place being fumigated and all. He won't be any trouble for you, 1 prom^ ise, and we'd be more than happy to—" "Don't give it a second thought, Mr Lorigwright. You kids just go about your business. Your little baby boy'll be in good hands." Upon returning that afternoon we found that Sandy had come home earlier than usual. She was sitting on the nowshaded porch in a posture nearly slumped, barefoot and drink in hand, wearing a lilac summerdress whose close fitting bodice revealed her slender figure, her bare arms, her full breasts. Her face was slightly downturned, her eyes locked to some random spot in the weeds. At first she seemed either not to notice our approach or not to care, but then she raised her head and brushed her hair from her face and looked at us blankly. In her other hand we saw she held a cigarette. This was unusual if only because we had never seen her smoke. Neither she nor her husband had ever smoked so far as we knew. And although she must have seen the pup with us as we left our car, her face gave no hint of this. She took a drink as we neared her and then sat chewing a piece of ice, saying nothing. "Your boss must think the world of you to have let you off this early," we said. Still, she remained silent. "How're you doing?" At this she smiled a bit, just the shadow of a smile. "Me," she said, training her eyes on us now. Her voice sounded vague, empty, as if her "me" had no reference. "How am I doing," she said. She went on chewing her ice. "What difference does it make, because I don't think it matters. Does it matter?" "We should hope so/' we said, mustering as much conviction as we could. "In fact, we think it very important that it does, don't we?" We looked at one another, nodding. "There you are, Isaac," she said. Her face glimmered momentarily but then dulled again. "How you doing there little guy?" She dropped the cigarette and reached out. We handed

126

Stethoscope Sights her the pup. "I hope he wasn't too much," she said. "I know he's an armful. A downright monster at times. Aren't you?" It lay motionless in her arms, faintly murmuring. "Actually, he was just fine. N o problems at all." "This heat must be killing him," she said. "He looks absolutely beat." She scratched the pup's head with her long fingernails, swayed with it to a gentle coo, back and forth, cooing gently and scratching. She did this unconsciously, we thought, the swaying and scratching at the pup's ears with her long and fine and slender fingers. She looked up at us again, her pretty face a little pale, a little drawn. Tears swelled in her eyes now, her voice trembling. "Verny and I can't say how much we appreciate your doing this for us, taking care of our little baby." "Honestly, Mrs Longwright, it was nothing. It was a pleasure for us to watch your pup. A real pleasure. Besides, we needed a change of pace. It's been too long." "Really?" she said. "Really?" We might have assured her further but this wasn't what she wanted. We didn't know what she wanted. Because her voice broke through then in a long sobbing moan and then she was weeping, there on the porch with the pup in the heat, and there was nothing to say to this. What could we say?—a woman's pain, we have always said, has no words. There in the sad heat we left her, saying nothing, the angry foxtails stretching toward her ankles and the evening glowering. We went inside where the shades hung drawn and it was cool and dark and quiet, and we waited for Vernon to arrive. A faint odor lingered in our rooms, but it was merely faint, a merely suggestive lick, skulking, toxic, insinuating, a darkly quiet flickering to remind us that we had done well not to have been here, and so we sat with a drink in the cool dark shade and waited. Toward dusk the heat gave way, leaving in its wake that myriad calm peacefulness which always seems to follow savage things, a kind of thankfulness almost, a sanctity not even the unknowing creatures of this world will breech, in which

127


Berkeley Fiction Review most things gather and rest. Vernon came home as always, right on time. We had finished our dinner by then and we were ready, so that hearing his car approach we needed only move to our places. We heard him enter the house and then too his feet clacking across the floor toward the kitchen. Then a palpable silence swallowed the place—no movement, no voices—and we could hear our own blood pulsing in our ears, our breathing as well. Finally, Vernon came back into the living room. "Honey?" he said. N o one answered. "Honey?" he said again. The couch creaked beneath him. As on the night before the television clicked and pulsed and then shortly a newscaster's voice came droning into coherence. "Honey?" Vernon said louder now. "Hey. You here?" "I'm here," came a voice from above, faintly. The television clicked off. "I thought so," Vernon said. "I saw your shoes." Sandy said nothing. Vernon mounted the stairs and we followed. He moved through the room, opened a closet. "Jesus it was hot today," he said. "Looks like it finally broke though, huh?" Sandy remained silent. "You taking a nap?" he said. "Does it look to you like I'm taking a nap?" "Not anymore you're not." Vernon tossed his keys down somewhere, probably on the bureau. One shoe came off* then the other, both thumps loud and savage. "Isaac: Here boy.'! Vernon left the room and then returned. "Sandy, where's Sir Isaac?" ^ "He's in his box." "In his box. What's wrong with him? He's never in his box this time of day." "He's in it now," Sandy said. "Hey there you little munchkin," Vernon sang. "You little ol badger beast you. Whatsamatta whichoo, huh?" he said. Cloth and cardboard rustled in OUT ears. "Whatsamatta whichoo?" he said again. "Huh? You tiyed or what?" "Any old jerk could see he's tired, Vernon. He's just tired. Leave him alone, why don't you."

128

Stethoscope Sights ^He was fine this morning. There wasn't a thing wrong with him this morning." "Can't a baby get tired without you having a say-so in it?" Sandy's voice came in quick thin bursts now, like a woman who has waited in line for hours and then been told to leave. "What. The baby can't sleep without your permission, is that it?" "Jesus, Sandy, what's all that a—O . . . " Vernon's socked feet shushed across the floor and then the mattress groaned. "I g e t it," he said. "You went in there, didn't you? I thought we'd decided we weren't going into that room until I found a place for that stuff. Those booties can't bring him back, baby. And neither can this pacifier or this jumper or any of this stuff. What's wrong with you? Can't you see—" Suddenly Sandy was crying again as she had earlier that afternoon on the porch, a deep lowing moan that seemed to well and rise in pitch until finally it broke into a limping series of whimperings. "Sandy-girl," Vernon said. "Hey. It's all right, girlie. You can talk to me. Right? Huh? Come on. Tell your Verny what's on your mind. It's okay." But Sandy only went on crying while Vernon kept talking to her in soft undertones. "I wasn't—going—to say," she said, finding her voice at last, though still she was sobbing. "I was—wasn't going to, Verny." "Say what, girlie? You can tell me. It's all right." "About last night. I—I danced last night." "Well, sure you did, baby That's why you go there." "I danced with him, Verny, different than before, after everyone had gone. We were alone, and—O Verny, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's just that—" Sandy began to cry again, harder now. "What, baby, what, what are you trying to say?" "I didn't want to," she sobbed. "You have to—you have to underst—stand. He made me. He—he made me do it. At first I thought it was all right—because he kept telling me h o w how beautiful 1 was and that he —he needed a partner to dance with in a show coming up and that he thought I was—I was

129


Berkeley Fiction Review most things gather and rest. Vernon came home as always, right on time. We had finished our dinner by then and we were ready, so that hearing his car approach we needed only move to our places. We heard him enter the house and then too his feet clacking across the floor toward the kitchen. Then a palpable silence swallowed the place—no movement, no voices—and we could hear our own blood pulsing in our ears, our breathing as well. Finally, Vernon came back into the living room. "Honey?" he said. N o one answered. "Honey?" he said again. The couch creaked beneath him. As on the night before the television clicked and pulsed and then shortly a newscaster's voice came droning into coherence. "Honey?" Vernon said louder now. "Hey. You here?" "I'm here," came a voice from above, faintly. The television clicked off. "I thought so," Vernon said. "I saw your shoes." Sandy said nothing. Vernon mounted the stairs and we followed. He moved through the room, opened a closet. "Jesus it was hot today," he said. "Looks like it finally broke though, huh?" Sandy remained silent. "You taking a nap?" he said. "Does it look to you like I'm taking a nap?" "Not anymore you're not." Vernon tossed his keys down somewhere, probably on the bureau. One shoe came off* then the other, both thumps loud and savage. "Isaac: Here boy.'! Vernon left the room and then returned. "Sandy, where's Sir Isaac?" ^ "He's in his box." "In his box. What's wrong with him? He's never in his box this time of day." "He's in it now," Sandy said. "Hey there you little munchkin," Vernon sang. "You little ol badger beast you. Whatsamatta whichoo, huh?" he said. Cloth and cardboard rustled in OUT ears. "Whatsamatta whichoo?" he said again. "Huh? You tiyed or what?" "Any old jerk could see he's tired, Vernon. He's just tired. Leave him alone, why don't you."

128

Stethoscope Sights ^He was fine this morning. There wasn't a thing wrong with him this morning." "Can't a baby get tired without you having a say-so in it?" Sandy's voice came in quick thin bursts now, like a woman who has waited in line for hours and then been told to leave. "What. The baby can't sleep without your permission, is that it?" "Jesus, Sandy, what's all that a—O . . . " Vernon's socked feet shushed across the floor and then the mattress groaned. "I g e t it," he said. "You went in there, didn't you? I thought we'd decided we weren't going into that room until I found a place for that stuff. Those booties can't bring him back, baby. And neither can this pacifier or this jumper or any of this stuff. What's wrong with you? Can't you see—" Suddenly Sandy was crying again as she had earlier that afternoon on the porch, a deep lowing moan that seemed to well and rise in pitch until finally it broke into a limping series of whimperings. "Sandy-girl," Vernon said. "Hey. It's all right, girlie. You can talk to me. Right? Huh? Come on. Tell your Verny what's on your mind. It's okay." But Sandy only went on crying while Vernon kept talking to her in soft undertones. "I wasn't—going—to say," she said, finding her voice at last, though still she was sobbing. "I was—wasn't going to, Verny." "Say what, girlie? You can tell me. It's all right." "About last night. I—I danced last night." "Well, sure you did, baby That's why you go there." "I danced with him, Verny, different than before, after everyone had gone. We were alone, and—O Verny, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's just that—" Sandy began to cry again, harder now. "What, baby, what, what are you trying to say?" "I didn't want to," she sobbed. "You have to—you have to underst—stand. He made me. He—he made me do it. At first I thought it was all right—because he kept telling me h o w how beautiful 1 was and that he —he needed a partner to dance with in a show coming up and that he thought I was—I was

129


Berkeley Fiction Review perfect but that first I had to show him how sexy I could be — and —and then one thing led to another and I was—was nnaked and then so was he —O, I can't—I'm sorry, Verny. I just can't. Please don't be angry with me. I'm—I'm . . . " She cried with abandon now, a loud thin wailing which soon muffled, probably as she put her face to Vernon's shoulder. Vernon said nothing. He made no sound whatever. "I w—wasn't going to tell you, but—but I came home this afternoon and he—he was here—in the house, in this room—" Of course we expected to hear more than we did, the roilings of a man who thought himself a cuckold; but instead there came only a long and potent sigh. "He?" Vernon stuttered, finally. 'Tour teacher. In this house?" "No. No. It was—it was him—Stan. He was in here, and he frightened me. He frightened me, Verny. He said he was only fixing something, a door or something, but he didn't have any tools and—and then he wouldn't leave, he just said things and stared at me with those eyes of his, and I was frightened." "Just things, huh?" "Yes. Just things. Please, Verny, don't make me say. They were horrible things, dirty things." Through the windows on the scent of jasmine and rockrose came the cricketsong and the whispering of grass, the distant hum of eveningtime traffic. The mosquitoes had calmed then too, it was cooler than before. We sat and listened, the stethoscopes whirring in our ears, waiting. Yet another silence had fallen across them. They seemed caught in a vacuum now, some removed and motionless chamber sealed to gravity and motion, sealed to time even, they were silent as time itself, as the passing of a bird overhead. "Verny?" <• . "Yes, baby." "Can we move?" she said. "I mean really move? Because otherwise I won't know what to do. I can't live here, Verny, not anymore, not like this. I want to move, Verny." . "You name the place, girlie," Vernon said. "Just name it."

