Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 18

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B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

Editors Grace Fujimoto

Nikki Thompson

Associate Editors John Rauschenberg

Elaine Wong

R e v i e w

Art Editor Jennifer Zahigian Correspondence Editor Simona Moldovan

Cover Art by Joel Elrod Copyright 1998 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 Eshleman Library, 201 Heller Lounge, Berkeley, CA 94720-4500. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material.

Editorial Assistants Marie Bao Madhu Katta

Wendy Park

Sales & Marketing Edward Chen

David Wong

Staff Shelly Aono Robin Champlin Latika Chandhary Lydia Chen Doreen Ho Sachin Kumar

Amy Lau Angela Monges Stefan Shakiba Ryan Stanley Tommy Tung Geoff Urland

Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Technical Printing Inc., Sunnyvale, California Cover art scanned by LinoText, Cupertino, California ISSN 1087-7053

Cover Art & Illustrations Joel Elrod Special thanks as always co George Stilabower for his expertise, patience, and support throughout the production of yet another issue. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Committee on Student Publications, the ASUC, and the English Department.


B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

Editors Grace Fujimoto

Nikki Thompson

Associate Editors John Rauschenberg

Elaine Wong

R e v i e w

Art Editor Jennifer Zahigian Correspondence Editor Simona Moldovan

Cover Art by Joel Elrod Copyright 1998 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 Eshleman Library, 201 Heller Lounge, Berkeley, CA 94720-4500. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material.

Editorial Assistants Marie Bao Madhu Katta

Wendy Park

Sales & Marketing Edward Chen

David Wong

Staff Shelly Aono Robin Champlin Latika Chandhary Lydia Chen Doreen Ho Sachin Kumar

Amy Lau Angela Monges Stefan Shakiba Ryan Stanley Tommy Tung Geoff Urland

Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Technical Printing Inc., Sunnyvale, California Cover art scanned by LinoText, Cupertino, California ISSN 1087-7053

Cover Art & Illustrations Joel Elrod Special thanks as always co George Stilabower for his expertise, patience, and support throughout the production of yet another issue. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Committee on Student Publications, the ASUC, and the English Department.


: S u d d e n

A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s

F i c t i o n

W i n n e r s

FIRST PLACE

Tracy DeBrincat How To Be A Perfect Slut Van Nuys, California SECOND PLACE P A T R O N S

Jaqueline Carpenter

Thea Hillman Holding Pattern San Francisco, California

] 1

D a p h n e Young \

THIRD

PLACE

Karen An-hwei Lee ;

v Berkeley, California

A D V I S O R S

Ron Loewinsohn

HONORABLE

Chris Nealon George Stilabower

-

MENTION

Fred Medick Abortions San Francisco California

Elsa Dixon Sound Screen San Francisco' California

Mark Lewandowski Saturday Afternoon Matinee Lafayette Louisiana

Melanie H a m m e r After 'Girl' Long Island City N e w York


: S u d d e n

A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s

F i c t i o n

W i n n e r s

FIRST PLACE

Tracy DeBrincat How To Be A Perfect Slut Van Nuys, California SECOND PLACE P A T R O N S

Jaqueline Carpenter

Thea Hillman Holding Pattern San Francisco, California

] 1

D a p h n e Young \

THIRD

PLACE

Karen An-hwei Lee ;

v Berkeley, California

A D V I S O R S

Ron Loewinsohn

HONORABLE

Chris Nealon George Stilabower

-

MENTION

Fred Medick Abortions San Francisco California

Elsa Dixon Sound Screen San Francisco' California

Mark Lewandowski Saturday Afternoon Matinee Lafayette Louisiana

Melanie H a m m e r After 'Girl' Long Island City N e w York


F o r e w o r d C o n t e n t s When we took over leadership of Berkelely Fiction Review from Daphne Young, our former editor, with $ 100 in our bank account and a file cabinet full of submissions, a finished magazine seemed so distant. T h e summer months were discouraging because of administrative miscommunications and the growing awareness of our editorial inexperience. We had spent the last few months of the 1996-1997 academic years observing and learning the various elements of producing and managing the magazine, but having the editorial pen in our hands was a different matter. As the academic year began and our staff returned to Berkeley, magazine production and distribution began to accelerate. Issue #17 came back from the printer and we secured a foothold for ourselves in a number of San Franciso bookstores, while maintaining our relationships with the more local East Bay bookstores. August was also a month of initiating our editorial responsibility and coming together as a staff. The polarity of opinions quickly became apparent as we began the selection process. These almost factious differences in literary tastes resulted in the variety of stories present in this issue. Not only do the" stories differ thematically and contextually, they also differ in the ways in which they are understood. Our last story "Old Mouth" is meant to be read aloud, while DeWitt Henrys story, "Beautiful Flower," is part of a larger history of protest in the form of self-immolation. These conflicting opinions gave this issue's staff a unique dynamic and energy, which carried through to the magazine s production. Their humor and sarcasm have kept everything in perspective, while their hard-work and dedication have made a magazine, which we present to you as BFR #18.

Grace Fujimoto and Nikki Thompson

Mission Jake Bumgardner

13

Team Sports Gina Willner-Pardo

18

How To Be A Perfect Slut Tracy DeBrincat

38

Tuesday Trish Cantillon

42

I Think"Continually Of Those. Edward Wahl

46

Passenger Laurel Hunter

56

His Last Nine Words W.A. Smith

63

Provincetown Stacey Barnett

71

Mixed Media Alicia Erian

85

Wanting A Lover Man James Braziel

87

Holding Pattern Thea Hillman

102

The Pupil David Rompf

104


F o r e w o r d C o n t e n t s When we took over leadership of Berkelely Fiction Review from Daphne Young, our former editor, with $ 100 in our bank account and a file cabinet full of submissions, a finished magazine seemed so distant. T h e summer months were discouraging because of administrative miscommunications and the growing awareness of our editorial inexperience. We had spent the last few months of the 1996-1997 academic years observing and learning the various elements of producing and managing the magazine, but having the editorial pen in our hands was a different matter. As the academic year began and our staff returned to Berkeley, magazine production and distribution began to accelerate. Issue #17 came back from the printer and we secured a foothold for ourselves in a number of San Franciso bookstores, while maintaining our relationships with the more local East Bay bookstores. August was also a month of initiating our editorial responsibility and coming together as a staff. The polarity of opinions quickly became apparent as we began the selection process. These almost factious differences in literary tastes resulted in the variety of stories present in this issue. Not only do the" stories differ thematically and contextually, they also differ in the ways in which they are understood. Our last story "Old Mouth" is meant to be read aloud, while DeWitt Henrys story, "Beautiful Flower," is part of a larger history of protest in the form of self-immolation. These conflicting opinions gave this issue's staff a unique dynamic and energy, which carried through to the magazine s production. Their humor and sarcasm have kept everything in perspective, while their hard-work and dedication have made a magazine, which we present to you as BFR #18.

Grace Fujimoto and Nikki Thompson

Mission Jake Bumgardner

13

Team Sports Gina Willner-Pardo

18

How To Be A Perfect Slut Tracy DeBrincat

38

Tuesday Trish Cantillon

42

I Think"Continually Of Those. Edward Wahl

46

Passenger Laurel Hunter

56

His Last Nine Words W.A. Smith

63

Provincetown Stacey Barnett

71

Mixed Media Alicia Erian

85

Wanting A Lover Man James Braziel

87

Holding Pattern Thea Hillman

102

The Pupil David Rompf

104


The Watchman Ray Nayler

119

The Importance of Setting Lisa Weckerle

128

Karen An-hwei Lee

132

Beautiful Flower DeWitt Henry

136

Old Mouth Caleb Smith

143


The Watchman Ray Nayler

119

The Importance of Setting Lisa Weckerle

128

Karen An-hwei Lee

132

Beautiful Flower DeWitt Henry

136

Old Mouth Caleb Smith

143


M i s s i o n Jake Bumgardner

hadn't left the apartment for several days except for the post office and to buy cigarettes and now here were all the pretty Mexican girls in the beautiful spring summer night in the Mission. The radios were playing in the cars and juke boxes in the taquerias and Galan's and Carlo's and all the other corner bars filled with men and one or two ( cherubs and the teenage gangster chicks were on the corner high on bud wearing NBA jerseys and baseball jerseys and they looked at me but if I glanced back it was like what're you lookin at gringo? I was walking too fast and I relished the idle time at the corners when I'd hit a red light. Even if there wasn't any traffic, I d wait just for the sake of the stoplight and strike a pose 'cause I knew I was being watched. I passed the ragged streetmen and their shopping carts and the crack whores gathered on the stqops, so conscious of the jingle the few coins in my pocket made against the keys. All the way down 24th Street by the McDonald's, there were some fine shapely women but I couldn't gaze at them and I kept slowing my pace as I turned down Mission Street and it was running so with the motorbikes and the black-and-whites and the cruisers, and everyone who wasn't going somewhere was watching from the sidewalk and grooving to ranchero and rap. I passed the restaurants and more taquerias and the mirror store and finally looking in one shop, I saw it was still five minutes to eight and I stopped, at another corner and delicately pulled out my Zippo and lit a cigarette. And then by luck there was the red light again so I had another few seconds to dawdle and look around 13


M i s s i o n Jake Bumgardner

hadn't left the apartment for several days except for the post office and to buy cigarettes and now here were all the pretty Mexican girls in the beautiful spring summer night in the Mission. The radios were playing in the cars and juke boxes in the taquerias and Galan's and Carlo's and all the other corner bars filled with men and one or two ( cherubs and the teenage gangster chicks were on the corner high on bud wearing NBA jerseys and baseball jerseys and they looked at me but if I glanced back it was like what're you lookin at gringo? I was walking too fast and I relished the idle time at the corners when I'd hit a red light. Even if there wasn't any traffic, I d wait just for the sake of the stoplight and strike a pose 'cause I knew I was being watched. I passed the ragged streetmen and their shopping carts and the crack whores gathered on the stqops, so conscious of the jingle the few coins in my pocket made against the keys. All the way down 24th Street by the McDonald's, there were some fine shapely women but I couldn't gaze at them and I kept slowing my pace as I turned down Mission Street and it was running so with the motorbikes and the black-and-whites and the cruisers, and everyone who wasn't going somewhere was watching from the sidewalk and grooving to ranchero and rap. I passed the restaurants and more taquerias and the mirror store and finally looking in one shop, I saw it was still five minutes to eight and I stopped, at another corner and delicately pulled out my Zippo and lit a cigarette. And then by luck there was the red light again so I had another few seconds to dawdle and look around 13


Berkeley Fiction Review and fell against the gray buildings. The light changed and I tramped into the street with the neon sign of the Tip Top Inn down the block and I made light zig-zag patterns with my feet. I was happy for not shaving because the stubble made me rugged-looking like an idler, and with the cigarette poking out and my hair mussed just so, I could go on with that face that keeps people from asking you for a smoke or the time or some change for the bus. Across 2 6 ^ Street I could see in the open door of the Tip Top and there was lovely Nellie taking her shift behind the bar and I relaxed because she saw me before I even pushed the little half door in. There were just a few men sitting at the bar and no one else and as I walked in she smiled and I smiled back and she said, Jack, right? and I nodded and said, Nell, right? playing along. She had a hand on a Miller High Life as she grinned what did I want to drink, and I made like I was thinking about it and said I guess I'll have a Miller and she set it on the bar. I unfolded my wallet and pinched two one dollar bills for the beer and another one for Nellie for remembering my name. She was listening to some old guy talk about the wars coming up on the street and Nellie just shook her head at him and said, the wars in my house, Andy, between the roaches and the termites, the mice and the cheese. She smiled down at me from behind her glasses and her eyes were like black pearls above a veil and I ducked down behind my beer as the fizzle died down in my belly. I picked at the beer label and asked her tiny questions using the accent I'd brought from Toronto and shortly after I bought some quarters and said to Nell since it was so quiet did she want to shoot pool with me and she laughed and said I guess not while I'm working, arid I chuckled too. I went over and slid the coins in and there was the delicious rumble of the balls tumbling down. I racked the balls and made a nice break and standing there playing pool by myself and drinking from the longneck bottle and smoking cigarettes I noticed that I was now the entertainment for the few others in the bar and I was relieved and happy that I'd made such a nice break even though no balls dropped. I sank a stripe and a skinny stringy guy was heading to the bathroom when he said something like, you playin' alone? and I laughed and said just killing time you know, and I asked did he want to join me and he said sure my name's Drew and I shook 14

Mission his hand. Jack, I said. He took over solids and there we were playing out the game while Nell and the others watched and Drew was talking about the fire alarm he was installing in die main post office over in Oakland and how depressing and awful those postal people were and how if he was one of them, why he'd turn a gun on his head right that minute and pull the trigger 'cause there wouldn't be nothing to live for anyway. Drew ordered another beer and Nell asked did I need one but I was in the middle of a tough shot so I sighted down the pool cue and said ruggedly, naw, not yet, followed by the crack of the balls. I missed the shot and Drew came back with his Budweiser. I swallowed down the backwash of my Miller and ordered another one quietly. Nell brought the beer and sat at the very end of the bar, as close to the pool table as she could be and still hear the two fellas down by the juke box when they wanted another pint. I was asking her stupid questions in between shots about when she was in the Navy and she kept answering politely but saying how it was a long time ago and I was losing the game pretty bad so I kept making Drew wait while I lingered and idled and made faces with my cigarette and pretended not to notice we were even playing. Drew won the game and put in two more quarters and we played again and then we played once more and he won each time and he kept ordering more beer and talking a little louder while Nell sat there watching the door and scribbling things on cocktail napkins and whenever I'd wander closer she'd hide it with her little brown hand and smile and I'd smile back. We finished the last game and Drew and I sat back at the bar and Nell and I began talking quietly between each other and my exotic Canuck accent slipped a bit more with each word but it didn't matter because we were really talking so that when I walked into the Tip Top in the future we could say hi and we'd feally know each other instead of just being names and faces. We were going along fine about where we lived and the neighborhoods and the good bars h u t I was itching to brag about the places I used to live, to slip litde comments in about St. Charles Avenue or the way the sun rises over Paris or how you thank God when you curl up in bed at night that the Canadian winter didn't kill you on the way home from the pub. I wanted to casually mention the book I wrote and my screenplay and how I was up and coming in 15


Berkeley Fiction Review and fell against the gray buildings. The light changed and I tramped into the street with the neon sign of the Tip Top Inn down the block and I made light zig-zag patterns with my feet. I was happy for not shaving because the stubble made me rugged-looking like an idler, and with the cigarette poking out and my hair mussed just so, I could go on with that face that keeps people from asking you for a smoke or the time or some change for the bus. Across 2 6 ^ Street I could see in the open door of the Tip Top and there was lovely Nellie taking her shift behind the bar and I relaxed because she saw me before I even pushed the little half door in. There were just a few men sitting at the bar and no one else and as I walked in she smiled and I smiled back and she said, Jack, right? and I nodded and said, Nell, right? playing along. She had a hand on a Miller High Life as she grinned what did I want to drink, and I made like I was thinking about it and said I guess I'll have a Miller and she set it on the bar. I unfolded my wallet and pinched two one dollar bills for the beer and another one for Nellie for remembering my name. She was listening to some old guy talk about the wars coming up on the street and Nellie just shook her head at him and said, the wars in my house, Andy, between the roaches and the termites, the mice and the cheese. She smiled down at me from behind her glasses and her eyes were like black pearls above a veil and I ducked down behind my beer as the fizzle died down in my belly. I picked at the beer label and asked her tiny questions using the accent I'd brought from Toronto and shortly after I bought some quarters and said to Nell since it was so quiet did she want to shoot pool with me and she laughed and said I guess not while I'm working, arid I chuckled too. I went over and slid the coins in and there was the delicious rumble of the balls tumbling down. I racked the balls and made a nice break and standing there playing pool by myself and drinking from the longneck bottle and smoking cigarettes I noticed that I was now the entertainment for the few others in the bar and I was relieved and happy that I'd made such a nice break even though no balls dropped. I sank a stripe and a skinny stringy guy was heading to the bathroom when he said something like, you playin' alone? and I laughed and said just killing time you know, and I asked did he want to join me and he said sure my name's Drew and I shook 14

Mission his hand. Jack, I said. He took over solids and there we were playing out the game while Nell and the others watched and Drew was talking about the fire alarm he was installing in die main post office over in Oakland and how depressing and awful those postal people were and how if he was one of them, why he'd turn a gun on his head right that minute and pull the trigger 'cause there wouldn't be nothing to live for anyway. Drew ordered another beer and Nell asked did I need one but I was in the middle of a tough shot so I sighted down the pool cue and said ruggedly, naw, not yet, followed by the crack of the balls. I missed the shot and Drew came back with his Budweiser. I swallowed down the backwash of my Miller and ordered another one quietly. Nell brought the beer and sat at the very end of the bar, as close to the pool table as she could be and still hear the two fellas down by the juke box when they wanted another pint. I was asking her stupid questions in between shots about when she was in the Navy and she kept answering politely but saying how it was a long time ago and I was losing the game pretty bad so I kept making Drew wait while I lingered and idled and made faces with my cigarette and pretended not to notice we were even playing. Drew won the game and put in two more quarters and we played again and then we played once more and he won each time and he kept ordering more beer and talking a little louder while Nell sat there watching the door and scribbling things on cocktail napkins and whenever I'd wander closer she'd hide it with her little brown hand and smile and I'd smile back. We finished the last game and Drew and I sat back at the bar and Nell and I began talking quietly between each other and my exotic Canuck accent slipped a bit more with each word but it didn't matter because we were really talking so that when I walked into the Tip Top in the future we could say hi and we'd feally know each other instead of just being names and faces. We were going along fine about where we lived and the neighborhoods and the good bars h u t I was itching to brag about the places I used to live, to slip litde comments in about St. Charles Avenue or the way the sun rises over Paris or how you thank God when you curl up in bed at night that the Canadian winter didn't kill you on the way home from the pub. I wanted to casually mention the book I wrote and my screenplay and how I was up and coming in 15


Berkeley Fiction Review the world but she wasn't asking the right questions and if I just blurted that stuff out why then it would be bragging and a rugged idler had to be reluctant, like he's saving the innocence of others. It all has to be dragged from him 'cause behind all those wonderful stories lie the heartaches and sadness of a wanderer. You said what? Drew said to Nell and we both looked up at him a little startled. Nell ignored him and went to pull another pint but I felt guilty and explained how all she said was that it's awfully dead in here tonight and he said oh I thought she said something else and then he was talking at me and laughing. It wasn't dead >m here on St. Patty's Day he said and then he really laughed about how he'd been thrown out of the bar that night. Nell heard him and started laying into him about how annoying he was and she was really giving it to him hard you know and I watched as he shrank down on his stool but Nell wouldn't let up and finally Drew gulped down his beer and walked out of the bar muttering jeez, man, jeez, put a gun to my head. Hmm, I said and looked down at my beer and Nell put her hand on mine and said I'm not that much of a hard ass you know but you gotta trust my judgment on that one. I nodded and after a minute: when you were traveling the world with the Navy, I said, did you ever go. to France? Yeah, Toulon. Toulon?! said, a little too accented. She ran down the bar to pour a drink and I figured I'd gone and blown it but she came back and said why, do you have some affinity for France? I used to live there, I said shyly but luckily she wasn't too impressed and didn't force me to brag about Paris and we talked about the different comfort zones of Spain, France, and Italy and how she was more at ease the more south and the more east she got cause she's filled with MiddleEastern blood while I'm French-Irish-Kraut-wasp. I told her I was never more comfortable than in France. I finished my beer and said I'd be going but Nellie crunched up her face behind her glasses and said you can't leave me here like this and I said all right, and ordered another beer. You want a shot of Jagermeister? she said and I started to get that wishy-washy response and shcsaid yes or no? and I said thank you very much, I'd like a shot of Jagermeister and she poured them and we toasted and drank them down. 16

r

Mission We bathed in the warmth of the liquor and after a while Nell started writing on cocktail napkins again and I talked while she wrote and watched her black eyes squint and laugh beneath the angled lids looking down. I picked at the beer label some more until Nellie slid a napkin over for me to read and she had that same look on her face that had popped the cork in my stomach. It was her phone number. She said she was off on Saturday and why don't I call her? I smiled and took her number and said well I guess I will call you, like maybe I will and maybe I won't but she knew I would and so did I. We chatted a bit longer and we smoked more cigarettes and I finished the beer and finally I said, thanks for the company and you'll get a phone call on Saturday and she said, you were the company and I'm looking forward to it. I walked out into the night and it was much later and Mission was thinned now and the shops were closed, but the taquerias were still open and the music came back when I hit 24th Street and there were still the Mexican kids running all over and mothers with baby carriages and the rugged idlers that were their oldest sons and the men playing pool in Carlo's and Galan's and the mariachis with their oversized guitars and I forgot about the jingle the few coins in my pocket made against the keys.

17


Berkeley Fiction Review the world but she wasn't asking the right questions and if I just blurted that stuff out why then it would be bragging and a rugged idler had to be reluctant, like he's saving the innocence of others. It all has to be dragged from him 'cause behind all those wonderful stories lie the heartaches and sadness of a wanderer. You said what? Drew said to Nell and we both looked up at him a little startled. Nell ignored him and went to pull another pint but I felt guilty and explained how all she said was that it's awfully dead in here tonight and he said oh I thought she said something else and then he was talking at me and laughing. It wasn't dead >m here on St. Patty's Day he said and then he really laughed about how he'd been thrown out of the bar that night. Nell heard him and started laying into him about how annoying he was and she was really giving it to him hard you know and I watched as he shrank down on his stool but Nell wouldn't let up and finally Drew gulped down his beer and walked out of the bar muttering jeez, man, jeez, put a gun to my head. Hmm, I said and looked down at my beer and Nell put her hand on mine and said I'm not that much of a hard ass you know but you gotta trust my judgment on that one. I nodded and after a minute: when you were traveling the world with the Navy, I said, did you ever go. to France? Yeah, Toulon. Toulon?! said, a little too accented. She ran down the bar to pour a drink and I figured I'd gone and blown it but she came back and said why, do you have some affinity for France? I used to live there, I said shyly but luckily she wasn't too impressed and didn't force me to brag about Paris and we talked about the different comfort zones of Spain, France, and Italy and how she was more at ease the more south and the more east she got cause she's filled with MiddleEastern blood while I'm French-Irish-Kraut-wasp. I told her I was never more comfortable than in France. I finished my beer and said I'd be going but Nellie crunched up her face behind her glasses and said you can't leave me here like this and I said all right, and ordered another beer. You want a shot of Jagermeister? she said and I started to get that wishy-washy response and shcsaid yes or no? and I said thank you very much, I'd like a shot of Jagermeister and she poured them and we toasted and drank them down. 16

r

Mission We bathed in the warmth of the liquor and after a while Nell started writing on cocktail napkins again and I talked while she wrote and watched her black eyes squint and laugh beneath the angled lids looking down. I picked at the beer label some more until Nellie slid a napkin over for me to read and she had that same look on her face that had popped the cork in my stomach. It was her phone number. She said she was off on Saturday and why don't I call her? I smiled and took her number and said well I guess I will call you, like maybe I will and maybe I won't but she knew I would and so did I. We chatted a bit longer and we smoked more cigarettes and I finished the beer and finally I said, thanks for the company and you'll get a phone call on Saturday and she said, you were the company and I'm looking forward to it. I walked out into the night and it was much later and Mission was thinned now and the shops were closed, but the taquerias were still open and the music came back when I hit 24th Street and there were still the Mexican kids running all over and mothers with baby carriages and the rugged idlers that were their oldest sons and the men playing pool in Carlo's and Galan's and the mariachis with their oversized guitars and I forgot about the jingle the few coins in my pocket made against the keys.

17


Team Sports

T e a m

S p o r t s

Gina Willner-Pardo

regory does not want to play soccer. He's made it explicitly clear; he has, in fact, been unstinting in his candor, if somewhat less forthcoming with explanations. "I just don't want to," he has said numerous times. To me, it is unqualified, inarguable. "It's the heat," Tom says, and in truth, it's been a miserable summer: the midafternoon air scendess and still; the sky tinged with pink, like a stove burner; heat that makes you squint. You take short, shallow breaths. You think about taking baths. Gregory isn't like other children, cheerfully oblivious to weather. I see these children in the park: boisterous, loud, mysteriously sweatless. Walking never occurs to them. In my secret heart, I think that these children just aren't very bright. Their running, their raucous namecalling, their wrong-way ascents up the slide and perilous jumps from high places seem mindless and ill-conceived; things more intelligent children wouldn't do. I would never tell this to a soul. In hot weather Gregory stoops like an old man. Tall for five, he licks the tips of his fingers and runs them across his 'eyelids, enjoying a momentary coolness. When we take him to the park on Sundays, he trudges to a boxlike enclosure that supports one end of a clanking redwood-and-chain-link foot bridge. Often he will sit there for fortyfive minutes, occasionally peering out, like a troll. "It's cool in here," he says when Tom tries to interest him in the junglegym or the swings. But I know it is the other children—the thudding, squalling tangle of 18

boys especially—that make him seek the shadows. In April Tom noticed a flyer posted on the bulletin board at the entrance to the park: community soccer leagues were forming, and would play in the fall. "How about it, Gregory?" he said, leaning down close, pointing to the flyer as though Gregory could read for himself how uniforms would be provided and parent coaches were urgently needed. "How about soccer?" "What's soccer?" Gregory asked. "A really fun game," Tom said. "You kick a ball.-There's a lot of running." "I don't like to run," Gregory said. "You play with other children. Other boys," Tom said. "Everybody kicks the ball and runs together and tries to score the most points." Gregory started to say something, then stopped. "They teach you how to play. It's fun," Tom said. He stood up straight. "You'll see." We entered the park. I wondered what it was that Gregory had almost said. I thought that it was probably something about the other boys. At the end of August, there is a message on the machine: "This is Phil Deichler, and I'll be coaching Gregory Bettencourt's soccer team this fall. The Barracudas. First practice is next Monday at the high school. We'll get to know each other, do some drills, pass out uniforms." "Hey! Uniforms! Cool, dude," Tom says to Gregory. He pauses the machine and looks at me. "Are you getting this down?" I don't know why Tom affects a surfer argot when he talks to Gregory about sports. He sounds ridiculous, like someone imitating a foreign language or Jimmy Cagney and not getting it exactly right. Gregory stares at him, trying to decipher the unknown words and what it is that has made Tom lapse into this strange, frantic banter. He removes his arm from his mouth. I see red teeth marks in the skin. Gregory, I know, has been biting his arm for the last twenty minutes, in an effort to see how hard he can bear down without drawing blood. "Like at Burger King?" he finally asks. Tom has pressed Play and is gesturing for me to take notes. "Practice is at 4:30 on Tuesdays. Games are Saturday mornings. I'll get a schedule printed up. And—" Phil Deichler pauses, as though he 19


Team Sports

T e a m

S p o r t s

Gina Willner-Pardo

regory does not want to play soccer. He's made it explicitly clear; he has, in fact, been unstinting in his candor, if somewhat less forthcoming with explanations. "I just don't want to," he has said numerous times. To me, it is unqualified, inarguable. "It's the heat," Tom says, and in truth, it's been a miserable summer: the midafternoon air scendess and still; the sky tinged with pink, like a stove burner; heat that makes you squint. You take short, shallow breaths. You think about taking baths. Gregory isn't like other children, cheerfully oblivious to weather. I see these children in the park: boisterous, loud, mysteriously sweatless. Walking never occurs to them. In my secret heart, I think that these children just aren't very bright. Their running, their raucous namecalling, their wrong-way ascents up the slide and perilous jumps from high places seem mindless and ill-conceived; things more intelligent children wouldn't do. I would never tell this to a soul. In hot weather Gregory stoops like an old man. Tall for five, he licks the tips of his fingers and runs them across his 'eyelids, enjoying a momentary coolness. When we take him to the park on Sundays, he trudges to a boxlike enclosure that supports one end of a clanking redwood-and-chain-link foot bridge. Often he will sit there for fortyfive minutes, occasionally peering out, like a troll. "It's cool in here," he says when Tom tries to interest him in the junglegym or the swings. But I know it is the other children—the thudding, squalling tangle of 18

boys especially—that make him seek the shadows. In April Tom noticed a flyer posted on the bulletin board at the entrance to the park: community soccer leagues were forming, and would play in the fall. "How about it, Gregory?" he said, leaning down close, pointing to the flyer as though Gregory could read for himself how uniforms would be provided and parent coaches were urgently needed. "How about soccer?" "What's soccer?" Gregory asked. "A really fun game," Tom said. "You kick a ball.-There's a lot of running." "I don't like to run," Gregory said. "You play with other children. Other boys," Tom said. "Everybody kicks the ball and runs together and tries to score the most points." Gregory started to say something, then stopped. "They teach you how to play. It's fun," Tom said. He stood up straight. "You'll see." We entered the park. I wondered what it was that Gregory had almost said. I thought that it was probably something about the other boys. At the end of August, there is a message on the machine: "This is Phil Deichler, and I'll be coaching Gregory Bettencourt's soccer team this fall. The Barracudas. First practice is next Monday at the high school. We'll get to know each other, do some drills, pass out uniforms." "Hey! Uniforms! Cool, dude," Tom says to Gregory. He pauses the machine and looks at me. "Are you getting this down?" I don't know why Tom affects a surfer argot when he talks to Gregory about sports. He sounds ridiculous, like someone imitating a foreign language or Jimmy Cagney and not getting it exactly right. Gregory stares at him, trying to decipher the unknown words and what it is that has made Tom lapse into this strange, frantic banter. He removes his arm from his mouth. I see red teeth marks in the skin. Gregory, I know, has been biting his arm for the last twenty minutes, in an effort to see how hard he can bear down without drawing blood. "Like at Burger King?" he finally asks. Tom has pressed Play and is gesturing for me to take notes. "Practice is at 4:30 on Tuesdays. Games are Saturday mornings. I'll get a schedule printed up. And—" Phil Deichler pauses, as though he 19


Berkeley Fiction Review is rummaging through papers, "let me know if you're interested in being Team Mom." "What's barracudas?" Gregory asks. "We really need a Team Mom," Phil Deichler is saying. Tom rewinds the message. "You ought to think about that. Being Team Mom," he says. "Phil Deichler. Why do I know that name?" I say. "I think it would mean a lot to Gregory if you volunteered," he says, his voice all whispery concern. "Daddy! What's barracudas?" Tom smiles. "A barracuda. A really big, scary fish. With sharp teeth. A maneater," he says. Gregory shudders. "I think we saw one at the aquarium last year," Tom says. His smile is slightly dimmer; he is disappointed that Gregory is not energized by this information. "It's a really good name for a soccer team," Tom says. "I think a better name is the Butterflies," Gregory says. Tom says, "No, but see, a good team name has to be scary. Or strong. Like the Bulls. Or the Tigers." "Why?" "Yes, why?" I say, just to tease, but Tom looks at me as if to say, don't make this worse. "That's just how teams are," Tom says. Gregory positions his arm within an inch of his upper lip. "I don't want to wear a uniform," he says just before opening wide. "I have enough to do. You do it," I say as we are getting ready for bed. "Like I don't have enough to do?" "I didn't mean that." "Anyway, he said Team Mom" Tom arranges a shirt and pants on a hanger hooked over his closet's doorframe. lie fastens a button, then cocks his head a little, like a sculptor working in clay. He is looking for wrinkles. He turns to face me. 20

Team Sports "It would embarrass Gregory, me being Team Mom," he says. I know that isn't it, but I nod. "I just have so much going on at work," I say. I am a travel agent. I don't fly; I haven't flown since 1986. People are always saying that I have such interesting work, that the opportunity to travel to exotic places cheaply must have been my impetus for entering the field. I am always having to explain myself. Really, I don't have any special interest in traveling. I never did. I quit school to support Tom while he was in law school. We were classmates, but I was floundering, unmotivated. Travel agents found easy work, and people knew, or thought they knew, why you wanted to be one, which was appealing somehow. I hated being asked which aspect of the law most interested me. -I like planning, paperwork, what other people hate. I like reading maps, plotting routes, decoding train schedules. Gregory loves trains. I have taken him to Los Angeles and to Portland on Amtrak's Coast Starlight. Sometimes, on weekends, he begs to be taken to the Martinez station to watch the Zephyr wheeze to- a stop, disgorging passengers. Occasionally we go, but Tom does not enjoy the outing; he worries that I will transmit my distaste for flying to Gregory, the way a mind reader makes an audience member think of her-birthdate, or the color blue. "Didn't you go to law school with a Phil Deichler?" I ask, folding back rhe covers, sliding beneath them. "Don't remember," Tom says. He removes his watch and, oddly, as he does every night, his wedding band. "I think this soccer thing is going to be great." "Don't you think five is a little young?" The sheets are already heating up. "For something so organized?" "It's just what Gregory needs," Tom says. "Exercise and running around and fresh air. Friends." "He has friends," I say. But mosdy they are girls, daughters of friends of mine, and to Tom, they don't count. "Being on a team. That feeling." The sheets rustle and pull taut as Tom setdes in beside me. "You know. Being part of a group." I nod, then lie back and stare at Tom's outfit over the closet door. I stare hard enough, and it begins to look as though the clothes cover a 21


Berkeley Fiction Review is rummaging through papers, "let me know if you're interested in being Team Mom." "What's barracudas?" Gregory asks. "We really need a Team Mom," Phil Deichler is saying. Tom rewinds the message. "You ought to think about that. Being Team Mom," he says. "Phil Deichler. Why do I know that name?" I say. "I think it would mean a lot to Gregory if you volunteered," he says, his voice all whispery concern. "Daddy! What's barracudas?" Tom smiles. "A barracuda. A really big, scary fish. With sharp teeth. A maneater," he says. Gregory shudders. "I think we saw one at the aquarium last year," Tom says. His smile is slightly dimmer; he is disappointed that Gregory is not energized by this information. "It's a really good name for a soccer team," Tom says. "I think a better name is the Butterflies," Gregory says. Tom says, "No, but see, a good team name has to be scary. Or strong. Like the Bulls. Or the Tigers." "Why?" "Yes, why?" I say, just to tease, but Tom looks at me as if to say, don't make this worse. "That's just how teams are," Tom says. Gregory positions his arm within an inch of his upper lip. "I don't want to wear a uniform," he says just before opening wide. "I have enough to do. You do it," I say as we are getting ready for bed. "Like I don't have enough to do?" "I didn't mean that." "Anyway, he said Team Mom" Tom arranges a shirt and pants on a hanger hooked over his closet's doorframe. lie fastens a button, then cocks his head a little, like a sculptor working in clay. He is looking for wrinkles. He turns to face me. 20

Team Sports "It would embarrass Gregory, me being Team Mom," he says. I know that isn't it, but I nod. "I just have so much going on at work," I say. I am a travel agent. I don't fly; I haven't flown since 1986. People are always saying that I have such interesting work, that the opportunity to travel to exotic places cheaply must have been my impetus for entering the field. I am always having to explain myself. Really, I don't have any special interest in traveling. I never did. I quit school to support Tom while he was in law school. We were classmates, but I was floundering, unmotivated. Travel agents found easy work, and people knew, or thought they knew, why you wanted to be one, which was appealing somehow. I hated being asked which aspect of the law most interested me. -I like planning, paperwork, what other people hate. I like reading maps, plotting routes, decoding train schedules. Gregory loves trains. I have taken him to Los Angeles and to Portland on Amtrak's Coast Starlight. Sometimes, on weekends, he begs to be taken to the Martinez station to watch the Zephyr wheeze to- a stop, disgorging passengers. Occasionally we go, but Tom does not enjoy the outing; he worries that I will transmit my distaste for flying to Gregory, the way a mind reader makes an audience member think of her-birthdate, or the color blue. "Didn't you go to law school with a Phil Deichler?" I ask, folding back rhe covers, sliding beneath them. "Don't remember," Tom says. He removes his watch and, oddly, as he does every night, his wedding band. "I think this soccer thing is going to be great." "Don't you think five is a little young?" The sheets are already heating up. "For something so organized?" "It's just what Gregory needs," Tom says. "Exercise and running around and fresh air. Friends." "He has friends," I say. But mosdy they are girls, daughters of friends of mine, and to Tom, they don't count. "Being on a team. That feeling." The sheets rustle and pull taut as Tom setdes in beside me. "You know. Being part of a group." I nod, then lie back and stare at Tom's outfit over the closet door. I stare hard enough, and it begins to look as though the clothes cover a 21


Berkeley Fiction Review real body, a man alone, behind the punchbowl at a dance, maybe. "I'd do all the calling, if you'd do the rest of it," I say, because I know that that's the part he'd hate the most. Without looking up from his book, Tom says, "He's probably gotten somebody else by now." "I don't want to play soccer," Gregory says a week later. He is nestled close, listening as I read from "Dr. Doolitties Garden." His hair smells inexplicably of pineapples. I lean forward and touch my lips to the top of his head. "Dad likes soccer," Gregory says. I want to tell him that he might enjoy it; that running and kicking are fun, really; that the other boys will probably be nice enough, but I wonder if Tom would like me saying these things, and stop myself. I am always doing this: trying to hear myself as if I were someone else, someone outside my own head, not knowing what I really meant, only what I said. Its one of my problems, I've decided: using words that somehow miss their mark, that don't convey what I've intended. "I love you," I finally do say, because it is all I can come up with that is true and inoffensive. I say it often; it is always my answer. The room is black around us. We sit yellowed in the spill of lamp light. Crickets, or maybe frogs, fill the darkness with their low, liquid butblings. "I wish it was the Butterflies," Gregory says. Phil Deichler is fortyish and good-looking, the kind of man who is so used to the fact of his own attractiveness that he doesn't notice his paunch. He wears a bright green baseball cap with the brim facing forward, and this makes him seem curiously old-fashioned and bluecollar: someone who might be traditional and a bit strict. I worry for Gregory. "Hey, Greg, howya doin'?" Phil says, laying his left hand on Gregory's shoulder, as though to steady him, before extending his right. There are suddenly a million things I wish Gregory knew: how to make eye contact, the way to smile so as to convince someone that you have heard him, that 'Greg' is short for Gregory. How do we learn everything we need to know to get along? The world seems a daunting and 22

Team Sports horrifying place. I can't imagine what Gregory and I have been doing for the last five years. All those tuna sandwiches without crusts, those enthusiastic renditions of the ABC s seem poindess and pathetic, things I have done to amuse myself, at Gregory's expense. "I'm Lana Bettencourt, Gregorys mom," I say, hoping, foolishly, to impress Phil Deichler with my command of the social graces, thereby in some way camouflaging Gregory's awkwardness. "Related to Tom Bettencourt?" "He's my husband." Pause. "Gregorys dad." "He was the class ahead of me at Hastings," Phil says. "What's he doing now?" "He's practicing downtown. For about six years," I say. "His own shop?" I nod. "How about you?" "Third-year associate at Davidge, Baylor & Simovitch. Real estate division." I nod again. I am aware of Gregory standing to my left, watching as some of the other boys kick a soccer ball, then run after it, yelling. I want to tell him that this isn't really soccer, and that these boys aren't any more skilled or knowledgeable than he—that this is just boys fooling around, what we see at the park. "Opening your own shop takes guts," Phil is saying. I smile self-deprecatingly,' as though Phil has complimented me. "Oh, I don't know about guts," I say, turning itjnto a joke, and it works: Phil laughs and stands straighter, as if he is stretching after sitting for too long. "I never had the stomach for going out on my own," he says. "Mommy." Gregory pulls on my sleeve, and I wish for more: that he knew not to whisper in front of someone else, that he called me 'Mom.' "I don't want to play soccer." "I like the corporate life," Phil is saying. "But I sure do admire the guys who leave it all behind." The field deceives me: its unnatural green seems to promise coolness, a breeze. Everywhere, children run and shout, and the effect is one of longstanding familiarity,' as if they have known each other a while. I know this isn't so from our interludes in the park; it is simply kids' way. Still, it is something I can't get used to: their instantaneous, free-floating 23


Berkeley Fiction Review real body, a man alone, behind the punchbowl at a dance, maybe. "I'd do all the calling, if you'd do the rest of it," I say, because I know that that's the part he'd hate the most. Without looking up from his book, Tom says, "He's probably gotten somebody else by now." "I don't want to play soccer," Gregory says a week later. He is nestled close, listening as I read from "Dr. Doolitties Garden." His hair smells inexplicably of pineapples. I lean forward and touch my lips to the top of his head. "Dad likes soccer," Gregory says. I want to tell him that he might enjoy it; that running and kicking are fun, really; that the other boys will probably be nice enough, but I wonder if Tom would like me saying these things, and stop myself. I am always doing this: trying to hear myself as if I were someone else, someone outside my own head, not knowing what I really meant, only what I said. Its one of my problems, I've decided: using words that somehow miss their mark, that don't convey what I've intended. "I love you," I finally do say, because it is all I can come up with that is true and inoffensive. I say it often; it is always my answer. The room is black around us. We sit yellowed in the spill of lamp light. Crickets, or maybe frogs, fill the darkness with their low, liquid butblings. "I wish it was the Butterflies," Gregory says. Phil Deichler is fortyish and good-looking, the kind of man who is so used to the fact of his own attractiveness that he doesn't notice his paunch. He wears a bright green baseball cap with the brim facing forward, and this makes him seem curiously old-fashioned and bluecollar: someone who might be traditional and a bit strict. I worry for Gregory. "Hey, Greg, howya doin'?" Phil says, laying his left hand on Gregory's shoulder, as though to steady him, before extending his right. There are suddenly a million things I wish Gregory knew: how to make eye contact, the way to smile so as to convince someone that you have heard him, that 'Greg' is short for Gregory. How do we learn everything we need to know to get along? The world seems a daunting and 22