130

Stethoscope Sights From the beginning we knew Vernon would never say anything to Stan about that incident, and we knew why. But more than this we knew that he knew that Stan knew why. It was because of that day he had brought her home with him, the other girl, because if he, Vernon, had dare said a word to Stan he knew what Stan would do, that Stan would go to Sandy and tell her everything. He had watched them enter the house and then like us he sat and listened to them, he heard them through the window moaning and swaying, their bodies arched and tangled, crying through the afternoon heat, through the heat and the glaring sun and the birds churring in the bushes and the quiet seldom breeze: he heard them, and when they were finished he made himself known, stepping as he did from the shade of the next door's porch, smoking and chuckling and then tipping his hat and grinning all the while, and still neither Vernon nor the girl said a word. So when they drove away this morning with the truck and the trailer we knew they were gone for good. The rain has come now. In these liminal days weary from the struggle of summer's dying, we rise in the quiet of somber dawns and cold slanting suns as they cut space for the soggy earth and its motionless shadows, cold suns that wane in the end to the cast of five oclock eventides, and we watch and we wait and we listen. We watched them push through the leaves mouldering in the yards and in the gutters as well and we heard the truck sputter and start and warm in the pelting rain. Then we watched them leave. They drove on down the street beneath a grey sunless sky and barren trees, their faces blurry behind misty windows, and they did not look back. We knew they had left nothing, not even the baby's things. They left nothing behind save a mound of dirt in the backyard weeds at whose head stands a thin white cross, a single flower pinned to it, drooping. We can see it from our window now, standing in the rain, white and crooked and thin and somehow strangely defiant above its puny mound of dirt. Yet with the rain the name scrawled on it with shaky black letters has turned to nothing more than

131


Berkeley Fiction Review perfect but that first I had to show him how sexy I could be — and —and then one thing led to another and I was—was nnaked and then so was he —O, I can't—I'm sorry, Verny. I just can't. Please don't be angry with me. I'm—I'm . . . " She cried with abandon now, a loud thin wailing which soon muffled, probably as she put her face to Vernon's shoulder. Vernon said nothing. He made no sound whatever. "I w—wasn't going to tell you, but—but I came home this afternoon and he—he was here—in the house, in this room—" Of course we expected to hear more than we did, the roilings of a man who thought himself a cuckold; but instead there came only a long and potent sigh. "He?" Vernon stuttered, finally. 'Tour teacher. In this house?" "No. No. It was—it was him—Stan. He was in here, and he frightened me. He frightened me, Verny. He said he was only fixing something, a door or something, but he didn't have any tools and—and then he wouldn't leave, he just said things and stared at me with those eyes of his, and I was frightened." "Just things, huh?" "Yes. Just things. Please, Verny, don't make me say. They were horrible things, dirty things." Through the windows on the scent of jasmine and rockrose came the cricketsong and the whispering of grass, the distant hum of eveningtime traffic. The mosquitoes had calmed then too, it was cooler than before. We sat and listened, the stethoscopes whirring in our ears, waiting. Yet another silence had fallen across them. They seemed caught in a vacuum now, some removed and motionless chamber sealed to gravity and motion, sealed to time even, they were silent as time itself, as the passing of a bird overhead. "Verny?" <• . "Yes, baby." "Can we move?" she said. "I mean really move? Because otherwise I won't know what to do. I can't live here, Verny, not anymore, not like this. I want to move, Verny." . "You name the place, girlie," Vernon said. "Just name it."

130

Stethoscope Sights From the beginning we knew Vernon would never say anything to Stan about that incident, and we knew why. But more than this we knew that he knew that Stan knew why. It was because of that day he had brought her home with him, the other girl, because if he, Vernon, had dare said a word to Stan he knew what Stan would do, that Stan would go to Sandy and tell her everything. He had watched them enter the house and then like us he sat and listened to them, he heard them through the window moaning and swaying, their bodies arched and tangled, crying through the afternoon heat, through the heat and the glaring sun and the birds churring in the bushes and the quiet seldom breeze: he heard them, and when they were finished he made himself known, stepping as he did from the shade of the next door's porch, smoking and chuckling and then tipping his hat and grinning all the while, and still neither Vernon nor the girl said a word. So when they drove away this morning with the truck and the trailer we knew they were gone for good. The rain has come now. In these liminal days weary from the struggle of summer's dying, we rise in the quiet of somber dawns and cold slanting suns as they cut space for the soggy earth and its motionless shadows, cold suns that wane in the end to the cast of five oclock eventides, and we watch and we wait and we listen. We watched them push through the leaves mouldering in the yards and in the gutters as well and we heard the truck sputter and start and warm in the pelting rain. Then we watched them leave. They drove on down the street beneath a grey sunless sky and barren trees, their faces blurry behind misty windows, and they did not look back. We knew they had left nothing, not even the baby's things. They left nothing behind save a mound of dirt in the backyard weeds at whose head stands a thin white cross, a single flower pinned to it, drooping. We can see it from our window now, standing in the rain, white and crooked and thin and somehow strangely defiant above its puny mound of dirt. Yet with the rain the name scrawled on it with shaky black letters has turned to nothing more than

131


Berkeley Fiction Review a dribble of inky tracks. We cannot read it. Soon, we think, it will be gone.

132


Berkeley Fiction Review a dribble of inky tracks. We cannot read it. Soon, we think, it will be gone.

132


I Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel Second Prize Winner Sudden

M a n

B e a t s

J?ro%en

Fiction Contest

W i f e

.'•

W i t h

S q u i r r e l by Lin C a r l s o n /

here we go from here is I d o n ' t know. Police took m e one way, Leo someplace else, maybe jail. I got put in this hospital room. Nurse and doctor ask m e questions, want to know can 1 see o u t of my eye here, c a n I; hear out of this ear, can I breathe through my nose? I say yes* yes, yes, and I show them. T h e y look at m e with lights, instruments, poke me. Make m e lie on a table with my feet up in rings, put cold m e t a l n p inside of me, shihe U light, rub long sticks with cotton ends inside me. T h i s i s m u c h worse, ijddri't know these Jreople. I flon't understand why this col3 : metal;, this wood with cotton, this light that's too bright. T h e y want to know if Leo p u t his thing in me, h u r t me, 4 force tne. I saj L e o is my husband, b u t they don't u n d e r stand. They ask me more, same thing over. This doctor Is a , woma n, jnufse is a wpm&n; I ask, " D o n ' t you have husband?'* * b u t they don't say: " v \ J W h e n the doctor and nurse finish ? ther e is white bandage all over my face, on my neck,iarbund my arm, very soft. T h e y p u t a n e e d l e in the back of niy hftnl^ t a p e it there, tell m e drugs will make me sleep, roll m e down a hall and put die iri a <flejan white bed with T V and a pitcher of water there. . Woman comes in, says she^is^lice. She wears a blue uniform,

official, b u t I don't see her face good. Lamp shines behind her head so her hair looks like halo, soft like live fur. Nice. 1 almost feel this. Like warm wreath of fur instead of bandage. S h e says, "Injuries. . . Before . . . " and something else. Warm spreads inside me. S h e says. "Hurt again . . . Husband . . . W h y the frozen squirrel?" Her voice goes far away and inside now I feel warm like gold. Like peace. I see myself at the place where we catch squirrels for the freezer, beautiful park where squirrels are tame, beg right at my feet. I hold out bread and they come; I quick catch and choke them in my gloves. Now I d r e a m myself there in gold light, picnic table piled with squirrels, big cleaver in my hand. I chop off every hard skull, carry t h e m in a basket, throw them in a pile under bushes. T h e n I cut off tails, long like handles, cut each tail into Inany pieces. C u t open each body. C u t bones. C u t away hearts. C u t spines. C u t off legs. C u t entrails up. G u t neck bone. C u t knees from legs. C u t testicles. C u t hands, fingers, thumbs quick. C h o p smaller a n d smaller. Shred flesh into blood. Grind bones into dust, smaller and smaller so they are almost nothing, too smajl to see. Tod small to feel. Too small to ever touch me*

i. . 134

135


I Man Beats Wife With Frozen Squirrel Second Prize Winner Sudden

M a n

B e a t s

J?ro%en

Fiction Contest

W i f e

.'•

W i t h

S q u i r r e l by Lin C a r l s o n /

here we go from here is I d o n ' t know. Police took m e one way, Leo someplace else, maybe jail. I got put in this hospital room. Nurse and doctor ask m e questions, want to know can 1 see o u t of my eye here, c a n I; hear out of this ear, can I breathe through my nose? I say yes* yes, yes, and I show them. T h e y look at m e with lights, instruments, poke me. Make m e lie on a table with my feet up in rings, put cold m e t a l n p inside of me, shihe U light, rub long sticks with cotton ends inside me. T h i s i s m u c h worse, ijddri't know these Jreople. I flon't understand why this col3 : metal;, this wood with cotton, this light that's too bright. T h e y want to know if Leo p u t his thing in me, h u r t me, 4 force tne. I saj L e o is my husband, b u t they don't u n d e r stand. They ask me more, same thing over. This doctor Is a , woma n, jnufse is a wpm&n; I ask, " D o n ' t you have husband?'* * b u t they don't say: " v \ J W h e n the doctor and nurse finish ? ther e is white bandage all over my face, on my neck,iarbund my arm, very soft. T h e y p u t a n e e d l e in the back of niy hftnl^ t a p e it there, tell m e drugs will make me sleep, roll m e down a hall and put die iri a <flejan white bed with T V and a pitcher of water there. . Woman comes in, says she^is^lice. She wears a blue uniform,

official, b u t I don't see her face good. Lamp shines behind her head so her hair looks like halo, soft like live fur. Nice. 1 almost feel this. Like warm wreath of fur instead of bandage. S h e says, "Injuries. . . Before . . . " and something else. Warm spreads inside me. S h e says. "Hurt again . . . Husband . . . W h y the frozen squirrel?" Her voice goes far away and inside now I feel warm like gold. Like peace. I see myself at the place where we catch squirrels for the freezer, beautiful park where squirrels are tame, beg right at my feet. I hold out bread and they come; I quick catch and choke them in my gloves. Now I d r e a m myself there in gold light, picnic table piled with squirrels, big cleaver in my hand. I chop off every hard skull, carry t h e m in a basket, throw them in a pile under bushes. T h e n I cut off tails, long like handles, cut each tail into Inany pieces. C u t open each body. C u t bones. C u t away hearts. C u t spines. C u t off legs. C u t entrails up. G u t neck bone. C u t knees from legs. C u t testicles. C u t hands, fingers, thumbs quick. C h o p smaller a n d smaller. Shred flesh into blood. Grind bones into dust, smaller and smaller so they are almost nothing, too smajl to see. Tod small to feel. Too small to ever touch me*

i. . 134

135


Rich In Ghavfn de Huantar

R i c h

I n

C h a v t n

d e

H u a n t a r

Dennis Sherman

E

lliot assumed all people of depth had a core of secrets that accounted for m u c h of who they were. W h e n he was a young m a n h e took an anthropological field trip to a village in Peru to study the G o n c h u c o s , who had lived there well before the West intruded. In truth h e wrote few notes, for he spent only two days in that c h a r m less, mud-encrusted place, already infected with blue plastic and corrugated metal. Instead, he traveled across Peru in trains and buses, hiked high into the Andes, and fudged most of his Master's thesis from books at the University in Lima. In six weeks his student loan ran out, but h e would long r e m e m b e r the thin air, sparse grasses, and clear rivulets of a high m o u n tain puna where h e felt strong and good to be alone. T h e r e followed a sixteen-year career as an instructor at Laney College in Oakland, California. He told his wife, E m m a , "This is the worst city in the best place to live. Things sort of even o u t " But every one of those years, Elliot fell b e h i n d . At first, it was just one or two payments on the student loan. Eventually that loan was paid off. By then, Elliot and E m m a had amassed a mortgage debt of thirty-eight-thousand dollars, in addition to the loan from the credit union after the birth of baby Isabell. Her n a m e was Elliot's idea, after a shy student from Lima h e m e t during his last six days in Peru, someone h e h a d n ' t told

136

E m m a about and who, in his mind, never aged. "We're members of the intelligentsia, classically speaking," Ke would say to E m m a . E m m a , as down to earth as her baritone voice and honest to a fault, would say, "You mean we make as m u c h money as half the people and less than the rest." His father's death changed that. Suddenly, at age fortyo n e , Elliot was rich. 'IVIaybe the money will change me," he said to E m m a . "Money is not supposed to change you. W h a t you can do, yes, b u t you—no. You're the same disconnected person you were before your father died." Afraid that quitting his job was only a short-sighted temptation, Elliot rose the next morning, and the weeks that followed, and went to teach classes at the college. T h e whole time he thought about money—calculating, recalculating, wishing it had c o m e earlier and then wondering what difference it would have made. And he thought about his time in Peru. "I'm not going," said E m m a , walking naked into the bedroom while brushing her teeth. "And I'd be afraid to take Isabell even if she wanted to go." From behind the old chest-high Smith-Corona on his desk, Elliot said, "But you'd like Peru." She took the toothbrush out of her mouth and leaned over the desk toward him. "It's not the Lima Hilton you're proposing, I know you. You're thinking of someplace in the m o u n tains so small and rough that your voice drops below sea level w h e n you describe it." H e pushed his chair back. "You don't have to go." She turned and walked back to the bathroom. "I don't want you to go, either," she said, then spit into the sink. "You're not twenty anymore. T h e y grow drugs there now, the whole place has gotten out of control." Elliot nodded, admitting she was right. She argued ten words to each one of his and more often than not in the days that followed, turned her back to him in bed. But like a missionary, h e understood the strength of persistence and overt

137


Rich In Ghavfn de Huantar

R i c h

I n

C h a v t n

d e

H u a n t a r

Dennis Sherman

E

lliot assumed all people of depth had a core of secrets that accounted for m u c h of who they were. W h e n he was a young m a n h e took an anthropological field trip to a village in Peru to study the G o n c h u c o s , who had lived there well before the West intruded. In truth h e wrote few notes, for he spent only two days in that c h a r m less, mud-encrusted place, already infected with blue plastic and corrugated metal. Instead, he traveled across Peru in trains and buses, hiked high into the Andes, and fudged most of his Master's thesis from books at the University in Lima. In six weeks his student loan ran out, but h e would long r e m e m b e r the thin air, sparse grasses, and clear rivulets of a high m o u n tain puna where h e felt strong and good to be alone. T h e r e followed a sixteen-year career as an instructor at Laney College in Oakland, California. He told his wife, E m m a , "This is the worst city in the best place to live. Things sort of even o u t " But every one of those years, Elliot fell b e h i n d . At first, it was just one or two payments on the student loan. Eventually that loan was paid off. By then, Elliot and E m m a had amassed a mortgage debt of thirty-eight-thousand dollars, in addition to the loan from the credit union after the birth of baby Isabell. Her n a m e was Elliot's idea, after a shy student from Lima h e m e t during his last six days in Peru, someone h e h a d n ' t told

136

E m m a about and who, in his mind, never aged. "We're members of the intelligentsia, classically speaking," Ke would say to E m m a . E m m a , as down to earth as her baritone voice and honest to a fault, would say, "You mean we make as m u c h money as half the people and less than the rest." His father's death changed that. Suddenly, at age fortyo n e , Elliot was rich. 'IVIaybe the money will change me," he said to E m m a . "Money is not supposed to change you. W h a t you can do, yes, b u t you—no. You're the same disconnected person you were before your father died." Afraid that quitting his job was only a short-sighted temptation, Elliot rose the next morning, and the weeks that followed, and went to teach classes at the college. T h e whole time he thought about money—calculating, recalculating, wishing it had c o m e earlier and then wondering what difference it would have made. And he thought about his time in Peru. "I'm not going," said E m m a , walking naked into the bedroom while brushing her teeth. "And I'd be afraid to take Isabell even if she wanted to go." From behind the old chest-high Smith-Corona on his desk, Elliot said, "But you'd like Peru." She took the toothbrush out of her mouth and leaned over the desk toward him. "It's not the Lima Hilton you're proposing, I know you. You're thinking of someplace in the m o u n tains so small and rough that your voice drops below sea level w h e n you describe it." H e pushed his chair back. "You don't have to go." She turned and walked back to the bathroom. "I don't want you to go, either," she said, then spit into the sink. "You're not twenty anymore. T h e y grow drugs there now, the whole place has gotten out of control." Elliot nodded, admitting she was right. She argued ten words to each one of his and more often than not in the days that followed, turned her back to him in bed. But like a missionary, h e understood the strength of persistence and overt

137


Berkeley Fiction Review humility. He left San Francisco for Lima, where a parting shrug for his indulgence had been his only reply to Emma's final, "Do you really have to do this?" He took a room in the Lima Sheraton, even though he'd told Emma he would find some small, simple place. A stonefaced waiter with an Aymara accent served him dinner in his room. Elliot had read on the menu that service was included, but handed him a tip anyway. The waiter nodded and smiled falsely. "Are you from the mountains?" Elliot asked in Spanish. "Pacapausa in the south." "I think I have been through there. It was years ago, on the train." "There is no train to Pacapausa." "Ah." The waiter stood there, framed by the open doorway to the hall. Elliot reached into his pocket. He'd already changed some dollars into Peruvian intis when he'd checked in. Several bills came out, some American, some Peruvian. He gave one to the waiter without looking at its denomination. The waiter reached into his own pocket, pulled out a card, handed it to Elliot, and left. The card, in English on one side and Spanish on the other, was for a traveler's guide service. The next day he went to the American Express office where he bought post cards, jotted notes to Emma and Isabell, and cashed far more American traveler's checks into Peruvian intis than he could imagine using. Stepping into the men's room, he stuffed most of the money into his underpants. He was never surprised to hear about people, especially tourists in countries like Peru, being robbed. He wondered why it did not happen more; it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. He kept an eye out for pickpockets as he walked through the best part of the city where shops displayed overly expensive goods for those who had wealth and were just passing through. He bought silver bracelets and belts for Emma and

138 4iJbi

Rich In Chavfn de Huantar his daughter, and a painting done in a false-primitive style. In his hotel room he decided that Lima was more crowded and fume-drenched and had less character than he remembered. The water was no good. The meal in his room had been disappointing. Quickly he split up his money, putting bills in various shirt pockets, in rolled up socks, in his hiking books, in his glasses case. He took a last look out his window, the fog a pall over the city. Emma was right. She wouldn't like this place. He rented a car and drove north through the dry, gray desert to Pativilca, then east to the bare, brown slopes of the Andes. He stayed a night in Chasquitambo, the next day climbing northeast to Chavin de Huantar, a small town of red roofs tucked between ariver and the massive mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. T h e town centered around a plaza. There was a general store with a cracked window held together by tape and a pocked metal sign indicating it served as a post office. Elliot gazed at an empty cafo with blue plastic streamers in its window, and a gray church that looked more like a small warehouse than a place of worship. Directly across from the church was the Hotel Inca with a sign on the door—Cerrado. He found a room just off the plaza in a blue-walled residencial, which was little more than a two-story adobe home, but clearly one of the better in town. "It once belonged to a wealthy family from Lima," said Manuella Robello, the woman who rented him his room. "There is a bath. I serve meals. The hotel had nothing. You are fortunate." He ate dinner on the pine table in the main room downstairs. Manuella stayed in the kitchen while her daughter, Pilar, maybe seventeen or eighteen, brought out and took away dishes; He asked for mineral water but all they had was a bottle of lemonade soda. The hot pepper and spices in the rice left a sting in the back of his throat and up into his nose. Well past dark, he heard the sound of knives and forks on thin white plates, and women's voices. He thought perhaps

139


Berkeley Fiction Review humility. He left San Francisco for Lima, where a parting shrug for his indulgence had been his only reply to Emma's final, "Do you really have to do this?" He took a room in the Lima Sheraton, even though he'd told Emma he would find some small, simple place. A stonefaced waiter with an Aymara accent served him dinner in his room. Elliot had read on the menu that service was included, but handed him a tip anyway. The waiter nodded and smiled falsely. "Are you from the mountains?" Elliot asked in Spanish. "Pacapausa in the south." "I think I have been through there. It was years ago, on the train." "There is no train to Pacapausa." "Ah." The waiter stood there, framed by the open doorway to the hall. Elliot reached into his pocket. He'd already changed some dollars into Peruvian intis when he'd checked in. Several bills came out, some American, some Peruvian. He gave one to the waiter without looking at its denomination. The waiter reached into his own pocket, pulled out a card, handed it to Elliot, and left. The card, in English on one side and Spanish on the other, was for a traveler's guide service. The next day he went to the American Express office where he bought post cards, jotted notes to Emma and Isabell, and cashed far more American traveler's checks into Peruvian intis than he could imagine using. Stepping into the men's room, he stuffed most of the money into his underpants. He was never surprised to hear about people, especially tourists in countries like Peru, being robbed. He wondered why it did not happen more; it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. He kept an eye out for pickpockets as he walked through the best part of the city where shops displayed overly expensive goods for those who had wealth and were just passing through. He bought silver bracelets and belts for Emma and

138 4iJbi

Rich In Chavfn de Huantar his daughter, and a painting done in a false-primitive style. In his hotel room he decided that Lima was more crowded and fume-drenched and had less character than he remembered. The water was no good. The meal in his room had been disappointing. Quickly he split up his money, putting bills in various shirt pockets, in rolled up socks, in his hiking books, in his glasses case. He took a last look out his window, the fog a pall over the city. Emma was right. She wouldn't like this place. He rented a car and drove north through the dry, gray desert to Pativilca, then east to the bare, brown slopes of the Andes. He stayed a night in Chasquitambo, the next day climbing northeast to Chavin de Huantar, a small town of red roofs tucked between ariver and the massive mountains of the Cordillera Blanca. T h e town centered around a plaza. There was a general store with a cracked window held together by tape and a pocked metal sign indicating it served as a post office. Elliot gazed at an empty cafo with blue plastic streamers in its window, and a gray church that looked more like a small warehouse than a place of worship. Directly across from the church was the Hotel Inca with a sign on the door—Cerrado. He found a room just off the plaza in a blue-walled residencial, which was little more than a two-story adobe home, but clearly one of the better in town. "It once belonged to a wealthy family from Lima," said Manuella Robello, the woman who rented him his room. "There is a bath. I serve meals. The hotel had nothing. You are fortunate." He ate dinner on the pine table in the main room downstairs. Manuella stayed in the kitchen while her daughter, Pilar, maybe seventeen or eighteen, brought out and took away dishes; He asked for mineral water but all they had was a bottle of lemonade soda. The hot pepper and spices in the rice left a sting in the back of his throat and up into his nose. Well past dark, he heard the sound of knives and forks on thin white plates, and women's voices. He thought perhaps

139


Berkeley Fiction Review the husband was quiet at home, as men so often can be, or perhaps he had died. Elliot couldn't make out what they were saying, but he imagined it was about him. That thought pleased him. He wondered if Emma and Isabell missed him. He hoped they did. Looking out his darkened second-story window toward the mountains, he listened to the women downstairs, the sound of their voices consoling. Someone walked by on the street below, then two other people. The light downstairs that reflected off the low wall in front of the residencial went out. The women's voices faded into silence. The air was thin, making him light-headed as he struggled to catch his breath. His place at the table was set when he came down in the morning. Young Pilar quickly appeared from the kitchen and asked him to sit down. She brought out thick fried bread with honey and bitter coffee. No, she said, her mother was not home. Elliot expected her to be shy and formal, to stand back quietly or disappear into the kitchen. Instead she asked him what he did, where he was from, where he lived in California. She sat down at the table and leaned toward him as he tore out a page from the small notebook he carried in his pocket. He sketched a map, drawing an outline of San Francisco Bay and marking Oakland. "I will go there some day," she said, then added, "I used to live in Lima." She straightened up, making her breasts press out, and smiled widely at him, too widely, so that Elliot felt pity for her. She had curiosity, but she would never have enough money. "It is not such a nice place," he said. He imagined going back home and sending her the money. Even then, someone who knew more, or was more powerful, would use her. Manuella walked in the front door, came over, placed her hand on the back of her daughter's neck and whispered a few words into her ear. They smiled. Both were tall and light-skinned, features more Spanish than Indian. He thought they seemed out of place^ Perhaps they had fallen from rank and position into this remote remnant of wealth. Of the two, it was Manuella, the older woman, who was more beautiful. She carried the

140

Rich In Chavin de Huantar extra weight that often comes with the years, her face lined with a certain roughness, as if it had been buffeted too long by chill mountain winds. But she moved lightly and held herself with grace. She might have had a life that had given her some depth. There were traces of Manuella in her daughter, but now those traces marked only hope, not promise. Pilar was attractive simply because she was young. Elliot told Manuella he would be back the following evening. "It can get cold up high. D o you know your way?" She walked outside with him. "There," she said, pointing to a shadowed ravine just above the town, "the trail starts there." With enough food for two days, a sleeping bag in his backpack, and confidence he could repeat what he had once done, he hiked up towards the puna. His old hiking boots gleamed with fresh polish. They were a little tight. Just last year he'd heard that feet flatten with age. The trail up the gray-brown slope was uneven, well-worn inplaces, almost disappearing into rock and earth in others. He passed some mud-brick huts, one with graffiti proclaiming the rights of campesinos, and a few patches of failing cultivation on the outskirts of town, then nothing. Above him the mountains rose endlessly. He had to stop often to catch his breath. His map showed no villages further up the mountain, though once there might have been. Other people, maybe that day, maybe centuries ago, had hiked this trail; he couldn't tell, those were signs he could not read. As he tired, the appeal of continuing lessened. Hope trickled away. He felt like he was simply hiking with a painful load on his back, nothing more. He turned around before reaching the windy puna with its stiff ichu grass, reasoning that he^could afford to wait a day or two to acclimate. It was still early when he returned to thejesidencial. Manuella was in the front room embroidering a white blouse like the one Pilar wore, the embroidery sparse but thick, in yarn-like threads of red, yellow, blue, and black. On one side of her was a large box of white blouses. Printing on the box indi-

141


Berkeley Fiction Review the husband was quiet at home, as men so often can be, or perhaps he had died. Elliot couldn't make out what they were saying, but he imagined it was about him. That thought pleased him. He wondered if Emma and Isabell missed him. He hoped they did. Looking out his darkened second-story window toward the mountains, he listened to the women downstairs, the sound of their voices consoling. Someone walked by on the street below, then two other people. The light downstairs that reflected off the low wall in front of the residencial went out. The women's voices faded into silence. The air was thin, making him light-headed as he struggled to catch his breath. His place at the table was set when he came down in the morning. Young Pilar quickly appeared from the kitchen and asked him to sit down. She brought out thick fried bread with honey and bitter coffee. No, she said, her mother was not home. Elliot expected her to be shy and formal, to stand back quietly or disappear into the kitchen. Instead she asked him what he did, where he was from, where he lived in California. She sat down at the table and leaned toward him as he tore out a page from the small notebook he carried in his pocket. He sketched a map, drawing an outline of San Francisco Bay and marking Oakland. "I will go there some day," she said, then added, "I used to live in Lima." She straightened up, making her breasts press out, and smiled widely at him, too widely, so that Elliot felt pity for her. She had curiosity, but she would never have enough money. "It is not such a nice place," he said. He imagined going back home and sending her the money. Even then, someone who knew more, or was more powerful, would use her. Manuella walked in the front door, came over, placed her hand on the back of her daughter's neck and whispered a few words into her ear. They smiled. Both were tall and light-skinned, features more Spanish than Indian. He thought they seemed out of place^ Perhaps they had fallen from rank and position into this remote remnant of wealth. Of the two, it was Manuella, the older woman, who was more beautiful. She carried the