Team Sports horrifying place. I can't imagine what Gregory and I have been doing for the last five years. All those tuna sandwiches without crusts, those enthusiastic renditions of the ABC s seem poindess and pathetic, things I have done to amuse myself, at Gregory's expense. "I'm Lana Bettencourt, Gregorys mom," I say, hoping, foolishly, to impress Phil Deichler with my command of the social graces, thereby in some way camouflaging Gregory's awkwardness. "Related to Tom Bettencourt?" "He's my husband." Pause. "Gregorys dad." "He was the class ahead of me at Hastings," Phil says. "What's he doing now?" "He's practicing downtown. For about six years," I say. "His own shop?" I nod. "How about you?" "Third-year associate at Davidge, Baylor & Simovitch. Real estate division." I nod again. I am aware of Gregory standing to my left, watching as some of the other boys kick a soccer ball, then run after it, yelling. I want to tell him that this isn't really soccer, and that these boys aren't any more skilled or knowledgeable than he—that this is just boys fooling around, what we see at the park. "Opening your own shop takes guts," Phil is saying. I smile self-deprecatingly,' as though Phil has complimented me. "Oh, I don't know about guts," I say, turning itjnto a joke, and it works: Phil laughs and stands straighter, as if he is stretching after sitting for too long. "I never had the stomach for going out on my own," he says. "Mommy." Gregory pulls on my sleeve, and I wish for more: that he knew not to whisper in front of someone else, that he called me 'Mom.' "I don't want to play soccer." "I like the corporate life," Phil is saying. "But I sure do admire the guys who leave it all behind." The field deceives me: its unnatural green seems to promise coolness, a breeze. Everywhere, children run and shout, and the effect is one of longstanding familiarity,' as if they have known each other a while. I know this isn't so from our interludes in the park; it is simply kids' way. Still, it is something I can't get used to: their instantaneous, free-floating 23


r Berkeley Fiction Review camaraderie leaves me out, is a language I can't master. It is probably ninety degrees, even at five o'clock. In the distance, the brown hills are swimmy and indistinct. Pillowy oaks rise like smoke, their leaves spiky and dry as paper. "I think Tom and I took some con law seminar together," Phil says. "Sharp guy." He looks over my right shoulder as he says this, distancing himself, afraid of seeming over-admiring, feminine. "Mommy!" Gregory whines. When I look down, he whispers, "I want to go home." I smile at Phil as my fingers rake through Gregory's damp hair. "He's never done this before," I say. Apologizing. Phil's features realign themselves; he bends down low. It is amazing, I think, how we alter ourselves to talk to children. It is as if we try to refashion our physical selves, our chemistry, even, to make ourselves softer, shorter, less scary to look'at. Do we do this-with other adults? I am not conscious of it in myself. I think of Tom and how he talks to me. He does not affect surfer lingo to disguise his true intentions. His agenda. That would be his word. "Hey, Greg," Phil says. Still bent over, his hand firmly on Gregory's back, he begins to steer him away from me, toward the scampering children. "I want you to meet the other guys. You like kickin' balls?" I watch the back of Gregory's head; he is nodding tentatively. "Well, that's what we're gonna do, buddy. Kick some balls!" Without looking back at me, Phil calls out, "Tell Tom to come on down sometime. I could.use a hand!" His tone is victorious: he has conquered Gregory's demons. It is the tone of a winner. It is September. Now I am always sad in September. Tom knows. He doesn't ask me questions. I think he thinks of himself as longsuffering, tolerant of his moody wife and her unreasonable sadness. I busy myself with Gregory, who is entering kindergarten. I buy him clothes and shoes and a bright blue backpack and a yellow pencil box overflowing with unsharpened pencils. All the purchases make me smile, remembering how it felt to be starting school: everything brandnew, unused. A fresh start. That's what September used to -be. Mrs. Hightower, Gregory's teacher, is blandly understanding. She has been through this coundess times.before: shy boys, their worried 24

Team Sports mothers, the first anxious days of school. She answers all my questions with a grandmotherly "He'll be fine," and there is a cultivated weariness in her voice which she seems to think I will take comfort in; an "if I'm not worried why should you be?" undercurrent to everything she says. I am only partially soothed by this. I don't know if she really understands what I want to know, if she sees what I see: Gregory alone in one corner of the sandbox, digging desultorily, pretending not to notice the gang of boys arguing over whose turn it is to ride the tricycles. I see this from my car, parked across the street from the playground. I feel like a lurker, a pervert. I tell this to the women at work, and they laugh in a conspiratorial, women-united kind of way, but I doubt that any of them has done the same thing. You can just tell. They are the mothers of Barbie-dressing, cartwheel-turning girls, or of rowdy, rambunctious boys. Like the boys in the park. I am the only one with such an unusual son. The second week of school I say, "Do you want to wear your soccer shirt today?" When Gregory looks at me blankly, I add, "Lots of the boys wear their uniforms." Gregory shakes his head no. Tom swallows the last of his coffee and sets the cup in the sink. "Yeah, cool, orange's your color, man," he says. "I like yellow," Gregory says. Tom makes for the half-bath, heading for one final appraisal in the full-length mirror. Gregory stares out the window, whispering the word "yellow." He is trying to whisper as quiedy as possible, testing his own voice, gauging just what is barely audible. Tom comes back and says, "Wear your uniform, Gregory. The other guys'll ask you what team you're on." There is no trace of surfer in his voice. "Why?" Gregory asks. "I don't want to." "It'll give you something to talk to the other boys about." "I hate boys." I know this isn't true, that Gregory is only speaking in defiance and aimless, five-year-old anger. I have seen him at the park, and it is clear to me that he doesn't hate boys; if anything, he is in awe of them: intimidated by their casual, sloppy courage, admiring of their antics. He wishes he were like them. He doesn't hate them. 25


r Berkeley Fiction Review camaraderie leaves me out, is a language I can't master. It is probably ninety degrees, even at five o'clock. In the distance, the brown hills are swimmy and indistinct. Pillowy oaks rise like smoke, their leaves spiky and dry as paper. "I think Tom and I took some con law seminar together," Phil says. "Sharp guy." He looks over my right shoulder as he says this, distancing himself, afraid of seeming over-admiring, feminine. "Mommy!" Gregory whines. When I look down, he whispers, "I want to go home." I smile at Phil as my fingers rake through Gregory's damp hair. "He's never done this before," I say. Apologizing. Phil's features realign themselves; he bends down low. It is amazing, I think, how we alter ourselves to talk to children. It is as if we try to refashion our physical selves, our chemistry, even, to make ourselves softer, shorter, less scary to look'at. Do we do this-with other adults? I am not conscious of it in myself. I think of Tom and how he talks to me. He does not affect surfer lingo to disguise his true intentions. His agenda. That would be his word. "Hey, Greg," Phil says. Still bent over, his hand firmly on Gregory's back, he begins to steer him away from me, toward the scampering children. "I want you to meet the other guys. You like kickin' balls?" I watch the back of Gregory's head; he is nodding tentatively. "Well, that's what we're gonna do, buddy. Kick some balls!" Without looking back at me, Phil calls out, "Tell Tom to come on down sometime. I could.use a hand!" His tone is victorious: he has conquered Gregory's demons. It is the tone of a winner. It is September. Now I am always sad in September. Tom knows. He doesn't ask me questions. I think he thinks of himself as longsuffering, tolerant of his moody wife and her unreasonable sadness. I busy myself with Gregory, who is entering kindergarten. I buy him clothes and shoes and a bright blue backpack and a yellow pencil box overflowing with unsharpened pencils. All the purchases make me smile, remembering how it felt to be starting school: everything brandnew, unused. A fresh start. That's what September used to -be. Mrs. Hightower, Gregory's teacher, is blandly understanding. She has been through this coundess times.before: shy boys, their worried 24

Team Sports mothers, the first anxious days of school. She answers all my questions with a grandmotherly "He'll be fine," and there is a cultivated weariness in her voice which she seems to think I will take comfort in; an "if I'm not worried why should you be?" undercurrent to everything she says. I am only partially soothed by this. I don't know if she really understands what I want to know, if she sees what I see: Gregory alone in one corner of the sandbox, digging desultorily, pretending not to notice the gang of boys arguing over whose turn it is to ride the tricycles. I see this from my car, parked across the street from the playground. I feel like a lurker, a pervert. I tell this to the women at work, and they laugh in a conspiratorial, women-united kind of way, but I doubt that any of them has done the same thing. You can just tell. They are the mothers of Barbie-dressing, cartwheel-turning girls, or of rowdy, rambunctious boys. Like the boys in the park. I am the only one with such an unusual son. The second week of school I say, "Do you want to wear your soccer shirt today?" When Gregory looks at me blankly, I add, "Lots of the boys wear their uniforms." Gregory shakes his head no. Tom swallows the last of his coffee and sets the cup in the sink. "Yeah, cool, orange's your color, man," he says. "I like yellow," Gregory says. Tom makes for the half-bath, heading for one final appraisal in the full-length mirror. Gregory stares out the window, whispering the word "yellow." He is trying to whisper as quiedy as possible, testing his own voice, gauging just what is barely audible. Tom comes back and says, "Wear your uniform, Gregory. The other guys'll ask you what team you're on." There is no trace of surfer in his voice. "Why?" Gregory asks. "I don't want to." "It'll give you something to talk to the other boys about." "I hate boys." I know this isn't true, that Gregory is only speaking in defiance and aimless, five-year-old anger. I have seen him at the park, and it is clear to me that he doesn't hate boys; if anything, he is in awe of them: intimidated by their casual, sloppy courage, admiring of their antics. He wishes he were like them. He doesn't hate them. 25


Berkeley Fiction Review But he has said it, nonetheless. You can't take back what's been said. And it occurs to me that Gregory has been doing more in the last, five years than memorizing nursery rhymes and negotiating bedtime. In his silent, watchful way, he has been paying attention. "You don't hate boys," Tom says. I arrange to get together after work with Anita, a fellow travel agent, and her daughter, Lauren. Lauren is seven: a small, bespectacled blonde with bony wrists and long, splayed feet. She brings her own toys to our house: well-worn Barbies with raggedly cut hair and mysterious puncture wounds down their backs, walkie-talkies, a portable tape player and a copy of the Macarena Christmas. Gregory likes Lauren. He makes a grab for the walkie-talkies, gives one to Lauren and sends her to the backyard. He turns on his receiver; there is nothing but static. "Hello? Hello?" he calls, positioning his mouth close to the speaker. Anita laughs, watching him. She is eight months pregnant, and it is difficult for her to get comfortable. Her stomach is everything about her, the only thing I see no matter where I look. I imagine it, a dark, veiny ball beneath her shirt, bubbling with the outlines of fists and feet, straining against the waistband of her white jeans. "Look at that," she says, pointing toward Gregory. "He doesn't care if he hears her or not." "He likes machines," I say. "He's a guy, isn't he?" Anita asks. Everything delights her these days. She is carrying another girl. "It's the wires, I think. How everything works." I want to explain it to her, because what Gregory likes about machines isn't what Anita is implying: that they are nonhuman, clearcut, easily dissectible. It is the complexity of technology that appeals to him: its static, incontrovertible perfection. I am tired of Anitas laughing knowingness. I am always looking for ways to disprove her, show her that she's wrong. "Andy bought a beeper last week. He says it's so I'll be able to reach him when .the baby comes, but I know he just wants to pull the thing apart," Anita says. "Did I tell you he set up the crib?" Momentarily I cannot speak; my face, the tips of my fingers ache. She doesn't know, it's not her fault, I think, scaring-myself: was I just 26

Team Sports thinking, or did I scream these things? Another thing I'm always doing: confusing what I've thought with what I've actually said. I vow to pay more attention. Listen, really listen. "It's pine, with heart-shaped cut-outs, and I'm going to use the bunting Lauren had," Anita is saying. Then, suddenly, it is gone, this wave, and I am able to ask quite comfortably about matching curtains, sonograms, Lamaze the second time around. It occurs to me that things might have been different. I could have loaned her our crib—newly outgrown, it would have been— and spared Andy a weekend's worth of effort; in a year, our youngest children (hers just walking; m i n e off to preschool) might have entertained each other. It is just a fleeting thought, and I banish it by shaking my head, offering to refill Anita's iced tea. She is watching Gregory over the rim of her glass. "Boys are hard. All that fighting and yelling and running around. I would have liked a boy," she says. "I always wanted a boy," I say. It was inexplicable, chemical. Maybe evolutionarily dictated, somehow: it felt that strong. "Girls are easy, though," Anita says, setting her tea down on the table between us. She adjusts herself on the couch, not able to find the right position, but to me it looks as though she is stretching languorously, enjoying her size and its impositions. This is Anitas last pregnancy: Andy has scheduled a vasectomy two weeks after her due date. "Some boys are easy," I say, appalled at my smugness. At practice I sit on a corner of low fencing that borders a juniper hedge. There is no shade or breeze. My skin is always damp now; dampness itself is like a new skin, a slick casing around my bones. I watch the boys follow the ball. They swarm behind it like flies. Occasionally one or another makes contact with his shoe, and the ball skitters further out in front. Most of the boys are smaller than Gregory, with bowl-cut blonde hair and serious, unsmiling.faces. Still I would guess that they are having fun. Gregory, the only redhead, tags behind them, barely running, his cheeks pink with exertion. I know he is hating this. "Coach Phil?" one of the boys calls. He slows his pace, rests both 27


Berkeley Fiction Review But he has said it, nonetheless. You can't take back what's been said. And it occurs to me that Gregory has been doing more in the last, five years than memorizing nursery rhymes and negotiating bedtime. In his silent, watchful way, he has been paying attention. "You don't hate boys," Tom says. I arrange to get together after work with Anita, a fellow travel agent, and her daughter, Lauren. Lauren is seven: a small, bespectacled blonde with bony wrists and long, splayed feet. She brings her own toys to our house: well-worn Barbies with raggedly cut hair and mysterious puncture wounds down their backs, walkie-talkies, a portable tape player and a copy of the Macarena Christmas. Gregory likes Lauren. He makes a grab for the walkie-talkies, gives one to Lauren and sends her to the backyard. He turns on his receiver; there is nothing but static. "Hello? Hello?" he calls, positioning his mouth close to the speaker. Anita laughs, watching him. She is eight months pregnant, and it is difficult for her to get comfortable. Her stomach is everything about her, the only thing I see no matter where I look. I imagine it, a dark, veiny ball beneath her shirt, bubbling with the outlines of fists and feet, straining against the waistband of her white jeans. "Look at that," she says, pointing toward Gregory. "He doesn't care if he hears her or not." "He likes machines," I say. "He's a guy, isn't he?" Anita asks. Everything delights her these days. She is carrying another girl. "It's the wires, I think. How everything works." I want to explain it to her, because what Gregory likes about machines isn't what Anita is implying: that they are nonhuman, clearcut, easily dissectible. It is the complexity of technology that appeals to him: its static, incontrovertible perfection. I am tired of Anitas laughing knowingness. I am always looking for ways to disprove her, show her that she's wrong. "Andy bought a beeper last week. He says it's so I'll be able to reach him when .the baby comes, but I know he just wants to pull the thing apart," Anita says. "Did I tell you he set up the crib?" Momentarily I cannot speak; my face, the tips of my fingers ache. She doesn't know, it's not her fault, I think, scaring-myself: was I just 26

Team Sports thinking, or did I scream these things? Another thing I'm always doing: confusing what I've thought with what I've actually said. I vow to pay more attention. Listen, really listen. "It's pine, with heart-shaped cut-outs, and I'm going to use the bunting Lauren had," Anita is saying. Then, suddenly, it is gone, this wave, and I am able to ask quite comfortably about matching curtains, sonograms, Lamaze the second time around. It occurs to me that things might have been different. I could have loaned her our crib—newly outgrown, it would have been— and spared Andy a weekend's worth of effort; in a year, our youngest children (hers just walking; m i n e off to preschool) might have entertained each other. It is just a fleeting thought, and I banish it by shaking my head, offering to refill Anita's iced tea. She is watching Gregory over the rim of her glass. "Boys are hard. All that fighting and yelling and running around. I would have liked a boy," she says. "I always wanted a boy," I say. It was inexplicable, chemical. Maybe evolutionarily dictated, somehow: it felt that strong. "Girls are easy, though," Anita says, setting her tea down on the table between us. She adjusts herself on the couch, not able to find the right position, but to me it looks as though she is stretching languorously, enjoying her size and its impositions. This is Anitas last pregnancy: Andy has scheduled a vasectomy two weeks after her due date. "Some boys are easy," I say, appalled at my smugness. At practice I sit on a corner of low fencing that borders a juniper hedge. There is no shade or breeze. My skin is always damp now; dampness itself is like a new skin, a slick casing around my bones. I watch the boys follow the ball. They swarm behind it like flies. Occasionally one or another makes contact with his shoe, and the ball skitters further out in front. Most of the boys are smaller than Gregory, with bowl-cut blonde hair and serious, unsmiling.faces. Still I would guess that they are having fun. Gregory, the only redhead, tags behind them, barely running, his cheeks pink with exertion. I know he is hating this. "Coach Phil?" one of the boys calls. He slows his pace, rests both 27


Berkeley Fiction Review

Team Sports

hands on his compact waist. "Water break?" "Yeah, sure," Phil says, and the boys, re-exhilarated, race to their water botdes at the opposite goalpost. Gregory stands, uncertain, in the middle of the field. Finally, he plunks down where he is. He twiddles a blade of grass in his fingers, his head lolling sideways on one shoulder, too heavy for his neck. "Gregory!" I call out. "Aren't you thirsty?" He shakes his head without looking at me. Can't you get dehydrated if you don't drink enough? I am angry, and almost dazed with the unexpectedness of it. I can't remember ever feeling angry with Gregory. But it just seems as if there is a whole host of new worries: dehydration, slights delivered by the other boys, parents' insensitive comments. The least he could do is take a few fucking sips. "Honey!" He sprawls back in the grass, defeated and strangely melodramatic. I glance around. Two mothers—friends, apparently—are chatting intendy, barely watching the actionon the field. Their inattention marks them as mothers of hellions, roughnecks, the chronic misbehavors. The mothers who don't pay attention. Who don't see, conveniendy, just what happened. Boys will be boys, they say, shrugging. Whatever the fuck that means. Coach Phil? Water break? It is as impossible to imagine Gregory saying these words as it is to picture him driving, or buying flowers for a woman. He cups my butt in his hand and it—my butt—feels small and solid in the dark. Like it belongs to someone else. I love mat about sex, that I feel transformed into another person. I know how that sounds. But I don't mean it in a self-hating way. I mean, it might be another person I don't like nearly as much as myself. One who has a smaller butt, is all. Only, it isn't me with a smaller butt. It's definitely someone else. I tumble off him, run my hand over the nubs and ripples of his chest. He's kept himself in shape. He looks good for almost forty. How has he managed that, sitting at a desk all day, jogging lazily around the block a few times when the impulse seizes him? "Nice," I say. We lie in silence: this, too, is jour habit, part of our choreography.

*'

He breathes slowly in and out, and his chest rises and falls beneath my cheek. His skin is cool, like the swirly pink insides of a shell. Night house sounds—the furnace flicking off, floorboards creaking, tree limbs scraping at the gutter—surround us. He sighs. "What'd you do today?" "Booked a trip to Antarctica." "Who'd go there?" "Someone who's been everywhere else," I answer. "What's down there?" He yawns. "Penguins? Military bases?" "It's no Club Med." "Snow," Tom says. I can tell he likes the sound, the thought of it. Vistas of white undulating into white. "You'd have to be pretty adventurous," I say. Then regret it: my risk aversion is a bone of contention; it can set him off. But he is silent. Thinking, probably. All that snow and solitude. "You know," I say, easing into-it, "Gregory didn't like practice all that much." Beneath my cheek, a subtle stiffening. "He said he did." "He said it was okay." "Well!" "I'm just saying," I say. "You weren't there. You didn't see. He wasn't having any fun." "Give it a little time." Then, less gently: "Not everything is supposed to be fun," "He's only five." "So is everybody else on the team. And anyway. Last year it was, 'He's only four'. Soon it'll be, 'He's only ten." "I just mean—" "When is he going to be old enough to do something that isn't fun? When will that be okay with you?" The sheets rustle and I move off of him and settle on my side of the bed. Above me, an infinite vault, a cone of night. "I don't want to fight," I whisper. "I'm not fighting. You're the one who's arguing." Im— 29


Berkeley Fiction Review

Team Sports

hands on his compact waist. "Water break?" "Yeah, sure," Phil says, and the boys, re-exhilarated, race to their water botdes at the opposite goalpost. Gregory stands, uncertain, in the middle of the field. Finally, he plunks down where he is. He twiddles a blade of grass in his fingers, his head lolling sideways on one shoulder, too heavy for his neck. "Gregory!" I call out. "Aren't you thirsty?" He shakes his head without looking at me. Can't you get dehydrated if you don't drink enough? I am angry, and almost dazed with the unexpectedness of it. I can't remember ever feeling angry with Gregory. But it just seems as if there is a whole host of new worries: dehydration, slights delivered by the other boys, parents' insensitive comments. The least he could do is take a few fucking sips. "Honey!" He sprawls back in the grass, defeated and strangely melodramatic. I glance around. Two mothers—friends, apparently—are chatting intendy, barely watching the actionon the field. Their inattention marks them as mothers of hellions, roughnecks, the chronic misbehavors. The mothers who don't pay attention. Who don't see, conveniendy, just what happened. Boys will be boys, they say, shrugging. Whatever the fuck that means. Coach Phil? Water break? It is as impossible to imagine Gregory saying these words as it is to picture him driving, or buying flowers for a woman. He cups my butt in his hand and it—my butt—feels small and solid in the dark. Like it belongs to someone else. I love mat about sex, that I feel transformed into another person. I know how that sounds. But I don't mean it in a self-hating way. I mean, it might be another person I don't like nearly as much as myself. One who has a smaller butt, is all. Only, it isn't me with a smaller butt. It's definitely someone else. I tumble off him, run my hand over the nubs and ripples of his chest. He's kept himself in shape. He looks good for almost forty. How has he managed that, sitting at a desk all day, jogging lazily around the block a few times when the impulse seizes him? "Nice," I say. We lie in silence: this, too, is jour habit, part of our choreography.

*'

He breathes slowly in and out, and his chest rises and falls beneath my cheek. His skin is cool, like the swirly pink insides of a shell. Night house sounds—the furnace flicking off, floorboards creaking, tree limbs scraping at the gutter—surround us. He sighs. "What'd you do today?" "Booked a trip to Antarctica." "Who'd go there?" "Someone who's been everywhere else," I answer. "What's down there?" He yawns. "Penguins? Military bases?" "It's no Club Med." "Snow," Tom says. I can tell he likes the sound, the thought of it. Vistas of white undulating into white. "You'd have to be pretty adventurous," I say. Then regret it: my risk aversion is a bone of contention; it can set him off. But he is silent. Thinking, probably. All that snow and solitude. "You know," I say, easing into-it, "Gregory didn't like practice all that much." Beneath my cheek, a subtle stiffening. "He said he did." "He said it was okay." "Well!" "I'm just saying," I say. "You weren't there. You didn't see. He wasn't having any fun." "Give it a little time." Then, less gently: "Not everything is supposed to be fun," "He's only five." "So is everybody else on the team. And anyway. Last year it was, 'He's only four'. Soon it'll be, 'He's only ten." "I just mean—" "When is he going to be old enough to do something that isn't fun? When will that be okay with you?" The sheets rustle and I move off of him and settle on my side of the bed. Above me, an infinite vault, a cone of night. "I don't want to fight," I whisper. "I'm not fighting. You're the one who's arguing." Im— 29


Berkeley Fiction Review "Soccer is important. Team sports are important." You learn to cooperate. You learn to get along. To play by someone else's rules. You learn to value the end result rather your part in achieving it. That winning isn't everything. "Since when is everything supposed to be fun?" Tom says. At work, in between calls, I plot routes to South Dakota. Tom has always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. The idea of a car trip, sometime next summer, is pleasantiy diverting: I love turquoise pool slides, reststop fried chicken, cheap-motel air conditioners and shag carpeting. The hot smell of summer farmland rushing through the open windows. Studying maps. Paul Harvey. South Dakota. I've never been there. The town names make me think of farm wives in aprons, Grange Halls, silos. Sunnybrook. Manchester. Loomis. Dixon. Epiphany, outside of Sioux Falls. Unityville. Reliance. Ideal. I am fascinated with small towns and life as I imagine it is lived in them. You know everyone. That's the main thing. You pass people on the sidewalk outside the bank, and it becomes a decision, with social consequences, whether to say hello and keep moving, or to stop and make idle conversation. You could say nothing, I guess; just keep walking. It doesn't seem like much of an option, though. You'd get a reputation. People would say you were unneighborly. Buffalo. Prairie City. I try to imagine us living in a small town. Tom could be a farmer. It fits; he has a squinty, rugged something about the eyes. Or a banker, maybe; someone the farmers make appointments to see; the only man in the coffee shop wearing a suit. I don't see him being at the mercy of the weather. Gregory would like the sameness of a small town. He likes routine and familiarity: it makes h i m seem wise and old-spirited. "We have errands today," I'd say when he was two or three, and he'd ask, "What order in, Mommy?" Grocery store, bank, dry cleaners: he liked knowing ahead of time. Even now, he eats peas before potatoes; brushes his teeth before putting on his pjs. He's very methodical. Tom worries that its a problem. Glad Valley. Winner. 30

Team Sports I cannot see myself in a small town. Try as I might. Travel agents can't make a living in small towns. And I would need more than one child. Small-town moms have lots of kids. I know this as certainly as though I've read it in a book, or visited and seen for myself. Today, Tom is taking Gregory to practice. He comes home early from work to do it. Gregory is resdess after lunch. "When's Daddy coming?" he asks over and over. He takes his Bug Hotel down from the family room shelves. It is a yellow plastic box with a blue handle and clear plastic windows at either end. He unhinges one window and fills the box with Legos. "Go outside. Find some bugs. This is for bugs," I say. "We don't have any good bugs," Gregory says. He continues to stuff Lego blocks into the box. He is trying to see how many it will hold. I am sure that he will break the box by overfilling it. It seems a pointless, destructive exercise, and I wish he would stop. "Maybe the bugs are hot. Maybe they'd like to stay in a hotel full of cool grass and leaves," I say. Gregory shakes his head without looking at me. "Its not so hot for bugs," he says. When Tom arrives, he is sweaty and short-tempered. He has pulled his tie loose and there are dark crescents of sweat showing through under the sleeves of his shirt. "Just let me change," he says, holding up a hand to silence us, even though neither of us has spoken. "I don't want to go," Gregory says. I follow Tom into the bedroom. "He's been waiting for you since I picked him up from school. It's not you," I say. The bedroom has the hushed, made-up look of afternoon. Tom being here in the middle of the day is like a sock lying on rhe rug. I think about running the vacuum once he's left. "It's just too hot," I say. "For Chrissakes!">he says, grabbing at his tie and flinging it on the bed. I stand with my arms crossed as he pulls off his clothes and rummages around for a te&shirt and shorts. I feel critical and unpleasandy maternal. 31


Berkeley Fiction Review "Soccer is important. Team sports are important." You learn to cooperate. You learn to get along. To play by someone else's rules. You learn to value the end result rather your part in achieving it. That winning isn't everything. "Since when is everything supposed to be fun?" Tom says. At work, in between calls, I plot routes to South Dakota. Tom has always wanted to see Mount Rushmore. The idea of a car trip, sometime next summer, is pleasantiy diverting: I love turquoise pool slides, reststop fried chicken, cheap-motel air conditioners and shag carpeting. The hot smell of summer farmland rushing through the open windows. Studying maps. Paul Harvey. South Dakota. I've never been there. The town names make me think of farm wives in aprons, Grange Halls, silos. Sunnybrook. Manchester. Loomis. Dixon. Epiphany, outside of Sioux Falls. Unityville. Reliance. Ideal. I am fascinated with small towns and life as I imagine it is lived in them. You know everyone. That's the main thing. You pass people on the sidewalk outside the bank, and it becomes a decision, with social consequences, whether to say hello and keep moving, or to stop and make idle conversation. You could say nothing, I guess; just keep walking. It doesn't seem like much of an option, though. You'd get a reputation. People would say you were unneighborly. Buffalo. Prairie City. I try to imagine us living in a small town. Tom could be a farmer. It fits; he has a squinty, rugged something about the eyes. Or a banker, maybe; someone the farmers make appointments to see; the only man in the coffee shop wearing a suit. I don't see him being at the mercy of the weather. Gregory would like the sameness of a small town. He likes routine and familiarity: it makes h i m seem wise and old-spirited. "We have errands today," I'd say when he was two or three, and he'd ask, "What order in, Mommy?" Grocery store, bank, dry cleaners: he liked knowing ahead of time. Even now, he eats peas before potatoes; brushes his teeth before putting on his pjs. He's very methodical. Tom worries that its a problem. Glad Valley. Winner. 30

Team Sports I cannot see myself in a small town. Try as I might. Travel agents can't make a living in small towns. And I would need more than one child. Small-town moms have lots of kids. I know this as certainly as though I've read it in a book, or visited and seen for myself. Today, Tom is taking Gregory to practice. He comes home early from work to do it. Gregory is resdess after lunch. "When's Daddy coming?" he asks over and over. He takes his Bug Hotel down from the family room shelves. It is a yellow plastic box with a blue handle and clear plastic windows at either end. He unhinges one window and fills the box with Legos. "Go outside. Find some bugs. This is for bugs," I say. "We don't have any good bugs," Gregory says. He continues to stuff Lego blocks into the box. He is trying to see how many it will hold. I am sure that he will break the box by overfilling it. It seems a pointless, destructive exercise, and I wish he would stop. "Maybe the bugs are hot. Maybe they'd like to stay in a hotel full of cool grass and leaves," I say. Gregory shakes his head without looking at me. "Its not so hot for bugs," he says. When Tom arrives, he is sweaty and short-tempered. He has pulled his tie loose and there are dark crescents of sweat showing through under the sleeves of his shirt. "Just let me change," he says, holding up a hand to silence us, even though neither of us has spoken. "I don't want to go," Gregory says. I follow Tom into the bedroom. "He's been waiting for you since I picked him up from school. It's not you," I say. The bedroom has the hushed, made-up look of afternoon. Tom being here in the middle of the day is like a sock lying on rhe rug. I think about running the vacuum once he's left. "It's just too hot," I say. "For Chrissakes!">he says, grabbing at his tie and flinging it on the bed. I stand with my arms crossed as he pulls off his clothes and rummages around for a te&shirt and shorts. I feel critical and unpleasandy maternal. 31


Berkeley Fiction Review Is this, then, what it's like to have two? Perhaps it was all for the best, then. Because this is shitty. Intolerable, really. "You know," he says, running a comb through his hair, "he has to go. The game's on Saturday. He can't just not show up. It wouldn't be fair to the others." He pauses and studies his reflection, then sets the comb down on the bureau. "Maybe if you were a little more enthusiastic, we wouldn't be having all this trouble in the first place." They leave and the rooms shudder a little, letting silence settle in. I wander through the house, picking things up. It is still a rare thing, being alone in my house. I am somewhat at a loss. The phone rings. It's Anita, calling from the hospital. She's been admitted. "It's too early!" I say. "Just a week," she says. Then she adds, "What's it feel like again? Really." "The worst pain you can imagine, only you feel like there's nothing wrong with you." We've been through this before. "Was it like litde twinges at the beginning?" "I don't know. I can't remember. It's different for everyone," I say. I am ashamed of myself. I want her to be afraid. I almost want for there to be something wrong. Not really. But almost. "Where's Lauren? Do you want me to pick her up?" "My mother's got her. God! How am I going to do this?" "Like every other woman. It isn't so bad," I say. Suddenly generous. "No, I mean, how am I going to take care of a baby and a sevenyear-old at the same time? The juggling? Jesus!" "It'll be fine," I say, frantic to get off. "It'll be fine," Tom said, holding out his arms. His shoulder smelled ironed-cotton clean. I was suddenly full of hope. "It isn't what we planned," I said. My wet cheeks sopping into his shirt. "It's okay," he whispered. "We'll take care of it." I pulled away. "What?" "I mean, we'll—" He paused. "There are clinics everywhere. At the 32

Team Sports mall, for Chrissakes." I said no. I know I said no. I must have, although I have no memory of saying it; only the overwhelming sense of no-ness around me, like steam, like a vapor. "I can't," I said. "I just can't." "Don't be ridiculous, Lana," Tom said. I had the strangest thought: that he would never hug me again. "Gregorys only two.-We always said one was enough," he was saying. Where was Gregory? Napping? Looking at books? Funny not even to be aware of where he was, to feel something so akin to absence. "I don't accept this," Tom said. I don't remember most of the rest of it. Tom is a mean, dirty fighter. He brings lawyerly distance and precision to the process. It isn't like fighting with a husband. It's like he's planned his whole line of attack in advance. It doesn't matter what you say; he doesn't even hear you. I could be screaming and he wouldn't hear. I'd rather he called me names. At least then, I'd know I was there and was making an impression. "If you'd been more careful, maybe none of this would've happened in the first place," he said. That I remember. "Well?" I ask. My smile like a too-small shoe. "I hate soccer." Gregory trudges into the hallway, hoisting his weight from hip to hip. "Gregory did great!" Tom says. "Gregory was super-cool." "Mommy! Can we have pizza?" "Mom," I say, surprised at myself. To Tom: "So what'd you think?" "I'm not crazy about that coach," Tom says. Gregory watches him from the couch. "Phil? What about him? You know you know him, right?" Tom looks unconvinced. "Phil Deichler. He was a year behind us at Hastings. He said he took some seminar with you." "Oh, Jesus. Oh, yeah. Well, that figures." Tom holds his wrist to his forehead, blotting at sweat. "What do you mean; 'That figures'?" I kneel before Gregory and begin to untie his shoes. 33


Berkeley Fiction Review Is this, then, what it's like to have two? Perhaps it was all for the best, then. Because this is shitty. Intolerable, really. "You know," he says, running a comb through his hair, "he has to go. The game's on Saturday. He can't just not show up. It wouldn't be fair to the others." He pauses and studies his reflection, then sets the comb down on the bureau. "Maybe if you were a little more enthusiastic, we wouldn't be having all this trouble in the first place." They leave and the rooms shudder a little, letting silence settle in. I wander through the house, picking things up. It is still a rare thing, being alone in my house. I am somewhat at a loss. The phone rings. It's Anita, calling from the hospital. She's been admitted. "It's too early!" I say. "Just a week," she says. Then she adds, "What's it feel like again? Really." "The worst pain you can imagine, only you feel like there's nothing wrong with you." We've been through this before. "Was it like litde twinges at the beginning?" "I don't know. I can't remember. It's different for everyone," I say. I am ashamed of myself. I want her to be afraid. I almost want for there to be something wrong. Not really. But almost. "Where's Lauren? Do you want me to pick her up?" "My mother's got her. God! How am I going to do this?" "Like every other woman. It isn't so bad," I say. Suddenly generous. "No, I mean, how am I going to take care of a baby and a sevenyear-old at the same time? The juggling? Jesus!" "It'll be fine," I say, frantic to get off. "It'll be fine," Tom said, holding out his arms. His shoulder smelled ironed-cotton clean. I was suddenly full of hope. "It isn't what we planned," I said. My wet cheeks sopping into his shirt. "It's okay," he whispered. "We'll take care of it." I pulled away. "What?" "I mean, we'll—" He paused. "There are clinics everywhere. At the 32

Team Sports mall, for Chrissakes." I said no. I know I said no. I must have, although I have no memory of saying it; only the overwhelming sense of no-ness around me, like steam, like a vapor. "I can't," I said. "I just can't." "Don't be ridiculous, Lana," Tom said. I had the strangest thought: that he would never hug me again. "Gregorys only two.-We always said one was enough," he was saying. Where was Gregory? Napping? Looking at books? Funny not even to be aware of where he was, to feel something so akin to absence. "I don't accept this," Tom said. I don't remember most of the rest of it. Tom is a mean, dirty fighter. He brings lawyerly distance and precision to the process. It isn't like fighting with a husband. It's like he's planned his whole line of attack in advance. It doesn't matter what you say; he doesn't even hear you. I could be screaming and he wouldn't hear. I'd rather he called me names. At least then, I'd know I was there and was making an impression. "If you'd been more careful, maybe none of this would've happened in the first place," he said. That I remember. "Well?" I ask. My smile like a too-small shoe. "I hate soccer." Gregory trudges into the hallway, hoisting his weight from hip to hip. "Gregory did great!" Tom says. "Gregory was super-cool." "Mommy! Can we have pizza?" "Mom," I say, surprised at myself. To Tom: "So what'd you think?" "I'm not crazy about that coach," Tom says. Gregory watches him from the couch. "Phil? What about him? You know you know him, right?" Tom looks unconvinced. "Phil Deichler. He was a year behind us at Hastings. He said he took some seminar with you." "Oh, Jesus. Oh, yeah. Well, that figures." Tom holds his wrist to his forehead, blotting at sweat. "What do you mean; 'That figures'?" I kneel before Gregory and begin to untie his shoes. 33


Berkeley Fiction Review "I don't know. His kid—" Tom pauses, sensing Gregory's complete attention. Trevor Deichler is small and low to the ground, like a bullet. He has an animal—an almost primal—sense of the game: how to direct the ball downfield, where to position himself so as to receive another player's rudimentary pass. "Good ball handling, Trev!" Coach Phil calls from the sidelines. It reminds me of what Anita toldrae' when I was pregnant and scouring baby books for names. Try each name in three sentences, she'd said. Can Litde Whosit come out and play? Nice work, Little Whoslt: I'm recommending you for a promotion. Oh, Litde Whosit, fuck me, fuck me! You want a name that works in all three sentences, Anita had cautioned. But in the end I'd picked Gregory without ever inserting it into Anita's sentences. Those sentences had frightened me, like statistics on teenage drinking: I'd blocked them out. Coach Phil, I had a feeling, had tried out "Good ball handling, Trev!" numerous times, and liked the sound of it. "His kid's a ball hog," Tom says. "What's a ball hog?" Gregory asks. "Gregory didn't get to make all that much contact with the ball," Tom says. "This Phil character's got him playing a lot of defense." "What's defense?" Gregory asks. I hang up the phone. "What?" Tom asks. "Anita," I say. "Margaret Elaine. Six pounds, three ounces." Tom turns back to the kitchen table, where he's spread the bills. But in a couple of minutes, I can tell he's watching as I sort through knives and forks. I think that my face is expressionless, but finally he says, "It was three fucking years ago, for God's sake!" before he tears off a check. And I think, that's another thing. My face. I really have no idea'what it looks like, what other people see'when they look, at me. Saturday is end-of-summer hot: parents at the periphery of the field hold mini-fans, battery-operated, close to their faces and visor their eyes with their hands. A couple of grandparents have brought folding beach chairs and parasols and cups of iced coffee. Veterans: they've 34

Team Sports done this before. Tom and I stand near enough Coach Phil to hear him issuing instructions at the beginning of each quarter. "Stay on the ball, Jason," he says, and the bright-eyed angel nods and jogs onto the field, wordlessly obedient. Happy to be assigned a job, touchingly sure of his ability to perform it. Running past Trevor Deichler, he holds a hand aloft; Trevor—flawlessly, effordessly—high-fives him. A careless, breezy ballet enacted without a word. Boys will be boys. Gregory sits out the first quarter and part of the second. Tom begins to pace. "How come he's sitting out like that?" he whispers, passing me. "Relax," I say. Gregory is pulling grass out of the field and stuffing it into his socks. "I don't like the way he's not playing him," Tom says. At last Phil taps. Gregory on the shoulder. "You're up, Greg," he says. "Come on." Gregory stands. He shakes each leg like a wet dog, marveling, I know, at the tickle of grass against his skin. "Remember what we talked about, Greg," Phil says, one arm across Gregory's shoulders. He leans down close. Like a father, I think. Almost guiltily it occurs to me that Phil is probably a nice man. "Keep your eyes on the ball," Phil says, and then, with a little push, he sends him off. Gregory trots dutifully out to the field. He eyes the other boys, unsure where to stand. A whistle: then the ball is rolling, and they are behind it, miraculously propelling it forward. Something in their faces. They are so young, so litde. Some of the parents are screaming. An older man—a grandfather, probably—calls out, "Attaway!" and takes a swig out of a brown botde. Slowly, raggedly, the ball is snaking down the field. I can't look away.' The boys on the other team know what is expected of them, and'once in a while, one x>f them boots at the ball and momentarily turns "it around. For the most part, though, the Barracudas are in control, and they know it, and their excitement—their wanting—shoves the ball along. "Go!" I shout, amazed at how much I, too, want this goal, this win. Where is Gregory? I have forgotten him, but Toms bulk behind me reminds me, and I scan the field, looking near the rear of the pack. I see 35


Berkeley Fiction Review "I don't know. His kid—" Tom pauses, sensing Gregory's complete attention. Trevor Deichler is small and low to the ground, like a bullet. He has an animal—an almost primal—sense of the game: how to direct the ball downfield, where to position himself so as to receive another player's rudimentary pass. "Good ball handling, Trev!" Coach Phil calls from the sidelines. It reminds me of what Anita toldrae' when I was pregnant and scouring baby books for names. Try each name in three sentences, she'd said. Can Litde Whosit come out and play? Nice work, Little Whoslt: I'm recommending you for a promotion. Oh, Litde Whosit, fuck me, fuck me! You want a name that works in all three sentences, Anita had cautioned. But in the end I'd picked Gregory without ever inserting it into Anita's sentences. Those sentences had frightened me, like statistics on teenage drinking: I'd blocked them out. Coach Phil, I had a feeling, had tried out "Good ball handling, Trev!" numerous times, and liked the sound of it. "His kid's a ball hog," Tom says. "What's a ball hog?" Gregory asks. "Gregory didn't get to make all that much contact with the ball," Tom says. "This Phil character's got him playing a lot of defense." "What's defense?" Gregory asks. I hang up the phone. "What?" Tom asks. "Anita," I say. "Margaret Elaine. Six pounds, three ounces." Tom turns back to the kitchen table, where he's spread the bills. But in a couple of minutes, I can tell he's watching as I sort through knives and forks. I think that my face is expressionless, but finally he says, "It was three fucking years ago, for God's sake!" before he tears off a check. And I think, that's another thing. My face. I really have no idea'what it looks like, what other people see'when they look, at me. Saturday is end-of-summer hot: parents at the periphery of the field hold mini-fans, battery-operated, close to their faces and visor their eyes with their hands. A couple of grandparents have brought folding beach chairs and parasols and cups of iced coffee. Veterans: they've 34

Team Sports done this before. Tom and I stand near enough Coach Phil to hear him issuing instructions at the beginning of each quarter. "Stay on the ball, Jason," he says, and the bright-eyed angel nods and jogs onto the field, wordlessly obedient. Happy to be assigned a job, touchingly sure of his ability to perform it. Running past Trevor Deichler, he holds a hand aloft; Trevor—flawlessly, effordessly—high-fives him. A careless, breezy ballet enacted without a word. Boys will be boys. Gregory sits out the first quarter and part of the second. Tom begins to pace. "How come he's sitting out like that?" he whispers, passing me. "Relax," I say. Gregory is pulling grass out of the field and stuffing it into his socks. "I don't like the way he's not playing him," Tom says. At last Phil taps. Gregory on the shoulder. "You're up, Greg," he says. "Come on." Gregory stands. He shakes each leg like a wet dog, marveling, I know, at the tickle of grass against his skin. "Remember what we talked about, Greg," Phil says, one arm across Gregory's shoulders. He leans down close. Like a father, I think. Almost guiltily it occurs to me that Phil is probably a nice man. "Keep your eyes on the ball," Phil says, and then, with a little push, he sends him off. Gregory trots dutifully out to the field. He eyes the other boys, unsure where to stand. A whistle: then the ball is rolling, and they are behind it, miraculously propelling it forward. Something in their faces. They are so young, so litde. Some of the parents are screaming. An older man—a grandfather, probably—calls out, "Attaway!" and takes a swig out of a brown botde. Slowly, raggedly, the ball is snaking down the field. I can't look away.' The boys on the other team know what is expected of them, and'once in a while, one x>f them boots at the ball and momentarily turns "it around. For the most part, though, the Barracudas are in control, and they know it, and their excitement—their wanting—shoves the ball along. "Go!" I shout, amazed at how much I, too, want this goal, this win. Where is Gregory? I have forgotten him, but Toms bulk behind me reminds me, and I scan the field, looking near the rear of the pack. I see 35


Berkeley Fiction Review nothing familiar: the forms are too small, too graceful to be my son. Even then, I am not concerned: too carried away by the possibility of scoring to worry in my usual way. Whether I saw him or heard Tom first I cannot remember. I have tried. Now it seems important. I would like to know—simply for myself, to put myself at ease—if I might have done anything to ward Tom off, if anything I might have said could have silenced him. Gregory sits spread-eagle on the grass at the center of the field. He is leaning forward, above his spread knees, mesmerized by something in the grass between his legs. "Mommy!" he is saying, and his face glows with happiness and wonderment, because (and this I know without his telling me: it is part of our language, what he telegraphs to me without words) he has found the bug he has been searching for, the one nowhere in evidence in all the vast recesses of our backyard. Right here, under his feet, under his very nose. All he had to do was pay attention. "Goddamn it, Gregory!" Tom yells. "Get the fuck up!" The air pulses with his fury. For a stunning instant, all of the boys come to a halt, their eyes wide. You know what they're thinking: Please make it not my dad. Somewhere else—the neighboring field, where older boys are playing—another whistle sounds. The older man drinking beer twists around in his low chair, looking up. "Hey, buddy, settle down," he says. Just like that. It's what he was thinking, and he says it. This man doesn't let someone else make decisions for him, tell him what to think. If someone were to tell him, oh, I don't know, that Prairie City, South Dakota, is home to large-boned women who know how to make dumplings and fritters and handsew Halloween costumes for each of their six children, he would say, hey, wait a minute, how do you know thaii Just where do you get your information anyway? "Shut up," I say. "Just shut up." My head is spinning. But I am careful to turn my back on the old man, so he doesn't think L mean him. Because here's the thing: how do I really know what kind of women live in Prairie City, South Dakota? Maybe the place is teeming with travel agents, overrun with single-child families. Single moms, even. How do I really know unless I see for myself? It isn't so impossible, so difficult really: I happen to know that the Empire Builder stops in Fargo, 36

Team Sports

North Dakota; the Zephyr in McCook, Nebraska. Getting there—seeing for myself—would simply be a matter of determining the most efficient route. Of course I'm not really going to Prairie City. I know that. I'm not really going anywhere. But the point—the point I hang onto, even now—is that I could go. It's possible. The possibility itself: isn't that worth something? Because then I would know for sure, for myself. And no one can talk you out of what you know. Gregory lumbers to his feet. He leans down, fumbles with his sock, then straightens and heaves the grass he has stowed there high over his head. Torn, silver-green blades fall like parade confetti on-his shoulders and in his hair. He smiles, victorious.