140

Rich In Chavin de Huantar extra weight that often comes with the years, her face lined with a certain roughness, as if it had been buffeted too long by chill mountain winds. But she moved lightly and held herself with grace. She might have had a life that had given her some depth. There were traces of Manuella in her daughter, but now those traces marked only hope, not promise. Pilar was attractive simply because she was young. Elliot told Manuella he would be back the following evening. "It can get cold up high. D o you know your way?" She walked outside with him. "There," she said, pointing to a shadowed ravine just above the town, "the trail starts there." With enough food for two days, a sleeping bag in his backpack, and confidence he could repeat what he had once done, he hiked up towards the puna. His old hiking boots gleamed with fresh polish. They were a little tight. Just last year he'd heard that feet flatten with age. The trail up the gray-brown slope was uneven, well-worn inplaces, almost disappearing into rock and earth in others. He passed some mud-brick huts, one with graffiti proclaiming the rights of campesinos, and a few patches of failing cultivation on the outskirts of town, then nothing. Above him the mountains rose endlessly. He had to stop often to catch his breath. His map showed no villages further up the mountain, though once there might have been. Other people, maybe that day, maybe centuries ago, had hiked this trail; he couldn't tell, those were signs he could not read. As he tired, the appeal of continuing lessened. Hope trickled away. He felt like he was simply hiking with a painful load on his back, nothing more. He turned around before reaching the windy puna with its stiff ichu grass, reasoning that he^could afford to wait a day or two to acclimate. It was still early when he returned to thejesidencial. Manuella was in the front room embroidering a white blouse like the one Pilar wore, the embroidery sparse but thick, in yarn-like threads of red, yellow, blue, and black. On one side of her was a large box of white blouses. Printing on the box indi-

141


Berkeley Fiction Review cated it was from Sri Lanka. On the other, three or four embroidered blouses lay stacked on a blue plastic bag. He dropped his pack at the foot of the stairs. "Is there any beer?" She shook her head no. "You should keep beer here for your guests." He stood up, and stomped towards the door. "And somewhere, anywhere — in my room—there should be some flowers, a geranium plant, geraniums at least." She continued embroidering, her face unchanged as his angry words passed by her into nothingness. H e went down the street to the cafe. On one wall was a crude mural of Atahualpa, the last Inca ruler. Elliot drank a beer, a bottle of expensive import, not the heavy, local chicha, while he wrote a letter to Emma. "Tomorrow I hike into the high country. It's not like what you read here. It is safe, probably safer than Oakland." The beer was thin, like the air. During his second bottle he wrote, "I've never been an anthropologist, not really. I'm too ready to interfere with other people's lives, to cheat when I'm sure I can get away with it. I suppose you always knew that. I would have made a good lawyer, wouldn't I?" He back-dated the letter one day. He mailed it and returned to the residencial where Manuella was still working on her blouses. He placed two bottles of beer on the table and motioned her to sit with him. He told her how he'd been to Peru twenty years earlier, explaining without modesty that he was a professor of anthropology. He then asked about her. "I grew up in Huacho, on the coast. Like Pilar, I went to school in Lima. My parents and two uncles died long ago." She stopped working on her blouses. "What about your husband, is he dead, too?" "My husband is still alive." "So he doesn't live here with you and Pilar?" "He is away. He was a government official, but lost his job. The last time I heard from him, he was in Talara." "Why are you here in Chavin?" She paused, manipulating the blouse with her needle. "People

142

Rich bi Chavfn de Huantar are more honest in the sierra than the cities. People here will tell you that. There are hot sulfur springs nearby, in grottoes by the river. My friend runs the bakery. I go to Lima once a year. I remember. This house, this residencial, is here. This is where I live." She stopped working on the blouse and looked at him. "Of course, I am not from the sierra, I am from the cities on the coast. I could be tricking you. Perhaps my husband comes home this evening, or perhaps he killed himself long ago." She shrugged. "But I should not speak this way, should I?. Maybe I do because you are just passing through." She picked up the blouse again. He no longer remembered why he was there in Chavin. His presence did not affect Manuella. He could be anybody not from here, anybody who could pay., After a dinner served by Manuella, Elliot placed money on the table before going up to his room, "You are leaving tomorrow?" she asked. "No." "You do not have to pay until you leave." "Yes, I know." Elliot added a bill to the small pile. "Would you like one of the blouses? Here they are not expensive. They are sold for much more in Lima." She smiled. He wished she hadn't. It aged her. He'd read that people don't age for long in the Andes. S h e would die up here too soon. "No, but they are nice." He started up the stairs. "Pilar is not here this evening?" "Oh yes, she is in the other room." He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. "What will become of her?" "Yes," said Manuella as if she was expecting such a question. "This is always something one can worry about, don't you think?" He nodded. "I am more tired than I should be/' he said, and continued up the stairs. The next day, and the day that followed, he wandered around Chavin, read in his room, and talked with Manuella as he leajned his elbows o a h e r pine tabje. T h e food was heavy, the

143


Berkeley Fiction Review cated it was from Sri Lanka. On the other, three or four embroidered blouses lay stacked on a blue plastic bag. He dropped his pack at the foot of the stairs. "Is there any beer?" She shook her head no. "You should keep beer here for your guests." He stood up, and stomped towards the door. "And somewhere, anywhere — in my room—there should be some flowers, a geranium plant, geraniums at least." She continued embroidering, her face unchanged as his angry words passed by her into nothingness. H e went down the street to the cafe. On one wall was a crude mural of Atahualpa, the last Inca ruler. Elliot drank a beer, a bottle of expensive import, not the heavy, local chicha, while he wrote a letter to Emma. "Tomorrow I hike into the high country. It's not like what you read here. It is safe, probably safer than Oakland." The beer was thin, like the air. During his second bottle he wrote, "I've never been an anthropologist, not really. I'm too ready to interfere with other people's lives, to cheat when I'm sure I can get away with it. I suppose you always knew that. I would have made a good lawyer, wouldn't I?" He back-dated the letter one day. He mailed it and returned to the residencial where Manuella was still working on her blouses. He placed two bottles of beer on the table and motioned her to sit with him. He told her how he'd been to Peru twenty years earlier, explaining without modesty that he was a professor of anthropology. He then asked about her. "I grew up in Huacho, on the coast. Like Pilar, I went to school in Lima. My parents and two uncles died long ago." She stopped working on her blouses. "What about your husband, is he dead, too?" "My husband is still alive." "So he doesn't live here with you and Pilar?" "He is away. He was a government official, but lost his job. The last time I heard from him, he was in Talara." "Why are you here in Chavin?" She paused, manipulating the blouse with her needle. "People

142

Rich bi Chavfn de Huantar are more honest in the sierra than the cities. People here will tell you that. There are hot sulfur springs nearby, in grottoes by the river. My friend runs the bakery. I go to Lima once a year. I remember. This house, this residencial, is here. This is where I live." She stopped working on the blouse and looked at him. "Of course, I am not from the sierra, I am from the cities on the coast. I could be tricking you. Perhaps my husband comes home this evening, or perhaps he killed himself long ago." She shrugged. "But I should not speak this way, should I?. Maybe I do because you are just passing through." She picked up the blouse again. He no longer remembered why he was there in Chavin. His presence did not affect Manuella. He could be anybody not from here, anybody who could pay., After a dinner served by Manuella, Elliot placed money on the table before going up to his room, "You are leaving tomorrow?" she asked. "No." "You do not have to pay until you leave." "Yes, I know." Elliot added a bill to the small pile. "Would you like one of the blouses? Here they are not expensive. They are sold for much more in Lima." She smiled. He wished she hadn't. It aged her. He'd read that people don't age for long in the Andes. S h e would die up here too soon. "No, but they are nice." He started up the stairs. "Pilar is not here this evening?" "Oh yes, she is in the other room." He lowered his voice to almost a whisper. "What will become of her?" "Yes," said Manuella as if she was expecting such a question. "This is always something one can worry about, don't you think?" He nodded. "I am more tired than I should be/' he said, and continued up the stairs. The next day, and the day that followed, he wandered around Chavin, read in his room, and talked with Manuella as he leajned his elbows o a h e r pine tabje. T h e food was heavy, the

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Berkeley Fiction Review time passed slowly. Manuella never ate with him, but would linger if he wanted to talk. She listened impassively, willing to answer questions, and when she wasn't, she acted as if she had not heard a thing. In the evenings he sipped lemon t e a she brought him as much as he wanted. Late one afternoon Elliot saw Manuella walk into the church and followed her in. She dropped some coins into the donations box. Elliot did the same. She looked at Elliot, nodding. He took all the coins out of his pocket and dropped them in, one by one, his eyes wandering from Manuella to the small windows in the poorly-lit church. When he ran out of coins he pulled bills out of his pocket, stuffed them in one by one, and lost track of what he was doing. He felt Manuella's hand on the back of his neck. "Enough," she said, "enough." He closed his eyes, became still. When she took her hand away, he walked to the altar and kneeled. He waited. Nothing happened. That night, he left money on the table before he went up to his room, more than the previous night. "You Americans are so rich," said Manuella, sitting in her chair against the wall, absentmindedly embroidering. Away from the shaded lightbulb above the table, her face was smooth, her hands moved agelessly. "Yes, I am rich," he said, as he climbed the stairs to his room. Early the next day, Elliot again started up the mountain. The sun was scarcely over the high peaks, the rock outcroppings still cast shadows when he saw a man and a boy, about sixteen years old, doming down the trail. They were in the red and brown ponchos and dusty panama hats often worn by Quechuas. The man said something to the boy who was leading. Elliot was too far away to hear, but could see the boy's head turn back toward the man. Elliot continued toward them, feeling no fear but having more trouble with the thin air. A few yards away they moved side-by-side and stopped, blocking the trail. The man, his face like that of the waiter at

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Rich In Chavin de Huantar the Lima Sheraton, said, "Who are you?" Elliot replied slowly, in his best Spanish. "In my country I am a journalist. Here, I am hiking up this mountain. Are you and your son walking down to Chavin de Huantar?" The boy, holding stones in both hands, looked toward the man, who said, "Will you give us some money?" Elliot tried to stare the man down, then shifted his eyes toward the boy who began to bob his head up and down and move his arms i a small circles, weighed down by the stones he held. "Yes, I will give you some money and some to your son." He gave two 100 inti bills to the father, then one 100 inti bill to the boy, who placed one of the stones in the crook of his arm so he could take the bill. "He is not my son," said the man. The boy put the bill in his pocket and took the stone from the crook of his arm. "You are a journalist from what country?" "America. The United States. I write about the people here in South America, iri Peru, about the Quechuas and Aymaras, the people." "You want coca leaves, don't you?" The man's teeth were almost black. ""No." . "Give us more money." Elliot's pack weighed on his shoulders. "I will give you what I can and I will continue up the mountain." He tried to speak with force, to show that strength and choice remained behind his words. He took out all the money he had in his pants pockets. He gave some to the man and offered the rest to the boy. "I will take it," said the man. Elliot continued to hold the money out toward the boy, who kept bobbing his head and moving his arms in tight circles. T h e n Elliot dropped the money and let it fall out of his hand to the earth between them. The bills floated on top of Elliot's boots, but in the quiet mid*morning air the bills scarcely scattered. Elliot started to move around the two and up the trail. The man stepped in his way. "Will you give us the rest of your money?"

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Berkeley Fiction Review time passed slowly. Manuella never ate with him, but would linger if he wanted to talk. She listened impassively, willing to answer questions, and when she wasn't, she acted as if she had not heard a thing. In the evenings he sipped lemon t e a she brought him as much as he wanted. Late one afternoon Elliot saw Manuella walk into the church and followed her in. She dropped some coins into the donations box. Elliot did the same. She looked at Elliot, nodding. He took all the coins out of his pocket and dropped them in, one by one, his eyes wandering from Manuella to the small windows in the poorly-lit church. When he ran out of coins he pulled bills out of his pocket, stuffed them in one by one, and lost track of what he was doing. He felt Manuella's hand on the back of his neck. "Enough," she said, "enough." He closed his eyes, became still. When she took her hand away, he walked to the altar and kneeled. He waited. Nothing happened. That night, he left money on the table before he went up to his room, more than the previous night. "You Americans are so rich," said Manuella, sitting in her chair against the wall, absentmindedly embroidering. Away from the shaded lightbulb above the table, her face was smooth, her hands moved agelessly. "Yes, I am rich," he said, as he climbed the stairs to his room. Early the next day, Elliot again started up the mountain. The sun was scarcely over the high peaks, the rock outcroppings still cast shadows when he saw a man and a boy, about sixteen years old, doming down the trail. They were in the red and brown ponchos and dusty panama hats often worn by Quechuas. The man said something to the boy who was leading. Elliot was too far away to hear, but could see the boy's head turn back toward the man. Elliot continued toward them, feeling no fear but having more trouble with the thin air. A few yards away they moved side-by-side and stopped, blocking the trail. The man, his face like that of the waiter at

144

Rich In Chavin de Huantar the Lima Sheraton, said, "Who are you?" Elliot replied slowly, in his best Spanish. "In my country I am a journalist. Here, I am hiking up this mountain. Are you and your son walking down to Chavin de Huantar?" The boy, holding stones in both hands, looked toward the man, who said, "Will you give us some money?" Elliot tried to stare the man down, then shifted his eyes toward the boy who began to bob his head up and down and move his arms i a small circles, weighed down by the stones he held. "Yes, I will give you some money and some to your son." He gave two 100 inti bills to the father, then one 100 inti bill to the boy, who placed one of the stones in the crook of his arm so he could take the bill. "He is not my son," said the man. The boy put the bill in his pocket and took the stone from the crook of his arm. "You are a journalist from what country?" "America. The United States. I write about the people here in South America, iri Peru, about the Quechuas and Aymaras, the people." "You want coca leaves, don't you?" The man's teeth were almost black. ""No." . "Give us more money." Elliot's pack weighed on his shoulders. "I will give you what I can and I will continue up the mountain." He tried to speak with force, to show that strength and choice remained behind his words. He took out all the money he had in his pants pockets. He gave some to the man and offered the rest to the boy. "I will take it," said the man. Elliot continued to hold the money out toward the boy, who kept bobbing his head and moving his arms in tight circles. T h e n Elliot dropped the money and let it fall out of his hand to the earth between them. The bills floated on top of Elliot's boots, but in the quiet mid*morning air the bills scarcely scattered. Elliot started to move around the two and up the trail. The man stepped in his way. "Will you give us the rest of your money?"

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Berkeley Fiction Review "If I had more/but I have no more to give you." "Maybe you have money in your boots and in your pack to give us. You could take them off." Quietly, Elliot said, "I will not take off my pack or my boots. In my pack is my sleeping bag and my food. I want that sleeping bag. I want that food. I want to keep these things." Then as loudly as he had ever heard himself, he yelled, "No!" Fists clenched, he took a step back, then another and another. The man and boy did not move. Elliot turned around and walked as firmly as h e could back down the trail. He felt a stone hit the back of his.pack. He continued to walk at the same pace. Another stone hit him on the back of his thigh. Elliot stopped and turned. "Who do you think you are!" he yelled in English. "Just who do you think you are!" The two of them stared back at him. The boy bent down and picked up more stones. Elliot turned and continued down the mountain, stomping his boots into the earth. Counting his steps as he walked, he felt nothing hit him, heard no stones landing behind him. At one hundred he looked back. He saw no sign of them, just the mountain and wisps of mist much higher than he had been, than he had ever been. He said nothing to Manuella when he came in. She looked no more surprised at his early return than the first time. In the small mirror in his room he saw that the rock had raised a large welt on his thigh, but the skin had not been broken. With only a towel wrapped around him, he went downstairs. "Please, I need to take a bath," he said. "Pilar is in the bathroom now." Manuella rose. "I will tell her to get out." In a moment they both came into the front room. Manuella placed her hand on the back of Pilars neck. Pilar smiled, and lowered her head. "Please," said Manuella, holding a hand out toward the bathroom. There was a brush and some hairpins on the shelf, a washrag, two towels, and an unlabeled bottle filled with clear liquid that smelled of cloves. There was nothing intimate, no un^ dergarments, not even any creams. Crouched in the half-filled tub, he washed himself with stinging brown soap. T h e win-

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Rich In Chavin de Huantar dow was stuck open. His body chilled as he dried off Footsteps passed by his door. Standing naked, he looked at his face in the mirron He looked until he began to shiver. Upstairs, he took out some of the money he'd hidden in his rolled-up socks and t-shirt pockets. He put on new clothes and a sweater, took the food out of his pack and ate a half saridwich, a sliced boiled egg between two pieces of bread. He thought about Emma. For a moment she was hard to remember. He had to try before he could picture her in his mind. He went downstairs and into the kitchen for the first time. There he found a bottle of beer, and returned upstairs. He drank it slowly as he wrote to Emma. "I took my hike. W h o knows whether this postcard will reach you, or maybe I will be home first and it will give us something to read together. These people can take nothingibr granted. I love you." That evening Pilar served dinner. Manuella came in as he was eating then disappeared. Later, Manuella collected the dishes, then brought him lemon tea. * Elliot rose, placed money on the table, and said in a formal tone that only Manuella could hear, "I would like it if you came to my room." He started up the stairs. "I am leaving Chavin." Late that night, Manuella came to his room. She touched him gently and accepted him with ease, as if she was simply according him a passing grace. To all appearances, Elliot returned from Peru the same man as when he left. At the airport he told Emma and Isabell he was glad to see them, but he didn't reveal his relief to be back and allowed no tears to form in his eyes after hugging both of them. Adjusting his glasses several times on the drive across the bridge to Oakland, he told them he hiked up to the puna, how it was beautiful with its stiff grasses and clear rivulets. "Still," he said, taking one hand off the steering wheel and waving it, palm up, "you were right not to go. You wouldn't like Peru. It's not what it once was. There is something wrong,

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Berkeley Fiction Review "If I had more/but I have no more to give you." "Maybe you have money in your boots and in your pack to give us. You could take them off." Quietly, Elliot said, "I will not take off my pack or my boots. In my pack is my sleeping bag and my food. I want that sleeping bag. I want that food. I want to keep these things." Then as loudly as he had ever heard himself, he yelled, "No!" Fists clenched, he took a step back, then another and another. The man and boy did not move. Elliot turned around and walked as firmly as h e could back down the trail. He felt a stone hit the back of his.pack. He continued to walk at the same pace. Another stone hit him on the back of his thigh. Elliot stopped and turned. "Who do you think you are!" he yelled in English. "Just who do you think you are!" The two of them stared back at him. The boy bent down and picked up more stones. Elliot turned and continued down the mountain, stomping his boots into the earth. Counting his steps as he walked, he felt nothing hit him, heard no stones landing behind him. At one hundred he looked back. He saw no sign of them, just the mountain and wisps of mist much higher than he had been, than he had ever been. He said nothing to Manuella when he came in. She looked no more surprised at his early return than the first time. In the small mirror in his room he saw that the rock had raised a large welt on his thigh, but the skin had not been broken. With only a towel wrapped around him, he went downstairs. "Please, I need to take a bath," he said. "Pilar is in the bathroom now." Manuella rose. "I will tell her to get out." In a moment they both came into the front room. Manuella placed her hand on the back of Pilars neck. Pilar smiled, and lowered her head. "Please," said Manuella, holding a hand out toward the bathroom. There was a brush and some hairpins on the shelf, a washrag, two towels, and an unlabeled bottle filled with clear liquid that smelled of cloves. There was nothing intimate, no un^ dergarments, not even any creams. Crouched in the half-filled tub, he washed himself with stinging brown soap. T h e win-

146

Rich In Chavin de Huantar dow was stuck open. His body chilled as he dried off Footsteps passed by his door. Standing naked, he looked at his face in the mirron He looked until he began to shiver. Upstairs, he took out some of the money he'd hidden in his rolled-up socks and t-shirt pockets. He put on new clothes and a sweater, took the food out of his pack and ate a half saridwich, a sliced boiled egg between two pieces of bread. He thought about Emma. For a moment she was hard to remember. He had to try before he could picture her in his mind. He went downstairs and into the kitchen for the first time. There he found a bottle of beer, and returned upstairs. He drank it slowly as he wrote to Emma. "I took my hike. W h o knows whether this postcard will reach you, or maybe I will be home first and it will give us something to read together. These people can take nothingibr granted. I love you." That evening Pilar served dinner. Manuella came in as he was eating then disappeared. Later, Manuella collected the dishes, then brought him lemon tea. * Elliot rose, placed money on the table, and said in a formal tone that only Manuella could hear, "I would like it if you came to my room." He started up the stairs. "I am leaving Chavin." Late that night, Manuella came to his room. She touched him gently and accepted him with ease, as if she was simply according him a passing grace. To all appearances, Elliot returned from Peru the same man as when he left. At the airport he told Emma and Isabell he was glad to see them, but he didn't reveal his relief to be back and allowed no tears to form in his eyes after hugging both of them. Adjusting his glasses several times on the drive across the bridge to Oakland, he told them he hiked up to the puna, how it was beautiful with its stiff grasses and clear rivulets. "Still," he said, taking one hand off the steering wheel and waving it, palm up, "you were right not to go. You wouldn't like Peru. It's not what it once was. There is something wrong,

147


Berkeley Fiction Review something decaying there. It gets to you. Even the mountains, that puna . . .Well." He took the Park Avenue off-ramp, which would lead them home. He was sweaty, tired and almost out of breath. He was at a loss for words. Soon Peru became something he did not talk about. But what happened in Chavin de Huantar stayed with Elliot. Before his classes began at the college, he went to the bank and took three thousand dollars from his account to pay for a treasurer's check. Yes, the assistant manager said, they could arrange to send it from the main office in San Francisco and it would not have his name on it. They Would address it as Elliot indicated, to Pilar Robello in Chavin de Huantar. Elliot knew there was some chance the money would not get to Pilar and less chance that it would make a difference. Probably Pilar wouldn't know what to do with it. How could she use it to make something of herself, to become what she might? She could go somewhere, and perhaps be worse off than in Chavin, in the sierra where people were at least more honest. When he returned home from the bank he lay down on his bed. He thought again of Manuella a n d why he hadn't sent the money to her. It might ease her days a little. But there* in Chavin de Huantar, people like Manuella were too old to change. Most of her life was over. She rented rooms in her house, embroidered cheap blouses, went to church. She would never be what she once might have been. For her, parents and uncles died, husbands left. He, Elliot, was none of these.

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Berkeley Fiction Review something decaying there. It gets to you. Even the mountains, that puna . . .Well." He took the Park Avenue off-ramp, which would lead them home. He was sweaty, tired and almost out of breath. He was at a loss for words. Soon Peru became something he did not talk about. But what happened in Chavin de Huantar stayed with Elliot. Before his classes began at the college, he went to the bank and took three thousand dollars from his account to pay for a treasurer's check. Yes, the assistant manager said, they could arrange to send it from the main office in San Francisco and it would not have his name on it. They Would address it as Elliot indicated, to Pilar Robello in Chavin de Huantar. Elliot knew there was some chance the money would not get to Pilar and less chance that it would make a difference. Probably Pilar wouldn't know what to do with it. How could she use it to make something of herself, to become what she might? She could go somewhere, and perhaps be worse off than in Chavin, in the sierra where people were at least more honest. When he returned home from the bank he lay down on his bed. He thought again of Manuella a n d why he hadn't sent the money to her. It might ease her days a little. But there* in Chavin de Huantar, people like Manuella were too old to change. Most of her life was over. She rented rooms in her house, embroidered cheap blouses, went to church. She would never be what she once might have been. For her, parents and uncles died, husbands left. He, Elliot, was none of these.

148


Twin Bridges

T w i n

B r i d g e s

C a l e b Smith

"e used to go down to the W h i t e River south of Huntsville with our hooks baitedfor catfish, my father and I. We wore long pants, even in the s u m m e r t i m e , against the thorns and ticks between the river and the place where we left the car, u p close to the road. (There was a method even to the clothing: carefully, before daybreak, rolling t h e cuffs with perfect folds a n d perfect creases in a clean pair of dark blue jeans.) H e carried his tackle box and the old blue and white cooler, packed in the m o r n i n g with sandwiches and pretzels, two Dr. Peppers, two Pabst Blue Ribbons. I carried the poles. Most days we'd have two or three long catfish in there b y i h e late afternoon, strung together with their promising whitish bellies showing upward. T h e W h i t e River moved slow and cold through that little valley, the water was thick black in the shade. We would stand for hours on the bank, watching our corks float in the shady pools. Sometimes I t o o k off my shoes and stood u p to my ankles in t h e river. Sometimes the mirrnows got interested i n my toes a n d I'd forget the cork and watch t h e m. Mfy father rarely spoke to m e about anything other than the immediate: how to tie th£ knots, where to cast my line. I had time for pretending. I used to imagine old-fash|oned : monsters ^-serpents and dragons and the like. I used to imagine Leonid see t h e m sliding justjunder % the Wackgl^ssy surface. -•

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My father's n a m e , like mine, was Charlie Snyder. He was thirty-seven and 1 was thirteen when he died of stomach cancer in the late s u m m er of 1985. H e was an Eagle Scout and a former engineer's assistant in the United States Army. He used to read to m e from the King James Bible while 1 fell asleep. I used to dream of Moses with horns. W h e n I was nine years old he taught m e to kill a catfish with a smooth river stone against its head, holding the body so that it wouldn't slip out from under your stroke. Try not to m a k e a mess of it. Avoid looking at the round stupid eyes, hope it doesn't make that dry croaking sound. Hold your breath. T h i s was the way it was done. But this was not his way. My father carried a Smith and Wesson revolver tucked into his pants at his left hip. W h e n he had a fish on the bank, he held it steady on the ground and planted the m o u t h of the gun's barrel into its flat forehead, the way h e used to press his lips to my forehead when he p u t m e to bed. "Sweet Jesus," he'd say, pressing his long lips together, before h e squeezed the trigger. T h e noise echoed down there among the rocks and trees, and it was almost as if the water itself shook for a m o m e n t . T h e r e would be the splash of a frog jumping in. T h e bullet left a clean hole through the fish's head, which my father sometimes cleared out with a stick, so that he could run the green rope stringer through however many we had, and they would hang there like jewels, ornaments, all in a neat row. This was my father's art. W h e n they were all hanging in front of h i m — m a y b e five of t h e m , stacked belly to b a c k — h e would smile and say, again, "Sweet Jesus." These were the tenderest words I ever heard from him . T h e whole process—the walking, the waiting, the firing of the shots—was for this m o m e n t of beauty. What followed Was incidental: carrying the icebox h o m e , cleaning the fish with his wood-handled knife, eating t h e m fried. After dinner my father took the bones and skin and trash out onto the porch and b u r n e d it all in a pile. He soaked it with lighter fluid so that nothing at all was left. Not a scrap, not a speck.