37


Berkeley Fiction Review nothing familiar: the forms are too small, too graceful to be my son. Even then, I am not concerned: too carried away by the possibility of scoring to worry in my usual way. Whether I saw him or heard Tom first I cannot remember. I have tried. Now it seems important. I would like to know—simply for myself, to put myself at ease—if I might have done anything to ward Tom off, if anything I might have said could have silenced him. Gregory sits spread-eagle on the grass at the center of the field. He is leaning forward, above his spread knees, mesmerized by something in the grass between his legs. "Mommy!" he is saying, and his face glows with happiness and wonderment, because (and this I know without his telling me: it is part of our language, what he telegraphs to me without words) he has found the bug he has been searching for, the one nowhere in evidence in all the vast recesses of our backyard. Right here, under his feet, under his very nose. All he had to do was pay attention. "Goddamn it, Gregory!" Tom yells. "Get the fuck up!" The air pulses with his fury. For a stunning instant, all of the boys come to a halt, their eyes wide. You know what they're thinking: Please make it not my dad. Somewhere else—the neighboring field, where older boys are playing—another whistle sounds. The older man drinking beer twists around in his low chair, looking up. "Hey, buddy, settle down," he says. Just like that. It's what he was thinking, and he says it. This man doesn't let someone else make decisions for him, tell him what to think. If someone were to tell him, oh, I don't know, that Prairie City, South Dakota, is home to large-boned women who know how to make dumplings and fritters and handsew Halloween costumes for each of their six children, he would say, hey, wait a minute, how do you know thaii Just where do you get your information anyway? "Shut up," I say. "Just shut up." My head is spinning. But I am careful to turn my back on the old man, so he doesn't think L mean him. Because here's the thing: how do I really know what kind of women live in Prairie City, South Dakota? Maybe the place is teeming with travel agents, overrun with single-child families. Single moms, even. How do I really know unless I see for myself? It isn't so impossible, so difficult really: I happen to know that the Empire Builder stops in Fargo, 36

Team Sports

North Dakota; the Zephyr in McCook, Nebraska. Getting there—seeing for myself—would simply be a matter of determining the most efficient route. Of course I'm not really going to Prairie City. I know that. I'm not really going anywhere. But the point—the point I hang onto, even now—is that I could go. It's possible. The possibility itself: isn't that worth something? Because then I would know for sure, for myself. And no one can talk you out of what you know. Gregory lumbers to his feet. He leans down, fumbles with his sock, then straightens and heaves the grass he has stowed there high over his head. Torn, silver-green blades fall like parade confetti on-his shoulders and in his hair. He smiles, victorious.

37


How To Be A Perfect Slut

First Place Sudde n Fiction W i n n e r

H o w

T o

P e r f e c t

B e

A

S l u t

Tracy DeBrincat

wo socks, maybe three, sculpted into a ledge of breast— Barbie plus fifty percent. Maybelline 4-pack, the Spring Palette, Robin's Egg from brow to lash so heavily powdered we struggle to keep them half open. Short shorts. Tie-dye scarves. A plastic bracelet or seven. An older sister's smuggled platforms and fishnets. AM radio. All the words. "You look like tramps," a mother says, as we model our vibrating selves in cookie-smelling kitchens. "Perfect little tramps." We can only hope. We hobble and sway to the back yard, drape ourselves across the Sears plastic slide. Stoned on marigolds and menthol pencils, we stick out our thumbs and wait for our men. Laugh and toss our hair against the din of rushing trucks and commuters shocked with lust. We are on our way. To Memphis, Lodi, Georgia, Los Angeles, where we will meet our loverboys: rock stars, surfers, Marlboro men, blues singers, cool flower children who will gather us into their arms, kiss our blush-toned cheeks and make us high, high, high. Watch out. Adjust. Here they come, from the kitchen, all sparkling eyes and wide smiles, pink tongues running their lips at the sight of us. Mac is the color of cafe au lait, Caesar an ebony sheen. Mac goes with Kathy, since he belongs to her. Caesar is all mine. Mac is a twelve-yearold snaggle-toothed Pug; Caesar, an eleven-month Husky mix. They

chat us up. "Hey baby, you are one fine-looking bitch. Come on, let's you and me play. Hop in my milk truck, Corvair, Corvette, Volkswagen bus. Let's make tracks and get on our backs." We adjust our midriffs and climb in. Mac is a true gendeman, trotting hard on Kathy's heels, swiping an occasional lick at her ankles. Caesar leaps in frenzied circles, but I like rebels, so I let him drive. He barks frantically and floors it straight for Australia, Fiji, Haight-Ashbury, Manhattan. Halfway down the sloping yard, we stop for martinis and beer at The Birdbath, our favorite saloon, cafe, motel, campground. We listen to Bobby and Janis and Jimi live. The boys, they make their moves. Mac kisses the back of Kathy's neck. Caesar drops his paw down my blouse. We are so hot for them, yet we are so cool. They are in love with us, but they must wait. Back on the road, we sit closer, thighs pressed together on the front bench seat. "Keep on truckin," we say, and light long cigs on red-hot coils, lean our heads on their strong shoulders, slip our tongues in soft furry ears. The sun drops down behind the pines. When we stop we will lose our virginity, this rime, every time. It is what they want. This we know. We pull into the square of tanbark chips, check into the Swingset Motel. We he down on the rough wood, eyes closed against the trees and the yard and the dogs and we imagine them upon us, hanging over us like clouds. We surrender to Mac and to Caesar. Sometimes it is Paul or John, singing into our hair. They have never been in love like this before. Sometimes we are not so lucky. Once Caesar was mugged while standing in line to get into Woodstock, and I was left alone for the whole set of Jefferson Airplane, during which I was hypnotized by Charlie Manson, who invited me to become a member of his family. It was Mac and Kathy who untied me from Charlie s dirty mattress, and together we rescued Caesar, and then kicked Charlie's skinny ass and ran away and had a love-in in the van, in the pouring rain, in the beating sun, in the sideways-blowing blizzard.

39


How To Be A Perfect Slut

First Place Sudde n Fiction W i n n e r

H o w

T o

P e r f e c t

B e

A

S l u t

Tracy DeBrincat

wo socks, maybe three, sculpted into a ledge of breast— Barbie plus fifty percent. Maybelline 4-pack, the Spring Palette, Robin's Egg from brow to lash so heavily powdered we struggle to keep them half open. Short shorts. Tie-dye scarves. A plastic bracelet or seven. An older sister's smuggled platforms and fishnets. AM radio. All the words. "You look like tramps," a mother says, as we model our vibrating selves in cookie-smelling kitchens. "Perfect little tramps." We can only hope. We hobble and sway to the back yard, drape ourselves across the Sears plastic slide. Stoned on marigolds and menthol pencils, we stick out our thumbs and wait for our men. Laugh and toss our hair against the din of rushing trucks and commuters shocked with lust. We are on our way. To Memphis, Lodi, Georgia, Los Angeles, where we will meet our loverboys: rock stars, surfers, Marlboro men, blues singers, cool flower children who will gather us into their arms, kiss our blush-toned cheeks and make us high, high, high. Watch out. Adjust. Here they come, from the kitchen, all sparkling eyes and wide smiles, pink tongues running their lips at the sight of us. Mac is the color of cafe au lait, Caesar an ebony sheen. Mac goes with Kathy, since he belongs to her. Caesar is all mine. Mac is a twelve-yearold snaggle-toothed Pug; Caesar, an eleven-month Husky mix. They

chat us up. "Hey baby, you are one fine-looking bitch. Come on, let's you and me play. Hop in my milk truck, Corvair, Corvette, Volkswagen bus. Let's make tracks and get on our backs." We adjust our midriffs and climb in. Mac is a true gendeman, trotting hard on Kathy's heels, swiping an occasional lick at her ankles. Caesar leaps in frenzied circles, but I like rebels, so I let him drive. He barks frantically and floors it straight for Australia, Fiji, Haight-Ashbury, Manhattan. Halfway down the sloping yard, we stop for martinis and beer at The Birdbath, our favorite saloon, cafe, motel, campground. We listen to Bobby and Janis and Jimi live. The boys, they make their moves. Mac kisses the back of Kathy's neck. Caesar drops his paw down my blouse. We are so hot for them, yet we are so cool. They are in love with us, but they must wait. Back on the road, we sit closer, thighs pressed together on the front bench seat. "Keep on truckin," we say, and light long cigs on red-hot coils, lean our heads on their strong shoulders, slip our tongues in soft furry ears. The sun drops down behind the pines. When we stop we will lose our virginity, this rime, every time. It is what they want. This we know. We pull into the square of tanbark chips, check into the Swingset Motel. We he down on the rough wood, eyes closed against the trees and the yard and the dogs and we imagine them upon us, hanging over us like clouds. We surrender to Mac and to Caesar. Sometimes it is Paul or John, singing into our hair. They have never been in love like this before. Sometimes we are not so lucky. Once Caesar was mugged while standing in line to get into Woodstock, and I was left alone for the whole set of Jefferson Airplane, during which I was hypnotized by Charlie Manson, who invited me to become a member of his family. It was Mac and Kathy who untied me from Charlie s dirty mattress, and together we rescued Caesar, and then kicked Charlie's skinny ass and ran away and had a love-in in the van, in the pouring rain, in the beating sun, in the sideways-blowing blizzard.

39


Berkeley Fiction Review And somehow, at the tail end of our adventure, after we blow all the grass and all our minds, and the guys are asleep, a mother magically appears, like a commercial, an intermission, a dream. "Who wants cookies?" she calls, holding a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and two Milk Bones from the box. Mac and Caesar bound up the stairs. Kathy and I follow more slowly. We have been through so much, it is hard to go home.

40


Berkeley Fiction Review And somehow, at the tail end of our adventure, after we blow all the grass and all our minds, and the guys are asleep, a mother magically appears, like a commercial, an intermission, a dream. "Who wants cookies?" she calls, holding a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and two Milk Bones from the box. Mac and Caesar bound up the stairs. Kathy and I follow more slowly. We have been through so much, it is hard to go home.

40


Tuesday

T u e s d a y Trish Cantillon

awoke this morning as I do all mornings, with a simple, dull pain in my chest. The air in the house is still and gray. I throw my legs off the side of the bed and touch my feet to the cool, dark floor. The sensation stirs me for a moment. Slowly, I move to the bathroom to begin another day. I take a long look in the full length mirror that hangs crookedly on the bathroom door. I wonder how long this will last. He greets me in the shower. In the warm mist, I see his face- :yes closed—head tilted at an unearthly slant. They put Robert's picture in People magazine. The photographer came to the house and took a photograph of me standing next to Robert's school portrait. He told me not to smile.

I light a cigarette on the stove and put the water on for coffee. Opening the coffee can, I cut my finger on the lid. The bleeding is curious to me and I enjoy it. Robert comes home from school usually around five. Some sports team seems to always have a practice. He's doing well with his studies, but he could try harder. The only thing on his mind most of the time is baseball. He's got an autographed ball in his room. It sits on a shelf, its plastic case collecting dust. The clock over the stove reads 8:12 a.m. Each minute is the labor of an hour. And rhe hours feel like days. Long, flat, dull days. The coffee cup is empty. I rinse the morning dish and cup and put them in the rack to dry. There is a small trail of dried blood on my finger. I dig for a bandage in the kitchen cabinet. There's a rusted metal Band-Aid container behind the aspirin, cough syrup, and allergy pills. I light another cigarette on the stove and bandage my finger as I walk back to the bedroom. It's time to get dressed. My closet is full of dark clothes. Blues, grays, browns, and black. I have one dress. Black with a matching hat and bag. I remove a stiffly pressed denim shirt from its hanger and step into a pair of jeans.

The blinds are lowered in the kitchen and I pull them back. The sunlight fills the tiny room. I stop for a moment and look outside. The windows reveal a crisp, clean day through dusty panes. There is no movement.

I pull the tiny wooden stool out from beneath the vanity. I gingerly sit down, anticipating the uncushioned seat. Mechanically I begin to apply the powder, blush, and shadow. The face I see no longer seems to be .my own. Lbegin to brush my hair. The gray strands fall gently, resting against my tired cheeks. In one swift move, I pull the hair away from my face and tuck it neatly in a bun. I put a pale shade of burgundy on my lips and toss a soiled tissue into the trash can.

I remove a piece of bread from the bread box and place it in the fat chrome toaster. The jelly jar sticks to the shelf liner in the cupboard. I pry it loose and wait for the toaster to deliver my breakfast. I scrape the charred crumbs off the top and spread the butter and jelly. The toast is dry and tasteless; the jelly doesn't help.

The unmade bed, a rumpled mess, tells the story of another fitful night's sleep. I straighten the sheets, tucking them tightly between the mattress and the box spring. The pillows need fluffing, but I don't have time. Or I don't care. I pull the chintz spread over the bedding. The soft colored flowers are frayed on the ends and there are tiny holes sprinkled

42

43


Tuesday

T u e s d a y Trish Cantillon

awoke this morning as I do all mornings, with a simple, dull pain in my chest. The air in the house is still and gray. I throw my legs off the side of the bed and touch my feet to the cool, dark floor. The sensation stirs me for a moment. Slowly, I move to the bathroom to begin another day. I take a long look in the full length mirror that hangs crookedly on the bathroom door. I wonder how long this will last. He greets me in the shower. In the warm mist, I see his face- :yes closed—head tilted at an unearthly slant. They put Robert's picture in People magazine. The photographer came to the house and took a photograph of me standing next to Robert's school portrait. He told me not to smile.

I light a cigarette on the stove and put the water on for coffee. Opening the coffee can, I cut my finger on the lid. The bleeding is curious to me and I enjoy it. Robert comes home from school usually around five. Some sports team seems to always have a practice. He's doing well with his studies, but he could try harder. The only thing on his mind most of the time is baseball. He's got an autographed ball in his room. It sits on a shelf, its plastic case collecting dust. The clock over the stove reads 8:12 a.m. Each minute is the labor of an hour. And rhe hours feel like days. Long, flat, dull days. The coffee cup is empty. I rinse the morning dish and cup and put them in the rack to dry. There is a small trail of dried blood on my finger. I dig for a bandage in the kitchen cabinet. There's a rusted metal Band-Aid container behind the aspirin, cough syrup, and allergy pills. I light another cigarette on the stove and bandage my finger as I walk back to the bedroom. It's time to get dressed. My closet is full of dark clothes. Blues, grays, browns, and black. I have one dress. Black with a matching hat and bag. I remove a stiffly pressed denim shirt from its hanger and step into a pair of jeans.

The blinds are lowered in the kitchen and I pull them back. The sunlight fills the tiny room. I stop for a moment and look outside. The windows reveal a crisp, clean day through dusty panes. There is no movement.

I pull the tiny wooden stool out from beneath the vanity. I gingerly sit down, anticipating the uncushioned seat. Mechanically I begin to apply the powder, blush, and shadow. The face I see no longer seems to be .my own. Lbegin to brush my hair. The gray strands fall gently, resting against my tired cheeks. In one swift move, I pull the hair away from my face and tuck it neatly in a bun. I put a pale shade of burgundy on my lips and toss a soiled tissue into the trash can.

I remove a piece of bread from the bread box and place it in the fat chrome toaster. The jelly jar sticks to the shelf liner in the cupboard. I pry it loose and wait for the toaster to deliver my breakfast. I scrape the charred crumbs off the top and spread the butter and jelly. The toast is dry and tasteless; the jelly doesn't help.

The unmade bed, a rumpled mess, tells the story of another fitful night's sleep. I straighten the sheets, tucking them tightly between the mattress and the box spring. The pillows need fluffing, but I don't have time. Or I don't care. I pull the chintz spread over the bedding. The soft colored flowers are frayed on the ends and there are tiny holes sprinkled

42

43


Berkeley Fiction Review throughout the cover. I draw the shades to keep the morning sun from overheating the room.

Tuesday same. The cart or the basket.

Robert's bed is made. I can see as I glance in the room, walking down the slender hallway. The dull pain has now begun throbbing in my chest. I move closer to the bedroom door. The plastic-covered baseball sits on the shelf next to his little league cap. He's always been good about making his bed.

The sterile music begins to carry me through the store. I pick the green beans and the chicken, the coffee and cigarettes. The bakery is selling day-old angel food cake. Its spongy white texture is appealing, and I decide to buy one. I place it gently in the cart. When I get to the check out I realize that none of my coupons match any of my purchases. I promise myself that next week I won't bother with the cart. Everything I need will fit in the basket.

The breakfast dish and cup are dry and I put them back in the cupboard. I put the coffee grounds in an old jar for the vegetable garden. I toss my near empty pack of cigarettes into my purse and grab my checkbook and coupons from the overstuffed drawer. It's Tuesday. Grocery shopping day.

There's a certain way the light is in autumn—you just know that summer is a long time away. Everything has a certain distinct flatness to it. Somehow the world seems faded and far away.

The garage smells stale and cold. The sunlight bounces in as the electric door jerks itself open—one more time. The big oak is beginning to shed its'large crisp leaves. Autumn is near. The rake seems to wave to me as I back out of the garage. That tree is nothing but trouble. My ancient car moves slowly through town. I push the cigarette lighter in at the first stop light. As I inhale, the smoke feels warm inside my lungs. I watch it fill the car as I exhale. I'm told that each cigarette takes minutes off my life. lean only hope. I roll down the window and watch some teenagers make their way into the high school. Their faces seem so solemn for their youth. It's Tuesday and the weekend is far off. Robert isn't around much anymore. I don't really spend time with him except for supper on Sunday. He knows that's our family time. We eat a big meal. Lots of biscuits, green beans, roasted chicken, and mashed potatoes. Sunday supper is my favorite rime of the week. My bandaged finger is beginning to get sore. The grocery store parking lot is empty. I can't decide if I need a cart or a hand-held basket. I look over my list and'realize that a basket will be fine. I consider this for a moment. I tug and pull at the long line of carts anyhow until one breaks free from its chain. Every week it's the 44

As I pull in the driveway, he greets me. His eyes are closed, and his head is tilted at an unearthly slant. The rope suspends his body from the massive arm of the oak tree. I empty the back seat of groceries. The garage door closes with an exaggerated thud. I push the kitchen door open with my foot, arms full. The angel food cake rests on top of the green beans. I pull the cake plate out from the cupboard above the oven. The lid has been cracked, but it will do. I unwrap the tender dessert and fill myself with its sweet smell. I place it proudly on the kitchen table and put the water on for coffee. The chicken fits snugly in the freezer. It's Tuesday, but the green beans will stay fresh until Sunday. I open the carton of cigarettes. The aroma is bitter and delicious. I stop to light a cigarette and lean against the counter, closing my eyes. I want to feel the noose slipping over my head. I want to feel it draped gently across my shoulders. I want to feel it tighten slowly—scratching, burning my skin. I want to expel my final breath and hear the snap. The tea ketde whistles and I obey.

45


Berkeley Fiction Review throughout the cover. I draw the shades to keep the morning sun from overheating the room.

Tuesday same. The cart or the basket.

Robert's bed is made. I can see as I glance in the room, walking down the slender hallway. The dull pain has now begun throbbing in my chest. I move closer to the bedroom door. The plastic-covered baseball sits on the shelf next to his little league cap. He's always been good about making his bed.

The sterile music begins to carry me through the store. I pick the green beans and the chicken, the coffee and cigarettes. The bakery is selling day-old angel food cake. Its spongy white texture is appealing, and I decide to buy one. I place it gently in the cart. When I get to the check out I realize that none of my coupons match any of my purchases. I promise myself that next week I won't bother with the cart. Everything I need will fit in the basket.

The breakfast dish and cup are dry and I put them back in the cupboard. I put the coffee grounds in an old jar for the vegetable garden. I toss my near empty pack of cigarettes into my purse and grab my checkbook and coupons from the overstuffed drawer. It's Tuesday. Grocery shopping day.

There's a certain way the light is in autumn—you just know that summer is a long time away. Everything has a certain distinct flatness to it. Somehow the world seems faded and far away.

The garage smells stale and cold. The sunlight bounces in as the electric door jerks itself open—one more time. The big oak is beginning to shed its'large crisp leaves. Autumn is near. The rake seems to wave to me as I back out of the garage. That tree is nothing but trouble. My ancient car moves slowly through town. I push the cigarette lighter in at the first stop light. As I inhale, the smoke feels warm inside my lungs. I watch it fill the car as I exhale. I'm told that each cigarette takes minutes off my life. lean only hope. I roll down the window and watch some teenagers make their way into the high school. Their faces seem so solemn for their youth. It's Tuesday and the weekend is far off. Robert isn't around much anymore. I don't really spend time with him except for supper on Sunday. He knows that's our family time. We eat a big meal. Lots of biscuits, green beans, roasted chicken, and mashed potatoes. Sunday supper is my favorite rime of the week. My bandaged finger is beginning to get sore. The grocery store parking lot is empty. I can't decide if I need a cart or a hand-held basket. I look over my list and'realize that a basket will be fine. I consider this for a moment. I tug and pull at the long line of carts anyhow until one breaks free from its chain. Every week it's the 44

As I pull in the driveway, he greets me. His eyes are closed, and his head is tilted at an unearthly slant. The rope suspends his body from the massive arm of the oak tree. I empty the back seat of groceries. The garage door closes with an exaggerated thud. I push the kitchen door open with my foot, arms full. The angel food cake rests on top of the green beans. I pull the cake plate out from the cupboard above the oven. The lid has been cracked, but it will do. I unwrap the tender dessert and fill myself with its sweet smell. I place it proudly on the kitchen table and put the water on for coffee. The chicken fits snugly in the freezer. It's Tuesday, but the green beans will stay fresh until Sunday. I open the carton of cigarettes. The aroma is bitter and delicious. I stop to light a cigarette and lean against the counter, closing my eyes. I want to feel the noose slipping over my head. I want to feel it draped gently across my shoulders. I want to feel it tighten slowly—scratching, burning my skin. I want to expel my final breath and hear the snap. The tea ketde whistles and I obey.

45


/ Think Continually of Those...

I

T h i n k

C o n t i n u a l l y

O f

T h o s e . . . Edward W a h l

t had been a year since I had seen him. When I looked into his once discerning eyes, the eyes which uncovered every misstep, made every error apparent, they were shielded now by lenses that adapted mysteriously to bright and dark. I needed no optometric instrument to tell me how red-ringed they were, how the minuscule capillaries had tracked gray crevices throughout the white. His lids, at least the right lid, flicked like a snake's tongue with stroboscopic frequency. The skin of his face was drawn back and his whiskers stood out against it like stubbled corn in a winter field. This was a great man, I reminded myself, or as great as I might expect to know, a scientist of rocketry, telemetry, pioneer of ultrasonics, now blotting at his flickering eye with an unfolded, precisely ironed handkerchief, brushing at it so that it no longer teared and blurred his view of my face. I asked him, in effect (but not as flatfootedly), "How did you get here?" meaning the ancient decisions that brought him here, facing me across a kitchen table, professor emeritus. He was a man who, had he been in "pure" science, might possibly have become a Nobelist. When you grow old you dwell upon "what might have been," on the absurdity of the random choices that were so easily made and the luck that brought you to this profession, this particular avocation, tumbled you into this bed (or out), with this specific arrangement of breasts and morning appetites, of never souring breath but uninterrupted 46

garrulity. Why, how, did you arrive, at this particular trade, and that exacting woman? Who declares at age fifteen, "I will be a mechanic, fixing Chevrolets," or discovers herself, at twenty-seven, a mother of three? Who determines what he shall be or where she shall live...and carries out such expectations? I asked him: "Why Cal Tech? (or MIT? or RPI? Why science?)" It could as easily been English Lit, or medieval technology. Perhaps it was just a girl, spied at a party, or the one who clumped Into an adjacent seat on the train, a seat he had deliberately filled with books or a briefcase so he might sit alone. She stood,- silent and remonstrative, until he cleared the seat. She said, "Thank you," sat down, crossed her legs, and in doing so, arrested his attention as if she had shrieked. She opened a book. "I can't read," she said, "with someone peeking over my shoulder." "Sorry. James Joyce?" She examined him. "Joyce Cary," she said. "English, not Irish. But a Catholic just the same." It sounded like a reprimand. "I'm not," he said. "No reason you should be." "Are you?" She closed the book. "That is a question that is not only none of your business, but totally inappropriate for a chance encounter like this." If she was going to put on airs and be a wit, so was he. "You chose this seat; I didn't invite you." He said it with a mocking scowl and was gratified when she rejoined: "It was the last, the very last, unoccupied seat on this train. I took it not of choice but of necessity." "Your feet hurt?" solicitously. "It's my period," she said and he became silent, looked away from her, staring intently out of the grimy window from which not only was there nothing to see because it was dark, but because, even in the sunswept daylight, not even Gerard Manley Hopkins could have located anything to praise. "Didn't mean to offendj" she said, insincerely. Her lips were curled 47


/ Think Continually of Those...

I

T h i n k

C o n t i n u a l l y

O f

T h o s e . . . Edward W a h l

t had been a year since I had seen him. When I looked into his once discerning eyes, the eyes which uncovered every misstep, made every error apparent, they were shielded now by lenses that adapted mysteriously to bright and dark. I needed no optometric instrument to tell me how red-ringed they were, how the minuscule capillaries had tracked gray crevices throughout the white. His lids, at least the right lid, flicked like a snake's tongue with stroboscopic frequency. The skin of his face was drawn back and his whiskers stood out against it like stubbled corn in a winter field. This was a great man, I reminded myself, or as great as I might expect to know, a scientist of rocketry, telemetry, pioneer of ultrasonics, now blotting at his flickering eye with an unfolded, precisely ironed handkerchief, brushing at it so that it no longer teared and blurred his view of my face. I asked him, in effect (but not as flatfootedly), "How did you get here?" meaning the ancient decisions that brought him here, facing me across a kitchen table, professor emeritus. He was a man who, had he been in "pure" science, might possibly have become a Nobelist. When you grow old you dwell upon "what might have been," on the absurdity of the random choices that were so easily made and the luck that brought you to this profession, this particular avocation, tumbled you into this bed (or out), with this specific arrangement of breasts and morning appetites, of never souring breath but uninterrupted 46

garrulity. Why, how, did you arrive, at this particular trade, and that exacting woman? Who declares at age fifteen, "I will be a mechanic, fixing Chevrolets," or discovers herself, at twenty-seven, a mother of three? Who determines what he shall be or where she shall live...and carries out such expectations? I asked him: "Why Cal Tech? (or MIT? or RPI? Why science?)" It could as easily been English Lit, or medieval technology. Perhaps it was just a girl, spied at a party, or the one who clumped Into an adjacent seat on the train, a seat he had deliberately filled with books or a briefcase so he might sit alone. She stood,- silent and remonstrative, until he cleared the seat. She said, "Thank you," sat down, crossed her legs, and in doing so, arrested his attention as if she had shrieked. She opened a book. "I can't read," she said, "with someone peeking over my shoulder." "Sorry. James Joyce?" She examined him. "Joyce Cary," she said. "English, not Irish. But a Catholic just the same." It sounded like a reprimand. "I'm not," he said. "No reason you should be." "Are you?" She closed the book. "That is a question that is not only none of your business, but totally inappropriate for a chance encounter like this." If she was going to put on airs and be a wit, so was he. "You chose this seat; I didn't invite you." He said it with a mocking scowl and was gratified when she rejoined: "It was the last, the very last, unoccupied seat on this train. I took it not of choice but of necessity." "Your feet hurt?" solicitously. "It's my period," she said and he became silent, looked away from her, staring intently out of the grimy window from which not only was there nothing to see because it was dark, but because, even in the sunswept daylight, not even Gerard Manley Hopkins could have located anything to praise. "Didn't mean to offendj" she said, insincerely. Her lips were curled 47


Berkeley Fiction Review at rhe edges: it gave her a quizzical, amused expression: He turned away from the vistas. "You wanted to embarrass me," he declared. "I succeeded." Well what fathead wouldn't, at once, immediately, instantaneously, fall in love" with a woman like that? She had brown hair, a mobile face with swiftly darting expressions that skittered and teased; it was difficult, impossible to fix. It concealed (or did it reveal?) a mockery, a sense of his absurdity, at what he might say to her, or how he might react. And yet, there was no offense for him to take, no animosity. She was on his side, but chuckling. Later on, after love and then marriage and many children, she continued to laugh at him but there was litde scorn and, unhurt, he reacted to her rapier slashes with equanimity. He said, "Doris," when she'd gone too far, and she, in turn, responded with" a fake abasement, a smothered grin, but halted at once what she was saying or might be about to do. Police picked her up from sit down picketing, passive, and took her to jails and he, on the university campus, wrote mathematical formulae to deduce aiming points from the patterns of starry skies in order to fix positions of the targets some distant statesman might require, in the unforeseen future, to be destroyed. She became known to many of the officers who carted her, time upon time, into the paddy wagon, flipping her carefully worded sign, with its skillfully drawn peace symbol, to the pavement. She scolded them and called them litterbugs; they grinned and told her she was too good-looking to be a kook. "I'm going east," he told me. "I plan to visit her." He blotted the leaky eye. "My cousin lives in Stokesbury, it isn't far from Philly. I can call." He hesitated.. .we all do... "She's still alive." Doubtful. "I would have heard." I was at a loss. "Doris?" I asked. "Isn't she right here, home?" Not Doris at all. He was thinking of Nadia, not the girl on the train with whom he had'five children, not the Doris who tacked cardboard to slats and paraded, "Out! America. Get out!" Not his wife of boisterous New Year's Eves and children's parties. Some old flame, before Doris, before war had concealed him in a Frenchman's vegetable cellar,

/ Think Continually of Those... exchanging his uniform for baggy blue trousers, and before peace shuttled him off to Pasadena and a Cal Tech professorship. Would he have heard? "You haven't seen her.. .since when?" "Four years ago." I hadn't known that. "At her house," he said. "Ir was all a little formal. I bumped into her at a concert. Six of us, Doris was there, Nadias husband, I can never remember his name, gracious man, another couple, anonymous people." "This was Nadia?" I said. He tucked the handkerchief into the breast pocket of his blazer, uncharacteristically neat, still unfolded, not disarranged. He had Einstein's wiry gray hair. "Nadia. Nadia." "As old, less a year or two, as old as I. But not fat, not bulging, the same look, sort of dumbfounded. Wrinkled of course, but..." Silence. A furtive, sneaky grin. "But her husband, I forget his name, he never left us, never stopped watching." "After forty years?" I marveled. "Thirty-seven." I think, like a reforming alcoholic, he might have said, thirty-seven years, three months, eight days. It was that absorbing, all-encompassing, overriding, this abandoned love. "Nadia feel the same?" I asked. Sullenly: "How the hell do I know?" Well, now I remembered, now it came back, for my wife had mentioned how Doris had reacted to this interview with his ancient flame. Her report was somewhat different from his. The meeting at the concert was an accident, all right, and Nadia, hospitable woman, invited them all back to her home for coffee. They grouped around a largish table, Nadia and the scientist engrossed, and way at its far end, the other four. Doris glared at her husband and Nadia's spouse slid furtive looks toward Nadia and responded to the forced conversation with "urns," and "ahs," like a worried patient at the dentist. The house was overfurnished, Doris said, and the beautifully burnished piano had a shawl on it, fringed. The keyboard lid was shut. "Every stick of furniture had a fringe on it," -Doris told my wife. "Everything in place, aligned, they had no kids, not any books either, as far as I could see, except on the coffee table."


Berkeley Fiction Review at rhe edges: it gave her a quizzical, amused expression: He turned away from the vistas. "You wanted to embarrass me," he declared. "I succeeded." Well what fathead wouldn't, at once, immediately, instantaneously, fall in love" with a woman like that? She had brown hair, a mobile face with swiftly darting expressions that skittered and teased; it was difficult, impossible to fix. It concealed (or did it reveal?) a mockery, a sense of his absurdity, at what he might say to her, or how he might react. And yet, there was no offense for him to take, no animosity. She was on his side, but chuckling. Later on, after love and then marriage and many children, she continued to laugh at him but there was litde scorn and, unhurt, he reacted to her rapier slashes with equanimity. He said, "Doris," when she'd gone too far, and she, in turn, responded with" a fake abasement, a smothered grin, but halted at once what she was saying or might be about to do. Police picked her up from sit down picketing, passive, and took her to jails and he, on the university campus, wrote mathematical formulae to deduce aiming points from the patterns of starry skies in order to fix positions of the targets some distant statesman might require, in the unforeseen future, to be destroyed. She became known to many of the officers who carted her, time upon time, into the paddy wagon, flipping her carefully worded sign, with its skillfully drawn peace symbol, to the pavement. She scolded them and called them litterbugs; they grinned and told her she was too good-looking to be a kook. "I'm going east," he told me. "I plan to visit her." He blotted the leaky eye. "My cousin lives in Stokesbury, it isn't far from Philly. I can call." He hesitated.. .we all do... "She's still alive." Doubtful. "I would have heard." I was at a loss. "Doris?" I asked. "Isn't she right here, home?" Not Doris at all. He was thinking of Nadia, not the girl on the train with whom he had'five children, not the Doris who tacked cardboard to slats and paraded, "Out! America. Get out!" Not his wife of boisterous New Year's Eves and children's parties. Some old flame, before Doris, before war had concealed him in a Frenchman's vegetable cellar,

/ Think Continually of Those... exchanging his uniform for baggy blue trousers, and before peace shuttled him off to Pasadena and a Cal Tech professorship. Would he have heard? "You haven't seen her.. .since when?" "Four years ago." I hadn't known that. "At her house," he said. "Ir was all a little formal. I bumped into her at a concert. Six of us, Doris was there, Nadias husband, I can never remember his name, gracious man, another couple, anonymous people." "This was Nadia?" I said. He tucked the handkerchief into the breast pocket of his blazer, uncharacteristically neat, still unfolded, not disarranged. He had Einstein's wiry gray hair. "Nadia. Nadia." "As old, less a year or two, as old as I. But not fat, not bulging, the same look, sort of dumbfounded. Wrinkled of course, but..." Silence. A furtive, sneaky grin. "But her husband, I forget his name, he never left us, never stopped watching." "After forty years?" I marveled. "Thirty-seven." I think, like a reforming alcoholic, he might have said, thirty-seven years, three months, eight days. It was that absorbing, all-encompassing, overriding, this abandoned love. "Nadia feel the same?" I asked. Sullenly: "How the hell do I know?" Well, now I remembered, now it came back, for my wife had mentioned how Doris had reacted to this interview with his ancient flame. Her report was somewhat different from his. The meeting at the concert was an accident, all right, and Nadia, hospitable woman, invited them all back to her home for coffee. They grouped around a largish table, Nadia and the scientist engrossed, and way at its far end, the other four. Doris glared at her husband and Nadia's spouse slid furtive looks toward Nadia and responded to the forced conversation with "urns," and "ahs," like a worried patient at the dentist. The house was overfurnished, Doris said, and the beautifully burnished piano had a shawl on it, fringed. The keyboard lid was shut. "Every stick of furniture had a fringe on it," -Doris told my wife. "Everything in place, aligned, they had no kids, not any books either, as far as I could see, except on the coffee table."


Berkeley Fiction Review "Another drink?" I asked my famous friend. It was I who had been drinking, his was barely touched, but when I offered, he drained the scotch and handed me the glass. "Less whiskey," he said. "More rocks." Once again he dabbed at his eye, apologized. "Rheumy," he said. "I never knew what they meant by a 'rheumy eye." "Was it sudden?" "Nadia?" I shook my head at his bafflement. "Of course not," I said. "I meant your eyes" "More or less. I had a skin condition, some form of discrete cancer and they treated it, but overlooked, I suppose, the danger to my eyes. Anyway, that's what this is. I can see all right, except in sun and bright lights." I said, "Oh." I hadn't even known he was ill. "It's mortal," he said, inoffensively. How do you respond to a statement like that? That being alive is a fatal disease? That we all, some sooner...some later...do die. We all believe it's later. "Okay God, I'll go, but not tonight. Okay? Not tonight." "Not the eyes, the cancer." I suppose he saw the horror in my face or the revulsion or the anxiety to prove him wrong, for he said: "Not too long. I've got most things fixed for Doris, there shouldn't be a financial problem. Of course only two of the kids are solvent. But I can't live their lives, I don't have time." "That's why Nadia?" He seemed so much the characteristic university professor, the pipe he never smoked but used the way a conductor uses his baton, to direct, sometimes to admonish. He could draw back from a chat by holding the pipe before his chest and then leaning away, or waggling it at you derisively. "Thomas Wolfe," I said. "You can't go home again." "Oh, I'm home now," he said. "I just wonder what home might have been if.. .Nadia." Stupidly I offered: "I can't see how it would have made a difference. You're a scientist, you couldn't escape that." "Doris's sister," he said, apparently in rebuttal, "was an artist." I knew that. I had seen her work, all swirls and color rhythms, toppling over each other in every which way patterns, very pretty, very meaningless. 50

/ Think Continually of Those... "Doris wanted to be like big sister. She drew, you know, and sculpted, no originality, fine craftsmanship but no art." I hadn't been aware of that. As long as I'd known her, Doris in her free time was either demonstrating or dawdling at the piano. I had never seen her with a brush or a lump of clay. "She ought to have been a musician, but because of her sister she thought she ought to be a painter too. She wasted too much time, too many years. By the time she discovered what she really wanted, it was too late except for a hobby." He blotted the eye once more, cautiously. "She has perfect pitch, did you know, and, if you ask her, can hum anything from memory, or pick it out on the keyboard. Not only tell you what you're hearing.. .ask her, the theme from the second movement of Mozart's 27th, she'll play it, just like that." "I don't get your point," I said. He always had a purpose and whatever he said had a direction. "It's all accidental, casual, unplanned," he said- "We go where we think we should, like Doris, and then, sometime later, it's the wrong path." He used the pipe to scratch his cheek, absently, an imaginary itch. It was an exceptional pipe 0 (he collected them), the grain in whorls and careful gradations, merging like colors on a chart of the spectrum. "Numbers," he said. "Probability, chance. I've always wondered what might have happened if the numbers had come up differently." If, for example, Doris had missed that train, or found a seat in another car. Suppose he'd parachuted with his soiled pants into some less patriotic farmer's field or held off leaving the B-25 for just a few fearful moments, while it was gyrating like a hooked fish, and after it had twisted away for just one additional kilometer to explode. Funny, I'd always thought he'd bought the winning lottery ticket. You couldn't beat Doris as a wife or as a mother of your progeny. You just couldn't. She knew when to push and when to chuckle, when to admonish and even when to swat. In a dispute with her, you might win or lose but in the aftermath, she assuaged any lingering annoyance with that mischievous grin, as if her mouth were winking at you, confiding, like a tilted eyebrow, "This is just between us, and we're always pals, sure nough?" Everyone these days rates happiness as a sexual quotient. My wife had Doris's confidence and said to me; "You should have it so good." 51


Berkeley Fiction Review "Another drink?" I asked my famous friend. It was I who had been drinking, his was barely touched, but when I offered, he drained the scotch and handed me the glass. "Less whiskey," he said. "More rocks." Once again he dabbed at his eye, apologized. "Rheumy," he said. "I never knew what they meant by a 'rheumy eye." "Was it sudden?" "Nadia?" I shook my head at his bafflement. "Of course not," I said. "I meant your eyes" "More or less. I had a skin condition, some form of discrete cancer and they treated it, but overlooked, I suppose, the danger to my eyes. Anyway, that's what this is. I can see all right, except in sun and bright lights." I said, "Oh." I hadn't even known he was ill. "It's mortal," he said, inoffensively. How do you respond to a statement like that? That being alive is a fatal disease? That we all, some sooner...some later...do die. We all believe it's later. "Okay God, I'll go, but not tonight. Okay? Not tonight." "Not the eyes, the cancer." I suppose he saw the horror in my face or the revulsion or the anxiety to prove him wrong, for he said: "Not too long. I've got most things fixed for Doris, there shouldn't be a financial problem. Of course only two of the kids are solvent. But I can't live their lives, I don't have time." "That's why Nadia?" He seemed so much the characteristic university professor, the pipe he never smoked but used the way a conductor uses his baton, to direct, sometimes to admonish. He could draw back from a chat by holding the pipe before his chest and then leaning away, or waggling it at you derisively. "Thomas Wolfe," I said. "You can't go home again." "Oh, I'm home now," he said. "I just wonder what home might have been if.. .Nadia." Stupidly I offered: "I can't see how it would have made a difference. You're a scientist, you couldn't escape that." "Doris's sister," he said, apparently in rebuttal, "was an artist." I knew that. I had seen her work, all swirls and color rhythms, toppling over each other in every which way patterns, very pretty, very meaningless. 50

/ Think Continually of Those... "Doris wanted to be like big sister. She drew, you know, and sculpted, no originality, fine craftsmanship but no art." I hadn't been aware of that. As long as I'd known her, Doris in her free time was either demonstrating or dawdling at the piano. I had never seen her with a brush or a lump of clay. "She ought to have been a musician, but because of her sister she thought she ought to be a painter too. She wasted too much time, too many years. By the time she discovered what she really wanted, it was too late except for a hobby." He blotted the eye once more, cautiously. "She has perfect pitch, did you know, and, if you ask her, can hum anything from memory, or pick it out on the keyboard. Not only tell you what you're hearing.. .ask her, the theme from the second movement of Mozart's 27th, she'll play it, just like that." "I don't get your point," I said. He always had a purpose and whatever he said had a direction. "It's all accidental, casual, unplanned," he said- "We go where we think we should, like Doris, and then, sometime later, it's the wrong path." He used the pipe to scratch his cheek, absently, an imaginary itch. It was an exceptional pipe 0 (he collected them), the grain in whorls and careful gradations, merging like colors on a chart of the spectrum. "Numbers," he said. "Probability, chance. I've always wondered what might have happened if the numbers had come up differently." If, for example, Doris had missed that train, or found a seat in another car. Suppose he'd parachuted with his soiled pants into some less patriotic farmer's field or held off leaving the B-25 for just a few fearful moments, while it was gyrating like a hooked fish, and after it had twisted away for just one additional kilometer to explode. Funny, I'd always thought he'd bought the winning lottery ticket. You couldn't beat Doris as a wife or as a mother of your progeny. You just couldn't. She knew when to push and when to chuckle, when to admonish and even when to swat. In a dispute with her, you might win or lose but in the aftermath, she assuaged any lingering annoyance with that mischievous grin, as if her mouth were winking at you, confiding, like a tilted eyebrow, "This is just between us, and we're always pals, sure nough?" Everyone these days rates happiness as a sexual quotient. My wife had Doris's confidence and said to me; "You should have it so good." 51


Berkeley Fiction Review (I had been gallant; I said: "I thought we did.") In addition here he was, pre-eminent in his field, emeritus now, on two corporate boards, author of texts, renowned. What could have been better? He was looking for trouble, I thought. But then it was his way. He had to roil the waters, stir things up as he did when he scratched furiously on the board, hieroglyphics, and hurling the used piece of chalk to the floor, swiveled to face his six graduate students and demanded: "Well, am I right?" forcing them to conflict, to yell and rush, one or the other, up to that same blackboard erasing numbers and letters and snarling, while he, to the side or at the rear, polished his never smoked pipe against his jacket and stoked their intellectual bonfire. Meanwhile he dabbed at that fluttering eye and tried to be blase. "I merely want to see what might have happened." "Bullshit," I said. "You're looking for trouble, like a cat teasing a chained dog. The chain can break." It was his turn to say bullshit and continue with his plans. ("He has determination," Doris reported, slyly understating). "Four years ago we spent an hour or two together. I don't know anything about her, what influence she might have had, what direction my life would have taken." I thought, and still do, that such cogitation was juvenile, primitive like medieval religion, like tom-toms and sacrifices of chickens. Modern physics or no, and I said it, we live in a Newtonian world, a causal world, where your future is determined by the past and, I quote myself, "A straight line still is the shortest distance..." He chuckled. "You know it isn't, I know you know. And time, just like space, is curved, not sequential." He was scorning my cosmological ignorance, my temerity to even introduce modern physics as if I knew what I was talking about. He even said, offensively, but honestly not wishing to offend, "If you're not a surgeon, don't even pick up the scalpel." He continued. "Don't make this quirk of mine into a metaphysical inquiry. I'm curious about the woman. I want to know if I'd've been happier," Here he stopped. "No, I wouldn't have been happier, no." Once again he stopped. "Scientific inquiry, huh?" I said. "What if...and all that...?" The pipe stem pointed at my heart. "That's right," he said. "What 52

/ Think Continually of Those... if? I've got the head you know, suppose I'd not been... Let me put it a different way. Suppose my energies had been strategic, long range, overall. I'm a success in my field, sure. But tactical, short range, pragmatic, utilitarian." Frustrated Einstein, locked in the patent office, annual increments to his salary, slow advancement, maybe, at last, a gold watch. "Go see her," I said. "Visit your Nadia." Pompously I added, "Nibble on a cookie, like Proust." From his pocket he took out the already purchased plane ticket, gave me the amused Doris look. "My decision wasn't dependent on your approval." So he popped down to Philadelphia, rented a car, and dropped in unannounced and just before lunchtime to boot, to bring to the door a dazed Nadia who was embarrassed rather than delighted. What happened I relate secondhand, thirdhand I suppose, because he told all to Doris and Doris, in turn, narrated it to my wife. The way it was put to me, the experience was like going to a restaurant for the first time and eating a meal that you remember, so the next opportunity, with a few friends, you revisit the same restaurant and the menu is plebeian, the wine slightly touched, and the food without fragrance or savor. The city you saw twelve years before and which dazzled you is, on your return, tawdry, the sparkling boulevards are divided by a mall of drooping bushes and the hotel needs refurbishing. Doris said to my wife: "He must have been dreaming of this Nadia his whole life." She was appalled, she was dismayed, it was a compound fracture within her brain. She did not cry when she related his adventure to my wife, she didn't even have to dab at her eye as he did. Indeed, she was straightforward and angry, but the anger, said my wife, was not genuine. It masked the blow. She wanted to roll with it and bounce back like a pugilist, uninjured but furious. "I warned you," I told him. He was back in my kitchen and we were sipping scotch again. "It isn't all numbers, chance." "She doesn't get it," he said. "Doris doesn't understand." He spoke as if it were her fault, her lack of wisdom. "I never said I was in love with Nadia, or wanted to be with her. For God's sake all I wanted to do was make sure I'd done the right thing, that the way it turned out was all for the best." 53


Berkeley Fiction Review (I had been gallant; I said: "I thought we did.") In addition here he was, pre-eminent in his field, emeritus now, on two corporate boards, author of texts, renowned. What could have been better? He was looking for trouble, I thought. But then it was his way. He had to roil the waters, stir things up as he did when he scratched furiously on the board, hieroglyphics, and hurling the used piece of chalk to the floor, swiveled to face his six graduate students and demanded: "Well, am I right?" forcing them to conflict, to yell and rush, one or the other, up to that same blackboard erasing numbers and letters and snarling, while he, to the side or at the rear, polished his never smoked pipe against his jacket and stoked their intellectual bonfire. Meanwhile he dabbed at that fluttering eye and tried to be blase. "I merely want to see what might have happened." "Bullshit," I said. "You're looking for trouble, like a cat teasing a chained dog. The chain can break." It was his turn to say bullshit and continue with his plans. ("He has determination," Doris reported, slyly understating). "Four years ago we spent an hour or two together. I don't know anything about her, what influence she might have had, what direction my life would have taken." I thought, and still do, that such cogitation was juvenile, primitive like medieval religion, like tom-toms and sacrifices of chickens. Modern physics or no, and I said it, we live in a Newtonian world, a causal world, where your future is determined by the past and, I quote myself, "A straight line still is the shortest distance..." He chuckled. "You know it isn't, I know you know. And time, just like space, is curved, not sequential." He was scorning my cosmological ignorance, my temerity to even introduce modern physics as if I knew what I was talking about. He even said, offensively, but honestly not wishing to offend, "If you're not a surgeon, don't even pick up the scalpel." He continued. "Don't make this quirk of mine into a metaphysical inquiry. I'm curious about the woman. I want to know if I'd've been happier," Here he stopped. "No, I wouldn't have been happier, no." Once again he stopped. "Scientific inquiry, huh?" I said. "What if...and all that...?" The pipe stem pointed at my heart. "That's right," he said. "What 52

/ Think Continually of Those... if? I've got the head you know, suppose I'd not been... Let me put it a different way. Suppose my energies had been strategic, long range, overall. I'm a success in my field, sure. But tactical, short range, pragmatic, utilitarian." Frustrated Einstein, locked in the patent office, annual increments to his salary, slow advancement, maybe, at last, a gold watch. "Go see her," I said. "Visit your Nadia." Pompously I added, "Nibble on a cookie, like Proust." From his pocket he took out the already purchased plane ticket, gave me the amused Doris look. "My decision wasn't dependent on your approval." So he popped down to Philadelphia, rented a car, and dropped in unannounced and just before lunchtime to boot, to bring to the door a dazed Nadia who was embarrassed rather than delighted. What happened I relate secondhand, thirdhand I suppose, because he told all to Doris and Doris, in turn, narrated it to my wife. The way it was put to me, the experience was like going to a restaurant for the first time and eating a meal that you remember, so the next opportunity, with a few friends, you revisit the same restaurant and the menu is plebeian, the wine slightly touched, and the food without fragrance or savor. The city you saw twelve years before and which dazzled you is, on your return, tawdry, the sparkling boulevards are divided by a mall of drooping bushes and the hotel needs refurbishing. Doris said to my wife: "He must have been dreaming of this Nadia his whole life." She was appalled, she was dismayed, it was a compound fracture within her brain. She did not cry when she related his adventure to my wife, she didn't even have to dab at her eye as he did. Indeed, she was straightforward and angry, but the anger, said my wife, was not genuine. It masked the blow. She wanted to roll with it and bounce back like a pugilist, uninjured but furious. "I warned you," I told him. He was back in my kitchen and we were sipping scotch again. "It isn't all numbers, chance." "She doesn't get it," he said. "Doris doesn't understand." He spoke as if it were her fault, her lack of wisdom. "I never said I was in love with Nadia, or wanted to be with her. For God's sake all I wanted to do was make sure I'd done the right thing, that the way it turned out was all for the best." 53


Berkeley Fiction Review "That bastard," Doris said. "He was screwing me and dreaming of her." The scientist was away, at the hospital again, this time for overnight tests and we had come to see her, ostensibly to console her about his illness, to visit, to sit around and divert her as you do when a friend has had awful news, just letting her talk, make tea, rail at life's unexpected malicious skullduggeries. "There's often a little fantasy," I said and my wife examined me as if expecting a similar treacherous confession. "It's commonplace, ordinary." That wicked leer that I so remembered. "My pal, the psychiatrist," said Doris. "Any other excuses?" I had never seen Doris daunted, even after the night in jail when the magistrate decided to teach her a lesson and I had to appear in the morning with a lawyer and bail. Wry looks, sure, a sort of "what can you do?" pout. Even the two miscarriages had been carried off with what I must describe as a brave front. But not this visit. When we were back home, I said: "I don't get her reactions, it isn't Doris, I never saw her off the wall before, it's too overdone, she's making a big deal out of nothing." My wife gazed at me pityingly, as she might a dog who desired to do what his master had ordered, but couldn't figure out what it was he wanted. Her eyes were fixed on my face. "Don't you get the humiliation? Suppose I went off to see Bobby Morrison (an old arrangement that I still resented), not to have an affair with him, oh no, nothing as trivial as that. No, I just went to discover if I'd loused up my whole life by choosing you." Carefully, I said, "Well if you came back and said it was no big deal, and you'd made the right choice after all, why I guess I'd be pleased." That scornful look. Just such a look had passed between her and my teen age daughter a couple years before when there'd been some set-to involving my wife and a friend, and I'd dismissed it as unimportant. "Forget it," I said. "Marybelle (or Annie, or whoever it was), didn't mean anything by that remark." I'd intercepted that eye to eye exchange. They were saying to each other: "Men are dolts, deaf, dumb, fatheads...insensitive. Can't tell a put-down from a compliment." "You don't see, do you? What a betrayal this is of Doris, how devastating it might seem to her," her voice was honed with scorn, 54

^=

/ Think Continually of Those... "that he should even consider, even for one lousy moment, that his life might have been better without her. How could this husband be so self-centered that he had to investigate to see if his whole life, his marriage, everything, even his love for her...could have just been a mistake?" "He's a scientist," I said weakly. "His field is probability. You go out the door, remember you forgot a letter you want to mail, go back to get it and, because of the minute delay, some drunk comes skidding around the corner and you're a cripple the rest of your life. If you'd said, 'skip the letter, I'll do it later,' you'd go on with your life.. .and never know what might have happened." "Swell," snapped my wife. "And if he hadn't had this egotistical whim about his life, he wouldn't have loused up hers. Did he make a mistake? What colossal arrogance!" She had a point. Even I, insensitive male, could see that Doris was no longer Doris. I asked him, "It was satisfactory, your life? It did turn out for the best, didn't it?" " Overwhelmingly." "So tell Doris that, explain to her it was just an itch, a craving to see... He smirked. "Of course that's what I said, about 268 times that's what I said, and she turned away, didn't bother to feply. Nothing." The cancer exploded abruptly, the maniacal cells multiplied frantically, geometrically. He became weak, his speech was distracted, the eye was a continual torment. Doris prepared his meals and ignored him, slept in one of the children's vacated rooms, answered his questions with monosyllables. She sat at a window that overlooked their backyard, some book in her lap, and watched the barren trees, the pale blotched bark of the sycamore, and waited. When he died she had a private funeral with no eulogy and the only attendants were my wife, myself, the five children, and their roommates. The Times obituary, two columns wide, listed his considerable achievements, quoted scientists from NASA and from his and other universities, even comments from England and abroad. He was to be awarded a posthumous medal by our grateful government. Nowhere at all was there any mention of Nadia. 55


Berkeley Fiction Review "That bastard," Doris said. "He was screwing me and dreaming of her." The scientist was away, at the hospital again, this time for overnight tests and we had come to see her, ostensibly to console her about his illness, to visit, to sit around and divert her as you do when a friend has had awful news, just letting her talk, make tea, rail at life's unexpected malicious skullduggeries. "There's often a little fantasy," I said and my wife examined me as if expecting a similar treacherous confession. "It's commonplace, ordinary." That wicked leer that I so remembered. "My pal, the psychiatrist," said Doris. "Any other excuses?" I had never seen Doris daunted, even after the night in jail when the magistrate decided to teach her a lesson and I had to appear in the morning with a lawyer and bail. Wry looks, sure, a sort of "what can you do?" pout. Even the two miscarriages had been carried off with what I must describe as a brave front. But not this visit. When we were back home, I said: "I don't get her reactions, it isn't Doris, I never saw her off the wall before, it's too overdone, she's making a big deal out of nothing." My wife gazed at me pityingly, as she might a dog who desired to do what his master had ordered, but couldn't figure out what it was he wanted. Her eyes were fixed on my face. "Don't you get the humiliation? Suppose I went off to see Bobby Morrison (an old arrangement that I still resented), not to have an affair with him, oh no, nothing as trivial as that. No, I just went to discover if I'd loused up my whole life by choosing you." Carefully, I said, "Well if you came back and said it was no big deal, and you'd made the right choice after all, why I guess I'd be pleased." That scornful look. Just such a look had passed between her and my teen age daughter a couple years before when there'd been some set-to involving my wife and a friend, and I'd dismissed it as unimportant. "Forget it," I said. "Marybelle (or Annie, or whoever it was), didn't mean anything by that remark." I'd intercepted that eye to eye exchange. They were saying to each other: "Men are dolts, deaf, dumb, fatheads...insensitive. Can't tell a put-down from a compliment." "You don't see, do you? What a betrayal this is of Doris, how devastating it might seem to her," her voice was honed with scorn, 54

^=

/ Think Continually of Those... "that he should even consider, even for one lousy moment, that his life might have been better without her. How could this husband be so self-centered that he had to investigate to see if his whole life, his marriage, everything, even his love for her...could have just been a mistake?" "He's a scientist," I said weakly. "His field is probability. You go out the door, remember you forgot a letter you want to mail, go back to get it and, because of the minute delay, some drunk comes skidding around the corner and you're a cripple the rest of your life. If you'd said, 'skip the letter, I'll do it later,' you'd go on with your life.. .and never know what might have happened." "Swell," snapped my wife. "And if he hadn't had this egotistical whim about his life, he wouldn't have loused up hers. Did he make a mistake? What colossal arrogance!" She had a point. Even I, insensitive male, could see that Doris was no longer Doris. I asked him, "It was satisfactory, your life? It did turn out for the best, didn't it?" " Overwhelmingly." "So tell Doris that, explain to her it was just an itch, a craving to see... He smirked. "Of course that's what I said, about 268 times that's what I said, and she turned away, didn't bother to feply. Nothing." The cancer exploded abruptly, the maniacal cells multiplied frantically, geometrically. He became weak, his speech was distracted, the eye was a continual torment. Doris prepared his meals and ignored him, slept in one of the children's vacated rooms, answered his questions with monosyllables. She sat at a window that overlooked their backyard, some book in her lap, and watched the barren trees, the pale blotched bark of the sycamore, and waited. When he died she had a private funeral with no eulogy and the only attendants were my wife, myself, the five children, and their roommates. The Times obituary, two columns wide, listed his considerable achievements, quoted scientists from NASA and from his and other universities, even comments from England and abroad. He was to be awarded a posthumous medal by our grateful government. Nowhere at all was there any mention of Nadia. 55


Passenger

P a s s e n g e i Laurel H u n t e r

could cry. A movie is being made in the city—it's being filmed on the street where I live. Knowing full well that I I had to rise at the crack of dawn, I stared at the ceiling for most of the night because of noise from the movie set and an enormous spotlight that threw a relentless light through my bedroom window, turning the dark night to perpetual day. Each time I'd begin to dream, I'd suddenly be awakened by the chilling scrape of a stunt car repeatedly ascending a ramp, only to soar airborne before smashing into the pavement on the Jones Street hill—the result of a simulated police chase. Over and over I heard it skidding downward, crashing into a cable car, which in the final edits of the film would be shown bursting into flames, while horrified passengers shrieked in artificial terror. The cable car tracks, painstakingly etched and painted onto the street, will remain long after the film crews and movie stars are gone, tricking tourists who anxiously wait for the streetcar before they blush as they realize that the track is an illusion. This morning I exit my apartment and enter the street. I'm groggy from lack of sleep and unamused by the crowd which is gathered around a wardrobe trailer where an actress is causing a commotion. She's to play a pregnant woman and she's insisting that the plastic womb strapped to her belly is much too tight. An assistant is trying to help her unfasten it, but the ill-tempered actress keeps yelling about being hurt and persisting in her attempt to loosen it herself. I've seen her in something but I can't remember what. The assistant keeps trying to help as the actress whimpers and writhes beneath the plastic belly. 56

'Walking forward I approach the crowd. I need to get through, but a production assistant is watching dailies of an actor on a T V monitor. A crowd has gathered around, a tightly knit tapestry of curious faces. The police are everywhere, from one end of the street to as far as I can see. A few of them are hovering around the wardrobe trailer near the actress, others are directing traffic, while another whistles and motions toward the streetcar which is about to be filmed again. He looks confident and self-important as he successfully diverts traffic around the movie set. I push my way through the onlookers who are hungry to catch a glance of the movie star. A policeman prevents me from crossing the street. I'm getting a headache because I need caffeine, but if I'm late for work again, I'm sure to be fired. The plastic bellied actress is screaming about the bad fit again. I'm getting irritable and a man beside me is pressing, "Do you know who the stars are? Do you know who the stars kre?" I don't care who the stars are and I'm about to tell him when a policeman signals for me to pass. As I walk away, I hear the man repeating himself to another stranger. I walk quickly to my usual coffee stop—there's a line out the door— there must be a star inside. I'll never get coffee and get to work on time, so I pass and turn down the hill, one street before my usual turn, to escape the delirious crowd. I've got thirteen minutes to get to work, barely enough time to make it. I'm cursing the movie makers, the actress, the hero who will predictably save her from doom. I shouldn't be late. I took care to set the alarm a half hour early, but it was four a.m. before I finally got to sleep. When the radio came on to wake me, I rolled over, turned it off, and fell back to sleep on Danny's warm chest. I dreamt about a lover who wasn't Danny, who in reality I had never met. He stood before me naked and strong, perfect, a mythological God. I rose from a white bed to go to him, but when I stood before him, he was no longer a man, but a stone statue, the one from the park on the hill, a cherub spewing water. Suddenly I heard beating on the door and I awoke to find that it was not the door, but Danny's pounding heart. I leapt from the bed, dressed without showering and hurried off to work looking disheveled. My boss Evelyn has talked to me twice about my punctuality problem. I keep thinking that it's not my fault, but it must be, because I'm late again and again. Evelyn is kind, which makes her warning worse- -the next time I'm late, she'll have no choice but to fire me. 57


Passenger

P a s s e n g e i Laurel H u n t e r

could cry. A movie is being made in the city—it's being filmed on the street where I live. Knowing full well that I I had to rise at the crack of dawn, I stared at the ceiling for most of the night because of noise from the movie set and an enormous spotlight that threw a relentless light through my bedroom window, turning the dark night to perpetual day. Each time I'd begin to dream, I'd suddenly be awakened by the chilling scrape of a stunt car repeatedly ascending a ramp, only to soar airborne before smashing into the pavement on the Jones Street hill—the result of a simulated police chase. Over and over I heard it skidding downward, crashing into a cable car, which in the final edits of the film would be shown bursting into flames, while horrified passengers shrieked in artificial terror. The cable car tracks, painstakingly etched and painted onto the street, will remain long after the film crews and movie stars are gone, tricking tourists who anxiously wait for the streetcar before they blush as they realize that the track is an illusion. This morning I exit my apartment and enter the street. I'm groggy from lack of sleep and unamused by the crowd which is gathered around a wardrobe trailer where an actress is causing a commotion. She's to play a pregnant woman and she's insisting that the plastic womb strapped to her belly is much too tight. An assistant is trying to help her unfasten it, but the ill-tempered actress keeps yelling about being hurt and persisting in her attempt to loosen it herself. I've seen her in something but I can't remember what. The assistant keeps trying to help as the actress whimpers and writhes beneath the plastic belly. 56

'Walking forward I approach the crowd. I need to get through, but a production assistant is watching dailies of an actor on a T V monitor. A crowd has gathered around, a tightly knit tapestry of curious faces. The police are everywhere, from one end of the street to as far as I can see. A few of them are hovering around the wardrobe trailer near the actress, others are directing traffic, while another whistles and motions toward the streetcar which is about to be filmed again. He looks confident and self-important as he successfully diverts traffic around the movie set. I push my way through the onlookers who are hungry to catch a glance of the movie star. A policeman prevents me from crossing the street. I'm getting a headache because I need caffeine, but if I'm late for work again, I'm sure to be fired. The plastic bellied actress is screaming about the bad fit again. I'm getting irritable and a man beside me is pressing, "Do you know who the stars are? Do you know who the stars kre?" I don't care who the stars are and I'm about to tell him when a policeman signals for me to pass. As I walk away, I hear the man repeating himself to another stranger. I walk quickly to my usual coffee stop—there's a line out the door— there must be a star inside. I'll never get coffee and get to work on time, so I pass and turn down the hill, one street before my usual turn, to escape the delirious crowd. I've got thirteen minutes to get to work, barely enough time to make it. I'm cursing the movie makers, the actress, the hero who will predictably save her from doom. I shouldn't be late. I took care to set the alarm a half hour early, but it was four a.m. before I finally got to sleep. When the radio came on to wake me, I rolled over, turned it off, and fell back to sleep on Danny's warm chest. I dreamt about a lover who wasn't Danny, who in reality I had never met. He stood before me naked and strong, perfect, a mythological God. I rose from a white bed to go to him, but when I stood before him, he was no longer a man, but a stone statue, the one from the park on the hill, a cherub spewing water. Suddenly I heard beating on the door and I awoke to find that it was not the door, but Danny's pounding heart. I leapt from the bed, dressed without showering and hurried off to work looking disheveled. My boss Evelyn has talked to me twice about my punctuality problem. I keep thinking that it's not my fault, but it must be, because I'm late again and again. Evelyn is kind, which makes her warning worse- -the next time I'm late, she'll have no choice but to fire me. 57


Berkeley Fiction Review Aside from her, I don't even like my job, but my opportunities for employment are limited. I never finished high school and when I was finally admitted to college by qualifying in a special program, I quit after finishing the requirements for an art degree, never fulfilling the rest of the academic criteria. My father always said, "Painting will never amount to money," and for once in his life, he was right. Once, tired of Danny criticizing my position as a shoe sales clerk, I arranged for an interview through a friend at a graphic design firm. I arrived with my portfolio and showed it to the art director who reminded me of my father. He politely suggested that I work on something more colorful and get back to him. I never did. I look at my watch and realize that I'm not going to make it to work on time. I'm walking fast, breathing hard, moisture saturating my cotton dress. There's a throbbing pain in my temples and I still feel like I'm going to cry. I look to cross the street because there's a white van parked on the sidewalk up ahead, but there's too much traffic to cross, so I continue on. I hurry toward the end of the street, toward the van. I already see myself running toward the employee lounge. I can see Evelyn's eyes, piercing and disappointed as I fumble with the time clock and hurry to the sales floor. I hear myself explain to her about the movie, how I didn't get any sleep, didn't even stop for coffee, how I really did leave the apartment in plenty of time. I see myself returning home to Danny with explanations and teary shame. I hear the undermining tone in my mother's voice as we talk on the phone and I tell her I quit even though she knows I've been fired. As I approach the van, I look past it, and damn it if there isn't another policeman stopping people from crossing the street, more to do with the fucking movie! I hurry past the van, but suddenly an enormous force pulls me backward. My hair—it's caught in something. I'm thinking that the van is one of those carpet cleaning vehicles and I'm caught up in the machinery. As my body slams onto the floor of the van, I catch a glimpse of a man. I let out a feeble sound and then feel a hard blow to the back of my head. I hear a cracking sound and everything fades to white. I'm swimming naked in a river. It must be summer because the sun is hot and the water is warm. Today must be the happiest day of my life. I'm eight years old and my mother and father have rented a cabin. 58

Passenger They're in love and they've sent me off to play—with specific orders to stay away from the river. We've been here many times before, but today is different, unlike any other day. Everything looks warm, as though I'm looking through red glasses. I've peeled off my dress and I'm jumping off enormous granite boulders into the creamy water. The water glides across my skin and the sun warms my face. I dive and swim and dive and swim. I touch the bottom and emerge, touch the bottom and emerge finally to find my mother standing on the opposite bank of the river. She's waving her hands, motioning for me to swim toward her. She looks panicked. Her cheeks are stained with tears and suddenly I'm very sad. Why is she worried? Why can't she see how happy I am? How happy and warm and safe? I-awaken from the dream to a familiar smell. I'm in the forest, the scent is pine trees, or is it gasoline? I think I've been asleep for a long time. I open my eyes and for a moment I can't remember who I am. I'm encased in fog, yes it must be fog, and in the blur, I wait, to remember. There's a figure in the fog. He sits on a rock, thin and frail, staring at me through the drifting clouds. Suddenly the earth shifts, throwing my body violently aside. I'm thrown against a rock, I place my hands to stabilize myself and I realize I'm still dreaming because the earth is not the earth but something strange. There is no dirt, no grass,, no stones, no weeds, no pavement* but a strange surface, cold and smooth. Is my hair wet? I touch my head. Yes! It is wet! I've fallen asleep in the bathtub! The figure in the clouds continues to gaze at me. Is it Danny? Wake up! Wake up from the dream! "Lay down, bitch!" Danny? "Lay back down! Make her lay down!" The figure emerges from the cloud. He makes a gesture like hes going to make me lie down, but I've already resigned myself to gravity. The surface below me is metal. The smell is pot, I recognize it now. The cloud is smoke and the figure isn't sitting on a rock, he's sitting above the tire inside the white van. My head is bleeding, saturating my hair. "Make sure she doesn't get up!" The voice is coming from the driver. The figure in the smoke doesn't speak. He seems to fold into himself, pressinghis body toward the side of the van. He gapes at me sideways. My heart is racing and my lungs feel as if they are going to explode. I want to wake! Wake up from the dream! The thin, awkward man watches 59


Berkeley Fiction Review Aside from her, I don't even like my job, but my opportunities for employment are limited. I never finished high school and when I was finally admitted to college by qualifying in a special program, I quit after finishing the requirements for an art degree, never fulfilling the rest of the academic criteria. My father always said, "Painting will never amount to money," and for once in his life, he was right. Once, tired of Danny criticizing my position as a shoe sales clerk, I arranged for an interview through a friend at a graphic design firm. I arrived with my portfolio and showed it to the art director who reminded me of my father. He politely suggested that I work on something more colorful and get back to him. I never did. I look at my watch and realize that I'm not going to make it to work on time. I'm walking fast, breathing hard, moisture saturating my cotton dress. There's a throbbing pain in my temples and I still feel like I'm going to cry. I look to cross the street because there's a white van parked on the sidewalk up ahead, but there's too much traffic to cross, so I continue on. I hurry toward the end of the street, toward the van. I already see myself running toward the employee lounge. I can see Evelyn's eyes, piercing and disappointed as I fumble with the time clock and hurry to the sales floor. I hear myself explain to her about the movie, how I didn't get any sleep, didn't even stop for coffee, how I really did leave the apartment in plenty of time. I see myself returning home to Danny with explanations and teary shame. I hear the undermining tone in my mother's voice as we talk on the phone and I tell her I quit even though she knows I've been fired. As I approach the van, I look past it, and damn it if there isn't another policeman stopping people from crossing the street, more to do with the fucking movie! I hurry past the van, but suddenly an enormous force pulls me backward. My hair—it's caught in something. I'm thinking that the van is one of those carpet cleaning vehicles and I'm caught up in the machinery. As my body slams onto the floor of the van, I catch a glimpse of a man. I let out a feeble sound and then feel a hard blow to the back of my head. I hear a cracking sound and everything fades to white. I'm swimming naked in a river. It must be summer because the sun is hot and the water is warm. Today must be the happiest day of my life. I'm eight years old and my mother and father have rented a cabin. 58

Passenger They're in love and they've sent me off to play—with specific orders to stay away from the river. We've been here many times before, but today is different, unlike any other day. Everything looks warm, as though I'm looking through red glasses. I've peeled off my dress and I'm jumping off enormous granite boulders into the creamy water. The water glides across my skin and the sun warms my face. I dive and swim and dive and swim. I touch the bottom and emerge, touch the bottom and emerge finally to find my mother standing on the opposite bank of the river. She's waving her hands, motioning for me to swim toward her. She looks panicked. Her cheeks are stained with tears and suddenly I'm very sad. Why is she worried? Why can't she see how happy I am? How happy and warm and safe? I-awaken from the dream to a familiar smell. I'm in the forest, the scent is pine trees, or is it gasoline? I think I've been asleep for a long time. I open my eyes and for a moment I can't remember who I am. I'm encased in fog, yes it must be fog, and in the blur, I wait, to remember. There's a figure in the fog. He sits on a rock, thin and frail, staring at me through the drifting clouds. Suddenly the earth shifts, throwing my body violently aside. I'm thrown against a rock, I place my hands to stabilize myself and I realize I'm still dreaming because the earth is not the earth but something strange. There is no dirt, no grass,, no stones, no weeds, no pavement* but a strange surface, cold and smooth. Is my hair wet? I touch my head. Yes! It is wet! I've fallen asleep in the bathtub! The figure in the clouds continues to gaze at me. Is it Danny? Wake up! Wake up from the dream! "Lay down, bitch!" Danny? "Lay back down! Make her lay down!" The figure emerges from the cloud. He makes a gesture like hes going to make me lie down, but I've already resigned myself to gravity. The surface below me is metal. The smell is pot, I recognize it now. The cloud is smoke and the figure isn't sitting on a rock, he's sitting above the tire inside the white van. My head is bleeding, saturating my hair. "Make sure she doesn't get up!" The voice is coming from the driver. The figure in the smoke doesn't speak. He seems to fold into himself, pressinghis body toward the side of the van. He gapes at me sideways. My heart is racing and my lungs feel as if they are going to explode. I want to wake! Wake up from the dream! The thin, awkward man watches 59


Berkeley Fiction Review me, frightened. Outside the window the sky is dark. I know I have to get out of the van. I have to get to the door and leap out. I can move my hands, but I can't command my arms to lift me. My fingers wiggle, but my body will do nothing more. I remember hurrying to work. I think of the police officers and movie stars, the actress with the plastic belly. I think of Danny who is expecting me to return home now, annoyed that I am late again. What more is life than an amassment of energy pulsing within a single cell? Splitting and dividing into multiple pockets of fluids and organs, each a universe unto itself? What of orbiting electrons, molecules in motion, the atom split? Walking on the beach one day, I collected colored stones, clay with a quartz white stripe, pink with black specks, sandstone plucked from sand. What better place for death, glistening in the sun, beneath salt water waves? What difference does it make how much money I have, who the President of the United States is, or that a universe contains a universe? Why take comfort in the ocean salts upon my lips? I must have passed out, because I'm waking up again. I'm being pulled from the van. The thin man has my legs, the driver's hands hold me by my armpits, tugging at my breast. We're outside. There are tall trees—the two men are carrying me somewhere. I look up into the face of the driver. He tells me to shut my eyes, but I pretend not to hear him. He's a heavy man with a mustache and oily hair. "Shut your eyesl" he yells again. But I won't shut my eyes. I want him to see them, it is my revenge. "Put her over there, by the tree!" I finally shift my gaze to the thin one. He's peering at me sideways again. It's as though his spine is twisted, pulling on his face and distorting his mouth. His eyes are small beads. I look back at the driver who is getting ready to put me on the ground. Suddenly I'm overcome by an enormous fear—I begin kicking and twisting my body—I have to get away! The thin man releases my feet, but the driver still has my arms. I'm writhing and kicking, but the driver's grip is firm. He looks into my eyes, and I see a strange light in his face as a thin smile passes over his watery features. He's enjoying my struggle and at that moment I make a decision to never fight again.

60

Passenger So this is what it's like to die. I'm lying on my back, in the mud, my body rocking from the weight of my abductor. It's night and I hardly notice that it's winter, the burning sensation in the back of my head, or the dull ache of my brain, which is now beginning to swelL Prince, my abductor, is breathing hard in my face. I smell cheap beer and cigarettes on his breath as his day-old beard wears on my face. I know his name because the thin one cried it out as his brother threw me down after tearing my dress. "You Fuck!" he screamed after his brother named him. "You stupid fucking fuck!" The brother stands now, shivering and helpless, a pained expression on his face. His body spasms and jerks in a useless attempt to avoid his brother's words, which now pierce him. "Get over here! Get over here!" H e continues shouting until his brother's distorted body makes its way forward, slowly, on wobbly legs, which mean to walk forward and backward at the same time. "Fuck her!" the older brother yells to the quivering face of the younger one. "Get down there and fuck her!" Trembling, the younger brother shakes his head no. Spit flies from his mouth and his chest contracts as he struggles to catch his breath. He crouches near a tree as the older brother beats him about the face and head. "You fuck her! You fuck her right now!" He throws his younger brother onto the ground next to me, then unbuckles the thin one's belt for him and yanks his pants down around his knees. The younger brother tries to get up but is kicked back down to the ground. "Fuck her, you faggot! My brother's not a faggot is he?" Prince slaps his brother's head again and then throws him on top of me. "Faggot! Fucking queer! I'm related to a fucking queer! Fuck her, you limp-dicked faggot! Fuck her or I'll cut your fucking dick off!" The younger brother is over me now. He makes a futile attempt to satisfy his brother. He's weeping and his tears fall as he drags his flaccid penis across my body. He can't look at me, but instead looks to his brother. Prince throws the thin one aside and then pulls out his own dick and shoves it inside me, looking defiandy at his sobbing brother, showing him how it's done. I'm looking at Orion's sword, Betelgeuse, and the Big Dipper on the celestial horizon. I feel the earth's rotation. I feel it spinning in perfect precession as it travels five hundred miles an hour toward its infinite and circular destination. The miserable moon surrounds me. Pleiades pulses thousands of light years away. I'm thinking of coffee again. Yesterday, I sat in a coffee shop near 61


Berkeley Fiction Review me, frightened. Outside the window the sky is dark. I know I have to get out of the van. I have to get to the door and leap out. I can move my hands, but I can't command my arms to lift me. My fingers wiggle, but my body will do nothing more. I remember hurrying to work. I think of the police officers and movie stars, the actress with the plastic belly. I think of Danny who is expecting me to return home now, annoyed that I am late again. What more is life than an amassment of energy pulsing within a single cell? Splitting and dividing into multiple pockets of fluids and organs, each a universe unto itself? What of orbiting electrons, molecules in motion, the atom split? Walking on the beach one day, I collected colored stones, clay with a quartz white stripe, pink with black specks, sandstone plucked from sand. What better place for death, glistening in the sun, beneath salt water waves? What difference does it make how much money I have, who the President of the United States is, or that a universe contains a universe? Why take comfort in the ocean salts upon my lips? I must have passed out, because I'm waking up again. I'm being pulled from the van. The thin man has my legs, the driver's hands hold me by my armpits, tugging at my breast. We're outside. There are tall trees—the two men are carrying me somewhere. I look up into the face of the driver. He tells me to shut my eyes, but I pretend not to hear him. He's a heavy man with a mustache and oily hair. "Shut your eyesl" he yells again. But I won't shut my eyes. I want him to see them, it is my revenge. "Put her over there, by the tree!" I finally shift my gaze to the thin one. He's peering at me sideways again. It's as though his spine is twisted, pulling on his face and distorting his mouth. His eyes are small beads. I look back at the driver who is getting ready to put me on the ground. Suddenly I'm overcome by an enormous fear—I begin kicking and twisting my body—I have to get away! The thin man releases my feet, but the driver still has my arms. I'm writhing and kicking, but the driver's grip is firm. He looks into my eyes, and I see a strange light in his face as a thin smile passes over his watery features. He's enjoying my struggle and at that moment I make a decision to never fight again.

60

Passenger So this is what it's like to die. I'm lying on my back, in the mud, my body rocking from the weight of my abductor. It's night and I hardly notice that it's winter, the burning sensation in the back of my head, or the dull ache of my brain, which is now beginning to swelL Prince, my abductor, is breathing hard in my face. I smell cheap beer and cigarettes on his breath as his day-old beard wears on my face. I know his name because the thin one cried it out as his brother threw me down after tearing my dress. "You Fuck!" he screamed after his brother named him. "You stupid fucking fuck!" The brother stands now, shivering and helpless, a pained expression on his face. His body spasms and jerks in a useless attempt to avoid his brother's words, which now pierce him. "Get over here! Get over here!" H e continues shouting until his brother's distorted body makes its way forward, slowly, on wobbly legs, which mean to walk forward and backward at the same time. "Fuck her!" the older brother yells to the quivering face of the younger one. "Get down there and fuck her!" Trembling, the younger brother shakes his head no. Spit flies from his mouth and his chest contracts as he struggles to catch his breath. He crouches near a tree as the older brother beats him about the face and head. "You fuck her! You fuck her right now!" He throws his younger brother onto the ground next to me, then unbuckles the thin one's belt for him and yanks his pants down around his knees. The younger brother tries to get up but is kicked back down to the ground. "Fuck her, you faggot! My brother's not a faggot is he?" Prince slaps his brother's head again and then throws him on top of me. "Faggot! Fucking queer! I'm related to a fucking queer! Fuck her, you limp-dicked faggot! Fuck her or I'll cut your fucking dick off!" The younger brother is over me now. He makes a futile attempt to satisfy his brother. He's weeping and his tears fall as he drags his flaccid penis across my body. He can't look at me, but instead looks to his brother. Prince throws the thin one aside and then pulls out his own dick and shoves it inside me, looking defiandy at his sobbing brother, showing him how it's done. I'm looking at Orion's sword, Betelgeuse, and the Big Dipper on the celestial horizon. I feel the earth's rotation. I feel it spinning in perfect precession as it travels five hundred miles an hour toward its infinite and circular destination. The miserable moon surrounds me. Pleiades pulses thousands of light years away. I'm thinking of coffee again. Yesterday, I sat in a coffee shop near 61


Berkeley Fiction Review my apartment, reading the newspaper, drinking my coffee, and eating my bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese. On the bottom corner of the front page, there was a story about a boy in another country. He had been captured by soldiers and taken to a field on the edge of a city not far from his home, along with twenty-nine other men. His captors, following orders, lined the men up chest to chest, back to back, and systematically executed them before throwing them onto a pile of at least a thousand more lifeless men who had been executed in the same manner. The boy, left for dead, lay bleeding on the pile of dead men and endured the executions of hundreds more for several days. Finally a truck arrived. A soldier stepped out and said, "That's it. That's all of them." The men laughed and one replied, "We had a good hunt today. We killed a lot of rabbits." Laughing, they entered their trucks and drove away. Satellite photos confirmed the boy's story. He had survived the savage ordeal and his story was released by his government as a plea for foreign assistance. I stopped eating my bagel and thought of the boy. I thought of the soldiers who carried out their orders. I placed a hand on my throat and another on my stomach and pressed my body into the back of my chair, and for the first time in my life I wanted to die. Prince has noticed that I'm not paying attention. His sharp hand slaps my face in an attempt to regain my attention. He succeeds— again I look at his face. It's sweaty from sex and smeared with dirt. He has a knife in his hand, but I'm not afraid. I look at the younger brother who is now curled up in the fetal position under a tree, weeping. "Looky here!" the older brother yells to him. "Looky here!" The thin man gazes toward us, sideways again, and then Prince slits my throat. It hurts, I know I'll die, but I begin to laugh. I can't help myself. I can't breathe, but my situation seems ridiculous, small, unreal. I look up at the stars through the trees, then into the face of Prince. I'm looking at his face and then I die, still laughing.

62

H i s

L a s t

N i n e

W o r d s

W.A. Smith

I e're in the black Dodge with red leather-looking seats and push-button drive. No stick or three-on-the-tree. We always have a pretty cool modern car, that's one thing I can say. Since he aint allowed to operate a got-damn automobile anymore because of his seizures, I'm behind the wheel, having recently acquired my learner's permit—though I've been driving all over the place for a long time. I started steering when I was five, on his lap, Sundays, with him covering the distance to the gas and brakes, offering an occasional instruction: Careful now...keep your hands apart, eyes on the road... there you go. A few days ago, he told me, Everybody's sure I'm gonna kill someone, as if it's a crazy-ass concept. But I've witnessed his seizures, and I recognize that thirty-four hundred pounds of mechanized steel and glass under the direction of an epileptic are bound to spell trouble eventually, power steering and a wide highway notwithstanding. He's asked me to drive him to his office in town. There's an EEG to read. No, doubt he has already taken his patient's history in careful, religious detail, sitting very doctorly in his swiveling red leather chair with all his questions, nodding—God, I'm acquainted with that nod— outlining the patient's neurological nuances in that handwriting which no one but my mother and Cleo, his secretary, can decipher; little squiggly bent-over es that look like only half of something, or periods -^periods that couldn't stop anything; and ws and tis that resemble ancient Chinese characters, peewee bridges collapsing in a strong wind. 63


Berkeley Fiction Review my apartment, reading the newspaper, drinking my coffee, and eating my bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese. On the bottom corner of the front page, there was a story about a boy in another country. He had been captured by soldiers and taken to a field on the edge of a city not far from his home, along with twenty-nine other men. His captors, following orders, lined the men up chest to chest, back to back, and systematically executed them before throwing them onto a pile of at least a thousand more lifeless men who had been executed in the same manner. The boy, left for dead, lay bleeding on the pile of dead men and endured the executions of hundreds more for several days. Finally a truck arrived. A soldier stepped out and said, "That's it. That's all of them." The men laughed and one replied, "We had a good hunt today. We killed a lot of rabbits." Laughing, they entered their trucks and drove away. Satellite photos confirmed the boy's story. He had survived the savage ordeal and his story was released by his government as a plea for foreign assistance. I stopped eating my bagel and thought of the boy. I thought of the soldiers who carried out their orders. I placed a hand on my throat and another on my stomach and pressed my body into the back of my chair, and for the first time in my life I wanted to die. Prince has noticed that I'm not paying attention. His sharp hand slaps my face in an attempt to regain my attention. He succeeds— again I look at his face. It's sweaty from sex and smeared with dirt. He has a knife in his hand, but I'm not afraid. I look at the younger brother who is now curled up in the fetal position under a tree, weeping. "Looky here!" the older brother yells to him. "Looky here!" The thin man gazes toward us, sideways again, and then Prince slits my throat. It hurts, I know I'll die, but I begin to laugh. I can't help myself. I can't breathe, but my situation seems ridiculous, small, unreal. I look up at the stars through the trees, then into the face of Prince. I'm looking at his face and then I die, still laughing.