151


Twin Bridges

T w i n

B r i d g e s

C a l e b Smith

"e used to go down to the W h i t e River south of Huntsville with our hooks baitedfor catfish, my father and I. We wore long pants, even in the s u m m e r t i m e , against the thorns and ticks between the river and the place where we left the car, u p close to the road. (There was a method even to the clothing: carefully, before daybreak, rolling t h e cuffs with perfect folds a n d perfect creases in a clean pair of dark blue jeans.) H e carried his tackle box and the old blue and white cooler, packed in the m o r n i n g with sandwiches and pretzels, two Dr. Peppers, two Pabst Blue Ribbons. I carried the poles. Most days we'd have two or three long catfish in there b y i h e late afternoon, strung together with their promising whitish bellies showing upward. T h e W h i t e River moved slow and cold through that little valley, the water was thick black in the shade. We would stand for hours on the bank, watching our corks float in the shady pools. Sometimes I t o o k off my shoes and stood u p to my ankles in t h e river. Sometimes the mirrnows got interested i n my toes a n d I'd forget the cork and watch t h e m. Mfy father rarely spoke to m e about anything other than the immediate: how to tie th£ knots, where to cast my line. I had time for pretending. I used to imagine old-fash|oned : monsters ^-serpents and dragons and the like. I used to imagine Leonid see t h e m sliding justjunder % the Wackgl^ssy surface. -•

150

My father's n a m e , like mine, was Charlie Snyder. He was thirty-seven and 1 was thirteen when he died of stomach cancer in the late s u m m er of 1985. H e was an Eagle Scout and a former engineer's assistant in the United States Army. He used to read to m e from the King James Bible while 1 fell asleep. I used to dream of Moses with horns. W h e n I was nine years old he taught m e to kill a catfish with a smooth river stone against its head, holding the body so that it wouldn't slip out from under your stroke. Try not to m a k e a mess of it. Avoid looking at the round stupid eyes, hope it doesn't make that dry croaking sound. Hold your breath. T h i s was the way it was done. But this was not his way. My father carried a Smith and Wesson revolver tucked into his pants at his left hip. W h e n he had a fish on the bank, he held it steady on the ground and planted the m o u t h of the gun's barrel into its flat forehead, the way h e used to press his lips to my forehead when he p u t m e to bed. "Sweet Jesus," he'd say, pressing his long lips together, before h e squeezed the trigger. T h e noise echoed down there among the rocks and trees, and it was almost as if the water itself shook for a m o m e n t . T h e r e would be the splash of a frog jumping in. T h e bullet left a clean hole through the fish's head, which my father sometimes cleared out with a stick, so that he could run the green rope stringer through however many we had, and they would hang there like jewels, ornaments, all in a neat row. This was my father's art. W h e n they were all hanging in front of h i m — m a y b e five of t h e m , stacked belly to b a c k — h e would smile and say, again, "Sweet Jesus." These were the tenderest words I ever heard from him . T h e whole process—the walking, the waiting, the firing of the shots—was for this m o m e n t of beauty. What followed Was incidental: carrying the icebox h o m e , cleaning the fish with his wood-handled knife, eating t h e m fried. After dinner my father took the bones and skin and trash out onto the porch and b u r n e d it all in a pile. He soaked it with lighter fluid so that nothing at all was left. Not a scrap, not a speck.

151


Berkeley Fiction Review

The first time we saw Preston Casey down at the river he was sitting on an upturned bucket and holding his long bamboo pole with the end planted against his thigh. His round face and arms were shiny black, even down there in the shade of the oaks and willows by the river. He tapped his feet and rocked side to side on the bucket, so slowly I couldn't see the rhythm of it at first. When he looked up at me I saw he had one gray-blue eye that stayed open and stared at me while his other, the brown one, moved and blinked. 1 was thirteen years old. That man was like something ancient and petrified. The long tight muscles in his arms flexed under the hard skin like vines when he moved. L wondered what it was like to live in there Under that skin, among those vines. We stood there for a minute on the riverbank, looking at him, but his eyes were on the water. He held his line steady, and it went down smooth into the river: no kinks, no cork rippling the surface. His carie pole was worn smooth and white as bone. "Good morning," my father said, but Preston Casey didn't even turn his head. Soon he had one on his line. My father was bent over the tackle box, looking for a good hook, one with just the right curve and tip, and suddenly Preston Casey was working a fish towards his spot on the bank with one arm, one hand on the pole. The other, his left, sat gripping his knee. The fish came home to him with hardly a fight at all. By now my father had the hooks ready with nightcrawlers. He raised his head when Casey brought in the fish and said, "That's a nice one." Casey stood holding the fish out over the water. The white body flexed and curled from side to side. A reddish ribbon of urine squirted down the tail and dripped to the ground. "She's carrying/this one is," he said, quietly, in a sweet low voice, Without looking at me or at my father. His thumb pressed hard into the fish's stomach. "She does look a little plump in the middle," my father

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Twin Bridges said. "I believe you're right. Best drop her back in." Casey said nothing, and my father tried again: "That'll be a mess of cats for us all to catch another day." This was in a loud, overfriendly voice, with a thick laugh at the end of the sentence. Preston Casey lifted the leg of his pants and pulled a blackhandled pocket knife from where it was tucked into his red sock. He opened it and split the fish's stomach with the tip, and the eggs came spilling out all clinging together and made soft splashes in the shallow water at the edge of the river. He cleaned a few more out with his finger and shook them off into the water. The fish opened and closed and opened and closed her mouth, sucking air. . Casey cleaned his fish on the bottom of the upturned bucket. H e was quick and strong with the knife: now peeling back the skin, now cutting meat from bone. Draining blood. It was done ill five minutes. He dropped the two clean white fillets into the, bucket, then carried the rest, fins and bones, to the water. He washed his hands there in the shallow edge of the river and wiped them dry on the legs of his bluejeans. I watched my cork and my father's cork floating out there in the middle. Preston Casey walked away up the bank with the bucket swinging a little at his side. After a minute my father said, "Fool nigger ought to have more sense. We need all the fish we can get in the rivers these days." The perch stole our bait for a while and then even they lost interest. When we stopped for lunch neither of us had anything to show for the morning's work. My father was quiet and drank his beer in gulps, washing down pretzels and wet bites of sandwich. When the food was finished we sat for a while. I was on my usual smooth flat rock and my father was across from me with his back resting against the base of one of the mossy willows. He made a face for a while and then said, "The sky's a little too clear, is all. It's best to have a good overcast day." "That man this morning didn't have any trouble," I said.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

The first time we saw Preston Casey down at the river he was sitting on an upturned bucket and holding his long bamboo pole with the end planted against his thigh. His round face and arms were shiny black, even down there in the shade of the oaks and willows by the river. He tapped his feet and rocked side to side on the bucket, so slowly I couldn't see the rhythm of it at first. When he looked up at me I saw he had one gray-blue eye that stayed open and stared at me while his other, the brown one, moved and blinked. 1 was thirteen years old. That man was like something ancient and petrified. The long tight muscles in his arms flexed under the hard skin like vines when he moved. L wondered what it was like to live in there Under that skin, among those vines. We stood there for a minute on the riverbank, looking at him, but his eyes were on the water. He held his line steady, and it went down smooth into the river: no kinks, no cork rippling the surface. His carie pole was worn smooth and white as bone. "Good morning," my father said, but Preston Casey didn't even turn his head. Soon he had one on his line. My father was bent over the tackle box, looking for a good hook, one with just the right curve and tip, and suddenly Preston Casey was working a fish towards his spot on the bank with one arm, one hand on the pole. The other, his left, sat gripping his knee. The fish came home to him with hardly a fight at all. By now my father had the hooks ready with nightcrawlers. He raised his head when Casey brought in the fish and said, "That's a nice one." Casey stood holding the fish out over the water. The white body flexed and curled from side to side. A reddish ribbon of urine squirted down the tail and dripped to the ground. "She's carrying/this one is," he said, quietly, in a sweet low voice, Without looking at me or at my father. His thumb pressed hard into the fish's stomach. "She does look a little plump in the middle," my father

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Twin Bridges said. "I believe you're right. Best drop her back in." Casey said nothing, and my father tried again: "That'll be a mess of cats for us all to catch another day." This was in a loud, overfriendly voice, with a thick laugh at the end of the sentence. Preston Casey lifted the leg of his pants and pulled a blackhandled pocket knife from where it was tucked into his red sock. He opened it and split the fish's stomach with the tip, and the eggs came spilling out all clinging together and made soft splashes in the shallow water at the edge of the river. He cleaned a few more out with his finger and shook them off into the water. The fish opened and closed and opened and closed her mouth, sucking air. . Casey cleaned his fish on the bottom of the upturned bucket. H e was quick and strong with the knife: now peeling back the skin, now cutting meat from bone. Draining blood. It was done ill five minutes. He dropped the two clean white fillets into the, bucket, then carried the rest, fins and bones, to the water. He washed his hands there in the shallow edge of the river and wiped them dry on the legs of his bluejeans. I watched my cork and my father's cork floating out there in the middle. Preston Casey walked away up the bank with the bucket swinging a little at his side. After a minute my father said, "Fool nigger ought to have more sense. We need all the fish we can get in the rivers these days." The perch stole our bait for a while and then even they lost interest. When we stopped for lunch neither of us had anything to show for the morning's work. My father was quiet and drank his beer in gulps, washing down pretzels and wet bites of sandwich. When the food was finished we sat for a while. I was on my usual smooth flat rock and my father was across from me with his back resting against the base of one of the mossy willows. He made a face for a while and then said, "The sky's a little too clear, is all. It's best to have a good overcast day." "That man this morning didn't have any trouble," I said.

153


Berkeley Fiction Review My father crushed the empty beer can he was holding into a perfect flat shiny circle and said, with his jaw clenching, "Tell me, what do you know about fishing, Charlie?" He coughed. "Nothing." "Nothing is right. Don't forget it." He opened the tacklebox and dropped the flattened beer can in. We never left a scrap at the river. "But I don't guess I need to know anything to say that the man this morning had himself a fine fish before we even had oiir hooks in the water." My father spoke Up before I had finished the sentence: "Nevermind. That fellow this morning wasn't any sportsman." We saw Preston Casey down at the river another time, three Sundays after the fust. This time he was not fishing, this time he was not by himself. All this happened the summer before my father died. He must have been hurting every minute by then. His insides must have been close to solid black. Or so my uncles say; he never told me himself that he was sick at all. You heard them first. Then, coming down the path to where it opened up by the river, you saw them: seven black naked children splashing in the waist-deep water of the river's wide bend. Two tall boys (older than I was, by three years at least, with real muscles already in their shoulders) faced each other, each with a girl on his shoulders. Their hair and skin glimmered. The girls clawed and kicked and shrieked at one another. This was a game, something like a joust. The rest were younger. They dove and rose again, breaking up through the surface with their pale palms upward, then opening their eyes, spraying river water from their purple-red mouths. 1 walked behind my father. The dull smooth surface of his blue shirt moved a little in the wind. The short sleeves were tight against his reddish arms. Casey sat on a wooden box, maybe three by four feet long, next to a pile of round gray river stones. He was watching the

154

Twin Bridges children. His hands gripped his knees. My father nodded towards the children and spoke to Casey: "Cooling off, are they? It's a good day for it." Casey turned his head around. "You two fellows best be on your way. Today's no day for catching catfish. Not down here." "I'm not sure I know what you mean," my father said. *" "If you two want to fish, you want to get on up yonder to Twin Bridges. There won't be any fishing in this part of the river, not this morning." The veins in Preston Casey's temple Stood out purple and thick. ^"There's fifteen men at least with their lines in the water up around Twin Bridges," my father said. "This is our spot, always has been. I believe we'll stay, friend." Preston Casey stood quickly and jerked the lid off the wooden box. I dropped our cooler to the ground when I saw what was inside: a negro girl, maybe six or eight years old, dressed up in a blue checkered dress with her hands tied together and her eyes sewed closed. The stitching was clumsy and knotted; L imagined Casey doing it himself by lamplight. "My girl's having her funeral right here, understand," he said. "We're fixing to get started. You and your boy get on upriver now." The children in the water were climbing out onto the bank now, moving towards the place where Casey and my father stood facing each other. The older girls were still riding the boys' shoulders. Droplets from the river clung to their dark nipples. The water from our spilled cooler ran out and soaked the ground black. I heard my father say, "Sweet Jesus." Casey dropped the lid back down with a cracking noise. "Go on." The children from the water were standing around behind him now, looking at us with their huge round eyes. My father pulled the revolver from its place at his hip. He waved it out in front of him, with his fist wrapped so tightly around the handle that his knuckles faded white. "What the hell is this?" he said. He stopped the arc of his arm when the