62

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L a s t

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W o r d s

W.A. Smith

I e're in the black Dodge with red leather-looking seats and push-button drive. No stick or three-on-the-tree. We always have a pretty cool modern car, that's one thing I can say. Since he aint allowed to operate a got-damn automobile anymore because of his seizures, I'm behind the wheel, having recently acquired my learner's permit—though I've been driving all over the place for a long time. I started steering when I was five, on his lap, Sundays, with him covering the distance to the gas and brakes, offering an occasional instruction: Careful now...keep your hands apart, eyes on the road... there you go. A few days ago, he told me, Everybody's sure I'm gonna kill someone, as if it's a crazy-ass concept. But I've witnessed his seizures, and I recognize that thirty-four hundred pounds of mechanized steel and glass under the direction of an epileptic are bound to spell trouble eventually, power steering and a wide highway notwithstanding. He's asked me to drive him to his office in town. There's an EEG to read. No, doubt he has already taken his patient's history in careful, religious detail, sitting very doctorly in his swiveling red leather chair with all his questions, nodding—God, I'm acquainted with that nod— outlining the patient's neurological nuances in that handwriting which no one but my mother and Cleo, his secretary, can decipher; little squiggly bent-over es that look like only half of something, or periods -^periods that couldn't stop anything; and ws and tis that resemble ancient Chinese characters, peewee bridges collapsing in a strong wind. 63


Berkeley Fiction Review And now, for his next trick, he will attempt to translate the static electric jitter in his patient's head. I wonder if he has diagnosed his own crooked circuits? I know he's suffered all the tests. He's been thoroughly scanned. What must it have been like to discover the terrible imperfections of his own renegade brain? The jar's unbroken, but the jelly's going bad. This will not be the first time I've watched him sitting in his chair reading EEGs. There's always a cigarette going, and the fingers holding it twitch in what I'm certain is some obscure yet logical connection to the jagged traces rising and falling on the paper before him; pages of saw-toothed codes in a hurry, clues of some sort. Right now he is relating a war experience. He was prompted to set the scene by the sight of a man on the sidewalk a moment ago. It's in the mid-80s outside, but this guy was wearing a pea-coat, bundled up for a New York winter instead of a Charleston spring, hunched over, hugging himself. "This was Morocco, couple months 'fore we moved outta Africa, before I was wounded." My father's hand rolls against the window, thrumming, keeping time with some confidential melody in the glass. "The war flattened things, son—made so much look the same. But Morocco was a strange, beautiful place. Hell, they were all strange and beautiful... Imagine: it was a kingdom 'til 1956." Maybe he'll stumble onto whatever he has in mind with this story. He rambles shamelessly. And he hobbles any hope of momentum by going about it all so deliberately and slowly—no rush—like he's halfasleep or drunk. Headfirst one flowering thought to the next, with these irregular bare spaces in between. Everything is connected but only God and my father know how. Sometimes I think I'm going to suffocate in the stillness at the middle of one of his sentences. Got-damn medication, he always explains. But even without the Dilantin and phenobarbitol, he would be just as dramatic; his stories might even make more sense. He has told me somethings still screwy with the dosages. "Forsythe n I took off in the jeep to look for dead and wounded. There was a lull in the fightin'." He likes to be looking at you when he's talking, except for when he hasn't decided on the right words. Then his eyes find a place to rest and 64

His Last Nine Words reflect, working it out in the emptiness between things. I can see sideways so I know that his eyes are on me. "Everything reminded us where the hell we were. Even when we weren't shootin, it all had the look. Made you sleepwalk now and then." H e taps at the window, discovering another melody in the glass, leans over to pull up his socks. His legs are as hairless and smooth as a creek stone where the wool has worn him clean. He's quiet for a moment, inbetween; he seems to have stopped breathing. "Som-nam-bu-late," he says, extending each syllable. He returns to the here-and-now and looks around to see where we are •the corner of Broad and Meeting. Some tourists are checking out St. Michael's church across the street, leaning back for the steeple. "The Four Corners of Law," he says, inhaling, enlarging himself, momentarily satisfied, taking it all in counter-clockwise: the church, City Hall, the courthouse, "and I'll be damned," he says, "there's a lawman off the starboard bow." He rolls the window down to call to a policeman who's lounging outside the post office. "Stoney, you're a picturesque son-bitch, I swear you are." Of course he knows this guy. He knows everybody. They joke about just how long it's been and how they're aging. "Awful fast," says Luther Stoney, whose wife was a patient once. I don't remember ever meeting him before, but I seem to recall his face about the same as now, floating above the dining room poker table, shrouded in silver smoke with the otherfloating faces of my father's friends, and the clicking laughter of the plastic poker chips—red, white, and blue—when I was five or six. Now Officer Stoney reaches through the window of the Dodge to shake hands, and pushes his cap back on his head, says his wife's doing fine now, "...yes, yes, got her spirit back." I'm reminded of the time my mother was driving him somewhere. I was in the backseat; we had been stopped at a red light and he launched into a discussion with an enormous woman who was standing o n the curb. She was as wide as a side-porch, sporting a bright green tentshaped dress with red birds on it, cinched at the waist, so the birds appeared to be launching themselves from her ample chest. She carried a stuffed Piggly Wiggly shopping bag, which she shifted from arm to arm, and she had a load of burden on her mind too. She was full in every direction. It seemed to me that she was the only person in town 65


Berkeley Fiction Review And now, for his next trick, he will attempt to translate the static electric jitter in his patient's head. I wonder if he has diagnosed his own crooked circuits? I know he's suffered all the tests. He's been thoroughly scanned. What must it have been like to discover the terrible imperfections of his own renegade brain? The jar's unbroken, but the jelly's going bad. This will not be the first time I've watched him sitting in his chair reading EEGs. There's always a cigarette going, and the fingers holding it twitch in what I'm certain is some obscure yet logical connection to the jagged traces rising and falling on the paper before him; pages of saw-toothed codes in a hurry, clues of some sort. Right now he is relating a war experience. He was prompted to set the scene by the sight of a man on the sidewalk a moment ago. It's in the mid-80s outside, but this guy was wearing a pea-coat, bundled up for a New York winter instead of a Charleston spring, hunched over, hugging himself. "This was Morocco, couple months 'fore we moved outta Africa, before I was wounded." My father's hand rolls against the window, thrumming, keeping time with some confidential melody in the glass. "The war flattened things, son—made so much look the same. But Morocco was a strange, beautiful place. Hell, they were all strange and beautiful... Imagine: it was a kingdom 'til 1956." Maybe he'll stumble onto whatever he has in mind with this story. He rambles shamelessly. And he hobbles any hope of momentum by going about it all so deliberately and slowly—no rush—like he's halfasleep or drunk. Headfirst one flowering thought to the next, with these irregular bare spaces in between. Everything is connected but only God and my father know how. Sometimes I think I'm going to suffocate in the stillness at the middle of one of his sentences. Got-damn medication, he always explains. But even without the Dilantin and phenobarbitol, he would be just as dramatic; his stories might even make more sense. He has told me somethings still screwy with the dosages. "Forsythe n I took off in the jeep to look for dead and wounded. There was a lull in the fightin'." He likes to be looking at you when he's talking, except for when he hasn't decided on the right words. Then his eyes find a place to rest and 64

His Last Nine Words reflect, working it out in the emptiness between things. I can see sideways so I know that his eyes are on me. "Everything reminded us where the hell we were. Even when we weren't shootin, it all had the look. Made you sleepwalk now and then." H e taps at the window, discovering another melody in the glass, leans over to pull up his socks. His legs are as hairless and smooth as a creek stone where the wool has worn him clean. He's quiet for a moment, inbetween; he seems to have stopped breathing. "Som-nam-bu-late," he says, extending each syllable. He returns to the here-and-now and looks around to see where we are •the corner of Broad and Meeting. Some tourists are checking out St. Michael's church across the street, leaning back for the steeple. "The Four Corners of Law," he says, inhaling, enlarging himself, momentarily satisfied, taking it all in counter-clockwise: the church, City Hall, the courthouse, "and I'll be damned," he says, "there's a lawman off the starboard bow." He rolls the window down to call to a policeman who's lounging outside the post office. "Stoney, you're a picturesque son-bitch, I swear you are." Of course he knows this guy. He knows everybody. They joke about just how long it's been and how they're aging. "Awful fast," says Luther Stoney, whose wife was a patient once. I don't remember ever meeting him before, but I seem to recall his face about the same as now, floating above the dining room poker table, shrouded in silver smoke with the otherfloating faces of my father's friends, and the clicking laughter of the plastic poker chips—red, white, and blue—when I was five or six. Now Officer Stoney reaches through the window of the Dodge to shake hands, and pushes his cap back on his head, says his wife's doing fine now, "...yes, yes, got her spirit back." I'm reminded of the time my mother was driving him somewhere. I was in the backseat; we had been stopped at a red light and he launched into a discussion with an enormous woman who was standing o n the curb. She was as wide as a side-porch, sporting a bright green tentshaped dress with red birds on it, cinched at the waist, so the birds appeared to be launching themselves from her ample chest. She carried a stuffed Piggly Wiggly shopping bag, which she shifted from arm to arm, and she had a load of burden on her mind too. She was full in every direction. It seemed to me that she was the only person in town 65


His Last Nine Words

Berkeley Fiction Review he wasn't on first names with. But not for long. Soon she was going to invite him to supper. Finally my mother had to pull over because the light had turned and horns were blasting and he and the giant woman were figuring everything out. Actually, he was hanging out the window with all the time in the world, listening mostly, and the crazed cardinals on the woman's dress were scared up, and she was doing the figuring. Her root system was growing down into the curb. Now the light goes green and I slam the accelerator without a second's hesitation. He waves hurriedly to Luther Stoney and shouts good-bye— the Four Corners of Law recede in the rearview. "What's your hurry?" "Green means go? I tell him. "Doesn't mean go like greased lightnin." "Doesn't mean go tomorrow either." "OF Luther Stoney." He turns to me and opens his mouth a little, but nothing more comes out. He's lost his place. I give him some geography. "Morocco, lookin' for the dead," I say. "Oh, yes... Forsythe was drivin'...and before too long we came up on a guy walkin' down the road ahead of us. He had on an American Army jacket, walkin' slow." My father conjures it all out of the words, his hands help get it right. "We came up alongside him and I could see he was a Moroccan soldier. Tough as nails, those fellows." His voice quiets and darkens with respect. "Forsythe stopped so I could ask this guy where he's headed. He didn't speak English too well, but we gathered he's on his way back to his unit, got separated durin' the fighting. He had his arms folded in front of him, looked beat. Sleepwaikin'. I told him to get in, we'd help him find his outfit." My father shakes his head. "Tough son of a bitch." I'm hoping he'll stay on track with this one because I haven't heard it before. Usually when he shakes his head like that, the story is about to take a downward turn. I've grown particularly fond of downward turns in a story. He has told me about a lot of tough guys, but this is the first one from Morocco. He would rather talk about the war than anything. His voice pulls me in, and I get a good look at the Moroccan: the army coat, his steady hands gripping his arms, his leather face, sand deep in the cracks. I can see his weary automatic Moroccan feet stirring up the warriors' dust in Africa. Sun in the day and then fire in the cold 66

dark-blue nights. The strange music of artillery. I'm fourteen years old and almost a man, but my father can do this to me whenever he wants to.

"So this guy stumbles into the backseat and we go. He's still got his arms around his stomach, and he's got a face on—a look—so I ask him if he's okay," My father pauses for the Moroccan's reply. "It was my duty to take care of the men, son. A sacred duty? I nod, automatic as the soldier's feet. I'm no stranger to my father's sacred duties. "I know," I say. "He looked at me and loosened his grip around his stomach. Felt like he could see clear through to the back of my skull. Only then I realize he's in bad shape...his jacket's soaked." My father stares out at the red light and the undramatic Sunday traffic ahead of us. "How come I've never heard this one?" I ask him. He shrugs, and I don't know if he's going to tell the rest. "What was wrong with him?" "Shot, Charley. In the abdomen. I had no idea how long he'd been trudgin down that God-forsaken road holdin his insides in his arms." He glances at me to gauge the effect and taps a few beats, against the dashboard this time since the window's still rolled down from when we saw Luther Stoney. " W h a t I'm saying is...there we were lookin' for dead and wounded...and I didn't happen to notice this guy was hit. I was the one sleepwaikin—in the middle of the got-damn war." "He okay?" "Oh yeah, he made it fine. Left by the same road he came in on. We had to remove fifteen feet of his intestines but he was up in a few weeks. Several pounds lighter." I don't say anything because now I'm onto the courage of the sleepwalking Moroccan. And what the hell would it possibly be like to lose fifteen feet of anything? When we arrive at his office, he takes the EEG from the shelf behind his desk, sits down and begins to flip through the pages * now and then marking sections with a pencil. He sits back in his chair and lights a cigarette. I stole three from him this morning, but it was a just-opened pack and he didn't notice. If I had a nickel for every cigarette I've stolen, I wouldn't need to steal. I wonder if he would see the humor in that if 67


His Last Nine Words

Berkeley Fiction Review he wasn't on first names with. But not for long. Soon she was going to invite him to supper. Finally my mother had to pull over because the light had turned and horns were blasting and he and the giant woman were figuring everything out. Actually, he was hanging out the window with all the time in the world, listening mostly, and the crazed cardinals on the woman's dress were scared up, and she was doing the figuring. Her root system was growing down into the curb. Now the light goes green and I slam the accelerator without a second's hesitation. He waves hurriedly to Luther Stoney and shouts good-bye— the Four Corners of Law recede in the rearview. "What's your hurry?" "Green means go? I tell him. "Doesn't mean go like greased lightnin." "Doesn't mean go tomorrow either." "OF Luther Stoney." He turns to me and opens his mouth a little, but nothing more comes out. He's lost his place. I give him some geography. "Morocco, lookin' for the dead," I say. "Oh, yes... Forsythe was drivin'...and before too long we came up on a guy walkin' down the road ahead of us. He had on an American Army jacket, walkin' slow." My father conjures it all out of the words, his hands help get it right. "We came up alongside him and I could see he was a Moroccan soldier. Tough as nails, those fellows." His voice quiets and darkens with respect. "Forsythe stopped so I could ask this guy where he's headed. He didn't speak English too well, but we gathered he's on his way back to his unit, got separated durin' the fighting. He had his arms folded in front of him, looked beat. Sleepwaikin'. I told him to get in, we'd help him find his outfit." My father shakes his head. "Tough son of a bitch." I'm hoping he'll stay on track with this one because I haven't heard it before. Usually when he shakes his head like that, the story is about to take a downward turn. I've grown particularly fond of downward turns in a story. He has told me about a lot of tough guys, but this is the first one from Morocco. He would rather talk about the war than anything. His voice pulls me in, and I get a good look at the Moroccan: the army coat, his steady hands gripping his arms, his leather face, sand deep in the cracks. I can see his weary automatic Moroccan feet stirring up the warriors' dust in Africa. Sun in the day and then fire in the cold 66

dark-blue nights. The strange music of artillery. I'm fourteen years old and almost a man, but my father can do this to me whenever he wants to.

"So this guy stumbles into the backseat and we go. He's still got his arms around his stomach, and he's got a face on—a look—so I ask him if he's okay," My father pauses for the Moroccan's reply. "It was my duty to take care of the men, son. A sacred duty? I nod, automatic as the soldier's feet. I'm no stranger to my father's sacred duties. "I know," I say. "He looked at me and loosened his grip around his stomach. Felt like he could see clear through to the back of my skull. Only then I realize he's in bad shape...his jacket's soaked." My father stares out at the red light and the undramatic Sunday traffic ahead of us. "How come I've never heard this one?" I ask him. He shrugs, and I don't know if he's going to tell the rest. "What was wrong with him?" "Shot, Charley. In the abdomen. I had no idea how long he'd been trudgin down that God-forsaken road holdin his insides in his arms." He glances at me to gauge the effect and taps a few beats, against the dashboard this time since the window's still rolled down from when we saw Luther Stoney. " W h a t I'm saying is...there we were lookin' for dead and wounded...and I didn't happen to notice this guy was hit. I was the one sleepwaikin—in the middle of the got-damn war." "He okay?" "Oh yeah, he made it fine. Left by the same road he came in on. We had to remove fifteen feet of his intestines but he was up in a few weeks. Several pounds lighter." I don't say anything because now I'm onto the courage of the sleepwalking Moroccan. And what the hell would it possibly be like to lose fifteen feet of anything? When we arrive at his office, he takes the EEG from the shelf behind his desk, sits down and begins to flip through the pages * now and then marking sections with a pencil. He sits back in his chair and lights a cigarette. I stole three from him this morning, but it was a just-opened pack and he didn't notice. If I had a nickel for every cigarette I've stolen, I wouldn't need to steal. I wonder if he would see the humor in that if 67


Berkeley Fiction Review I told him. I watch his eyes scanning behind the smoke. Then I wander around the office looking at all the pictures I've seen a million times. My life has stopped dead in its tracks. I don't even have a believable driver's license. With a learner's permit you can't go anywhere alone. They won't let you teach yourself. On one side of his desk is a photograph of my mother, my sister and me, when I was seven. We've all got these serious, excavated smiles on our faces; the photographer knows his job, plus we're well aware that this will be a gift for my father's birthday. Ellen and I have matching gaps between our front teeth and our hair is the same shade of sandy blond. My mother is young-looking, splendid says the photographer, but she doesn't thank him. She looks like a movie star who had a decent childhood. Her head is turned toward us to make sure we aren't crossing our eyes or doing something disgusting with our tongues—though she would be the first to laugh. She was always the first. Her hair floats above her shoulders, a wisp shadows the corner of one eye. I don't know how to describe the color of her hair. It seems to me that only my mother has hair like this. She is silence dressed in light. Untroubled. Examining her, the way she is here—shining, perfected—I wonder how does she feel?. The knot in my new tie isn't straight, and my head is tilted slightly in the same direction. The photographer probably just whispered some last-second enticement I'm trying to hear. On the other side of his desk is the picture of him and Cambridge Walker standing in front of a frozen tree in Belgium during the war. This is one of his favorite photographs. He says the ice clings like light to the branches. I study it again. There's not enough light to see the ice; it must be late in the day. Two men in dirty army clothes, needing a shave, standing in front of a tree with their arms draped across each other's shoulders. You can't tell it's Belgium. You can't even tell it's a tree. There is an overwhelming darkness and the top's partly cut off. The only way I know its a tree in Belgium is because he says so. It could just as easily be Mr. Walker's backyard on an overcast day at Rockville, and a cooler full of beer stands near an inebriated and horizontal Luther Stoney, waiting somewhere just beyond the frame. On another wall are two paintings of horses—red, white, and black— galloping and jumping fences, several with riders and one without. The one without is red. I've always imagined he's made of flame, too hot to 68

His Last Nine Words ride. Anything they put on his back will melt. On the wall behind him there's a picture of his daddy, Big Charley, standing in the ocean off Murrel's Inlet, holding up a string of fish. There are six bass gleaming at the end of my grandfather's blurred hand. Big Charley's still a young man here, strong, his skin is dark. It seems entirely possible that he has never done anything in his life except stand there with those fish reflecting the sun. I pick up a stethoscope and listen to my heart, but it's only a matter of seconds before I'm bored. I move over near the desk and watch him comb the sharp black mountain ranges on the paper before him, searching for inked-on causes. I don't understand what he's looking for, I admit it. "Look here," he says, "this's where he blinked his eye, his left." My father's finger moves with certainty across a serrated chain of small angrylooking edges. His pencil twitches. He reaches for a cigarette as he points out another tight cluster of waves. "Here he's dropped off to sleep." His magnetic voice is just far enough away for the attraction to sneak up. It pulls the inevitable question out of me: "What's wrong with him?" "Don't know yet. It'll take some time." Time. Big surprise. Everything takes some time, but nothing gives it back. Apparently time is something you know more about when you get to be his age. He already knows more about this patient of his than I know about anything. And my father doesn't tell me all he knows. Now he's studying me like I'm the patient. I'm the somnambulating Moroccan and he wants my history. "I ever tell you how Forsythe died?" he asks me. "Not recently," I say. "Yeah...'course I did... Got-damn, I always meant to save that one for a time like this." One second Forsythe was here and the next he was gone. That's how my father always wraps up this story. They didn't just look for dead and wounded together—he and Forsythe did everything. They kept each other in this world. Until one bright day my father was distracted for a second. The sun got in his eyes. He said he went blind for a moment. There was something he should have seen, some clue—a movement or 69


Berkeley Fiction Review I told him. I watch his eyes scanning behind the smoke. Then I wander around the office looking at all the pictures I've seen a million times. My life has stopped dead in its tracks. I don't even have a believable driver's license. With a learner's permit you can't go anywhere alone. They won't let you teach yourself. On one side of his desk is a photograph of my mother, my sister and me, when I was seven. We've all got these serious, excavated smiles on our faces; the photographer knows his job, plus we're well aware that this will be a gift for my father's birthday. Ellen and I have matching gaps between our front teeth and our hair is the same shade of sandy blond. My mother is young-looking, splendid says the photographer, but she doesn't thank him. She looks like a movie star who had a decent childhood. Her head is turned toward us to make sure we aren't crossing our eyes or doing something disgusting with our tongues—though she would be the first to laugh. She was always the first. Her hair floats above her shoulders, a wisp shadows the corner of one eye. I don't know how to describe the color of her hair. It seems to me that only my mother has hair like this. She is silence dressed in light. Untroubled. Examining her, the way she is here—shining, perfected—I wonder how does she feel?. The knot in my new tie isn't straight, and my head is tilted slightly in the same direction. The photographer probably just whispered some last-second enticement I'm trying to hear. On the other side of his desk is the picture of him and Cambridge Walker standing in front of a frozen tree in Belgium during the war. This is one of his favorite photographs. He says the ice clings like light to the branches. I study it again. There's not enough light to see the ice; it must be late in the day. Two men in dirty army clothes, needing a shave, standing in front of a tree with their arms draped across each other's shoulders. You can't tell it's Belgium. You can't even tell it's a tree. There is an overwhelming darkness and the top's partly cut off. The only way I know its a tree in Belgium is because he says so. It could just as easily be Mr. Walker's backyard on an overcast day at Rockville, and a cooler full of beer stands near an inebriated and horizontal Luther Stoney, waiting somewhere just beyond the frame. On another wall are two paintings of horses—red, white, and black— galloping and jumping fences, several with riders and one without. The one without is red. I've always imagined he's made of flame, too hot to 68

His Last Nine Words ride. Anything they put on his back will melt. On the wall behind him there's a picture of his daddy, Big Charley, standing in the ocean off Murrel's Inlet, holding up a string of fish. There are six bass gleaming at the end of my grandfather's blurred hand. Big Charley's still a young man here, strong, his skin is dark. It seems entirely possible that he has never done anything in his life except stand there with those fish reflecting the sun. I pick up a stethoscope and listen to my heart, but it's only a matter of seconds before I'm bored. I move over near the desk and watch him comb the sharp black mountain ranges on the paper before him, searching for inked-on causes. I don't understand what he's looking for, I admit it. "Look here," he says, "this's where he blinked his eye, his left." My father's finger moves with certainty across a serrated chain of small angrylooking edges. His pencil twitches. He reaches for a cigarette as he points out another tight cluster of waves. "Here he's dropped off to sleep." His magnetic voice is just far enough away for the attraction to sneak up. It pulls the inevitable question out of me: "What's wrong with him?" "Don't know yet. It'll take some time." Time. Big surprise. Everything takes some time, but nothing gives it back. Apparently time is something you know more about when you get to be his age. He already knows more about this patient of his than I know about anything. And my father doesn't tell me all he knows. Now he's studying me like I'm the patient. I'm the somnambulating Moroccan and he wants my history. "I ever tell you how Forsythe died?" he asks me. "Not recently," I say. "Yeah...'course I did... Got-damn, I always meant to save that one for a time like this." One second Forsythe was here and the next he was gone. That's how my father always wraps up this story. They didn't just look for dead and wounded together—he and Forsythe did everything. They kept each other in this world. Until one bright day my father was distracted for a second. The sun got in his eyes. He said he went blind for a moment. There was something he should have seen, some clue—a movement or 69


Berkeley Fiction Review a flash. But he didn't see it, because of the light. "But," he says now, "somethin I didn't tell you. His last nine words." "Tell me," "Well...he said / love you." "That's three words," I tell him. Something moves across my father's face, here and gone. "Yes...but he said it three times." I'm not sure what we're talking about anymore. We're just staring at each other now. He sort of smiles, but what his lips are doing is as mysterious as his handwriting. Finally he says, "I've been meanin to tell you how well you drive. You're a damn fine driver, Charley." * Personally, I wouldn't object to a few more adjectives about my exquisite control of the push-button Dodge, but he just looks at me in silence. Then he lowers his eyes and returns to the EEG of the sleeping man. And of course I have to wait here for what seems like forever, until he's finished.

70

P r o v i n c e t o w n Stacey Barnett

y mother was waiting for us on the back deck, stretched out on a beach chair under an umbrella, an open book on her chest, her sandaled feet crossed at the ankle. She was wearing a navy cotton swimsuit with buttons down the front like a sailor suit and white cotton shorts with an elastic waistband. The sound of the sliding glass door opening was enough to rouse her. ^ "Hey you two," she said, her voice soft and dreamy with sleep. I bent over her and gave her a hug and kiss. Claire stood back, one hand cupped over her eyes to block the sun. "Sorry we're late," I said. "We got a late start." "Oh, we don't even look at the clock when we're out here." She sat up and squinted in the direction of Claire. They had met once before, when my mother came into the city for my twenty-fifth birthday. After dinner my mother had come up to see our apartment and to meet Claire, my roommate, and later, after my mother had gone home, Claire had told me she was much prettier than she'd imagined. "You'd never guess," she'd said, meaning my mother didn't look like a lesbian. That was last summer, before anything between Claire and me had started. I was still involved with Tom Delancey and Claire was engaged to Rick, who was getting his Ph.D. in economics at Stanford. Since then a lot of things had changed. Tom and I were history; Rick had called off the engagement and, according to sources, had already given Claire's ring to someone else; Claire had gotten a promotion at work that made her indirectly my supervisor; and our friendship had transitioned from 71


Berkeley Fiction Review a flash. But he didn't see it, because of the light. "But," he says now, "somethin I didn't tell you. His last nine words." "Tell me," "Well...he said / love you." "That's three words," I tell him. Something moves across my father's face, here and gone. "Yes...but he said it three times." I'm not sure what we're talking about anymore. We're just staring at each other now. He sort of smiles, but what his lips are doing is as mysterious as his handwriting. Finally he says, "I've been meanin to tell you how well you drive. You're a damn fine driver, Charley." * Personally, I wouldn't object to a few more adjectives about my exquisite control of the push-button Dodge, but he just looks at me in silence. Then he lowers his eyes and returns to the EEG of the sleeping man. And of course I have to wait here for what seems like forever, until he's finished.

70

P r o v i n c e t o w n Stacey Barnett

y mother was waiting for us on the back deck, stretched out on a beach chair under an umbrella, an open book on her chest, her sandaled feet crossed at the ankle. She was wearing a navy cotton swimsuit with buttons down the front like a sailor suit and white cotton shorts with an elastic waistband. The sound of the sliding glass door opening was enough to rouse her. ^ "Hey you two," she said, her voice soft and dreamy with sleep. I bent over her and gave her a hug and kiss. Claire stood back, one hand cupped over her eyes to block the sun. "Sorry we're late," I said. "We got a late start." "Oh, we don't even look at the clock when we're out here." She sat up and squinted in the direction of Claire. They had met once before, when my mother came into the city for my twenty-fifth birthday. After dinner my mother had come up to see our apartment and to meet Claire, my roommate, and later, after my mother had gone home, Claire had told me she was much prettier than she'd imagined. "You'd never guess," she'd said, meaning my mother didn't look like a lesbian. That was last summer, before anything between Claire and me had started. I was still involved with Tom Delancey and Claire was engaged to Rick, who was getting his Ph.D. in economics at Stanford. Since then a lot of things had changed. Tom and I were history; Rick had called off the engagement and, according to sources, had already given Claire's ring to someone else; Claire had gotten a promotion at work that made her indirectly my supervisor; and our friendship had transitioned from 71


Berkeley Fiction Review roommates to best friends to something that neither one of us could really define. I no longer slept on the pull-out in the living room, although no one knew that except Susan, and consequently, my mother, because Susan told her everything. "Where's Susan?" I asked. "Waiting for us down at the beach. I hope you girls brought your swimsuits. Come, come," she said, rising and shuffling across the deck to the door. "I'll show you the rest of the house, and then you can tell me how much you love it." We had the guest wing on the first floor, off the great room, with our own bathroom and walk-in closet and a separate entrance, which meant we could go in and out of the house without anyone knowing. In the center of the room, against the window, was an antique wroughtiron bed with white linens, an abundance of pillows propped up against the headboard, a fluffy down comforter, which we wouldn't be needing, and at the foot, a navy and yellow patchwork quilt, one of Susan's creations. "Here's where you two will be sleeping," Mom said, throwing her arms up in a way I'd never seen her do, like one of the showcase girls on The Price is Right. "I hope you don't mind sharing a room. We haven't gotten around to furnishing the whole house yet." "Oh, it's no problem, I don't mind sleeping on the floor," Claire said. My mother smiled at me conspiratorially. "Don't be silly. You both can fit on the bed. As long as you don't mind Rachel's snoring, that is." She left the room chuckling to herself. It was one of her favorite and most annoying jokes. I hadn't snored since I was ten. I closed our door and sat down on the bed next to Claire, who instantly turned on me. "How could you?" she hissed. "You lied to me." "What are you talking about?" I said, although, of course, I knew. "I can't believe you told her. How long has she known?" "Jesus, Claire, calm down. She doesn't know anything." "Of course she knows. She definitely knows. She put us in the same room. She winked at us. Didn't you see her wink?" "When did she wink? She didn't wink." "She winked." I sighed. "So what, so she winked. That doesn't mean anything." 72

Provincetown "It means she knows. I can't believe this," Claire said. She jumped up and began unpacking her bag, throwing her clothes in a dresser drawer. I watched her storm around the room wondering why on earth she was unpacking for a three day stay. "I swear, Claire, I didn't tell her." She stopped in the middle of the room and put her hands on her hips. "You swear?" 1 swear. She relaxed a little. "Then she must have figured it out somehow," she said. "She must have sensed it. You know, they have radar for this kind of thing. That's how gay people find each other, they can pick up on clues that other people miss." She went into the closet for a hanger. I said, "She didn't pick up on anything. Maybe Susan said something." Claire came back out of the closet, angry again. "Susan? You told Susan?" "Well, not exactly, but you know..." "Rachel, how could you?" She flopped down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. She moaned. "Oh God, I'm mortified." I rolled over on top of her and pried her fingers from her face. "Relax," I said. "It's no big deal to them." She moaned again. "I can't go back out there. I can't face her again." "If we stay in here all day, they'll think we're fooling around," I said, teasing. "There will be no fooling around this weekend," she said. "Don't even think about it." And she marched off into the bathroom, taking her swimsuit with her. Mom carried a mini-cooler filled with sodas and bottled water, and Claire and I carried the towels and beach chairs. When we spotted Susan, she was up on her knees, waving her arms over her head. The beach was still packed even though the sun was already low in the sky. Susan had colored her hair since I'd last seen her. It was a brassy red that in no way resembled her original color, even before she went gray. "Hello there," I yelled to her, and she came trotting over to help us with our stuff. 73


Berkeley Fiction Review roommates to best friends to something that neither one of us could really define. I no longer slept on the pull-out in the living room, although no one knew that except Susan, and consequently, my mother, because Susan told her everything. "Where's Susan?" I asked. "Waiting for us down at the beach. I hope you girls brought your swimsuits. Come, come," she said, rising and shuffling across the deck to the door. "I'll show you the rest of the house, and then you can tell me how much you love it." We had the guest wing on the first floor, off the great room, with our own bathroom and walk-in closet and a separate entrance, which meant we could go in and out of the house without anyone knowing. In the center of the room, against the window, was an antique wroughtiron bed with white linens, an abundance of pillows propped up against the headboard, a fluffy down comforter, which we wouldn't be needing, and at the foot, a navy and yellow patchwork quilt, one of Susan's creations. "Here's where you two will be sleeping," Mom said, throwing her arms up in a way I'd never seen her do, like one of the showcase girls on The Price is Right. "I hope you don't mind sharing a room. We haven't gotten around to furnishing the whole house yet." "Oh, it's no problem, I don't mind sleeping on the floor," Claire said. My mother smiled at me conspiratorially. "Don't be silly. You both can fit on the bed. As long as you don't mind Rachel's snoring, that is." She left the room chuckling to herself. It was one of her favorite and most annoying jokes. I hadn't snored since I was ten. I closed our door and sat down on the bed next to Claire, who instantly turned on me. "How could you?" she hissed. "You lied to me." "What are you talking about?" I said, although, of course, I knew. "I can't believe you told her. How long has she known?" "Jesus, Claire, calm down. She doesn't know anything." "Of course she knows. She definitely knows. She put us in the same room. She winked at us. Didn't you see her wink?" "When did she wink? She didn't wink." "She winked." I sighed. "So what, so she winked. That doesn't mean anything." 72

Provincetown "It means she knows. I can't believe this," Claire said. She jumped up and began unpacking her bag, throwing her clothes in a dresser drawer. I watched her storm around the room wondering why on earth she was unpacking for a three day stay. "I swear, Claire, I didn't tell her." She stopped in the middle of the room and put her hands on her hips. "You swear?" 1 swear. She relaxed a little. "Then she must have figured it out somehow," she said. "She must have sensed it. You know, they have radar for this kind of thing. That's how gay people find each other, they can pick up on clues that other people miss." She went into the closet for a hanger. I said, "She didn't pick up on anything. Maybe Susan said something." Claire came back out of the closet, angry again. "Susan? You told Susan?" "Well, not exactly, but you know..." "Rachel, how could you?" She flopped down on the bed and covered her face with her hands. She moaned. "Oh God, I'm mortified." I rolled over on top of her and pried her fingers from her face. "Relax," I said. "It's no big deal to them." She moaned again. "I can't go back out there. I can't face her again." "If we stay in here all day, they'll think we're fooling around," I said, teasing. "There will be no fooling around this weekend," she said. "Don't even think about it." And she marched off into the bathroom, taking her swimsuit with her. Mom carried a mini-cooler filled with sodas and bottled water, and Claire and I carried the towels and beach chairs. When we spotted Susan, she was up on her knees, waving her arms over her head. The beach was still packed even though the sun was already low in the sky. Susan had colored her hair since I'd last seen her. It was a brassy red that in no way resembled her original color, even before she went gray. "Hello there," I yelled to her, and she came trotting over to help us with our stuff. 73


Berkeley Fiction Review "I know, I know," she said. "I look ridiculous. Your mother hates it. "I don't hate it," Mom said. "I just loved you the way you were." Susan and Claire had never met, so I made the introduction and tried to act as natural as possible. Claire was polite, but not friendly. We set up the chairs to face the sun and sat down, our backs to the ocean, a good three or four feet from my mother and Susan. They were busily applying sunscreen to my mother's fair skin. We all chatted for a while about our ride up from the city, the weather forecast, how work was going for me and Claire, then for my mother and Susan. They both taught at a community college iri Connecticut, though not the same one. Then we were all silent until finally they stood up and took off down the beach for a walk. I had a new book I was dying to get into, but Claire was in the mood to talk. "Look at this place," she said, glancing around the beach at all the other people. "Have you ever seen so many gay people in one place in your life?" I looked around to see if I could spot any straight couples or families with kids. I had to admit, everyone looked pretty gay. It was what Mom and Susan liked about Provincetown. Claire dug her feet into the sand until they were covered up to the ankles, like she was wearing sand shoes. She pulled out a magazine. I lit a cigarette and passed her the pack. "You know what this is, don't you?" I shook my head. "We're being outed," she declared. "This whole weekend, that's what it's all about." "No one's being outed," I said. "You're being paranoid. We're here to hang out and get a tan and relax. That's it." Claire raised her eyebrows and smirked. She adjusted the back of her chair, then opened her magazine and began flipping through the pages. I could tell she was only pretending to read. "Besides," I said, "you can't be outed in a place where you don't know anyone. Strangers don't care if you're 'in' or 'out.'" "Everyone here cares," she insisted. "It's their life." "You wanted to come here, Claire. I warned you that it would be weird." "I know. I just didn't think it would be this weird. I never imagined the whole place would be gay." 74

Provincetown "We don't know that everyone is." "No, but we can assume." "So?" "So everyone is assuming we are too." "Fine," I said. "You win. Everyone is assuming we're lesbians. Who caresr "I care," she said. "It makes me uncomfortable." Mom and Susan came back from their walk carrying shells. Their suits were wet and Susan's red hair was slick and dark. Susan pulled an oversized Ziploc baggie from her beach bag and they sealed up their shells, already washed off in the ocean, to keep them clean. My mother was fastidious about keeping sand out of the house. They stretched out on the blanket next to each other to dry off and for a while, no one talked. I turned to the first page of my book but found myself reading the words over and over without getting the meaning. I looked over at Mom and Susan and saw they were holding hands. Susan caught me looking and winked. Then she propped herself up on her elbows and announced, "We're having a barbecue tonight, did your mom tell you?" I shook my head no, Mom hadn't told me. "We'd really like you to be there," my mother said. "Everyone's dying to meet you two." Claire glanced up from her magazine with her "I told you so" look. "We'll be able to see the fireworks from the house," Susan said. "That sounds great," I said, even though a party our first night out there had not been what Claire and I had in mind. I'd already told Claire we'd go into town for dinner and then hit the bars, check out the scene. But I didn't want to say no to them. The bars probably wouldn't have been a good idea anyway. I'd been to bars in Provincetown with my mother and Susan before, and if Claire felt uncomfortable at the beach, I knew she'd never be able to deal with a gay bar. When we went out in the city, we went to straight bars in the East Village and acted like we were there to pick up guys. I always sensed that Claire enjoyed the flirting more than I did, because when we got home, she'd want to fool around but I'd feel too fragile, too exposed. Watching her flirt made me jealous. It was getting late, the sun wasn't even hot anymore, and I was starting 75


Berkeley Fiction Review "I know, I know," she said. "I look ridiculous. Your mother hates it. "I don't hate it," Mom said. "I just loved you the way you were." Susan and Claire had never met, so I made the introduction and tried to act as natural as possible. Claire was polite, but not friendly. We set up the chairs to face the sun and sat down, our backs to the ocean, a good three or four feet from my mother and Susan. They were busily applying sunscreen to my mother's fair skin. We all chatted for a while about our ride up from the city, the weather forecast, how work was going for me and Claire, then for my mother and Susan. They both taught at a community college iri Connecticut, though not the same one. Then we were all silent until finally they stood up and took off down the beach for a walk. I had a new book I was dying to get into, but Claire was in the mood to talk. "Look at this place," she said, glancing around the beach at all the other people. "Have you ever seen so many gay people in one place in your life?" I looked around to see if I could spot any straight couples or families with kids. I had to admit, everyone looked pretty gay. It was what Mom and Susan liked about Provincetown. Claire dug her feet into the sand until they were covered up to the ankles, like she was wearing sand shoes. She pulled out a magazine. I lit a cigarette and passed her the pack. "You know what this is, don't you?" I shook my head. "We're being outed," she declared. "This whole weekend, that's what it's all about." "No one's being outed," I said. "You're being paranoid. We're here to hang out and get a tan and relax. That's it." Claire raised her eyebrows and smirked. She adjusted the back of her chair, then opened her magazine and began flipping through the pages. I could tell she was only pretending to read. "Besides," I said, "you can't be outed in a place where you don't know anyone. Strangers don't care if you're 'in' or 'out.'" "Everyone here cares," she insisted. "It's their life." "You wanted to come here, Claire. I warned you that it would be weird." "I know. I just didn't think it would be this weird. I never imagined the whole place would be gay." 74

Provincetown "We don't know that everyone is." "No, but we can assume." "So?" "So everyone is assuming we are too." "Fine," I said. "You win. Everyone is assuming we're lesbians. Who caresr "I care," she said. "It makes me uncomfortable." Mom and Susan came back from their walk carrying shells. Their suits were wet and Susan's red hair was slick and dark. Susan pulled an oversized Ziploc baggie from her beach bag and they sealed up their shells, already washed off in the ocean, to keep them clean. My mother was fastidious about keeping sand out of the house. They stretched out on the blanket next to each other to dry off and for a while, no one talked. I turned to the first page of my book but found myself reading the words over and over without getting the meaning. I looked over at Mom and Susan and saw they were holding hands. Susan caught me looking and winked. Then she propped herself up on her elbows and announced, "We're having a barbecue tonight, did your mom tell you?" I shook my head no, Mom hadn't told me. "We'd really like you to be there," my mother said. "Everyone's dying to meet you two." Claire glanced up from her magazine with her "I told you so" look. "We'll be able to see the fireworks from the house," Susan said. "That sounds great," I said, even though a party our first night out there had not been what Claire and I had in mind. I'd already told Claire we'd go into town for dinner and then hit the bars, check out the scene. But I didn't want to say no to them. The bars probably wouldn't have been a good idea anyway. I'd been to bars in Provincetown with my mother and Susan before, and if Claire felt uncomfortable at the beach, I knew she'd never be able to deal with a gay bar. When we went out in the city, we went to straight bars in the East Village and acted like we were there to pick up guys. I always sensed that Claire enjoyed the flirting more than I did, because when we got home, she'd want to fool around but I'd feel too fragile, too exposed. Watching her flirt made me jealous. It was getting late, the sun wasn't even hot anymore, and I was starting 75


Berkeley Fiction Review to feel chilled. My mother and Susan were happily caught up in their books. Claire and I packed up our stuff and trudged back over the dunes and along the path to the house. I felt lethargic and a bit dizzy from the sun and the long ride. Back at the house, we washed off under the outside shower, then went straight to our room for a nap. Claire was still angry at me, I knew, for telling Susan about us, and now she was angry again that I hadn't consulted her first before changing our plans, but she let me hold her anyway and rub her back until she fell asleep, her body turning warm and sticky against mine. I was grateful for her silence. I had been exhausted, but I couldn't fall asleep. I heard Mom and Susan come in the sliding door from the deck, then I heard the upstairs shower running. When they came back downstairs I slipped out of bed and joined them in the kitchen. Susan was pulling stuff out of the fridge to make fresh salsa and my mother was washing vegetables in the sink. I pulled up a stool and began slicing the cucumbers and zucchini as she handed them to me. "That Claire is a doll," Susan said, nodding toward our bedroom where Claire was still sleeping. My mother looked up at Susan and they smiled at each other. "You're driving me nuts with all these knowing looks," I told them. "Do you know something I don't know?" "We're just happy for you, that's all," Mom said defensively. "I don't know why you have to snap at us." I sliced open a red pepper. Mom was arranging cucumber slices on a plate. "Relax," Susan said, "we're not trying to sway you one way or the other. We just think she seems right for you." "She seems right, or any woman would seem right?" "It has nothing to do with her being a woman," my mother said. "Then how come you never liked any of my boyfriends?" I turned to Mom, who turned to Susan, who turned back to me. "Well," Susan said with a faint smile, "because your boyfriends have all been duds." Susan looked back at my mother, who seemed pleased with Susan's answer. They talked like this often, as if they were one person, especially when they were in their mothering roles. 76

Provincetown "You two are just biased," I said, but I smiled because they were right, my boyfriends had all been duds. Still, I wanted them to say what moms were supposed to say. That I might be getting into something I wasn't ready to handle. That they hoped I was doing this for the right reasons. I wanted them to tell me it would be a hard life, not something to take lightly. But they didn't believe in giving advice, that was my father's job, not theirs. They believed in letting me make my own mistakes. "So tell us how much you love our house," Mom said with a clap of her hands. "I love it, of course I love it," I said. They both hugged me with just their arms, careful not to touch me with their wet hands. Claire and I decided to make the best of the party. She woke from her nap in a much better mood, happy even, and she was the one to suggest that we get in the spirit of things. What did it matter if gay people thought we were gay, she said. But when we started getting ready, she made it clear she didn't want anyone to think we looked dykey. We had each brought our slinky little, sundresses, which we'd bought together, and we wore them with bare legs and sandals. At the last minute, we decided to go braless, an effect that was really lost on me, but absolutely stunning on Claire. We did each other's makeup, staining our lips with matching lipstick. Claire smoothed my hair into a perfect flip with her special brush and twirled her own hair up into a pile on top of her head and pinned it with a giant clip. She had thick, dark hair that reached the middle of her back and short litde bangs that she always wore straight down on her forehead. "I feel like I'm getting ready for my cotillion," Claire joked. "I wish my mother were here to see this." Claire's mother thought she was still a virgin, holding out until her wedding night, even though she was twenty-seven. Mom and Susan applauded when we made our appearance in the kitchen. Susan handed out bowls of hummus and platters of vegetables for us to distribute around the house. Mom busied herself with the stereo, setting up tapes and CDs in the order she wanted to play them. The guests began arriving around eight and soon the living room and kitchen and the deck out back were jammed with people. Over the 77


Berkeley Fiction Review to feel chilled. My mother and Susan were happily caught up in their books. Claire and I packed up our stuff and trudged back over the dunes and along the path to the house. I felt lethargic and a bit dizzy from the sun and the long ride. Back at the house, we washed off under the outside shower, then went straight to our room for a nap. Claire was still angry at me, I knew, for telling Susan about us, and now she was angry again that I hadn't consulted her first before changing our plans, but she let me hold her anyway and rub her back until she fell asleep, her body turning warm and sticky against mine. I was grateful for her silence. I had been exhausted, but I couldn't fall asleep. I heard Mom and Susan come in the sliding door from the deck, then I heard the upstairs shower running. When they came back downstairs I slipped out of bed and joined them in the kitchen. Susan was pulling stuff out of the fridge to make fresh salsa and my mother was washing vegetables in the sink. I pulled up a stool and began slicing the cucumbers and zucchini as she handed them to me. "That Claire is a doll," Susan said, nodding toward our bedroom where Claire was still sleeping. My mother looked up at Susan and they smiled at each other. "You're driving me nuts with all these knowing looks," I told them. "Do you know something I don't know?" "We're just happy for you, that's all," Mom said defensively. "I don't know why you have to snap at us." I sliced open a red pepper. Mom was arranging cucumber slices on a plate. "Relax," Susan said, "we're not trying to sway you one way or the other. We just think she seems right for you." "She seems right, or any woman would seem right?" "It has nothing to do with her being a woman," my mother said. "Then how come you never liked any of my boyfriends?" I turned to Mom, who turned to Susan, who turned back to me. "Well," Susan said with a faint smile, "because your boyfriends have all been duds." Susan looked back at my mother, who seemed pleased with Susan's answer. They talked like this often, as if they were one person, especially when they were in their mothering roles. 76

Provincetown "You two are just biased," I said, but I smiled because they were right, my boyfriends had all been duds. Still, I wanted them to say what moms were supposed to say. That I might be getting into something I wasn't ready to handle. That they hoped I was doing this for the right reasons. I wanted them to tell me it would be a hard life, not something to take lightly. But they didn't believe in giving advice, that was my father's job, not theirs. They believed in letting me make my own mistakes. "So tell us how much you love our house," Mom said with a clap of her hands. "I love it, of course I love it," I said. They both hugged me with just their arms, careful not to touch me with their wet hands. Claire and I decided to make the best of the party. She woke from her nap in a much better mood, happy even, and she was the one to suggest that we get in the spirit of things. What did it matter if gay people thought we were gay, she said. But when we started getting ready, she made it clear she didn't want anyone to think we looked dykey. We had each brought our slinky little, sundresses, which we'd bought together, and we wore them with bare legs and sandals. At the last minute, we decided to go braless, an effect that was really lost on me, but absolutely stunning on Claire. We did each other's makeup, staining our lips with matching lipstick. Claire smoothed my hair into a perfect flip with her special brush and twirled her own hair up into a pile on top of her head and pinned it with a giant clip. She had thick, dark hair that reached the middle of her back and short litde bangs that she always wore straight down on her forehead. "I feel like I'm getting ready for my cotillion," Claire joked. "I wish my mother were here to see this." Claire's mother thought she was still a virgin, holding out until her wedding night, even though she was twenty-seven. Mom and Susan applauded when we made our appearance in the kitchen. Susan handed out bowls of hummus and platters of vegetables for us to distribute around the house. Mom busied herself with the stereo, setting up tapes and CDs in the order she wanted to play them. The guests began arriving around eight and soon the living room and kitchen and the deck out back were jammed with people. Over the 77


Berkeley Fiction Review years my mother and Susan had accumulated a lot of friends in Provincetown. Before they started building the house, they had always rented a summer share in town and they'd met a lot of people that way. Most of their friends were couples, gay couples, and most were women in their forties and fifties. Most had never had kids, and probably never would, but some were like my mother, middle-age converts. I recognized some faces, but I'd never been good with names so I allowed Susan to drag us around, introducing us to everyone as "Marge's daughter Rachel and her friend from New York," until that grew old and she left us to fend for ourselves. "Just don't pull a disappearing act on us," she said, then disappeared herself into the crowd. Neither of us felt like mingling so we hung out near the wet bar and watched people dancing and laughing and working the crowd while we sipped martinis with studied sophistication. I'd never liked martinis, but somehow they seemed appropriate. "Do you think gay people are more fun?" Claire asked. "Maybe it just seems that way because they can dance," I said, which made us giggle. Claire tried to hush me, looking around to see if anyone nearby could hear us, but she was laughing too. We were drinking the martinis way too fast. We finished our first round and made ourselves two more. By the time dinner was ready, we had to scarf down two burgers each to try to get our composure back. Halfway through her second burger, Claire realized she was eating soy, not beef. "In Texas they have laws against this sort of thing," she said, mumbling through a wad of food. "No tofu-eating, girl-kissing dykes allowed." She let out a choked laugh, spraying bits of half-chewed soy burger and bun in my direction. "You're getting sloppy," I teased her, flicking the bits off my arm and back into her face. "Please try not to embarrass me." Claire stopped laughing. "Now you'll have to kiss me. Kiss and make up," she demanded. She closed her eyes and leaned in close to me with her mouth puckered into a kiss. I wondered if I really should kiss her, just to get her back, but in my hesitation, I missed my chance. She let out a deep, throaty laugh. "Chicken shit." I took another sip, amazed by how much I was beginning to love gin, and surveyed the room: Everyone seemed to be having a good 78

Provincetown time, but no one was paying us any attention. No one had even mentioned the "L" word all night. "I think we're passing," I said. "It must be the dresses." Claire smirked. "Passing as what? Hetero or homo?" The way she saw it, we didn't really count as gay. Because it was our first time and because we had been friends first. We liked to joke that it was just an experiment, a temporary thing. What Claire really wanted was to get married and have kids and be normal, like her sisters in Texas. I wasn't sure what I wanted. I knew I didn't want to end up like my mother. I didn't have it in me to live my life on the fringe. I really couldn't imagine anything about my future, whether I would end up with a man or a woman, whether I would ever get married or have children or move out to the suburbs. I couldn't imagine doing anything except what I was doing then, just going about my life, no future, no past, just the here and now. My mother found us and pulled us outside onto the deck. The fireworks were about to start and she wanted us to get a front row spot along the railing. It was a beautiful night, the sky clear and brilliant with stars that we never got to see in the city. The rest of the party soon joined us outside and we all waited in silence, our eyes fixed on a spot in the sky down the beach above Provincetown. When the spectacle began, the crowd cheered and all around us we could hear people in nearby houses cheering too. Claire took my hand and leaned up close ttr hie. The night breeze was cool on our bare arms. I wanted her to hold me and keep me warm, but I was content just to be near her, close enough to smell the scent of her skin and hear the tiny groans she made each time the rockets exploded in pathetic little clusters. .After the fireworks ended, the party moved back indoors and Claire and I decided to walk down to the beach. We took off our shoes and walked carefully along the path, over the dunes, and onto the cool sand of the beach. It was windier down by the water and the dampness under my feet made me shiver. We headed south, away from town, walking slowly and holding hands. All around us we could hear the irritating smack of firecrackers and ahead, in the next town, another fireworks display was under way. I squeezed her hand. "You're preoccupied." "Mmm," she answered looking straight ahead. 79


Berkeley Fiction Review years my mother and Susan had accumulated a lot of friends in Provincetown. Before they started building the house, they had always rented a summer share in town and they'd met a lot of people that way. Most of their friends were couples, gay couples, and most were women in their forties and fifties. Most had never had kids, and probably never would, but some were like my mother, middle-age converts. I recognized some faces, but I'd never been good with names so I allowed Susan to drag us around, introducing us to everyone as "Marge's daughter Rachel and her friend from New York," until that grew old and she left us to fend for ourselves. "Just don't pull a disappearing act on us," she said, then disappeared herself into the crowd. Neither of us felt like mingling so we hung out near the wet bar and watched people dancing and laughing and working the crowd while we sipped martinis with studied sophistication. I'd never liked martinis, but somehow they seemed appropriate. "Do you think gay people are more fun?" Claire asked. "Maybe it just seems that way because they can dance," I said, which made us giggle. Claire tried to hush me, looking around to see if anyone nearby could hear us, but she was laughing too. We were drinking the martinis way too fast. We finished our first round and made ourselves two more. By the time dinner was ready, we had to scarf down two burgers each to try to get our composure back. Halfway through her second burger, Claire realized she was eating soy, not beef. "In Texas they have laws against this sort of thing," she said, mumbling through a wad of food. "No tofu-eating, girl-kissing dykes allowed." She let out a choked laugh, spraying bits of half-chewed soy burger and bun in my direction. "You're getting sloppy," I teased her, flicking the bits off my arm and back into her face. "Please try not to embarrass me." Claire stopped laughing. "Now you'll have to kiss me. Kiss and make up," she demanded. She closed her eyes and leaned in close to me with her mouth puckered into a kiss. I wondered if I really should kiss her, just to get her back, but in my hesitation, I missed my chance. She let out a deep, throaty laugh. "Chicken shit." I took another sip, amazed by how much I was beginning to love gin, and surveyed the room: Everyone seemed to be having a good 78

Provincetown time, but no one was paying us any attention. No one had even mentioned the "L" word all night. "I think we're passing," I said. "It must be the dresses." Claire smirked. "Passing as what? Hetero or homo?" The way she saw it, we didn't really count as gay. Because it was our first time and because we had been friends first. We liked to joke that it was just an experiment, a temporary thing. What Claire really wanted was to get married and have kids and be normal, like her sisters in Texas. I wasn't sure what I wanted. I knew I didn't want to end up like my mother. I didn't have it in me to live my life on the fringe. I really couldn't imagine anything about my future, whether I would end up with a man or a woman, whether I would ever get married or have children or move out to the suburbs. I couldn't imagine doing anything except what I was doing then, just going about my life, no future, no past, just the here and now. My mother found us and pulled us outside onto the deck. The fireworks were about to start and she wanted us to get a front row spot along the railing. It was a beautiful night, the sky clear and brilliant with stars that we never got to see in the city. The rest of the party soon joined us outside and we all waited in silence, our eyes fixed on a spot in the sky down the beach above Provincetown. When the spectacle began, the crowd cheered and all around us we could hear people in nearby houses cheering too. Claire took my hand and leaned up close ttr hie. The night breeze was cool on our bare arms. I wanted her to hold me and keep me warm, but I was content just to be near her, close enough to smell the scent of her skin and hear the tiny groans she made each time the rockets exploded in pathetic little clusters. .After the fireworks ended, the party moved back indoors and Claire and I decided to walk down to the beach. We took off our shoes and walked carefully along the path, over the dunes, and onto the cool sand of the beach. It was windier down by the water and the dampness under my feet made me shiver. We headed south, away from town, walking slowly and holding hands. All around us we could hear the irritating smack of firecrackers and ahead, in the next town, another fireworks display was under way. I squeezed her hand. "You're preoccupied." "Mmm," she answered looking straight ahead. 79


Berkeley Fiction Review "If you're worried about them liking you, relax. They love you. They told me so." She turned to me and smiled, then looked away again. "Rachel, how did your mom and Susan become a couple?" "They were working together, at the community college in our town," I said. "They had an affair. My dad found out and threw a fit." It was my standard abbreviated version of the story. We'd been through this before, I was sure. Claire said, "And then she left your father for Susan?" "No, after my father found out, Mom and Susan broke it off. Then she left him anyway because the marriage was already ruined." "And then she and Susan got back together." I thought for a minute, trying to remember how it all happened, the whole sequence of events. It was so long ago, I was a senior in high school then, and they didn't tell me much until after it was all over. "Yeah, but not right away. They waited a little while." "But they were really in love the whole time," Claire said. "Yeah, I guess so," I said. I didn't want to talk about my family anymore. I was angry that I could still be ashamed of my own mother. We turned around and headed back up the beach in silence. I thought about my father, about how he must have felt when my mother told him that she was in love with someone else, that she wanted to be with a Woman instead of with him. I imagined what he would say if I told him I was thinking about spending the rest of my life with Claire. He would blame my mother, of course. He would feel like I was deserting him. First his wife, then his only daughter. When we got close to the house, Claire stopped me and took me in her arms, squeezing me against her chest. We stood like that for a long time, kissing slowly and delicately, as if we were kissing for the first time. I was still drunk and dizzy and she was kissing me so sweetly, so perfectly, that I stopped worrying about where we were and who might see us. I pulled her down on top of me, her hair falling out of the clip and over my face, her weight pressing me into the cool sand, her mouth covering my mouth, taking me inside her. Lying there in the sand under the stars, with the rush of the ocean on one side and the murmur of my mother's party on the other, and Claire on top of me, breathing into 80

Provincetown me, I lost all sense of where I began and she ended and for a second I let myself forget that she was a woman. It had never happened to me before; in all the times we had been together, I had never wanted her to be anyone else, but I started imagining how it would be if she were a man and we had a future together that made sense, a house like Mom and Susan's and friends to come to our parties and kids and holidays with our families, arid for the briefest moment, when all of it seemed possible, I imagined that Claire really was a man and she was inside me, making love to me. She was still Claire, everything about her was Claire, only her sex had changed. And for that one moment, I was as happy as I'd ever been. She was complete, she was everything to me, and together we were perfect. But then the moment passed, it was just the two of us again, and I felt too drunk and too tired and the world, our world, seemed hopelessly small. "Let's go to our room," Claire said. And we stood, still holding onto each other, sand clinging to our dresses, our faces smeared with lipstick. From the deck we watched the party through the sliding glass door. A few couples were dancing in the center of the room and others had paired off on the sofa and along the walls. "There's your mom." Claire pointed to where Mom and Susan were dancing. Susan was leading and I was surprised to see that my mother had become a pretty good dancer. They moved in one graceful rhythm, the way old couples do after dancing together for many years. Susan swooped my mother down into a sudden dip and Mom recovered with unexpected ease. As Susan pulled her upright she bent over her and kissed her full on the lips, a long deep kiss that I imagined involved tongue. I turned away, embarrassed, and pulled Claire with me. We crept around the side of the house and went in our private entrance. I scrubbed my face and teeth and brushed the sand out of my hair. I slipped out of my dress and between the sheets and waited for Claire in the dark. Finally she came out of the bathroom and crawled in beside me. "Will you be able to sleep?" "Mm," she answered, and then was silent. I thought she might have 81


Berkeley Fiction Review "If you're worried about them liking you, relax. They love you. They told me so." She turned to me and smiled, then looked away again. "Rachel, how did your mom and Susan become a couple?" "They were working together, at the community college in our town," I said. "They had an affair. My dad found out and threw a fit." It was my standard abbreviated version of the story. We'd been through this before, I was sure. Claire said, "And then she left your father for Susan?" "No, after my father found out, Mom and Susan broke it off. Then she left him anyway because the marriage was already ruined." "And then she and Susan got back together." I thought for a minute, trying to remember how it all happened, the whole sequence of events. It was so long ago, I was a senior in high school then, and they didn't tell me much until after it was all over. "Yeah, but not right away. They waited a little while." "But they were really in love the whole time," Claire said. "Yeah, I guess so," I said. I didn't want to talk about my family anymore. I was angry that I could still be ashamed of my own mother. We turned around and headed back up the beach in silence. I thought about my father, about how he must have felt when my mother told him that she was in love with someone else, that she wanted to be with a Woman instead of with him. I imagined what he would say if I told him I was thinking about spending the rest of my life with Claire. He would blame my mother, of course. He would feel like I was deserting him. First his wife, then his only daughter. When we got close to the house, Claire stopped me and took me in her arms, squeezing me against her chest. We stood like that for a long time, kissing slowly and delicately, as if we were kissing for the first time. I was still drunk and dizzy and she was kissing me so sweetly, so perfectly, that I stopped worrying about where we were and who might see us. I pulled her down on top of me, her hair falling out of the clip and over my face, her weight pressing me into the cool sand, her mouth covering my mouth, taking me inside her. Lying there in the sand under the stars, with the rush of the ocean on one side and the murmur of my mother's party on the other, and Claire on top of me, breathing into 80

Provincetown me, I lost all sense of where I began and she ended and for a second I let myself forget that she was a woman. It had never happened to me before; in all the times we had been together, I had never wanted her to be anyone else, but I started imagining how it would be if she were a man and we had a future together that made sense, a house like Mom and Susan's and friends to come to our parties and kids and holidays with our families, arid for the briefest moment, when all of it seemed possible, I imagined that Claire really was a man and she was inside me, making love to me. She was still Claire, everything about her was Claire, only her sex had changed. And for that one moment, I was as happy as I'd ever been. She was complete, she was everything to me, and together we were perfect. But then the moment passed, it was just the two of us again, and I felt too drunk and too tired and the world, our world, seemed hopelessly small. "Let's go to our room," Claire said. And we stood, still holding onto each other, sand clinging to our dresses, our faces smeared with lipstick. From the deck we watched the party through the sliding glass door. A few couples were dancing in the center of the room and others had paired off on the sofa and along the walls. "There's your mom." Claire pointed to where Mom and Susan were dancing. Susan was leading and I was surprised to see that my mother had become a pretty good dancer. They moved in one graceful rhythm, the way old couples do after dancing together for many years. Susan swooped my mother down into a sudden dip and Mom recovered with unexpected ease. As Susan pulled her upright she bent over her and kissed her full on the lips, a long deep kiss that I imagined involved tongue. I turned away, embarrassed, and pulled Claire with me. We crept around the side of the house and went in our private entrance. I scrubbed my face and teeth and brushed the sand out of my hair. I slipped out of my dress and between the sheets and waited for Claire in the dark. Finally she came out of the bathroom and crawled in beside me. "Will you be able to sleep?" "Mm," she answered, and then was silent. I thought she might have 81


Berkeley Fiction Review gone to sleep, but after a few minutes she said, "Rach, are you still awake? Can we make pancakes tomorrow?" . "Sure," I said. I turned over onto my back so she could rub my belly while we talked. "With blueberries if you want." "Rach," she said, "how did your mom figure it out? How did she know?" I really didn't want to get back into it. I was too tired. "I don't know," I said. "I've always tried not to think about it. I guess because she was in love with Susan, and my father made her miserable." Claire was silent, waiting for me to go on, but I didn't know what else to say. She stopped rubbing my stomach and turned over on her back, folding her hands over her chest. "I wonder how she decided, though. Don't you ever wonder how she made up her mind?" "Maybe it wasn't a matter of making up her mind. Maybe it was all very clear to her. Maybe the whole time she was with my father she knew something was missing." "Maybe," she said, and then was silent again. I could see her eyes were open, staring up at the ceiling. She was still thinking, still working it all out. I was too tired to stay up with her tonight, I didn't think I could keep my eyes open another second. "It's not so bad, you know?" She looked over at me and waited for me to agree. "I mean, this house, this life they have together. It makes me a little envious." She turned to face me and moved her body up into mine, her legs entwined with my legs, her arms tucked against my chest. I folded .myself around her, cradling her head in my hands. "I know," I said. "It makes me envious, too." And it was true, I realized it then. I really did admire my mother for what she had. She had made a life for herself and it was working. She had everything she wanted. I could feel the pulse of Claire's breath on my chest. She was crying silently, not wanting me to know. I smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead, holding her as tightly as I could. There was nothing I could think to say to her, there was nothing anyone could say, really, to make it all right. So I just held her and rubbed her back and let her cry until, finally, she wore herself out and fell asleep in my arms. I lay there holding her, smelling her, thinking about what had happened on the beach and 82

Provincetown how stupid it all was. Tomorrow, I knew, things wouldn't seem so strange. Tomorrow we would make pancakes and read the paper and drink too much coffee, just like we would if we were at home in our place. Then we'd go to the beach with Mom and Susan and we'd stay too long, until our skin felt tight and we knew we were good and burned, and for dinner we'd all go out for lobsters and we'd drink wine and everything would seem okay, at least for now. And then slowly, little by little, maybe we'd learn to get used to this.

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Berkeley Fiction Review gone to sleep, but after a few minutes she said, "Rach, are you still awake? Can we make pancakes tomorrow?" . "Sure," I said. I turned over onto my back so she could rub my belly while we talked. "With blueberries if you want." "Rach," she said, "how did your mom figure it out? How did she know?" I really didn't want to get back into it. I was too tired. "I don't know," I said. "I've always tried not to think about it. I guess because she was in love with Susan, and my father made her miserable." Claire was silent, waiting for me to go on, but I didn't know what else to say. She stopped rubbing my stomach and turned over on her back, folding her hands over her chest. "I wonder how she decided, though. Don't you ever wonder how she made up her mind?" "Maybe it wasn't a matter of making up her mind. Maybe it was all very clear to her. Maybe the whole time she was with my father she knew something was missing." "Maybe," she said, and then was silent again. I could see her eyes were open, staring up at the ceiling. She was still thinking, still working it all out. I was too tired to stay up with her tonight, I didn't think I could keep my eyes open another second. "It's not so bad, you know?" She looked over at me and waited for me to agree. "I mean, this house, this life they have together. It makes me a little envious." She turned to face me and moved her body up into mine, her legs entwined with my legs, her arms tucked against my chest. I folded .myself around her, cradling her head in my hands. "I know," I said. "It makes me envious, too." And it was true, I realized it then. I really did admire my mother for what she had. She had made a life for herself and it was working. She had everything she wanted. I could feel the pulse of Claire's breath on my chest. She was crying silently, not wanting me to know. I smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead, holding her as tightly as I could. There was nothing I could think to say to her, there was nothing anyone could say, really, to make it all right. So I just held her and rubbed her back and let her cry until, finally, she wore herself out and fell asleep in my arms. I lay there holding her, smelling her, thinking about what had happened on the beach and 82

Provincetown how stupid it all was. Tomorrow, I knew, things wouldn't seem so strange. Tomorrow we would make pancakes and read the paper and drink too much coffee, just like we would if we were at home in our place. Then we'd go to the beach with Mom and Susan and we'd stay too long, until our skin felt tight and we knew we were good and burned, and for dinner we'd all go out for lobsters and we'd drink wine and everything would seem okay, at least for now. And then slowly, little by little, maybe we'd learn to get used to this.

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M i x e d

M e d i a

Alicia Erian

^ • i w i l y s t u dents seem to be having trouble punctuating their ^ l | | dialogue," Ms. Lutz said to her husband, Professor Norton. •HflHI "Shh," Professor Norton said. He was sitting on the couch watching a film called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. In it a film director, Werner Herzog, eats his shoe. "I'll send them to the tutoring center," Ms. Lutz said. Professor Norton didn't seem to hear. "I'll require them to go." "Look! He's really eating it." Ms. Lutz looked at Werner Herzog. He was pulling a strap off a black boot as he spoke to his audience in a German accent: "If you have to steal cameras to make a film, steal cameras! The thing is to make the film." Pretentious so and so, Ms. Lutz thought. She looked at Professor Norton, who had some leftover chocolate cake on the side of his face. "Don't lie down and get chocolate on the couch," she said. "Oh!" Professor Norton said. Werner had swallowed the strap. Ms. Lutz looked at the TV. "He'll get constipated." When the movie finished, Professor Norton decided he didn't like it after all. "They hardly showed him eating it. Mostly he just talked." Ms. Lutz felt vindicated. She put her feet up on Professor Norton's lap. She said, "What about my students?" "What about them?" Professor Norton asked. 85


M i x e d

M e d i a

Alicia Erian

^ • i w i l y s t u dents seem to be having trouble punctuating their ^ l | | dialogue," Ms. Lutz said to her husband, Professor Norton. •HflHI "Shh," Professor Norton said. He was sitting on the couch watching a film called Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. In it a film director, Werner Herzog, eats his shoe. "I'll send them to the tutoring center," Ms. Lutz said. Professor Norton didn't seem to hear. "I'll require them to go." "Look! He's really eating it." Ms. Lutz looked at Werner Herzog. He was pulling a strap off a black boot as he spoke to his audience in a German accent: "If you have to steal cameras to make a film, steal cameras! The thing is to make the film." Pretentious so and so, Ms. Lutz thought. She looked at Professor Norton, who had some leftover chocolate cake on the side of his face. "Don't lie down and get chocolate on the couch," she said. "Oh!" Professor Norton said. Werner had swallowed the strap. Ms. Lutz looked at the TV. "He'll get constipated." When the movie finished, Professor Norton decided he didn't like it after all. "They hardly showed him eating it. Mostly he just talked." Ms. Lutz felt vindicated. She put her feet up on Professor Norton's lap. She said, "What about my students?" "What about them?" Professor Norton asked. 85


Berkeley Fiction Review "They're having trouble with their dialogue." Professor Norton rubbed his beard. "Show them Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe," he said at last. "Show them how, if you keep talking, you won't have to eat anything."

W a n t i n g

A

L o v e r

M a n

James Braziel

ome people can never stop talking, and that was, without any doubt, the main problem with Bubba. I am certain of I it. Every morning 'round nine a.m., he came into Mrs. Bowen's Supermarket and sat down in the rocking chair next to all the bug sprays and nail polish remover. He came in, sat down, and for the whole day, he just sat and sat with a gallon jug of water that he brought with him from home. The, jug had a dirty ring around it that you could tell was on the inside, and he sat there swigging at that water and talking until six p.m., which often got pushed up to five p.m. even though on theudoor it says six, 'cause Mrs. Bowen didn't want to spend that extra hour with Bubba. Mrs. Bowen is alone now. Her husband had his heart attack when they went out west to the Grand Canyon. He saw it, said, "Mother fucker," muttered it—croaked it, sort of—and grabbed his chest as if he suddenly realized his wallet was missing. That's what I hear from Mrs. Bowen's boy, Cecil. He's told everyone that story about his father eleven, or fifteen times or more probably—delights in telling it the drunker he get$: snatching at his own chest, making the croaking sound over and over 'cause the drunker he gets, the more he can't remember what he's just said. One night he said my name fifty times—I counted them—fifty times at the beginning of some question: "Judy?" "Judy?" "Judy?" "What damn it!" I finally snapped back 'cause there is nothing worse

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Berkeley Fiction Review "They're having trouble with their dialogue." Professor Norton rubbed his beard. "Show them Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe," he said at last. "Show them how, if you keep talking, you won't have to eat anything."

W a n t i n g

A

L o v e r

M a n

James Braziel

ome people can never stop talking, and that was, without any doubt, the main problem with Bubba. I am certain of I it. Every morning 'round nine a.m., he came into Mrs. Bowen's Supermarket and sat down in the rocking chair next to all the bug sprays and nail polish remover. He came in, sat down, and for the whole day, he just sat and sat with a gallon jug of water that he brought with him from home. The, jug had a dirty ring around it that you could tell was on the inside, and he sat there swigging at that water and talking until six p.m., which often got pushed up to five p.m. even though on theudoor it says six, 'cause Mrs. Bowen didn't want to spend that extra hour with Bubba. Mrs. Bowen is alone now. Her husband had his heart attack when they went out west to the Grand Canyon. He saw it, said, "Mother fucker," muttered it—croaked it, sort of—and grabbed his chest as if he suddenly realized his wallet was missing. That's what I hear from Mrs. Bowen's boy, Cecil. He's told everyone that story about his father eleven, or fifteen times or more probably—delights in telling it the drunker he get$: snatching at his own chest, making the croaking sound over and over 'cause the drunker he gets, the more he can't remember what he's just said. One night he said my name fifty times—I counted them—fifty times at the beginning of some question: "Judy?" "Judy?" "Judy?" "What damn it!" I finally snapped back 'cause there is nothing worse

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Berkeley Fiction Review than a man stuck on his own tongue, unsure of what to do next. Well, that's Cecil. He's only sober during the hangover hours, the time his mamma, Mrs. Bowen, is at work from eight until six, used to be five on account of Bubba. She didn't like to be in the store with Bubba, like I said, any longer than she had to. Nobody did 'cause of all his talking: talk, talk, talk to anybody about anything. He'd go off on the importance of nice dress shoes on Sunday, why Vidalia onions were no better than regular onions, and oceans that he had never seen. Then he'd tell you about the countries at the end of those oceans, and pretty soon he'd start rambling on about the people in town. He had a nickname for all of us, and if it wasn't a bad one, he'd call you that name to your face. Some of the bad ones were like what he called Mrs. Bowen—"Mrs. Big Hair"—on account of her hair being so big. Nice ones were like what he called me—"Young Lady"—'cause I'm "young," he said and "a lady." The last time I saw him was a week ago. That's when he started talking to me about how many blues there were, how each one was kinda lighter or darker than the one you saw before. "Look at the sky," he said, pointing outside the merchandise window. "Now look at your paints," he pointed down. He meant to say "pants," but his face had clamped down on his mouth—his jaws like two big gills on his catfish face closing up with the weight of his wrinkles. "Now you go look at anything in this store that's got blue on it," he said, "and you'll see what I talk about," his words muttering up more, and he rubbed the bristles on his chin, satisfied that he had told me the most profound thing, a secret to the universe no one else had caught on to, had ever understood. Shades, I wanted to tell him. Hues, Let him know that there was a name for all of this, and that he, alone, hadn't discovered it. He wasn't the only one with eyes. But I didn't say anything. I had known Bubba too long not to let him have his way. So I slowly turned my head from aisle to aisle. "I see what you mean," I said, and we both nodded to each other. And whenever Bubba got talking fast—muttering and spitting like tires come off a truck—his language sounded more archaic than Chaucer's. Mr. Ribbons, who works at the community college in Tifton

Wanting A Lover Man thirty-five miles away, said so. Bubba said he knew Chaucer. Met him at Billy's Liquor once and they got drunk together. Whenever Mr. Ribbons came in, Bubba would ask him, "How's my friend Chaucer doing?" Mr. Ribbons would stand there, something to buy held quietly in his hands, and he'd give Bubba an obliging smile. Mr. Ribbons is more than just educated. He always wears long-sleeved, starch-collared shirts though the weather hovers around one hundred two-thirds of the year. He has a studying look. He comes into Mrs. Bowen's and studies things: Dixie water cups, the ingredients in sugar, the varieties of ice cream for his wife who's expecting. And Mr. Ribbons, like all of us, took time out from Mrs. Bowen's selections to study Bubba. "More archaic than Chaucer—" who is, by the way, a great English writer. He never hung out at Billy's, I am certain. I remember something about Chaucer and a Wife taking a bath when I was in school. But I've been out for two years. I'm the head cashier over at the Pit-Stop on weekends—that's the only gas station, part-time convenience store in town. It's right next to Mrs. Bowen's, and during the week, I hang out with Missie—she's the cashier during the week. I help her pump gas, but she does have a noticeable flaw. She's a few years younger than me, and you know how high school students are, even if she has dropped out. So I take about as much of that giggling and boy-crazy talk as I can, then I go over to see how Cecil's hangover is doing. That day when Bubba was talking about blues, that last day a week ago, I left the store with some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream 'cause nothing beats raw cookie dough and chocolate chip. Bubba was saying you couldn't, even if you wanted, make two of the same color blue. "That's a truth, Young Lady. A fact." Like I said, my nickname was "Young Lady" and whenever he added that to his talking, I straightened up my shoulders like my mamma tells me I should be doing all the time, cause here I was, this "Young Lady," with all this respect being given me and I wanted to look the part. "A fact." He smacked his lips like they were dry from all his talking, and he swigged out another swallow; the water hadn't reached the brown ring yet. Usually Bubba moved onto some other topic, but he had said "fact"


Berkeley Fiction Review than a man stuck on his own tongue, unsure of what to do next. Well, that's Cecil. He's only sober during the hangover hours, the time his mamma, Mrs. Bowen, is at work from eight until six, used to be five on account of Bubba. She didn't like to be in the store with Bubba, like I said, any longer than she had to. Nobody did 'cause of all his talking: talk, talk, talk to anybody about anything. He'd go off on the importance of nice dress shoes on Sunday, why Vidalia onions were no better than regular onions, and oceans that he had never seen. Then he'd tell you about the countries at the end of those oceans, and pretty soon he'd start rambling on about the people in town. He had a nickname for all of us, and if it wasn't a bad one, he'd call you that name to your face. Some of the bad ones were like what he called Mrs. Bowen—"Mrs. Big Hair"—on account of her hair being so big. Nice ones were like what he called me—"Young Lady"—'cause I'm "young," he said and "a lady." The last time I saw him was a week ago. That's when he started talking to me about how many blues there were, how each one was kinda lighter or darker than the one you saw before. "Look at the sky," he said, pointing outside the merchandise window. "Now look at your paints," he pointed down. He meant to say "pants," but his face had clamped down on his mouth—his jaws like two big gills on his catfish face closing up with the weight of his wrinkles. "Now you go look at anything in this store that's got blue on it," he said, "and you'll see what I talk about," his words muttering up more, and he rubbed the bristles on his chin, satisfied that he had told me the most profound thing, a secret to the universe no one else had caught on to, had ever understood. Shades, I wanted to tell him. Hues, Let him know that there was a name for all of this, and that he, alone, hadn't discovered it. He wasn't the only one with eyes. But I didn't say anything. I had known Bubba too long not to let him have his way. So I slowly turned my head from aisle to aisle. "I see what you mean," I said, and we both nodded to each other. And whenever Bubba got talking fast—muttering and spitting like tires come off a truck—his language sounded more archaic than Chaucer's. Mr. Ribbons, who works at the community college in Tifton

Wanting A Lover Man thirty-five miles away, said so. Bubba said he knew Chaucer. Met him at Billy's Liquor once and they got drunk together. Whenever Mr. Ribbons came in, Bubba would ask him, "How's my friend Chaucer doing?" Mr. Ribbons would stand there, something to buy held quietly in his hands, and he'd give Bubba an obliging smile. Mr. Ribbons is more than just educated. He always wears long-sleeved, starch-collared shirts though the weather hovers around one hundred two-thirds of the year. He has a studying look. He comes into Mrs. Bowen's and studies things: Dixie water cups, the ingredients in sugar, the varieties of ice cream for his wife who's expecting. And Mr. Ribbons, like all of us, took time out from Mrs. Bowen's selections to study Bubba. "More archaic than Chaucer—" who is, by the way, a great English writer. He never hung out at Billy's, I am certain. I remember something about Chaucer and a Wife taking a bath when I was in school. But I've been out for two years. I'm the head cashier over at the Pit-Stop on weekends—that's the only gas station, part-time convenience store in town. It's right next to Mrs. Bowen's, and during the week, I hang out with Missie—she's the cashier during the week. I help her pump gas, but she does have a noticeable flaw. She's a few years younger than me, and you know how high school students are, even if she has dropped out. So I take about as much of that giggling and boy-crazy talk as I can, then I go over to see how Cecil's hangover is doing. That day when Bubba was talking about blues, that last day a week ago, I left the store with some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream 'cause nothing beats raw cookie dough and chocolate chip. Bubba was saying you couldn't, even if you wanted, make two of the same color blue. "That's a truth, Young Lady. A fact." Like I said, my nickname was "Young Lady" and whenever he added that to his talking, I straightened up my shoulders like my mamma tells me I should be doing all the time, cause here I was, this "Young Lady," with all this respect being given me and I wanted to look the part. "A fact." He smacked his lips like they were dry from all his talking, and he swigged out another swallow; the water hadn't reached the brown ring yet. Usually Bubba moved onto some other topic, but he had said "fact"


Berkeley Fiction Review about three other times during his "blue" talk. I could tell he was going to rattle on, so I slipped out the front door, licking a drizzle of ice cream from the side of my half pint, and I was walking and licking to the point that I didn't see it, almost ran into it: Cecil's truck. "Get in," he said, spat something at his floorboard. "I ain't talking with you," I let him know up front and turned the other way. "Get in." He said it louder and rammed one of the gears into its socket, easing the clutch back to make a horrible grinding noise. "I'm still hurting," I said. "So," he said, refusing to look at where I pulled up my shirt. There was a purplish-black chunk like a dent in a truck above my bellybutton. "I ain't talking with you." "Come on Judy," he spat again at the floorboard, then pulled at his hair as if his head was hurting. His hangover must be a bad one, and I decided I was glad about it, too. His face was getting real sweaty. He was getting antsy. It was hot that day, and we both stuck to where we were while the truck idled in the heat. I looked up at the sky. It was blue. I wondered if I took a picture of today's sky and tomorrow's sky and showed them to Bubba would he believe, "There, see Bubba, see," there was the same color twice. Or would he be right? Would tomorrow's sky be different than today's? "Judy..." That was all the apology I was going to get: Cecil saying my name halfway softly. The mosquitoes were under the trees "cooling it," as Bubba would say—they wouldn't come and bite me, it was so hot. I waited a little longer. Then I got in. That was around 2:30. Immediately, I noticed a beer in Cecil's hand. "Feeling better, I see," I said, dipping into my ice cream—it was already liquidy all the way around the part where it touched the carton. "All right," he said; he was watching the side of the road, waving to whoever came whizzing by on the other lane. I don't think he really 90

Wanting A Lover Man looked at them—Cecil was more interested in wheel rims and paint jobs than people, but waving was habit. I dug deeper into my ice cream. The cookie dough parts were cut into little round pieces like they came from a tube, like the Pillsbury kind in the milk section. His truck, even though it's an old one, runs good, has just enough putter in it to make your stomach settle. And the more my stomach relaxed, the more ice cream I stuffed in, and the more comfortable I began to feel. Cecil didn't say anything when he parked the truck, keeping that stuff in his mouth, spitting a path to the front door of his mamma's house. I followed him on in, lay my empty half-pint on the steps before I did, licked my sticky fingers. He didn't say anything as he walked back to his room, past the kitchen and the dining room where Mrs. Bowen has a picture of the Grand Canyon framed. The caption underneath says: The World's Most Breathtaking View. Bubba said he had been there, though everyone knew he had never stepped a foot outside of Pitts, Georgia. "Yes, yes, Young Lady, it is beautiful. It's just an empty hole in the ground'—had several people tell me that when I was there, but I didn't bother with them, even answering them. 'Cause it's not the.; .the.. .hole part, it's the way it makes your lungs feel like they left you, makes you feel small, and you ah...ah appreciate—yep, appreciate this world a little more. I think so," smacking his lips, taking another swig from the jugBubba also claimed he had been to London and Paris and every beautiful city in this world, and he told you about each one—the buildings and streets—and you could see it, see the names of cafes in other languages and landmarks in your mind, would swear he had been there. This was the truth. But he hadn't been anywhere. I turned my eyes from the picture of the Grand Canyon, thought about Cecil's dad, the words he said when he saw that big hole. Then I walked on to Cecil's room, following the smell of his beer, the juice that was in his mouth. He was taking off his shirt, hanging it on the antlers of the buck he killed two years ago. I remember 'cause we first started seeing each other then and he was so happy about killing that deer. He's killed a 91


Berkeley Fiction Review about three other times during his "blue" talk. I could tell he was going to rattle on, so I slipped out the front door, licking a drizzle of ice cream from the side of my half pint, and I was walking and licking to the point that I didn't see it, almost ran into it: Cecil's truck. "Get in," he said, spat something at his floorboard. "I ain't talking with you," I let him know up front and turned the other way. "Get in." He said it louder and rammed one of the gears into its socket, easing the clutch back to make a horrible grinding noise. "I'm still hurting," I said. "So," he said, refusing to look at where I pulled up my shirt. There was a purplish-black chunk like a dent in a truck above my bellybutton. "I ain't talking with you." "Come on Judy," he spat again at the floorboard, then pulled at his hair as if his head was hurting. His hangover must be a bad one, and I decided I was glad about it, too. His face was getting real sweaty. He was getting antsy. It was hot that day, and we both stuck to where we were while the truck idled in the heat. I looked up at the sky. It was blue. I wondered if I took a picture of today's sky and tomorrow's sky and showed them to Bubba would he believe, "There, see Bubba, see," there was the same color twice. Or would he be right? Would tomorrow's sky be different than today's? "Judy..." That was all the apology I was going to get: Cecil saying my name halfway softly. The mosquitoes were under the trees "cooling it," as Bubba would say—they wouldn't come and bite me, it was so hot. I waited a little longer. Then I got in. That was around 2:30. Immediately, I noticed a beer in Cecil's hand. "Feeling better, I see," I said, dipping into my ice cream—it was already liquidy all the way around the part where it touched the carton. "All right," he said; he was watching the side of the road, waving to whoever came whizzing by on the other lane. I don't think he really 90

Wanting A Lover Man looked at them—Cecil was more interested in wheel rims and paint jobs than people, but waving was habit. I dug deeper into my ice cream. The cookie dough parts were cut into little round pieces like they came from a tube, like the Pillsbury kind in the milk section. His truck, even though it's an old one, runs good, has just enough putter in it to make your stomach settle. And the more my stomach relaxed, the more ice cream I stuffed in, and the more comfortable I began to feel. Cecil didn't say anything when he parked the truck, keeping that stuff in his mouth, spitting a path to the front door of his mamma's house. I followed him on in, lay my empty half-pint on the steps before I did, licked my sticky fingers. He didn't say anything as he walked back to his room, past the kitchen and the dining room where Mrs. Bowen has a picture of the Grand Canyon framed. The caption underneath says: The World's Most Breathtaking View. Bubba said he had been there, though everyone knew he had never stepped a foot outside of Pitts, Georgia. "Yes, yes, Young Lady, it is beautiful. It's just an empty hole in the ground'—had several people tell me that when I was there, but I didn't bother with them, even answering them. 'Cause it's not the.; .the.. .hole part, it's the way it makes your lungs feel like they left you, makes you feel small, and you ah...ah appreciate—yep, appreciate this world a little more. I think so," smacking his lips, taking another swig from the jugBubba also claimed he had been to London and Paris and every beautiful city in this world, and he told you about each one—the buildings and streets—and you could see it, see the names of cafes in other languages and landmarks in your mind, would swear he had been there. This was the truth. But he hadn't been anywhere. I turned my eyes from the picture of the Grand Canyon, thought about Cecil's dad, the words he said when he saw that big hole. Then I walked on to Cecil's room, following the smell of his beer, the juice that was in his mouth. He was taking off his shirt, hanging it on the antlers of the buck he killed two years ago. I remember 'cause we first started seeing each other then and he was so happy about killing that deer. He's killed a 91