155


Berkeley Fiction Review My father crushed the empty beer can he was holding into a perfect flat shiny circle and said, with his jaw clenching, "Tell me, what do you know about fishing, Charlie?" He coughed. "Nothing." "Nothing is right. Don't forget it." He opened the tacklebox and dropped the flattened beer can in. We never left a scrap at the river. "But I don't guess I need to know anything to say that the man this morning had himself a fine fish before we even had oiir hooks in the water." My father spoke Up before I had finished the sentence: "Nevermind. That fellow this morning wasn't any sportsman." We saw Preston Casey down at the river another time, three Sundays after the fust. This time he was not fishing, this time he was not by himself. All this happened the summer before my father died. He must have been hurting every minute by then. His insides must have been close to solid black. Or so my uncles say; he never told me himself that he was sick at all. You heard them first. Then, coming down the path to where it opened up by the river, you saw them: seven black naked children splashing in the waist-deep water of the river's wide bend. Two tall boys (older than I was, by three years at least, with real muscles already in their shoulders) faced each other, each with a girl on his shoulders. Their hair and skin glimmered. The girls clawed and kicked and shrieked at one another. This was a game, something like a joust. The rest were younger. They dove and rose again, breaking up through the surface with their pale palms upward, then opening their eyes, spraying river water from their purple-red mouths. 1 walked behind my father. The dull smooth surface of his blue shirt moved a little in the wind. The short sleeves were tight against his reddish arms. Casey sat on a wooden box, maybe three by four feet long, next to a pile of round gray river stones. He was watching the

154

Twin Bridges children. His hands gripped his knees. My father nodded towards the children and spoke to Casey: "Cooling off, are they? It's a good day for it." Casey turned his head around. "You two fellows best be on your way. Today's no day for catching catfish. Not down here." "I'm not sure I know what you mean," my father said. *" "If you two want to fish, you want to get on up yonder to Twin Bridges. There won't be any fishing in this part of the river, not this morning." The veins in Preston Casey's temple Stood out purple and thick. ^"There's fifteen men at least with their lines in the water up around Twin Bridges," my father said. "This is our spot, always has been. I believe we'll stay, friend." Preston Casey stood quickly and jerked the lid off the wooden box. I dropped our cooler to the ground when I saw what was inside: a negro girl, maybe six or eight years old, dressed up in a blue checkered dress with her hands tied together and her eyes sewed closed. The stitching was clumsy and knotted; L imagined Casey doing it himself by lamplight. "My girl's having her funeral right here, understand," he said. "We're fixing to get started. You and your boy get on upriver now." The children in the water were climbing out onto the bank now, moving towards the place where Casey and my father stood facing each other. The older girls were still riding the boys' shoulders. Droplets from the river clung to their dark nipples. The water from our spilled cooler ran out and soaked the ground black. I heard my father say, "Sweet Jesus." Casey dropped the lid back down with a cracking noise. "Go on." The children from the water were standing around behind him now, looking at us with their huge round eyes. My father pulled the revolver from its place at his hip. He waved it out in front of him, with his fist wrapped so tightly around the handle that his knuckles faded white. "What the hell is this?" he said. He stopped the arc of his arm when the

155


Berkeley Fiction Review gun's barrel faced Preston Casey's chest. Casey didn't flinch. His mismatched eyes held steady on my father's face while he spoke to his children: "You all get back to the house now. Com e back at noon and we'll get on with it." They began slowly to walk backwards. When the older boys turned up the bank the others followed. The seven of them disappeared at the bend in the river. Casey's eyes flashed. "Now here we are," he said. "I mean to give my baby girl a funeral in this water. So you want to shoot me? I'm wondering. You want to put a hole in me?" I remembered the black-handled knife that must have been tucked into his sock. He didn't seem to be thinking about it. He stood still, looking straight at my father. He turned his face upwards and showed us his neck, the underside of his chin. With one long finger he touched the soft place in his throat between chin and Adam's apple. "Right about here, isn't it? And then out through the top of the head, so you can run the stringer straight through." My father began to cough. He opened his hand and let the revolver fall to the ground, dropped his arm to his side. His eyes watered. Casey stepped forward and kicked the gun, and it jumped into the air, spinning there for a minute before it dropped into the river. Just then I was scared for my father, hunched over and still coughing with Preston Casey's eyes fixed on his sweating face. I jumped into the river. I forced my eyes open and dove, the black cold water soaking my skin, filling up my shoes. My arms and open hands glowed white in front of m e . . The water was dark down close to the bottom. I ran my hands across the bed. My lungs burned. My finger caught on the trigger guard of the revolver and I grabbed it with a handful of river mud and I came up into the air gagging. I gripped the gun tight in my fist, held it up above the water as best I could, still trying to swim. There was blood in my mouth with the murky river water. , My father was screaming at me from the bank. My head

156

Twin Bridges cleared and I began to hear his words. "Charlie, what are you doing?" He wanted me out of the water. He wanted to get away from the river. Quickly, now. I swam to him. He didn't want the gun. By the time I was on the bank, still spitting up brown water, Preston Casey had turned his back to us. I followed my father up towards the path. We walked. I heard the noise of stones dropping one by one into the wooden box back there on the riverbank. My father's funeral was at the Huntsville Baptist Fellowship on a Sunday in early September. His casket was huge and heavy and shiny black, carried by six men, my uncles and cousins. That afternoon after he was in the ground I walked South along Highway 45, eleven miles to where the road crosses the White River at Twin Bridges. On the back wall of the Twin Bridges Bait Shop there is a collection of photographs, mostly Polaroids, of local sportsmen and their prizes. The pictures are held to the wall with slanted strips of masking tape; they are faded to varying degrees. One shows a boy in a blue cap holding a river gar whose scaly body is half as tall as his own. Above this is a wrinkled snapshot of black Preston Casey with the largest white catfish I've ever seen. Casey is young and smiling, with a full head of curly hair shining in the sun. His one blue eye gleams. Marker ink on the masking tape says "PRESTON CASEY, 17 LB. WHITE CAT, C A U G H T BELOW TWIN BRIDGES, MAY 19,1971." I carried my father's fishing pole and tackle box. I carried his Smith and Wesson revolver tucked into my pants at my left hip. 1 followed the river away from the road. The sun was low in the sky by the time I got back to the place where Casey's little girl had her funeral in the river. I sat on my usual flat rock, fumbled with the hooks and corks for a while, cast my line. I imagined my hook floating slowly down and coming to rest with a click on the lid of the girl's wooden casket, her eyes opening, tearing the stitches. There was a red-tailed hawk in the sky above the river; I

157


Berkeley Fiction Review gun's barrel faced Preston Casey's chest. Casey didn't flinch. His mismatched eyes held steady on my father's face while he spoke to his children: "You all get back to the house now. Com e back at noon and we'll get on with it." They began slowly to walk backwards. When the older boys turned up the bank the others followed. The seven of them disappeared at the bend in the river. Casey's eyes flashed. "Now here we are," he said. "I mean to give my baby girl a funeral in this water. So you want to shoot me? I'm wondering. You want to put a hole in me?" I remembered the black-handled knife that must have been tucked into his sock. He didn't seem to be thinking about it. He stood still, looking straight at my father. He turned his face upwards and showed us his neck, the underside of his chin. With one long finger he touched the soft place in his throat between chin and Adam's apple. "Right about here, isn't it? And then out through the top of the head, so you can run the stringer straight through." My father began to cough. He opened his hand and let the revolver fall to the ground, dropped his arm to his side. His eyes watered. Casey stepped forward and kicked the gun, and it jumped into the air, spinning there for a minute before it dropped into the river. Just then I was scared for my father, hunched over and still coughing with Preston Casey's eyes fixed on his sweating face. I jumped into the river. I forced my eyes open and dove, the black cold water soaking my skin, filling up my shoes. My arms and open hands glowed white in front of m e . . The water was dark down close to the bottom. I ran my hands across the bed. My lungs burned. My finger caught on the trigger guard of the revolver and I grabbed it with a handful of river mud and I came up into the air gagging. I gripped the gun tight in my fist, held it up above the water as best I could, still trying to swim. There was blood in my mouth with the murky river water. , My father was screaming at me from the bank. My head

156

Twin Bridges cleared and I began to hear his words. "Charlie, what are you doing?" He wanted me out of the water. He wanted to get away from the river. Quickly, now. I swam to him. He didn't want the gun. By the time I was on the bank, still spitting up brown water, Preston Casey had turned his back to us. I followed my father up towards the path. We walked. I heard the noise of stones dropping one by one into the wooden box back there on the riverbank. My father's funeral was at the Huntsville Baptist Fellowship on a Sunday in early September. His casket was huge and heavy and shiny black, carried by six men, my uncles and cousins. That afternoon after he was in the ground I walked South along Highway 45, eleven miles to where the road crosses the White River at Twin Bridges. On the back wall of the Twin Bridges Bait Shop there is a collection of photographs, mostly Polaroids, of local sportsmen and their prizes. The pictures are held to the wall with slanted strips of masking tape; they are faded to varying degrees. One shows a boy in a blue cap holding a river gar whose scaly body is half as tall as his own. Above this is a wrinkled snapshot of black Preston Casey with the largest white catfish I've ever seen. Casey is young and smiling, with a full head of curly hair shining in the sun. His one blue eye gleams. Marker ink on the masking tape says "PRESTON CASEY, 17 LB. WHITE CAT, C A U G H T BELOW TWIN BRIDGES, MAY 19,1971." I carried my father's fishing pole and tackle box. I carried his Smith and Wesson revolver tucked into my pants at my left hip. 1 followed the river away from the road. The sun was low in the sky by the time I got back to the place where Casey's little girl had her funeral in the river. I sat on my usual flat rock, fumbled with the hooks and corks for a while, cast my line. I imagined my hook floating slowly down and coming to rest with a click on the lid of the girl's wooden casket, her eyes opening, tearing the stitches. There was a red-tailed hawk in the sky above the river; I

157


Berkeley Fiction Review was watching him circle when I felt the pull on my line. My cork dove. I brought the catfish in slowly, let her wear herself down, the way my father had taught me. She was a nice one, close to eight pounds at my best guess. When I had her on the bank I held her still against the black dirt of the riverbank, which clung in patches to her sticky smooth skin. Her mouth opened and closed, opened and closed. Her tiny eyes rolled upwards. I squeezed the trigger and felt her body jerk once, then lie still under my hand. The bullet left a clean hole through the forehead and out through the lower jaw; I ran my father's green rope stringer through. I let the fish lie on the ground. My ears rang. The gun was warm in my hand. I stepped back one step and tossed it up into the air above the river, and it turned end over end and came down to break the surface softly, with hardly a splash, sending circles around circles, rippling out towards the banks.

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Berkeley Fiction Review was watching him circle when I felt the pull on my line. My cork dove. I brought the catfish in slowly, let her wear herself down, the way my father had taught me. She was a nice one, close to eight pounds at my best guess. When I had her on the bank I held her still against the black dirt of the riverbank, which clung in patches to her sticky smooth skin. Her mouth opened and closed, opened and closed. Her tiny eyes rolled upwards. I squeezed the trigger and felt her body jerk once, then lie still under my hand. The bullet left a clean hole through the forehead and out through the lower jaw; I ran my father's green rope stringer through. I let the fish lie on the ground. My ears rang. The gun was warm in my hand. I stepped back one step and tossed it up into the air above the river, and it turned end over end and came down to break the surface softly, with hardly a splash, sending circles around circles, rippling out towards the banks.

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Landmarks Second Prize Winner Sudden

Fiction

Contest

L a n d m a r k s Lauren Alwan

Y

ou can say whatever you want about him, but I loved the way h e drove a car. H e would pull tip to my door, the engine rumbling against the stucco portal, and lean across to throw open the passenger door with one han d while he rolled open t h e sunroof with the other and together we would ride to the freeway with the engine revving and the ground rattling, moving like a low taut band of sound, until scaling the overpass, sound would give way to lightness and we would ascend the arc, lifted into the sky like a crescendo of voices. H e drives a lot. He knows every highway, all the shortcuts, the fastest way across town. He doesn't need a m a p and never asks for directions. He rolls through stop signs and changes lanes without looking over his shoulder. He puts a tape in t h e player and effortlessly tails a staccato trumpe t line. H e leans into the driver's seat and rolls open the sunroof, his t h u m b and first finger steady, swinging the handle like a lasso. H e frioyes over streets that are ill-marked, that e h d and suddenly pick up somewhere else. And he'd make his way through t h e m to c o me to me, with Sam Cooke singing through the flush m o u n t speakers, It's a cold cold world to be alone in. T h e way he drove, rain c a me down like silver threads in the dark, never touching us. It sailed over the open sunroof as if we were invisible. In his car on the highway at night, we

160

flew concealed by our m o m e n t u m , by the darkness, by the course he chose to take. I wondered about the street he lived on, his house, sheltered at the end of a cul-de-sac. I wondered if jasmine tangled over the high fence, and if its scent climbed into his open window at night. I looked past my own reflection and saw on the other side of the glass, highway and night and rain. T h e world seemed reduced to these few things and they were simple and clear, they were things I understood. And Sam Cooke's voice shimmered in the lights along the hills. And it's a cold world, he sang, to be alone in. It was late when we pulled u p to my door, bu t he kept t h e motor running. I'm doing all three.bridges tonight, he told me . East Bay, G o l d e n Gate, Richmond-San Rafael. It's sixtyfive miles, h e said, and he needs it to think. And I could see h i m making his way with the music up, the windows rolled down and the heater on: He'll think for sixty-five miles like that, looking for landmarks, signs to a center. He'll be watching for the street where h e walked to school, the garage where a girl once beckoned; places he expects to find, certain as a b u r n i n g trail. But he won't pull over, he hates to backtrack, to risk losing time. He'll maneuver between the places that he knows and the ones he dreams of until a m o m e n t arrives, the o n e he's been driving toward. Bathed by a full moon on a point somewhere between three bridges, his memory will slip away, and the drone of the engine will empty the world, readying h i m to begin again. And while he was out there covering ground, I'm retracing each point we crossed. I chart how far we've c o m e , what direction we might take. I determine exactly how far north I was with him, and how far south and east and w e s t I measure t h e length of separations, the increments and brevity of things sweet. I recall how at close range, the space between us was no thicker than an eyelash, how we scouted for something just a hairsbreadth away, something we t h o u g h t we'd seen, something that might change our course. It was my poor sense of direction, the way I misjudge dist a n c e that drove him away. I always miss turnoffs and drift

161


Landmarks Second Prize Winner Sudden

Fiction

Contest

L a n d m a r k s Lauren Alwan

Y

ou can say whatever you want about him, but I loved the way h e drove a car. H e would pull tip to my door, the engine rumbling against the stucco portal, and lean across to throw open the passenger door with one han d while he rolled open t h e sunroof with the other and together we would ride to the freeway with the engine revving and the ground rattling, moving like a low taut band of sound, until scaling the overpass, sound would give way to lightness and we would ascend the arc, lifted into the sky like a crescendo of voices. H e drives a lot. He knows every highway, all the shortcuts, the fastest way across town. He doesn't need a m a p and never asks for directions. He rolls through stop signs and changes lanes without looking over his shoulder. He puts a tape in t h e player and effortlessly tails a staccato trumpe t line. H e leans into the driver's seat and rolls open the sunroof, his t h u m b and first finger steady, swinging the handle like a lasso. H e frioyes over streets that are ill-marked, that e h d and suddenly pick up somewhere else. And he'd make his way through t h e m to c o me to me, with Sam Cooke singing through the flush m o u n t speakers, It's a cold cold world to be alone in. T h e way he drove, rain c a me down like silver threads in the dark, never touching us. It sailed over the open sunroof as if we were invisible. In his car on the highway at night, we

160

flew concealed by our m o m e n t u m , by the darkness, by the course he chose to take. I wondered about the street he lived on, his house, sheltered at the end of a cul-de-sac. I wondered if jasmine tangled over the high fence, and if its scent climbed into his open window at night. I looked past my own reflection and saw on the other side of the glass, highway and night and rain. T h e world seemed reduced to these few things and they were simple and clear, they were things I understood. And Sam Cooke's voice shimmered in the lights along the hills. And it's a cold world, he sang, to be alone in. It was late when we pulled u p to my door, bu t he kept t h e motor running. I'm doing all three.bridges tonight, he told me . East Bay, G o l d e n Gate, Richmond-San Rafael. It's sixtyfive miles, h e said, and he needs it to think. And I could see h i m making his way with the music up, the windows rolled down and the heater on: He'll think for sixty-five miles like that, looking for landmarks, signs to a center. He'll be watching for the street where h e walked to school, the garage where a girl once beckoned; places he expects to find, certain as a b u r n i n g trail. But he won't pull over, he hates to backtrack, to risk losing time. He'll maneuver between the places that he knows and the ones he dreams of until a m o m e n t arrives, the o n e he's been driving toward. Bathed by a full moon on a point somewhere between three bridges, his memory will slip away, and the drone of the engine will empty the world, readying h i m to begin again. And while he was out there covering ground, I'm retracing each point we crossed. I chart how far we've c o m e , what direction we might take. I determine exactly how far north I was with him, and how far south and east and w e s t I measure t h e length of separations, the increments and brevity of things sweet. I recall how at close range, the space between us was no thicker than an eyelash, how we scouted for something just a hairsbreadth away, something we t h o u g h t we'd seen, something that might change our course. It was my poor sense of direction, the way I misjudge dist a n c e that drove him away. I always miss turnoffs and drift

161


Berkeley Fiction Review between points, forgetting where I am, taking a different route each time I go. H e can't bear delay or digression of any sort. And with me, things were winding and indirect, the familiar things changed color. A grid b e c a m e a maze, the shortcut a roundabout. H e always knows where h e is and where h e wants to go, but with m e his bearing felt uncertain. With m e the landmarks seemed to shift. You could say a m a n like that is best left alone, that he'll never find what he's looking for, or that he might even belong to someone else. And any of those things could be true. But the thing is, I loved the way he drove. I loved the way h e raced between points, toward the promise of each destination. I loved how nothing could tempt h i m from straying off his course. I loved the way he drove until for a m o m e n t the world was captured, and even as it slipped away, how he doggedly began again. I loved how, in the briefest of moments, he was summ o n e d , as he set a package b e h i n d the back seat and closed the passenger door, and with the afternoon light low, he looked straight into the rush of it, captivated.

162


Berkeley Fiction Review between points, forgetting where I am, taking a different route each time I go. H e can't bear delay or digression of any sort. And with me, things were winding and indirect, the familiar things changed color. A grid b e c a m e a maze, the shortcut a roundabout. H e always knows where h e is and where h e wants to go, but with m e his bearing felt uncertain. With m e the landmarks seemed to shift. You could say a m a n like that is best left alone, that he'll never find what he's looking for, or that he might even belong to someone else. And any of those things could be true. But the thing is, I loved the way he drove. I loved the way h e raced between points, toward the promise of each destination. I loved how nothing could tempt h i m from straying off his course. I loved the way he drove until for a m o m e n t the world was captured, and even as it slipped away, how he doggedly began again. I loved how, in the briefest of moments, he was summ o n e d , as he set a package b e h i n d the back seat and closed the passenger door, and with the afternoon light low, he looked straight into the rush of it, captivated.

162


C o n t r i b u t o r s

N o t e s


C o n t r i b u t o r s

N o t e s


Leslie Absher has lived in the Boston area for the past 13 years and thrives on soccer, decaf, yoga and backgammon. "Swallowing My Mother is about the experience of losing my mother to breast cancer when I was 16." This is her first time in print. Lauren Alwan resides in Oakland, California, where she is currently at work on a collection of short fiction. Her short story, Last Stop River City appeared in issue #15 of the Berkeley Fiction Review. Lin Carlson has written and published non-fiction and interviews for more than 20 years, only recently pursuing fiction. This is her second published short story. She is currently at work on a collection of short story monologues. Lin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gregory C h a i m o v grew up in small Oregon towns, attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and is now a trial attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice. His short fiction has appeared in literary journals in the US and Canada, most recently in the Quarterly. Matthew Gross is a senior at the State University of New York, College at Oswego. He has lived on three different continents, been a professional soldier, and dreams of achieving an elated grace of credibility. Gabriel Hudson lives in San Antonio with Elena-a woman of distinction. He has fiction forthcoming in Blood + Aphorisms. He is also the first place recipient of the University of Texas at Austin 1996 Adele Steiner Burleson Short Story Award. Tamara Jane is appalled by assaults on Affirmative Action and the scapegoating of immigrants. She likes loud music, animals and movies. She is currently finishing her third novel while housesitting in the Oakland Hills.

Gwen Larsen is a graduate of Yale and U C Berkeley. She is currently teaching sixth grade and trying to keep her sense of humor. This is her first time in print. D. Foy O'Brien lives in the Bay Area. He is a recent recipient of the U C Berkeley Eisner Award for fiction. Augustus Rose lives in Berkeley and writes about, among other things, chickens. This is his first published work in the States. Chicken Man is a dramatic reenactment of a true story, though it did not happen to the author. Michelle Rys is a writer living in Hampden, Massachusetts. D e n n i s Sherman, a graduate of the University of California, is a Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He has been writing fiction for 12 years and has had stories published in the Nebraska Review and the Wisconsin Review. Caleb Smith is a 19-year-old sophomore at U C Berkeley. He was born and raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas. H e studied writing at the University of Arkansas and plans to spend the fall of 1997 taking courses in Lyon, France. Kevin Stein is a Hopwood winning writer whose short fiction has appeared in Outerbridges, Magic Realism, and Onion Head. In addition to writing, Kevin runs an HIV prevention program on the North Side of Chicago. Joanna Yas graduated from Hampshire College; she studied creative writing and photography. She works as a brain injury rehabilitation counselor, a photographer's assistant, and an editorial intern at Grand Street. Other stories from her collection, A Man Screaming About Lamps, have been published in Skylark, Meniscus, and Reckoning. She lives in New York City.


Leslie Absher has lived in the Boston area for the past 13 years and thrives on soccer, decaf, yoga and backgammon. "Swallowing My Mother is about the experience of losing my mother to breast cancer when I was 16." This is her first time in print. Lauren Alwan resides in Oakland, California, where she is currently at work on a collection of short fiction. Her short story, Last Stop River City appeared in issue #15 of the Berkeley Fiction Review. Lin Carlson has written and published non-fiction and interviews for more than 20 years, only recently pursuing fiction. This is her second published short story. She is currently at work on a collection of short story monologues. Lin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gregory C h a i m o v grew up in small Oregon towns, attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and is now a trial attorney with the Oregon Department of Justice. His short fiction has appeared in literary journals in the US and Canada, most recently in the Quarterly. Matthew Gross is a senior at the State University of New York, College at Oswego. He has lived on three different continents, been a professional soldier, and dreams of achieving an elated grace of credibility. Gabriel Hudson lives in San Antonio with Elena-a woman of distinction. He has fiction forthcoming in Blood + Aphorisms. He is also the first place recipient of the University of Texas at Austin 1996 Adele Steiner Burleson Short Story Award. Tamara Jane is appalled by assaults on Affirmative Action and the scapegoating of immigrants. She likes loud music, animals and movies. She is currently finishing her third novel while housesitting in the Oakland Hills.

Gwen Larsen is a graduate of Yale and U C Berkeley. She is currently teaching sixth grade and trying to keep her sense of humor. This is her first time in print. D. Foy O'Brien lives in the Bay Area. He is a recent recipient of the U C Berkeley Eisner Award for fiction. Augustus Rose lives in Berkeley and writes about, among other things, chickens. This is his first published work in the States. Chicken Man is a dramatic reenactment of a true story, though it did not happen to the author. Michelle Rys is a writer living in Hampden, Massachusetts. D e n n i s Sherman, a graduate of the University of California, is a Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. He has been writing fiction for 12 years and has had stories published in the Nebraska Review and the Wisconsin Review. Caleb Smith is a 19-year-old sophomore at U C Berkeley. He was born and raised in Fayetteville, Arkansas. H e studied writing at the University of Arkansas and plans to spend the fall of 1997 taking courses in Lyon, France. Kevin Stein is a Hopwood winning writer whose short fiction has appeared in Outerbridges, Magic Realism, and Onion Head. In addition to writing, Kevin runs an HIV prevention program on the North Side of Chicago. Joanna Yas graduated from Hampshire College; she studied creative writing and photography. She works as a brain injury rehabilitation counselor, a photographer's assistant, and an editorial intern at Grand Street. Other stories from her collection, A Man Screaming About Lamps, have been published in Skylark, Meniscus, and Reckoning. She lives in New York City.


A r t i s t ' s

N o t e s

Charles Ellik is a graduate of Long Beach State currently living in Berkeley. His artwork has been widely published in magazines, journals and zines. Solveig Roberts received a B.S. from the University of California, Davis. She recently left a position as a preschool art teacher to paint in Israel for two years.

S p o n s o r s


A r t i s t ' s

N o t e s

Charles Ellik is a graduate of Long Beach State currently living in Berkeley. His artwork has been widely published in magazines, journals and zines. Solveig Roberts received a B.S. from the University of California, Davis. She recently left a position as a preschool art teacher to paint in Israel for two years.

S p o n s o r s


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is n o w a c c e p t i n g s u b m i s s i o n s f o r its s e c o n d a n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest. Sudden Fiction: i.e., short fiction less than 1000 words. F I R S T P L A C E = $ 2 0 0 (and publication in the Spring '97 issue) SECOND = Publication in #17 THIRD = A free copy of #16 and #17

- % H a p p y

guidelines: • $5 entry fee + $3 for each additional entry Make check or money order out to BFR Sudden Fix • 1000 words or less • type, double space, and please use 12 pt. font • include a SHORT cover letter, but no SASE D e a d l i n e is M a r c h 3 0 , 1 9 9 7 W i n n e r s w i l l b e n o t i f i e d by Ma y 6 , 1 9 9 7

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Daily 4 - 7

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Sudden Fiction Contest Berkeley Fiction Review 703 Eshleman Hall University of California Berkeley, CA. 94720

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