Berkeley Fiction Review ton more since but hasn't mounted them or anything, hasn't even kept the antlers. "I ain't kissing you unless you take that shit out of your mouth," I said. I was already unbuttoning my shirt. "Well, I don't want to be kissing," he grinned,spat a little into a cup near his bed. "Then I don't want to be doing," my hands worked in reverse, putting the buttons back through the holes. He stopped, looked at me, looked at me like he did those people he was waving at on Highway 29, and I kept waiting, thinking he was going to spit, going to spit it out. My hands were over my breasts on the first button. But he waited, waited, stared at me, made me feel like I wasn't really anything, just dust off a road or a wind that you walk through, something that made the summer unnoticeable. "Come on Cecil," I finally said, squeezed my arms under my breasts so he could see them better, their pouting—all that chocolate in the cookie dough was making me horny. He spat out the last of the juice, smiled and came over to me, his hands grabbing for my ass first, then working their way to where the bruise was, touching it lightly. But inside there was a kick and a sharp twist that hurt. Cecil's mom might've been home by five, so I left—she knew I was seeing Cecil, but she didn't know how much I was seeing, and I didn't want her to be upset like the time when her husband, Mr. Bowen, died. When she came back from the Canyon—it was the only time I've seen her hair down, and her hair isn't pretty down. So I always keep my eye on the clock—Cecil never will. He was asleep as usual, stretched out and a pillow on his head. He'd been that way not long after he shot up all inside me, uttering something about "I was the best he had ever had" and "he loved me for it." Then he fell asleep. His mamma, I knew, would find him like that—rolled out on his bed naked but covered—I did the covering to save her the embarrassment of having to see how fat he was getting. She always is saying to me when I'm in the store and to other people when they come in that Cecil is the weekend carrier for the Post Office and will be full time as soon as Bud Jones quits who is nearly seventy and should 92

Wanting A Lover Man retire soon. "That man ain't ever going to quit," Bubba quickly set the record straight whenever Mrs. Bowen started up with that talk like she does. "That Bud Jones—he's hard worker—he's been doing that route since car was invented, since we had a post office. And that boy of yours," Bubba opened up his catfish mouth wide as it could go, "he is lazy." Bubba said that. I couldn't believe he said that, but he did, and it was the truth, but, boy, it made Mrs. Bowen mad—so mad she punched the cash register two, three, four times, the bells ringing and making the roach cans shake. But that was all she showed of madness to Bubba 'cause she wanted to be polite, and, therefore, she tried to ignore him. "Likes to drink all the time—that's all that boy of yours ever does. Lazy, lazy, lazy," Bubba twisted sideways in his seat. "Puts the wrong mail in the wrong mailboxes anyway. That's what everybody says^-" "Shut up, Bubba," she yelled, her hair standing even taller, the blood rushing to it. And I guess I should have said that to Bubba, too; I should have defended Cecil, but it was the truth what Bubba said. And he winked at me then 'cause he got her riled up, got her mad, he got her good. I tried not to smile, but I knew I did—the two of us nodding our heads, certain that the truth had been spoken. Several times, Mrs. Bowen threatened to kick Bubba out after he said what he said about her son. But Bubba just smacked his lips, swigged his water and didn't move, stared at all those cans of bug spray like they were T V pictures he was counting. When Cecil comes in the store, Mrs. Bowen always smiles; her whole body does a swish from her toes up, and she's extra polite to the people in the store. "That colorful old man," she'd even say about Bubba and laugh that light flighty laugh of hers—"Like Coolwhip coming out of a little chick's mouth," Bubba called it—Mrs. Bowen hoping Bubba wouldn't start talking about her boy. One day Cecil slapped Bubba on the back, friendly, while reaching for a can of Raid. "Lazy—lazy," Bubba sputtered into his jug, sucking up a big gulp, coughing some more. Cecil stood there for a minute. Didn't say a word, just staring down 93


Berkeley Fiction Review ton more since but hasn't mounted them or anything, hasn't even kept the antlers. "I ain't kissing you unless you take that shit out of your mouth," I said. I was already unbuttoning my shirt. "Well, I don't want to be kissing," he grinned,spat a little into a cup near his bed. "Then I don't want to be doing," my hands worked in reverse, putting the buttons back through the holes. He stopped, looked at me, looked at me like he did those people he was waving at on Highway 29, and I kept waiting, thinking he was going to spit, going to spit it out. My hands were over my breasts on the first button. But he waited, waited, stared at me, made me feel like I wasn't really anything, just dust off a road or a wind that you walk through, something that made the summer unnoticeable. "Come on Cecil," I finally said, squeezed my arms under my breasts so he could see them better, their pouting—all that chocolate in the cookie dough was making me horny. He spat out the last of the juice, smiled and came over to me, his hands grabbing for my ass first, then working their way to where the bruise was, touching it lightly. But inside there was a kick and a sharp twist that hurt. Cecil's mom might've been home by five, so I left—she knew I was seeing Cecil, but she didn't know how much I was seeing, and I didn't want her to be upset like the time when her husband, Mr. Bowen, died. When she came back from the Canyon—it was the only time I've seen her hair down, and her hair isn't pretty down. So I always keep my eye on the clock—Cecil never will. He was asleep as usual, stretched out and a pillow on his head. He'd been that way not long after he shot up all inside me, uttering something about "I was the best he had ever had" and "he loved me for it." Then he fell asleep. His mamma, I knew, would find him like that—rolled out on his bed naked but covered—I did the covering to save her the embarrassment of having to see how fat he was getting. She always is saying to me when I'm in the store and to other people when they come in that Cecil is the weekend carrier for the Post Office and will be full time as soon as Bud Jones quits who is nearly seventy and should 92

Wanting A Lover Man retire soon. "That man ain't ever going to quit," Bubba quickly set the record straight whenever Mrs. Bowen started up with that talk like she does. "That Bud Jones—he's hard worker—he's been doing that route since car was invented, since we had a post office. And that boy of yours," Bubba opened up his catfish mouth wide as it could go, "he is lazy." Bubba said that. I couldn't believe he said that, but he did, and it was the truth, but, boy, it made Mrs. Bowen mad—so mad she punched the cash register two, three, four times, the bells ringing and making the roach cans shake. But that was all she showed of madness to Bubba 'cause she wanted to be polite, and, therefore, she tried to ignore him. "Likes to drink all the time—that's all that boy of yours ever does. Lazy, lazy, lazy," Bubba twisted sideways in his seat. "Puts the wrong mail in the wrong mailboxes anyway. That's what everybody says^-" "Shut up, Bubba," she yelled, her hair standing even taller, the blood rushing to it. And I guess I should have said that to Bubba, too; I should have defended Cecil, but it was the truth what Bubba said. And he winked at me then 'cause he got her riled up, got her mad, he got her good. I tried not to smile, but I knew I did—the two of us nodding our heads, certain that the truth had been spoken. Several times, Mrs. Bowen threatened to kick Bubba out after he said what he said about her son. But Bubba just smacked his lips, swigged his water and didn't move, stared at all those cans of bug spray like they were T V pictures he was counting. When Cecil comes in the store, Mrs. Bowen always smiles; her whole body does a swish from her toes up, and she's extra polite to the people in the store. "That colorful old man," she'd even say about Bubba and laugh that light flighty laugh of hers—"Like Coolwhip coming out of a little chick's mouth," Bubba called it—Mrs. Bowen hoping Bubba wouldn't start talking about her boy. One day Cecil slapped Bubba on the back, friendly, while reaching for a can of Raid. "Lazy—lazy," Bubba sputtered into his jug, sucking up a big gulp, coughing some more. Cecil stood there for a minute. Didn't say a word, just staring down 93


Berkeley Fiction Review at the back of Bubba who was mumbling the effects of a Black Flag can: "Kills in seconds, leaves a trail for months. Kills roaches, ants, flying bugs. Sprays for twelve feet..." Then Bubba started quoting the caution words. "Let me show you some new sunglasses we got in, honey," Mrs. Bowen piped up and Cecil turned away, spraying the can in the air as he walked to see how far it would shoot. "Honey!" Mrs. Bowen said urgently, dipping below her cash register 'cause when Cecil sprayed, he almost got her hair. The next time Cecil came in, Mrs. Bowen slipped Bubba three pieces of hard candy to keep him quiet. Bubba didn't talk about her boy. So I cover Cecil up when I leave and take all the empty beer cans with me, crush them up along with my empty half-pint and throw them in the green dumpster on my way back to town. That day—one week ago it was—it was 4:45 when I left. I was cutting it close and at first I was jogging down the highway, but it didn't take me long to feel silly about that, so I slowed down—the Pitts city limits is only a mile from Mrs. Bowen's house, and besides she never takes this road home. It was hot, typical July weather, and I was walking along the highway—the one Mrs. Bowen doesn't take—when a car slowed down and pulled off the road in front of me. It was Mr. Ribbons. He smiled, pointed to the passenger side door, so I hurried in. "Got any Chaucer with you?" I asked him first thing. Since we were alone, I wanted him to know: I'm not afraid of knowledge. "All my books—" he looked over his shoulder, giving the back seat a studying look. "They must be in the trunk," he said awkwardly, apologizing. He is young. Ten years older than me, I believe, but still so young to be a teacher. His hair is straight except for a lick that curves around the back of his head. He doesn't wear glasses. He does wear long sleeve shirts. The one he had on—it was what my mother calls an ocean blue. I wonder what blue Bubba would say. Mr. Ribbons is long sleeves, straight hair, no glasses, and a wedding band, and "Oh," that was all I said—I didn't know what else to make up. His face continued with its serious look: he was studying the road, looking for something in it, something no normal person would see. 94

Wanting A Lover Man I dreamed I had sex with him one night. I was drunk; Cecil was hardly able to stand but he wanted it, said he had to have it. We were in front of his mamma's store in his truck, so I undid my pants, kicked them off of one ankle. "Come and get it," I teased him, but for some reason, I kept calling him Timothy, which is Mr. Ribbons's first name—I know 'cause I saw it on one of his checks, but I would never call him that, and I don't think I said Timothy out loud cause Cecil would have yelled, would have wanted to punch me if I had. And whenever I looked up at Cecil, I saw Mr. Ribbons. He had that serious look. Bubba said he's too young to be so serious, but when I was having sex with him, that serious look had me in a trance, was turning me on, and under his long sleeved shirt was hair all over his chest and arms—Cecil has just a few black hairs around each of his pudgy nipples—and while Timothy was making love to me he quoted some Chaucer. He talked about months and rain and there were rhymes^—it was real romantic. I remember thinking, "This is what romance is: your lover using words, saying them only to you, and lots of them, saying them seriously, with a hairy chest—like all the people in London have, 'cause it's cold there, Bubba told me—while doing you." "Is your wife out of town?" I asked Mr. Ribbons. I was studying him hard, looking for signs of that chest hair—it was thick like a pile carpet rug in my dream, and I am certain those words just slipped out of my mouth. "No." I could tell he was surprised by my question. His fingers grabbed at the wheel a little tense. "Oh," I quickly said, "I heard at the store she was out of town. I was wondering if she was visiting her mamma." I said that even quicker. I could feel my face bulbing red, and so I turned to watch whatever was out the window. "No, no," he laughed, almost choking, "I don't know why you heard that." He turned back to the road. I turned back to study him. "I don't know who said that," he went on. "She's at home right now. The baby's due soon, you know?" and his shoulders eased, his fingers relaxed. "Oh." I wanted him. Could see the words printed on his skin under those 95


Berkeley Fiction Review at the back of Bubba who was mumbling the effects of a Black Flag can: "Kills in seconds, leaves a trail for months. Kills roaches, ants, flying bugs. Sprays for twelve feet..." Then Bubba started quoting the caution words. "Let me show you some new sunglasses we got in, honey," Mrs. Bowen piped up and Cecil turned away, spraying the can in the air as he walked to see how far it would shoot. "Honey!" Mrs. Bowen said urgently, dipping below her cash register 'cause when Cecil sprayed, he almost got her hair. The next time Cecil came in, Mrs. Bowen slipped Bubba three pieces of hard candy to keep him quiet. Bubba didn't talk about her boy. So I cover Cecil up when I leave and take all the empty beer cans with me, crush them up along with my empty half-pint and throw them in the green dumpster on my way back to town. That day—one week ago it was—it was 4:45 when I left. I was cutting it close and at first I was jogging down the highway, but it didn't take me long to feel silly about that, so I slowed down—the Pitts city limits is only a mile from Mrs. Bowen's house, and besides she never takes this road home. It was hot, typical July weather, and I was walking along the highway—the one Mrs. Bowen doesn't take—when a car slowed down and pulled off the road in front of me. It was Mr. Ribbons. He smiled, pointed to the passenger side door, so I hurried in. "Got any Chaucer with you?" I asked him first thing. Since we were alone, I wanted him to know: I'm not afraid of knowledge. "All my books—" he looked over his shoulder, giving the back seat a studying look. "They must be in the trunk," he said awkwardly, apologizing. He is young. Ten years older than me, I believe, but still so young to be a teacher. His hair is straight except for a lick that curves around the back of his head. He doesn't wear glasses. He does wear long sleeve shirts. The one he had on—it was what my mother calls an ocean blue. I wonder what blue Bubba would say. Mr. Ribbons is long sleeves, straight hair, no glasses, and a wedding band, and "Oh," that was all I said—I didn't know what else to make up. His face continued with its serious look: he was studying the road, looking for something in it, something no normal person would see. 94

Wanting A Lover Man I dreamed I had sex with him one night. I was drunk; Cecil was hardly able to stand but he wanted it, said he had to have it. We were in front of his mamma's store in his truck, so I undid my pants, kicked them off of one ankle. "Come and get it," I teased him, but for some reason, I kept calling him Timothy, which is Mr. Ribbons's first name—I know 'cause I saw it on one of his checks, but I would never call him that, and I don't think I said Timothy out loud cause Cecil would have yelled, would have wanted to punch me if I had. And whenever I looked up at Cecil, I saw Mr. Ribbons. He had that serious look. Bubba said he's too young to be so serious, but when I was having sex with him, that serious look had me in a trance, was turning me on, and under his long sleeved shirt was hair all over his chest and arms—Cecil has just a few black hairs around each of his pudgy nipples—and while Timothy was making love to me he quoted some Chaucer. He talked about months and rain and there were rhymes^—it was real romantic. I remember thinking, "This is what romance is: your lover using words, saying them only to you, and lots of them, saying them seriously, with a hairy chest—like all the people in London have, 'cause it's cold there, Bubba told me—while doing you." "Is your wife out of town?" I asked Mr. Ribbons. I was studying him hard, looking for signs of that chest hair—it was thick like a pile carpet rug in my dream, and I am certain those words just slipped out of my mouth. "No." I could tell he was surprised by my question. His fingers grabbed at the wheel a little tense. "Oh," I quickly said, "I heard at the store she was out of town. I was wondering if she was visiting her mamma." I said that even quicker. I could feel my face bulbing red, and so I turned to watch whatever was out the window. "No, no," he laughed, almost choking, "I don't know why you heard that." He turned back to the road. I turned back to study him. "I don't know who said that," he went on. "She's at home right now. The baby's due soon, you know?" and his shoulders eased, his fingers relaxed. "Oh." I wanted him. Could see the words printed on his skin under those 95


Berkeley Fiction Review blue sleeves, brown, brown hair. The Wife and a bath—something romantic. I wanted to touch that. Mr. Ribbons stopped at the Pit-Stop and let me out. His car zoomed on across the intersection and soon he was gone. I stood there watching. Mamma would have dinner ready soon, I knew. Usually we ate some frozen packaged something that helped both of us watch our weight though she needed to watch hers more than I needed to watch mine. She watches T V all day but turns it off when I come in so we can spend "quality time" together. Oprah, Montel, and several others said this was important. Mr. Ribbons wasn't coming back, as I had hoped, for something, anything, ice cream maybe, that he needed, so I left the Pit-Stop and walked home. Mamma shut the T V off, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Our quality time, Judy," and then how was your day and how are you doing. "Mamma," I told her, "you've been watching too much TV. I'm too old for quality time." How many times do I have to have this conversation with my insane mother? "Shhh," she put her finger to my lip, putting the "shhh," like a candle out, her finger that smelled of cigarettes though she had told me, promised on the Bible, promised she had quit. "We need to get along. I'm not going to be here forever, and a rock could land on our house at any moment, kill us both," she said, her smile unflinching. I rolled my eyes. Her mother died when she was ten—the hospital gave her the wrong blood when Mamma's brother was born. "Sweet Jeremy," Mamma spilled out her brother's name nicely, suddenly, as if she could read my mind, and then I saw the other taking over her face—the memory of her mother, the blood going in and hurting her, hurting her until Mamma had to cry. "You need a grip." I was serious. "The mountains, the rocks are four hours away. Four." I didn't fall into the trap of mentioning her brother. Immediately, mamma stopped crying. She has cried so much about her own mother's death that the crying can last for hours or as brief as 96

Wanting A Lover Man a second or two. "Dinner?" her smile returned even happier, more determined with this "quality time" thing. My mother has real pretty teeth, disarming teeth. I took the plate she offered and some sugar tea. I like mine with lemon. I told my mamma I had a most lovely day at work, though I didn't work. And she told me what Montel and Oprah had to say and who were their guests. Oprah was in the kitchen with somebody who had lost more weight than Oprah, and Montel had teenage girls who liked to have sex with older men. "Too many older men," my mother nodded unapprovingly. I ate my food. After dinner I took a shower, since I could still smell Cecil—he's been smelling worse now that he's getting fat, and I scrubbed myself harder. The steam coming off the water felt like fingers, the tips of fingers, soft ones—the ones Mr. Ribbons had—Timothy, small, soft. "I won't tell anyone," I whispered, letting them touch me until the water gave out, was cold. Then I put on some of my mamma's make-up and watched T V with her until Cecil showed. Well, it didn't take long for Cecil and me to get into a fight. "You fucking bitch!" he yelled and shoved his box of tapes into my face. I clawed back at him, grabbing for his neck. If I could cut deep enough, maybe he would bleed to death and I would be through with him. "Through with your shit," I said, digging my nails in. "Goddamn it!" he shouted and stopped the truck. He started kicking me—"Get out. Get out bitch—" kicking me, kicking. I was able to open the door, and I wanted to scream, wanted to wake up all the people in Pitts so they could see what this bastard was doing to me cause I told him his friend Tommy Dix would be cute for Missie. I didn't say "cute" to make him jealous. Tommy Dix is cute; it's the truth. And I didn't say he was cute to anyone other than Cecil. But Cecil grabbed me by the hair at the party 97


Berkeley Fiction Review blue sleeves, brown, brown hair. The Wife and a bath—something romantic. I wanted to touch that. Mr. Ribbons stopped at the Pit-Stop and let me out. His car zoomed on across the intersection and soon he was gone. I stood there watching. Mamma would have dinner ready soon, I knew. Usually we ate some frozen packaged something that helped both of us watch our weight though she needed to watch hers more than I needed to watch mine. She watches T V all day but turns it off when I come in so we can spend "quality time" together. Oprah, Montel, and several others said this was important. Mr. Ribbons wasn't coming back, as I had hoped, for something, anything, ice cream maybe, that he needed, so I left the Pit-Stop and walked home. Mamma shut the T V off, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Our quality time, Judy," and then how was your day and how are you doing. "Mamma," I told her, "you've been watching too much TV. I'm too old for quality time." How many times do I have to have this conversation with my insane mother? "Shhh," she put her finger to my lip, putting the "shhh," like a candle out, her finger that smelled of cigarettes though she had told me, promised on the Bible, promised she had quit. "We need to get along. I'm not going to be here forever, and a rock could land on our house at any moment, kill us both," she said, her smile unflinching. I rolled my eyes. Her mother died when she was ten—the hospital gave her the wrong blood when Mamma's brother was born. "Sweet Jeremy," Mamma spilled out her brother's name nicely, suddenly, as if she could read my mind, and then I saw the other taking over her face—the memory of her mother, the blood going in and hurting her, hurting her until Mamma had to cry. "You need a grip." I was serious. "The mountains, the rocks are four hours away. Four." I didn't fall into the trap of mentioning her brother. Immediately, mamma stopped crying. She has cried so much about her own mother's death that the crying can last for hours or as brief as 96

Wanting A Lover Man a second or two. "Dinner?" her smile returned even happier, more determined with this "quality time" thing. My mother has real pretty teeth, disarming teeth. I took the plate she offered and some sugar tea. I like mine with lemon. I told my mamma I had a most lovely day at work, though I didn't work. And she told me what Montel and Oprah had to say and who were their guests. Oprah was in the kitchen with somebody who had lost more weight than Oprah, and Montel had teenage girls who liked to have sex with older men. "Too many older men," my mother nodded unapprovingly. I ate my food. After dinner I took a shower, since I could still smell Cecil—he's been smelling worse now that he's getting fat, and I scrubbed myself harder. The steam coming off the water felt like fingers, the tips of fingers, soft ones—the ones Mr. Ribbons had—Timothy, small, soft. "I won't tell anyone," I whispered, letting them touch me until the water gave out, was cold. Then I put on some of my mamma's make-up and watched T V with her until Cecil showed. Well, it didn't take long for Cecil and me to get into a fight. "You fucking bitch!" he yelled and shoved his box of tapes into my face. I clawed back at him, grabbing for his neck. If I could cut deep enough, maybe he would bleed to death and I would be through with him. "Through with your shit," I said, digging my nails in. "Goddamn it!" he shouted and stopped the truck. He started kicking me—"Get out. Get out bitch—" kicking me, kicking. I was able to open the door, and I wanted to scream, wanted to wake up all the people in Pitts so they could see what this bastard was doing to me cause I told him his friend Tommy Dix would be cute for Missie. I didn't say "cute" to make him jealous. Tommy Dix is cute; it's the truth. And I didn't say he was cute to anyone other than Cecil. But Cecil grabbed me by the hair at the party 97


Berkeley Fiction Review and yanked me into his truck. Now he was kicking me out—two shots to the chest so I could barely breathe, much less talk. He got me in the head again with his boot and I tumbled from the opening door, still grunting. I felt like a dying roach, like I had poison in my stomach. My lungs crunched up, and his door swung open. He stormed onto the pavement. I rolled, tried to roll away. I heard his boots coming closer, heard him walking toward me and I tried to roll, Christ please help me get away. "Bitch." I could hear him spitting out the word as his heels turned, and I heard one door slam, heard him walking, again, but this time the boots were moving away, and I rolled the other direction like an undertow, reaching out for his boots, the echo of them, begging them not to leave, begging them to stay and hold me. The other door slammed; the big tires squealed. The smoke smelled of burning hair and then everything was quiet. Someone was poking at me. "Young Lady. Young Lady." My back tried to straighten up. It was a reflex—I had to look proud for the police. "Young Lady, we need to get an ambulance." I fluttered my eyes open, but the only lights were the steady overheads of Pitts. No dancing blue and red as I had imagined. I moved to one side. Damn my head hurt. "You need an ambulance. I know you do." "Where is it?" I asked, and my eyes fluttered, came fully open. Standing in front of me was Bubba. His gallon jug in one hand—it was empty, the brown ring still there—and his other hand tugging at my shirt. "You're all bruised up, Young Lady," he said. His face looked very sad, very serious. His eyes were more wide open than I had ever seen them, and though he looked even more like a catfish than he ever had, I couldn't think about that 'cause he was so solemn. "I found you," he said. "I was walking. Late as it is—I'm not usually over here this late. I don't know how, but I found you. I just did, Young Lady, and you need an ambulance, someone to take you." "Bubba," I said, "I'm okay." I assured him and wanted to stand up 98

Wanting A Lover Man to prove it, but I couldn't move one of my legs. "Stupid leg," I said, but I didn't want him to worry, so I tried to wink, but the pain dug into me and soured my face. Finally, I managed to get to my elbows, so he could see I wasn't all helpless. "You need an ambulance," he told me. "Go on home," I said and pushed on him, falling flat to the ground as I did, my moment of sitting up finished with. "Young Lady. I can't leave you." "Get the hell out of here!" I shouted. I said that to him—said it to this man I liked to hang around and hear talk. And before I could say I was sorry or anything, the other sound was coming. A sound that had started when I shouted: a roar shaking my head, then a screech bringing the burning smell back. A door swung open. A pair of boots marched over and I tried to roll towards Bubba, but my leg wouldn't. The boots stopped. They were at my side, digging into me a little. Then two big hands came down like forklifts ready to lift me up. "Leave her alone," a voice said. It was Bubba's. I looked up to see him pushing at Cecil's hands, arms, swatting him with the gallon jug. "Leave her alone, Boy. She's hurt. You've—you hurt her enough." Cecil didn't look worried—he didn't have any look. He spat on the ground and, not even his bulging belly moved much, was still. Then his hands reached down, cupped under me, and started lifting. "You're a little piece of shit, boy," I could hear Bubba, but he was standing back now, wasn't hitting Cecil. "Hurting that girl. Someone should call the police." The gallon jug came flying again like a wild bird, popping off on Cecil's big head. Cecil lowered me into the passenger seat. I could smell the beer and juice in his mouth, and I could feel his heart—it was pounding hard; he was sweating. And the pounding made me feel sick, like I was on a wild road, a roller coaster, and his heart was going to burst, blow up in my face and kill me. "You're a woman beater, shit boy. Someone's going call the police," Bubba was shouting stronger now as the truck door slammed shut against my body. Cecil turned around and started walking towards Bubba. 99


Berkeley Fiction Review and yanked me into his truck. Now he was kicking me out—two shots to the chest so I could barely breathe, much less talk. He got me in the head again with his boot and I tumbled from the opening door, still grunting. I felt like a dying roach, like I had poison in my stomach. My lungs crunched up, and his door swung open. He stormed onto the pavement. I rolled, tried to roll away. I heard his boots coming closer, heard him walking toward me and I tried to roll, Christ please help me get away. "Bitch." I could hear him spitting out the word as his heels turned, and I heard one door slam, heard him walking, again, but this time the boots were moving away, and I rolled the other direction like an undertow, reaching out for his boots, the echo of them, begging them not to leave, begging them to stay and hold me. The other door slammed; the big tires squealed. The smoke smelled of burning hair and then everything was quiet. Someone was poking at me. "Young Lady. Young Lady." My back tried to straighten up. It was a reflex—I had to look proud for the police. "Young Lady, we need to get an ambulance." I fluttered my eyes open, but the only lights were the steady overheads of Pitts. No dancing blue and red as I had imagined. I moved to one side. Damn my head hurt. "You need an ambulance. I know you do." "Where is it?" I asked, and my eyes fluttered, came fully open. Standing in front of me was Bubba. His gallon jug in one hand—it was empty, the brown ring still there—and his other hand tugging at my shirt. "You're all bruised up, Young Lady," he said. His face looked very sad, very serious. His eyes were more wide open than I had ever seen them, and though he looked even more like a catfish than he ever had, I couldn't think about that 'cause he was so solemn. "I found you," he said. "I was walking. Late as it is—I'm not usually over here this late. I don't know how, but I found you. I just did, Young Lady, and you need an ambulance, someone to take you." "Bubba," I said, "I'm okay." I assured him and wanted to stand up 98

Wanting A Lover Man to prove it, but I couldn't move one of my legs. "Stupid leg," I said, but I didn't want him to worry, so I tried to wink, but the pain dug into me and soured my face. Finally, I managed to get to my elbows, so he could see I wasn't all helpless. "You need an ambulance," he told me. "Go on home," I said and pushed on him, falling flat to the ground as I did, my moment of sitting up finished with. "Young Lady. I can't leave you." "Get the hell out of here!" I shouted. I said that to him—said it to this man I liked to hang around and hear talk. And before I could say I was sorry or anything, the other sound was coming. A sound that had started when I shouted: a roar shaking my head, then a screech bringing the burning smell back. A door swung open. A pair of boots marched over and I tried to roll towards Bubba, but my leg wouldn't. The boots stopped. They were at my side, digging into me a little. Then two big hands came down like forklifts ready to lift me up. "Leave her alone," a voice said. It was Bubba's. I looked up to see him pushing at Cecil's hands, arms, swatting him with the gallon jug. "Leave her alone, Boy. She's hurt. You've—you hurt her enough." Cecil didn't look worried—he didn't have any look. He spat on the ground and, not even his bulging belly moved much, was still. Then his hands reached down, cupped under me, and started lifting. "You're a little piece of shit, boy," I could hear Bubba, but he was standing back now, wasn't hitting Cecil. "Hurting that girl. Someone should call the police." The gallon jug came flying again like a wild bird, popping off on Cecil's big head. Cecil lowered me into the passenger seat. I could smell the beer and juice in his mouth, and I could feel his heart—it was pounding hard; he was sweating. And the pounding made me feel sick, like I was on a wild road, a roller coaster, and his heart was going to burst, blow up in my face and kill me. "You're a woman beater, shit boy. Someone's going call the police," Bubba was shouting stronger now as the truck door slammed shut against my body. Cecil turned around and started walking towards Bubba. 99


Berkeley Fiction Review As Cecil moved out a little, I could see the sign to his mamma's store. It read: Mrs. Bowen's Supermarket—the letters are blue, old fashioned like a framed cross-stitching you see in everyone's home. They kind of smile down on the pavement—but it's a trick, something in the way they are written and in the light that makes them look happy. When I looked down from the sign, I could only see Bubba's face and part of his legs. He was on the ground. I couldn't tell if it was sweat or blood hitting on the pavement where he was, but he kept talking: "You lazy-bastard-shit-boy. Lazy boy. Lady beater. I'm going to call the police—" and the more Cecil kicked Bubba, the louder Bubba got— "Lazy, piece of shit! Told everyone I could what a piece of shit you were." I waited for all the lights in Pitts to come on at anytime, but they didn't. And Cecil kept kicking him, kicking him all the way to the front of his mamma's store. And the lights didn't come on. And he kicked and kicked. And I didn't move. I did not move. "Lazy," Bubba said, but he could barely say it now. He was coughing between his words until the coughing was all I could hear. Then the boots came toward me, wet in the lights. The truck door creaked open, slammed shut, and we squealed off. I looked back for Bubba. He was crunched up, still saying something—he was next to the Coke machine. It was dark where he was, but I could see his lips moving to the overhead lights unable to reach him. For the rest of that night, all I thought of was Bubba. I wanted to call somebody, but Cecil took me to the back of one of his mamma's farms and parked the truck. We stayed there all night. All night he kept fucking me. Pumping in and out of me stronger than he ever had before. It seemed he would never stop. And I kept thinking about Bubba, that I didn't say anything, didn't scream when he was being kicked—I didn't get out to help him. Young Lady that he tried to help. My leg still hurt, and as the alcohol left me, I tried to think of other things: of Timothy softly touching me, the romantic words printed on 100

Wanting A Lover Man his chest. But the picture of Bubba lying there, his body pulled up like the guts in him were broken—it was too strong. I even tried to think of the Grand Canyon, of what Bubba said about the lungs, the breath being taken from them and lifted, of how it was more than just a big hole. But whenever I saw this sight—imagining I was there under the bluest sky—right in that hole, right in the center of it would be Bubba's body, dark like a catfish taken a long time from the water, still and quiet. Sometimes I would see Cecil's boots, too, kicking him, a blur of just kick and kick; then he would be kicking me and my bruises would pull, hurt, gash, and the gashes would open, groan like ghosts, like Mr. Bowen had done, grabbing his chest at the sight. One time when Cecil was kicking, I could see his mamma at the cash register punching some numbers in, looking up every so often, then turning away, punching more numbers in. He left me, went over and started kicking her, pulling her hair out of her head, bobby pin by bobby pin. She didn't scream either. By morning, Cecil had worn down, fallen asleep. I watched over hirh, touched my new bruises with the sweat from his growing stomach and arms, kept touching his hair over and over, kept thinking of Bubba, no longer the picture of him, but of what he had said about the sky, his buddy Chaucer, how he knew everyone, had been everywhere, knew the truth in it all. When I stopped thinking of those things, it was lunch. It was hot, and I had the windows down, waving the mosquitoes off of Cecil still asleep. Whenever a mosquito did land, I would lightly slap him into Cecil's sweaty skin. Sometimes there would be a little blood smushed up with the wings and body. There was blood on Cecil's boots, but I didn't look back. The blood the mosquitoes drew out wasn't much. And as I waved my hands and slapped Cecil, the smell of blood and sweat in the heat became so strong, the truth of it was, I began to cry for him.

101


Berkeley Fiction Review As Cecil moved out a little, I could see the sign to his mamma's store. It read: Mrs. Bowen's Supermarket—the letters are blue, old fashioned like a framed cross-stitching you see in everyone's home. They kind of smile down on the pavement—but it's a trick, something in the way they are written and in the light that makes them look happy. When I looked down from the sign, I could only see Bubba's face and part of his legs. He was on the ground. I couldn't tell if it was sweat or blood hitting on the pavement where he was, but he kept talking: "You lazy-bastard-shit-boy. Lazy boy. Lady beater. I'm going to call the police—" and the more Cecil kicked Bubba, the louder Bubba got— "Lazy, piece of shit! Told everyone I could what a piece of shit you were." I waited for all the lights in Pitts to come on at anytime, but they didn't. And Cecil kept kicking him, kicking him all the way to the front of his mamma's store. And the lights didn't come on. And he kicked and kicked. And I didn't move. I did not move. "Lazy," Bubba said, but he could barely say it now. He was coughing between his words until the coughing was all I could hear. Then the boots came toward me, wet in the lights. The truck door creaked open, slammed shut, and we squealed off. I looked back for Bubba. He was crunched up, still saying something—he was next to the Coke machine. It was dark where he was, but I could see his lips moving to the overhead lights unable to reach him. For the rest of that night, all I thought of was Bubba. I wanted to call somebody, but Cecil took me to the back of one of his mamma's farms and parked the truck. We stayed there all night. All night he kept fucking me. Pumping in and out of me stronger than he ever had before. It seemed he would never stop. And I kept thinking about Bubba, that I didn't say anything, didn't scream when he was being kicked—I didn't get out to help him. Young Lady that he tried to help. My leg still hurt, and as the alcohol left me, I tried to think of other things: of Timothy softly touching me, the romantic words printed on 100

Wanting A Lover Man his chest. But the picture of Bubba lying there, his body pulled up like the guts in him were broken—it was too strong. I even tried to think of the Grand Canyon, of what Bubba said about the lungs, the breath being taken from them and lifted, of how it was more than just a big hole. But whenever I saw this sight—imagining I was there under the bluest sky—right in that hole, right in the center of it would be Bubba's body, dark like a catfish taken a long time from the water, still and quiet. Sometimes I would see Cecil's boots, too, kicking him, a blur of just kick and kick; then he would be kicking me and my bruises would pull, hurt, gash, and the gashes would open, groan like ghosts, like Mr. Bowen had done, grabbing his chest at the sight. One time when Cecil was kicking, I could see his mamma at the cash register punching some numbers in, looking up every so often, then turning away, punching more numbers in. He left me, went over and started kicking her, pulling her hair out of her head, bobby pin by bobby pin. She didn't scream either. By morning, Cecil had worn down, fallen asleep. I watched over hirh, touched my new bruises with the sweat from his growing stomach and arms, kept touching his hair over and over, kept thinking of Bubba, no longer the picture of him, but of what he had said about the sky, his buddy Chaucer, how he knew everyone, had been everywhere, knew the truth in it all. When I stopped thinking of those things, it was lunch. It was hot, and I had the windows down, waving the mosquitoes off of Cecil still asleep. Whenever a mosquito did land, I would lightly slap him into Cecil's sweaty skin. Sometimes there would be a little blood smushed up with the wings and body. There was blood on Cecil's boots, but I didn't look back. The blood the mosquitoes drew out wasn't much. And as I waved my hands and slapped Cecil, the smell of blood and sweat in the heat became so strong, the truth of it was, I began to cry for him.

101


Holding Pattern

Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

H o l d i n g

P a t t e r n

Thea Hillman

anel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost. Panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost. Maybe if I keep reading the climate control dials on the dashboard, I won't feel the arm between my legs that isn't your arm. If I stare straight ahead, panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost, they won't see I'm clenching my teeth and my eyes are red-rimmed. If I hold still enough, maybe I won't feel the gearshift I'm straddling, squished between these two women, this gearshift that outvibrates my Hitachi Magic Wand, maybe I won't wince at the arm that hits my breast every time she shifts. In this dyke truck from hell, she says, "I don't sell it because I live in the Mission." All dykes have the same excuse for keeping old trucks no matter what neighborhood they live in. Why can't they just admit that paint-peeling, rust-scraping, smogcausing trucks make them feel like shit-kicking bad asses? Maybe if I keep holding it in, my hand braced against the dash because there are no seatbelts and that's the only thing that'll save me in an accident anyway, panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost, excuse-me accidental touches and jokes about road signs and now beginning the scenic route won't seem so heartbreaking. Because all of this, all of this, makes not having you even harder. And maybe, if I don't say anything, maybe if I keep my mouth shut tight, they won't hear me rage against their halfthawed TV-dinner conversation. They won't hear me mourn beige arrangements and Tang-tinged negotiations, won't hear me scream for anything that bites through my steel, slaps me silly, and sings as hard as I do. And they won't hear me cry out for you. If I hold still enough, the 102

sides of my head a vice to keep the terrifying living things in, really it isn't them at all, panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost, really it's you who broke my bland, stable platonica, you who stuck your finger in but only so far, you who wants to be a fly on my wall but not in my bed, you who breaks down all my walls, leaving me with the ruiris of tough girl when I don't come as you fuck me, saying girl who looks out, saying look at me but don't see me, asking what it felt like when I thought I'd never see you again, you who left a bruise the size of a hoof print on the inside of my thigh. You, fuck you for making my pulse quicken at the scent of cigarette smoke. Fuck you for being a writer. Fuck you for being an amazing writer. Fuck you for being someone everyone knows. Fuck you for being in a screwed-up, non-monogamous relationship that got you this close to me and this far from me. Fuck you for moving the boulder that I didn't even know was holding everything in. Fuck you for showing me I was full to bursting when I thought everything was well-contained. And fuck you for sticking your fingers in. Fuck you for sticking your fingers in. Panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost. Fuck you for sticking your fingers in. And fuck you for pulling them "but.

103


Holding Pattern

Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

H o l d i n g

P a t t e r n

Thea Hillman

anel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost. Panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost. Maybe if I keep reading the climate control dials on the dashboard, I won't feel the arm between my legs that isn't your arm. If I stare straight ahead, panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost, they won't see I'm clenching my teeth and my eyes are red-rimmed. If I hold still enough, maybe I won't feel the gearshift I'm straddling, squished between these two women, this gearshift that outvibrates my Hitachi Magic Wand, maybe I won't wince at the arm that hits my breast every time she shifts. In this dyke truck from hell, she says, "I don't sell it because I live in the Mission." All dykes have the same excuse for keeping old trucks no matter what neighborhood they live in. Why can't they just admit that paint-peeling, rust-scraping, smogcausing trucks make them feel like shit-kicking bad asses? Maybe if I keep holding it in, my hand braced against the dash because there are no seatbelts and that's the only thing that'll save me in an accident anyway, panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost, excuse-me accidental touches and jokes about road signs and now beginning the scenic route won't seem so heartbreaking. Because all of this, all of this, makes not having you even harder. And maybe, if I don't say anything, maybe if I keep my mouth shut tight, they won't hear me rage against their halfthawed TV-dinner conversation. They won't hear me mourn beige arrangements and Tang-tinged negotiations, won't hear me scream for anything that bites through my steel, slaps me silly, and sings as hard as I do. And they won't hear me cry out for you. If I hold still enough, the 102

sides of my head a vice to keep the terrifying living things in, really it isn't them at all, panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost, really it's you who broke my bland, stable platonica, you who stuck your finger in but only so far, you who wants to be a fly on my wall but not in my bed, you who breaks down all my walls, leaving me with the ruiris of tough girl when I don't come as you fuck me, saying girl who looks out, saying look at me but don't see me, asking what it felt like when I thought I'd never see you again, you who left a bruise the size of a hoof print on the inside of my thigh. You, fuck you for making my pulse quicken at the scent of cigarette smoke. Fuck you for being a writer. Fuck you for being an amazing writer. Fuck you for being someone everyone knows. Fuck you for being in a screwed-up, non-monogamous relationship that got you this close to me and this far from me. Fuck you for moving the boulder that I didn't even know was holding everything in. Fuck you for showing me I was full to bursting when I thought everything was well-contained. And fuck you for sticking your fingers in. Fuck you for sticking your fingers in. Panel, high-low, floor, mix, defrost. Fuck you for sticking your fingers in. And fuck you for pulling them "but.

103


The Pupil

T h e

P u p i l

David Rompf

was still conscious when the paramedics rushed me into I the emergency room that evening, my drenched cold body sluiced through sudden brightness. As they pushed me on a gurney through a short hallway, a woman's voice rose above the chaos: "My God!" was all she said. The bullet had entered my left cheek and exited the right, taking several teeth and shards of jawbone with it. Miraculously, my tongue survived intact. Maybe that is a kind of unintended poetic revenge, if revenge is what you believe in: to have retained the tongue for talking, licking, sensing. A tongue to tell the difference between sweet and bitter, and for spitting out all that is distasteful. The lucky trauma physician on duty was Dr. Leafkind. She had gorgeous russet hair—hair for searching hands to disappear in—and a soothing voice which, if it were a food, would have been melted chocolate. "What do we have here?" she asked, although it was obviously a bloody gaping mess. I knew, even then, that I looked horrible and would for a long time to come. "Get me the cranio-facial guy, right away," the doctor said to a nurse. She delivered firm orders but her voice remained creamy and loving, and for what seemed like hours, she held my hand tightly, massaging the fatty mantle beneath my skin, as if squeezing my palm and fingers might restore the wreckage of my face. "You're with me now, sir, don't you worry. Just stay with me, all right?" That voice would do more for me than any medicine. 104

Before long, orderlies in mint green uniforms wheeled me into the O.R. Dr. Leafkind's cranio-facial surgeon arrived as one of the nurses prepared me for anesthesia. Dr. Salem appeared astonishingly young, thirty-two or thirty-three, and I would find out later that he was already famous in the medical community for his precision of hand. When he visited me after the first surgery, I noted his long, tapered fingers, perfect for the piano or any number of endeavors, and strong forearms with extensive black hair that appeared freshly raked. A nurse told me that Dr. Salem was a genius who had gone to medical school at nineteen. "He was even in People magazine," she said. "But the fame hasn't ruined him, not yet." In my post-op room, I felt vaguely embarrassed by my desire for his swarthiness, but he put me at ease when he gently turned my face from side to side and said, "An animal did this to you and now a human will have to fix it." Earlier that night at The Blue Top, I drank sparkling water with ice and a diaphanous slice of lime. I sat on a stool and talked with Ernest, The Blue Top's owner and sole bartender. At one time Ernest had been my pupil for four months, but he gave it up after deciding to spend his money on vacations in places like Barbados and Fiji. Diving became a passion greater than his dream of playing the piano. I respected him for that decision and even envied him for it. "I'll never be a concert pianist," Ernest had said after his last lesson. "I hope you don't take this personally." "Of course I won't," I'd told him, but in truth I felt disappointed in myself for failing to recruit Ernest into the world I knew and loved more than any other. "You know," Ernest went on, "I hear music when I'm underwater. You would think it's perfectly quiet below the surface, but near a reef there's a hum and swoosh like a great symphony." I've never tried diving or snorkeling myself, and haven't traveled much, but slowly I was becoming open to the idea of an adventure. "You shouldn't wait for a better time," Ernest said one night about a year ago when I declined his invitation to explore a tiny island off the Yucatan Peninsula, where a grand reef protects swarms of brilliantly colored fish. "The lonely island of regret may be the only one left if you put it off any longer. Take a look around and see what we're doing to 105


The Pupil

T h e

P u p i l

David Rompf

was still conscious when the paramedics rushed me into I the emergency room that evening, my drenched cold body sluiced through sudden brightness. As they pushed me on a gurney through a short hallway, a woman's voice rose above the chaos: "My God!" was all she said. The bullet had entered my left cheek and exited the right, taking several teeth and shards of jawbone with it. Miraculously, my tongue survived intact. Maybe that is a kind of unintended poetic revenge, if revenge is what you believe in: to have retained the tongue for talking, licking, sensing. A tongue to tell the difference between sweet and bitter, and for spitting out all that is distasteful. The lucky trauma physician on duty was Dr. Leafkind. She had gorgeous russet hair—hair for searching hands to disappear in—and a soothing voice which, if it were a food, would have been melted chocolate. "What do we have here?" she asked, although it was obviously a bloody gaping mess. I knew, even then, that I looked horrible and would for a long time to come. "Get me the cranio-facial guy, right away," the doctor said to a nurse. She delivered firm orders but her voice remained creamy and loving, and for what seemed like hours, she held my hand tightly, massaging the fatty mantle beneath my skin, as if squeezing my palm and fingers might restore the wreckage of my face. "You're with me now, sir, don't you worry. Just stay with me, all right?" That voice would do more for me than any medicine. 104

Before long, orderlies in mint green uniforms wheeled me into the O.R. Dr. Leafkind's cranio-facial surgeon arrived as one of the nurses prepared me for anesthesia. Dr. Salem appeared astonishingly young, thirty-two or thirty-three, and I would find out later that he was already famous in the medical community for his precision of hand. When he visited me after the first surgery, I noted his long, tapered fingers, perfect for the piano or any number of endeavors, and strong forearms with extensive black hair that appeared freshly raked. A nurse told me that Dr. Salem was a genius who had gone to medical school at nineteen. "He was even in People magazine," she said. "But the fame hasn't ruined him, not yet." In my post-op room, I felt vaguely embarrassed by my desire for his swarthiness, but he put me at ease when he gently turned my face from side to side and said, "An animal did this to you and now a human will have to fix it." Earlier that night at The Blue Top, I drank sparkling water with ice and a diaphanous slice of lime. I sat on a stool and talked with Ernest, The Blue Top's owner and sole bartender. At one time Ernest had been my pupil for four months, but he gave it up after deciding to spend his money on vacations in places like Barbados and Fiji. Diving became a passion greater than his dream of playing the piano. I respected him for that decision and even envied him for it. "I'll never be a concert pianist," Ernest had said after his last lesson. "I hope you don't take this personally." "Of course I won't," I'd told him, but in truth I felt disappointed in myself for failing to recruit Ernest into the world I knew and loved more than any other. "You know," Ernest went on, "I hear music when I'm underwater. You would think it's perfectly quiet below the surface, but near a reef there's a hum and swoosh like a great symphony." I've never tried diving or snorkeling myself, and haven't traveled much, but slowly I was becoming open to the idea of an adventure. "You shouldn't wait for a better time," Ernest said one night about a year ago when I declined his invitation to explore a tiny island off the Yucatan Peninsula, where a grand reef protects swarms of brilliantly colored fish. "The lonely island of regret may be the only one left if you put it off any longer. Take a look around and see what we're doing to 105


Berkeley Fiction Review the planet, Steven. Just take one good look, for God's sake." When Ernest wasn't pouring drinks and bemoaning the Earth's demise, he conspired with me in people-watching and harmless gossip. I liked to drop in on Mondays or Tuesdays, slower nights when he could spend more time with me, winking at this one or that one, patting his chest every time he fell in love, even if only fleetingly. I had no other motive for visiting the bar that evening than having a quick drink and saying hello to Ernest. As a piano teacher, I have to make a point of leaving the house at least once a day if I want to talk to anyone other than my pupils. I do like my students, especially the ones who struggle on despite their painful lack of talent. "For the pure and simple love of music," I tell them. "You should play for that reason alone. If you can perform for others, that's a bonus." Young and old, volunteers and conscripts, housewives and retired lawyers returning to what they really craved all along-—I love them all. But I have to get out of the house now and then, and The Blue Top serves me well. On the night when my face as I knew it would disappear forever, Ernest said to me, coincidentally, "It's insanely violent out there, my friend. It makes me sick just to read the newspaper. I don't know how long I can stand it, Steven. One of these days I won't come back from Fiji. Really, I won't. Just between you and me, I'm ready to call it quits— the bar, this town, the whole country, everything." He winked at me and added, "Even men." "Never that!" I said, feigning shock. "Oh, yes. You wait. Even that." "Don't give up in resignation," I said. "Give up because it's better for you." "Steven, it will he better." At this moment he thumped his fingers lightly over his heart. A young man, new to The Blue Top, walked by us. Oblivious to Ernest's gaze, he was just the kind my friend relished: thick dark hair, his handsome face left unshaven that morning, an aggressive, lusty quickness in his step. "God, this job is torture," Ernest said. "And you, Steven-^you need a spritz of something in that watery drink of yours." The ceiling at The Blue Top is painted cerulean with billowing swirls of clouds and a flock of plump birds, supposedly doves, carrying olive 106

The Pupil sprigs. The irony does not escape me now, of course, but before that evening I had never given the scene much serious thought. Ernest's friend, a Puerto Rican graphic designer, painted the ceiling free of charge not long after the bar was purchased from the previous owner. At first Ernest wanted a mural with tropical fish swimming against a forest of coral, but his friend convinced him that marine life did not belong on a ceiling. Among those who sought refuge and company at The Blue Top, the creation above our heads became an object of pilgrimage. Although the clouds had been deftly executed, the birds appeared too large and their eyes, I swear, belonged on a human face. But with the lights turned low the effect was less than tacky, and some of the men who stopped in for a drink before going home found themselves staring at the ceiling if not at other patrons. Even Ernest realized that The Blue Top wasn't much, compared to what you find in the big cities, but for us it was the closest thing to a sanctuary. Usually it was just this: fizzy citric water, a few minutes with Ernest, and on occasion—thanks to Ernest's introduction—I met someone new for conversation and very rarely more. I didn't go to The Blue Top to pick up men; it was an exceptional occasion for me to leave the bar with someone, which is not to say that it never crossed my mind. But I've learned with age that fantasy usually proves far more satisfying than carnal reality. Ernest claims that I have grown dangerously idle and sentimental. "Young man," he tells me, though he is three years younger than my forty-four, "don't forget that we were cheated out of a full and happy adolescence." When I argue that my puberty was fine, thank you, that my life has not forgone its due sexual fulfillment, Ernest throws a damp bar rag at me and says, "You're no fun for me at all, Steven." I left The Blue Top at ten, an early evening for a Friday. On Saturday mornings my first pupil arrives at nine o'clock, a gifted, plumpish Chinese girl who will soon outgrow my ability to teach her anything new. Without Saturdays most piano teachers would be far more impoverished than they already are. Saturdays remain our little handshake with the musical devil, and at the end of the day, after nine or ten s t u d e n t s — m o r e if greed has coaxed me into evening 107


Berkeley Fiction Review the planet, Steven. Just take one good look, for God's sake." When Ernest wasn't pouring drinks and bemoaning the Earth's demise, he conspired with me in people-watching and harmless gossip. I liked to drop in on Mondays or Tuesdays, slower nights when he could spend more time with me, winking at this one or that one, patting his chest every time he fell in love, even if only fleetingly. I had no other motive for visiting the bar that evening than having a quick drink and saying hello to Ernest. As a piano teacher, I have to make a point of leaving the house at least once a day if I want to talk to anyone other than my pupils. I do like my students, especially the ones who struggle on despite their painful lack of talent. "For the pure and simple love of music," I tell them. "You should play for that reason alone. If you can perform for others, that's a bonus." Young and old, volunteers and conscripts, housewives and retired lawyers returning to what they really craved all along-—I love them all. But I have to get out of the house now and then, and The Blue Top serves me well. On the night when my face as I knew it would disappear forever, Ernest said to me, coincidentally, "It's insanely violent out there, my friend. It makes me sick just to read the newspaper. I don't know how long I can stand it, Steven. One of these days I won't come back from Fiji. Really, I won't. Just between you and me, I'm ready to call it quits— the bar, this town, the whole country, everything." He winked at me and added, "Even men." "Never that!" I said, feigning shock. "Oh, yes. You wait. Even that." "Don't give up in resignation," I said. "Give up because it's better for you." "Steven, it will he better." At this moment he thumped his fingers lightly over his heart. A young man, new to The Blue Top, walked by us. Oblivious to Ernest's gaze, he was just the kind my friend relished: thick dark hair, his handsome face left unshaven that morning, an aggressive, lusty quickness in his step. "God, this job is torture," Ernest said. "And you, Steven-^you need a spritz of something in that watery drink of yours." The ceiling at The Blue Top is painted cerulean with billowing swirls of clouds and a flock of plump birds, supposedly doves, carrying olive 106

The Pupil sprigs. The irony does not escape me now, of course, but before that evening I had never given the scene much serious thought. Ernest's friend, a Puerto Rican graphic designer, painted the ceiling free of charge not long after the bar was purchased from the previous owner. At first Ernest wanted a mural with tropical fish swimming against a forest of coral, but his friend convinced him that marine life did not belong on a ceiling. Among those who sought refuge and company at The Blue Top, the creation above our heads became an object of pilgrimage. Although the clouds had been deftly executed, the birds appeared too large and their eyes, I swear, belonged on a human face. But with the lights turned low the effect was less than tacky, and some of the men who stopped in for a drink before going home found themselves staring at the ceiling if not at other patrons. Even Ernest realized that The Blue Top wasn't much, compared to what you find in the big cities, but for us it was the closest thing to a sanctuary. Usually it was just this: fizzy citric water, a few minutes with Ernest, and on occasion—thanks to Ernest's introduction—I met someone new for conversation and very rarely more. I didn't go to The Blue Top to pick up men; it was an exceptional occasion for me to leave the bar with someone, which is not to say that it never crossed my mind. But I've learned with age that fantasy usually proves far more satisfying than carnal reality. Ernest claims that I have grown dangerously idle and sentimental. "Young man," he tells me, though he is three years younger than my forty-four, "don't forget that we were cheated out of a full and happy adolescence." When I argue that my puberty was fine, thank you, that my life has not forgone its due sexual fulfillment, Ernest throws a damp bar rag at me and says, "You're no fun for me at all, Steven." I left The Blue Top at ten, an early evening for a Friday. On Saturday mornings my first pupil arrives at nine o'clock, a gifted, plumpish Chinese girl who will soon outgrow my ability to teach her anything new. Without Saturdays most piano teachers would be far more impoverished than they already are. Saturdays remain our little handshake with the musical devil, and at the end of the day, after nine or ten s t u d e n t s — m o r e if greed has coaxed me into evening 107


Berkeley Fiction Review appointments—I cannot bring myself to do anything else except sit in a quiet, darkened room with a warm cloth draped across my forehead. The summer sky contained plummy hints of dusk when I walked out of The Blue Top. I was thinking at the time that I would put some money aside for Ernest's next invitation to swim in tropical waters, that he would eagerly show me the world and teach me to breathe through his snorkeling gear. Outside, the air was warm and dry. At this time of evening, you can smell the heat leaving the rocky desert bluffs, which jut out like enormous broken battleships from the northern landscape; it is a scent I have grown attached to over the years. For most of the men who come to The Blue Top, the night has just begun. They like to see Ernest and have their first drinks of the evening before proceeding to one of two other bars we have, Faces and Wally's. We're lucky to have three venues. In a mid-size city in the southwest, three bars is not so bad. "A bloody miracle that we've all survived," Ernest once said to me. "All things considered." I didn't notice the silver Chrysler with the two young men as I walked across the parking lot to my car, but I would discover later that they had been sitting there for an hour watching men come and go at The Blue Top. This was information divulged after the police conducted their investigation. From the bar I took the long way home, the northern loop through town, skirting the empty stretches of desert. I do this occasionally so that I can listen to classical music in my car or watch the lavenders and golds slowly disappear before nighttime sets in. When my lover Eric was alive, we'd drive out to this part of town and watch dusk swell like a sheath of blood over the hills. We would stay until the crimson slowly drained away, immersing the cliffs in quiet, humbling blackness. I long for those evenings with Eric, but I am relieved that he does not have to see me like this, his lover and not his lover. I am glad that he is not forced to disingenuously explain how a disfigured face, a face impaled by the trajectory of a bullet, makes no difference whatsoever. That evening, the Chrysler followed me out ofThe Blue Top's parking lot. Trailing at first by a block, it eased up closer as I left the dull yellowish glow of downtown lights. I failed to notice anything about the car's occupants until we were side by side and miles from the bar. What 108

The Pupil bothers me most is that they were young enough to be my sons, twenty and twenty-one—boys driven by boredom, emptiness and whatever else compels a person to stalk a stranger perceived as the enemy. Two friends out for adventure, two sons whose parents still lived together at home. I discovered all of this later—after the fact, as they say. Even before facing the boys in court, I tried to learn about their lives and determine how they had arrived at this point: from the police files, thick with initial reports; from interviews with former classmates and co-workers; from follow-up notes and every written word concerning the events leading up to that bullet passing through my face. The boys were not criminals, not drunk or drugged, and until that evening, in my mind I was nobody's enemy. The driver of the car was Michael Arlington—an elegant name, vaguely upper-class. His passenger: Ryan Potter, a notch handsomer and, in the end, the least remorseful. Ryan Potter supplied the gun, which had been registered in his father's name. I don't understand the technicalities of guns, the numbers and bullet sizes, the brand names, their various capabilities. Ask me about pianos and I can tell you anything. Weapons, cars, computers, no. Plastic surgery, yes. I do realize that if they had used a shot gun at that distance—six or seven feet between them in their car and me in mine—there would have been no reason whatsoever for Dr. Leafkind to call in Dr. Salem. I tried envisioning Ryan Potter as a boy of seven or eight, with soft blond hair and flawless boyish skin. Had he played with toy guns at that age? Or the real thing? Pretended that he was cowboy or bank robber? Despite what I know of the world's cruelties, I wondered how he had learned to become who he is. Who had taught him that I was bad, that anyone was bad, that a gun could accomplish anything? Who was this boy's teacher? The police records state that he still resided with his mother and father, Amanda and Raymond Potter, in a "nice residential area with low crime rates and an active neighborhood association." Strangely, I wanted to believe that his mother had tried to forbid the presence of toy weapons around the house, insisting instead ori a beginner keyboard, and later, proper lessons with a beleaguered teacher who steered her son away from mischief. Perhaps she had tried and failed, and this, alas, was the unfortunate result. When I mentioned my dreamy musings to Ernest, who visited me at the house daily for 109


Berkeley Fiction Review appointments—I cannot bring myself to do anything else except sit in a quiet, darkened room with a warm cloth draped across my forehead. The summer sky contained plummy hints of dusk when I walked out of The Blue Top. I was thinking at the time that I would put some money aside for Ernest's next invitation to swim in tropical waters, that he would eagerly show me the world and teach me to breathe through his snorkeling gear. Outside, the air was warm and dry. At this time of evening, you can smell the heat leaving the rocky desert bluffs, which jut out like enormous broken battleships from the northern landscape; it is a scent I have grown attached to over the years. For most of the men who come to The Blue Top, the night has just begun. They like to see Ernest and have their first drinks of the evening before proceeding to one of two other bars we have, Faces and Wally's. We're lucky to have three venues. In a mid-size city in the southwest, three bars is not so bad. "A bloody miracle that we've all survived," Ernest once said to me. "All things considered." I didn't notice the silver Chrysler with the two young men as I walked across the parking lot to my car, but I would discover later that they had been sitting there for an hour watching men come and go at The Blue Top. This was information divulged after the police conducted their investigation. From the bar I took the long way home, the northern loop through town, skirting the empty stretches of desert. I do this occasionally so that I can listen to classical music in my car or watch the lavenders and golds slowly disappear before nighttime sets in. When my lover Eric was alive, we'd drive out to this part of town and watch dusk swell like a sheath of blood over the hills. We would stay until the crimson slowly drained away, immersing the cliffs in quiet, humbling blackness. I long for those evenings with Eric, but I am relieved that he does not have to see me like this, his lover and not his lover. I am glad that he is not forced to disingenuously explain how a disfigured face, a face impaled by the trajectory of a bullet, makes no difference whatsoever. That evening, the Chrysler followed me out ofThe Blue Top's parking lot. Trailing at first by a block, it eased up closer as I left the dull yellowish glow of downtown lights. I failed to notice anything about the car's occupants until we were side by side and miles from the bar. What 108

The Pupil bothers me most is that they were young enough to be my sons, twenty and twenty-one—boys driven by boredom, emptiness and whatever else compels a person to stalk a stranger perceived as the enemy. Two friends out for adventure, two sons whose parents still lived together at home. I discovered all of this later—after the fact, as they say. Even before facing the boys in court, I tried to learn about their lives and determine how they had arrived at this point: from the police files, thick with initial reports; from interviews with former classmates and co-workers; from follow-up notes and every written word concerning the events leading up to that bullet passing through my face. The boys were not criminals, not drunk or drugged, and until that evening, in my mind I was nobody's enemy. The driver of the car was Michael Arlington—an elegant name, vaguely upper-class. His passenger: Ryan Potter, a notch handsomer and, in the end, the least remorseful. Ryan Potter supplied the gun, which had been registered in his father's name. I don't understand the technicalities of guns, the numbers and bullet sizes, the brand names, their various capabilities. Ask me about pianos and I can tell you anything. Weapons, cars, computers, no. Plastic surgery, yes. I do realize that if they had used a shot gun at that distance—six or seven feet between them in their car and me in mine—there would have been no reason whatsoever for Dr. Leafkind to call in Dr. Salem. I tried envisioning Ryan Potter as a boy of seven or eight, with soft blond hair and flawless boyish skin. Had he played with toy guns at that age? Or the real thing? Pretended that he was cowboy or bank robber? Despite what I know of the world's cruelties, I wondered how he had learned to become who he is. Who had taught him that I was bad, that anyone was bad, that a gun could accomplish anything? Who was this boy's teacher? The police records state that he still resided with his mother and father, Amanda and Raymond Potter, in a "nice residential area with low crime rates and an active neighborhood association." Strangely, I wanted to believe that his mother had tried to forbid the presence of toy weapons around the house, insisting instead ori a beginner keyboard, and later, proper lessons with a beleaguered teacher who steered her son away from mischief. Perhaps she had tried and failed, and this, alas, was the unfortunate result. When I mentioned my dreamy musings to Ernest, who visited me at the house daily for 109


Berkeley Fiction Review months after the incident, he shook his head and said, "Dream on, baby, dream on." And what about Michael Arlington besides his name, the regal lilt of which continues to appeal to me? As accomplice, he was no less responsible than the master of the trigger, but I wanted to see him as an unwitting puppet of circumstance, as a victim of Ryan Potter. I have always been the kind of man to give people, especially my students, the benefit of the doubt. Deem it what you will, an artist's sensibility or annoying illogic, but I was not willing to condemn both boys equally. That one person wanted to do this to me I could accept. That two might have wished it was more than I could contemplate. In my codeinelaced dreams, Ryan Potter corrupted Michael Arlington, planted a miserable seed deep within him. And I was a man who had been shot in the face, a man who long ago had racked up experience in sponging up blame, squeezing it out on my own kitchen floor. Michael Arlington might have liked me if he had never met Ryan Potter. As I drove away from The Blue Top, I inserted a tape into my car stereo. It was the great Spanish pianist, Alicia de Larrocha. She was playing a rondo in A minor by Mozart. The piece is moody and passionate, with a high level of dissonance, and de Larrocha, a Barcelonan who made her first public recital at the age of six, performed it sublimely. I keep half a dozen of her tapes in my car. Certainly other pianists have surpassed her—the impossibly young, wild-haired Russians, for example—but in her recordings I hear a quality that seems lacking in the new prodigies of the day. It may sound trite but I can offer no other way to describe it: When she plays, I detect the clear and piercing reverberations of a soul, the notes traveling like ancient heated particles through the sky. Could it be her age, her Spanish heritage, her femininity? Or was it simply a gift from the heavens? It was as if Mozart had composed the music for her and no one else, as if one genius had dreamed the coming of another. Had I been taught by an artist like her, how different my life might have turned out! But I do not lament what could have been. My lover Eric warned me never to indulge in any kind of self-pity. He would have none of it. The truth is, I am happy playing for myself and teaching my students. After all, it is not such a 110

The Pupil bad life. I turned up the volume as I followed Highway 39. My windows were open and the warm desert air, which now seemed tinged with pinon, filled my lungs. By this hour all the colors had disappeared except for a thin band of purple on the horizon. While driving and listening to the music, I saw distant headlights in my rear view mirror but did not pay them much attention. Some people often take this route to glimpse the stars or to get away from the house for an evening—people who have not abandoned their dreams, or perhaps those who have. The desert turns humans into night creatures who experience reprieve and rebirth in the darkness. Once I even thought about composing music for people whose true waking hours did not begin until nine o'clock at night. I suppose I could return to that idea now that I will be taking some time off from teaching. Four or five miles out of town I turned back, and so did the car that was following me. Even then I had no suspicions. This could have been anyone deciding, like me, to go home and sit out in the yard or lie on the living room floor to cool off before going to bed. When the headlights became closer and brighter, I still did not worry. Back in town, at an intersection I had crossed hundreds of times, their car stopped alongside mine at a red light. This was the first time I saw Michael Arlington's face. I glanced at him once, and he glanced at me, and from that brief exchange came this irony: I thought, for a moment, that he looked familiar, that I had seen him inside The Blue Top one evening. It might have been a month or a year earlier; I could not remember the occasion, but I was certain I had seen him, and if not at the bar, then where? At the Wal-Mart or one of three or four restaurants I frequented in town? Ernest likes to remind me that I often claim to recognize young men at The Blue Top—men who, I was sure, worked at the muffler shop or the garden center at Sears, and wasn't that one from the gas station or the post office or that new good bakery? As I waited at the intersection, I could hear what Ernest had said in the past: "Creative thinking once again, Steven! But at least we know your imagination is still in full working order." I am,.by nature, discreet and self-effacing, like my mother and father, modest individuals who moved to the desert from snow country. They 111


Berkeley Fiction Review months after the incident, he shook his head and said, "Dream on, baby, dream on." And what about Michael Arlington besides his name, the regal lilt of which continues to appeal to me? As accomplice, he was no less responsible than the master of the trigger, but I wanted to see him as an unwitting puppet of circumstance, as a victim of Ryan Potter. I have always been the kind of man to give people, especially my students, the benefit of the doubt. Deem it what you will, an artist's sensibility or annoying illogic, but I was not willing to condemn both boys equally. That one person wanted to do this to me I could accept. That two might have wished it was more than I could contemplate. In my codeinelaced dreams, Ryan Potter corrupted Michael Arlington, planted a miserable seed deep within him. And I was a man who had been shot in the face, a man who long ago had racked up experience in sponging up blame, squeezing it out on my own kitchen floor. Michael Arlington might have liked me if he had never met Ryan Potter. As I drove away from The Blue Top, I inserted a tape into my car stereo. It was the great Spanish pianist, Alicia de Larrocha. She was playing a rondo in A minor by Mozart. The piece is moody and passionate, with a high level of dissonance, and de Larrocha, a Barcelonan who made her first public recital at the age of six, performed it sublimely. I keep half a dozen of her tapes in my car. Certainly other pianists have surpassed her—the impossibly young, wild-haired Russians, for example—but in her recordings I hear a quality that seems lacking in the new prodigies of the day. It may sound trite but I can offer no other way to describe it: When she plays, I detect the clear and piercing reverberations of a soul, the notes traveling like ancient heated particles through the sky. Could it be her age, her Spanish heritage, her femininity? Or was it simply a gift from the heavens? It was as if Mozart had composed the music for her and no one else, as if one genius had dreamed the coming of another. Had I been taught by an artist like her, how different my life might have turned out! But I do not lament what could have been. My lover Eric warned me never to indulge in any kind of self-pity. He would have none of it. The truth is, I am happy playing for myself and teaching my students. After all, it is not such a 110

The Pupil bad life. I turned up the volume as I followed Highway 39. My windows were open and the warm desert air, which now seemed tinged with pinon, filled my lungs. By this hour all the colors had disappeared except for a thin band of purple on the horizon. While driving and listening to the music, I saw distant headlights in my rear view mirror but did not pay them much attention. Some people often take this route to glimpse the stars or to get away from the house for an evening—people who have not abandoned their dreams, or perhaps those who have. The desert turns humans into night creatures who experience reprieve and rebirth in the darkness. Once I even thought about composing music for people whose true waking hours did not begin until nine o'clock at night. I suppose I could return to that idea now that I will be taking some time off from teaching. Four or five miles out of town I turned back, and so did the car that was following me. Even then I had no suspicions. This could have been anyone deciding, like me, to go home and sit out in the yard or lie on the living room floor to cool off before going to bed. When the headlights became closer and brighter, I still did not worry. Back in town, at an intersection I had crossed hundreds of times, their car stopped alongside mine at a red light. This was the first time I saw Michael Arlington's face. I glanced at him once, and he glanced at me, and from that brief exchange came this irony: I thought, for a moment, that he looked familiar, that I had seen him inside The Blue Top one evening. It might have been a month or a year earlier; I could not remember the occasion, but I was certain I had seen him, and if not at the bar, then where? At the Wal-Mart or one of three or four restaurants I frequented in town? Ernest likes to remind me that I often claim to recognize young men at The Blue Top—men who, I was sure, worked at the muffler shop or the garden center at Sears, and wasn't that one from the gas station or the post office or that new good bakery? As I waited at the intersection, I could hear what Ernest had said in the past: "Creative thinking once again, Steven! But at least we know your imagination is still in full working order." I am,.by nature, discreet and self-effacing, like my mother and father, modest individuals who moved to the desert from snow country. They 111


Berkeley Fiction Review taught me to pay attention to my own business, and warned me against staring unnecessarily at my fellow human beings. For the greater part of my life, I followed their well-meant instructions. At The Blue Top the rules were eased, of course; I could get away with looking at a man for extended periods without offending him. I tried not to allow this habit to continue after leaving Ernest's realm of light-hearted flirtations and his ceiling with its oversized birds. At the second intersection after leaving Highway 39, Michael Arlington's car stopped once again next to mine. The light remained red for a long time—unusual for that hour of the night—and I took this opportunity to indulge in a long gaze at the young man who had seemed familiar. He looked like a good boy, a boy raised by parents who taught manners, politeness, and respect. How did I come to this conclusion? There was a gentleness in his eyes, and the slow movement of his head as he turned to look at me brought to mind the image of a completely harmless animal. I speculated that he was unassuming, free of a nervous edge—a quiet but happy loner who could occupy himself happily for hours at a time. When our eyes locked briefly, I saw a younger version of myself, but that vision quickly evaporated. Michael Arlington turned to Ryan Potter and spoke a few words which I could not hear clearly. Ryan Potter nodded and laughed derisively. When the light turned green, I proceeded through the intersection. The tape of Alicia de Larrocha was still playing, but now I lowered the volume. I kept the music loud only on the edge of town, where I imagined the desert's hushed vastness fully absorbed the magnitude of her talent. After passing through the intersection, I heard Ryan Potter's voice for the first time. "Hey, you faggot," he said. I ignored him. I am not a man of violent words or knee-jerk reactions. On the two or three occasions in my life when that epithet had been publicly applied to me, I chose not to respond. Some might say that my approach belonged to the passive victim, but I disagree. Silence can be a powerful tool. Music has taught me that a well-timed pause, unexpected to the listening audience, can have an astounding effect. Three blocks later, at an intersection only a mile from my home, their car once again was at my side. Perhaps I should not have stopped for the red light, considering the words which had been hurled at me, 112

The Pupil but I decided not to deviate from my routine and to ignore what I presumed was an instance of childish behavior. If Ryan Potter was going to repeat himself, I could shrug it all off again. I was hardened to the term, it meant nothing to me anymore; it was a word that once, a very long time ago, made me queasy and fearful, but not now. If Ernest had been with me in the car that evening, no doubt he would have ordered me to step on the gas; either that or he would have jumped out and violently kicked at the Chrysler, all the while ranting on about thugs and rednecks and homophobes. This is the difference between a man like Ernest and me. Slightly turning my head now, I looked again at the driver and remembered where I had seen that kind, boyish face. He was not, after all, familiar to me from The Blue Top or Faces or Wally's or Wal-Mart. Nine years earlier, Michael Arlington had sat with a stiff back and stretched-out legs at the sleek Steinway in my house, his eleven-yearold hands long and slender, slivers of raw pink flesh exposed where his nails had been clipped too aggressively. Michael Arlington, my pupil. His grandmother had called after seeing my advertisement in the newspaper. "Can you teach my grandson to play like Liberace?" she asked. There were hopeful parents who inquired whether I could prepare their children for Julliard, and there were those who brought their four year olds to my house, convinced more out of gut-feeling than any musical substantiation that their children had the makings of the next Previn, but Michael Arlington's grandmother was the first to mention the name of Liberace. While she waited for an answer, I held my breath and pondered what to say. Yes, I can turn your little grandson into a Liberace? Yes, I can transform any unwitting boy into a Las Vegas showman? "Bring him in at six on Thursday," I told her. "We'll set him up at the keys and get him started." It was the safest response I could think of. On the following Thursday, they arrived ten minutes early and rang the doorbell. "I'm paying for these lessons myself," his grandmother told me emphatically as soon as I let them in. "It was my idea that Michael should learn an instrument, not his parents'. Besides, they can hardly afford to buy him shoes." Looking at the boy, who seemed younger than his age, I gently asked, "Do you want to learn how to play the piano?" 113


Berkeley Fiction Review taught me to pay attention to my own business, and warned me against staring unnecessarily at my fellow human beings. For the greater part of my life, I followed their well-meant instructions. At The Blue Top the rules were eased, of course; I could get away with looking at a man for extended periods without offending him. I tried not to allow this habit to continue after leaving Ernest's realm of light-hearted flirtations and his ceiling with its oversized birds. At the second intersection after leaving Highway 39, Michael Arlington's car stopped once again next to mine. The light remained red for a long time—unusual for that hour of the night—and I took this opportunity to indulge in a long gaze at the young man who had seemed familiar. He looked like a good boy, a boy raised by parents who taught manners, politeness, and respect. How did I come to this conclusion? There was a gentleness in his eyes, and the slow movement of his head as he turned to look at me brought to mind the image of a completely harmless animal. I speculated that he was unassuming, free of a nervous edge—a quiet but happy loner who could occupy himself happily for hours at a time. When our eyes locked briefly, I saw a younger version of myself, but that vision quickly evaporated. Michael Arlington turned to Ryan Potter and spoke a few words which I could not hear clearly. Ryan Potter nodded and laughed derisively. When the light turned green, I proceeded through the intersection. The tape of Alicia de Larrocha was still playing, but now I lowered the volume. I kept the music loud only on the edge of town, where I imagined the desert's hushed vastness fully absorbed the magnitude of her talent. After passing through the intersection, I heard Ryan Potter's voice for the first time. "Hey, you faggot," he said. I ignored him. I am not a man of violent words or knee-jerk reactions. On the two or three occasions in my life when that epithet had been publicly applied to me, I chose not to respond. Some might say that my approach belonged to the passive victim, but I disagree. Silence can be a powerful tool. Music has taught me that a well-timed pause, unexpected to the listening audience, can have an astounding effect. Three blocks later, at an intersection only a mile from my home, their car once again was at my side. Perhaps I should not have stopped for the red light, considering the words which had been hurled at me, 112

The Pupil but I decided not to deviate from my routine and to ignore what I presumed was an instance of childish behavior. If Ryan Potter was going to repeat himself, I could shrug it all off again. I was hardened to the term, it meant nothing to me anymore; it was a word that once, a very long time ago, made me queasy and fearful, but not now. If Ernest had been with me in the car that evening, no doubt he would have ordered me to step on the gas; either that or he would have jumped out and violently kicked at the Chrysler, all the while ranting on about thugs and rednecks and homophobes. This is the difference between a man like Ernest and me. Slightly turning my head now, I looked again at the driver and remembered where I had seen that kind, boyish face. He was not, after all, familiar to me from The Blue Top or Faces or Wally's or Wal-Mart. Nine years earlier, Michael Arlington had sat with a stiff back and stretched-out legs at the sleek Steinway in my house, his eleven-yearold hands long and slender, slivers of raw pink flesh exposed where his nails had been clipped too aggressively. Michael Arlington, my pupil. His grandmother had called after seeing my advertisement in the newspaper. "Can you teach my grandson to play like Liberace?" she asked. There were hopeful parents who inquired whether I could prepare their children for Julliard, and there were those who brought their four year olds to my house, convinced more out of gut-feeling than any musical substantiation that their children had the makings of the next Previn, but Michael Arlington's grandmother was the first to mention the name of Liberace. While she waited for an answer, I held my breath and pondered what to say. Yes, I can turn your little grandson into a Liberace? Yes, I can transform any unwitting boy into a Las Vegas showman? "Bring him in at six on Thursday," I told her. "We'll set him up at the keys and get him started." It was the safest response I could think of. On the following Thursday, they arrived ten minutes early and rang the doorbell. "I'm paying for these lessons myself," his grandmother told me emphatically as soon as I let them in. "It was my idea that Michael should learn an instrument, not his parents'. Besides, they can hardly afford to buy him shoes." Looking at the boy, who seemed younger than his age, I gently asked, "Do you want to learn how to play the piano?" 113


Berkeley Fiction Review He shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, "I guess so." "Then let's see what we can do," I said. "If you want to learn, then I want to teach you. Do you think we can work with that?" O n this question, he remained silent. Those were the days when I treated all my students as if their musical destiny was Carnegie Hall. I had adopted a pedagogy of idealism and believed that each one had hidden gifts that could be teased to the surface by rigorous and compassionate guidance. Truly, I had hope for every one of them. Michael Arlington was not an extraordinary student, which is not the same as saying he could not have been an accomplished pianist. I once read that in his youth Yo-Yo Ma was an unruly pupil who refused at times to pick up his bow. In my own early days at the piano, I often shirked my practice in favor of reading or playing silly board games with my sister. And, I will admit, many of my efforts were perfunctory. More often than not I slid off my bench and ended my practice early, preferring instead to daydream idly in my room or sit with a book in the backyard. I suppose it could be said that I paid a steep price for my laziness. Despite the strength of my student's hands, his playing was hesitant, one might even say diffident. He quickly learned to read music and certainly he put in his practice time on an old upright piano at his school. Through one of his teachers, I had arranged for him to stay after his last class twice a week for thirty minutes. But he progressed very slowly, and at times, even though I detected signs of a musical passion aroused within the boy, he seemed to drift off complacently, allowing the notes to fade and die. "How is he doing?" his grandmother asked one day. Loyal to my beliefs, I told her, "He needs to develop his mental focus, which is key to finding one's own interpretation of the music as well as perfecting technique." She nodded as if she believed in her heart that this would occur for her grandson sooner or later. For seven months he never missed a lesson. Then one Thursday evening he and his grandmother, who always accompanied him and always paid my fee in crisp dollar bills she left on the coffee table, did not show up at my house. When I telephoned the Arlington residence the following day, I heard from a gruff male voice that Michael's grandmother had collapsed on the bathroom floor, dead from a stroke. 114

The Pupil "I'm Michael's piano teacher," I said. "How is he taking it?" "I'm his father," the voice said. "We can't send him any more. Whatever's left will have to pay for the funeral. Those lessons were her idea, not ours." "He can continue without having to pay," I said. "He needs more time, more instruction. His grandmother would have wanted that." During my career I have waived my fees for only two students. Michael Arlington would have been the third, and the least talented of them. "Oh, no," his father said. "We can't do that. We can't take that kind of charity." So this was Michael Arlington at twenty. Forgetting my preference for discretion, I turned to look at his hands grasping the top of the steering wheel. They were a mature version of what I now remembered: hands with exquisitely lean fingers touching the keys tentatively, as if searching for something besides the music. I recognized his hands more than I did his face, and I wondered, briefly, if he had taken up any other instruments after his grandmother died. Sitting at home, recuperating from Dr. Salem's third reconstructive surgery, I rub my own hands together to warm the cool fingertips. One of the experts has speculated that the injury affected my arms and hands, although I did not fully understand his explanation about the connection between those extremities and my face. When I try to play a simple sonata, my joints begin to ache and invariably I am forced to give up, at least for the moment. The silence that follows is almost too much for me to bear. At the third intersection, Ryan Potter repeated himself and raised the gun that he had been holding in his lap, hidden from my view. He would say later that he only meant to scare me by shattering a window or puncturing the hood of the car, that he had never used his father's gun or any gun before that evening when he and Michael Arlington drove across the desert on their way to The Blue Top, stopping once to shoot at saguaro cacti poised humanesque against the fading desert light. I remember seeing it, small and black in his hand, and I remember thinking, in the instant before the ringing and the pain and the profuse wetness began, a toy, that is just a toy, and the name you have called me means nothing to me at all; you are only a boy, so put that thing away and 115


Berkeley Fiction Review He shrugged his shoulders and mumbled, "I guess so." "Then let's see what we can do," I said. "If you want to learn, then I want to teach you. Do you think we can work with that?" O n this question, he remained silent. Those were the days when I treated all my students as if their musical destiny was Carnegie Hall. I had adopted a pedagogy of idealism and believed that each one had hidden gifts that could be teased to the surface by rigorous and compassionate guidance. Truly, I had hope for every one of them. Michael Arlington was not an extraordinary student, which is not the same as saying he could not have been an accomplished pianist. I once read that in his youth Yo-Yo Ma was an unruly pupil who refused at times to pick up his bow. In my own early days at the piano, I often shirked my practice in favor of reading or playing silly board games with my sister. And, I will admit, many of my efforts were perfunctory. More often than not I slid off my bench and ended my practice early, preferring instead to daydream idly in my room or sit with a book in the backyard. I suppose it could be said that I paid a steep price for my laziness. Despite the strength of my student's hands, his playing was hesitant, one might even say diffident. He quickly learned to read music and certainly he put in his practice time on an old upright piano at his school. Through one of his teachers, I had arranged for him to stay after his last class twice a week for thirty minutes. But he progressed very slowly, and at times, even though I detected signs of a musical passion aroused within the boy, he seemed to drift off complacently, allowing the notes to fade and die. "How is he doing?" his grandmother asked one day. Loyal to my beliefs, I told her, "He needs to develop his mental focus, which is key to finding one's own interpretation of the music as well as perfecting technique." She nodded as if she believed in her heart that this would occur for her grandson sooner or later. For seven months he never missed a lesson. Then one Thursday evening he and his grandmother, who always accompanied him and always paid my fee in crisp dollar bills she left on the coffee table, did not show up at my house. When I telephoned the Arlington residence the following day, I heard from a gruff male voice that Michael's grandmother had collapsed on the bathroom floor, dead from a stroke. 114

The Pupil "I'm Michael's piano teacher," I said. "How is he taking it?" "I'm his father," the voice said. "We can't send him any more. Whatever's left will have to pay for the funeral. Those lessons were her idea, not ours." "He can continue without having to pay," I said. "He needs more time, more instruction. His grandmother would have wanted that." During my career I have waived my fees for only two students. Michael Arlington would have been the third, and the least talented of them. "Oh, no," his father said. "We can't do that. We can't take that kind of charity." So this was Michael Arlington at twenty. Forgetting my preference for discretion, I turned to look at his hands grasping the top of the steering wheel. They were a mature version of what I now remembered: hands with exquisitely lean fingers touching the keys tentatively, as if searching for something besides the music. I recognized his hands more than I did his face, and I wondered, briefly, if he had taken up any other instruments after his grandmother died. Sitting at home, recuperating from Dr. Salem's third reconstructive surgery, I rub my own hands together to warm the cool fingertips. One of the experts has speculated that the injury affected my arms and hands, although I did not fully understand his explanation about the connection between those extremities and my face. When I try to play a simple sonata, my joints begin to ache and invariably I am forced to give up, at least for the moment. The silence that follows is almost too much for me to bear. At the third intersection, Ryan Potter repeated himself and raised the gun that he had been holding in his lap, hidden from my view. He would say later that he only meant to scare me by shattering a window or puncturing the hood of the car, that he had never used his father's gun or any gun before that evening when he and Michael Arlington drove across the desert on their way to The Blue Top, stopping once to shoot at saguaro cacti poised humanesque against the fading desert light. I remember seeing it, small and black in his hand, and I remember thinking, in the instant before the ringing and the pain and the profuse wetness began, a toy, that is just a toy, and the name you have called me means nothing to me at all; you are only a boy, so put that thing away and 115


Berkeley Fiction Review go back home to your mother. There were two trials, one for each of my assailants, and arguments about boyhoods lost and a prank gone awry. In one dramatic scene, the defense for Ryan Potter attempted to argue that both boys had been provoked by lascivious behavior, but the judge—this unexpected saint of a man—ordered him to stop. Outside the court house, young men and young women who had traveled from as far away as San Francisco and New Ydrk maintained a vigil. At night, they lit candles and sang, and one girl, she was just a girl, played a flute with such clarity and emotion that she attracted a regular audience of her own. When I had the strength, I met with these people who waited in the heat of the day and the emptiness of the night. "We're in this together," one young man said. He had a pierced nose and told me that he was on leave from a conservatory. He had heard that I was once a student where he now practiced under the tutelage of a renowned violinist. "We'll be here with you until the end." But I did not have the heart to tell him that it was impossible, that it would never end, that I would wake up every day and be reminded of it. Although my lips are left stiff with a temporary paralysis, they remain in their original shape, and I pressed them against cheek after cheek of those who sat in sweet vigilance. Not until later did I consider whether my disfigured face had caused anyone to feel uncomfortable. "What were you doing in the parking lot of the bar known as The Blue Top?" the assistant district attorney asked Ryan Potter, who had decided, against his lawyer's advice, to testify. "Watching." "Watching what?" "Just watching. You know." "The men going into the bar?" "Yes." "Why were you watching them that evening? "Where we come from, men don't act like that. :

The Pupil have every intention of sending at least one of them to a great conservatory before I retire. When I am not teaching or listening to the recordings of my favorite pianists, I often find myself thinking about the ceiling at The Blue Top, and in the evenings, when I feel most alone, I hear voices chanting, "We're all in this together," while a flute softly pierces the desert air. Sitting in the dark, I imagine a flock of white birds with large, human eyes. Ryan Potter corrupted Michael Arlington; that is how I wanted to see it. Or, if only my pupil had continued with his lessons. Dream on, baby, dream on.

It's been more than a year since the event that reunited me with my former student. These days I spend most of the time indoors, just as I had in the past, but the difference now is that I conduct fewer lessons, devoting my attention to the youngest and most promising students. I 116

117


Berkeley Fiction Review go back home to your mother. There were two trials, one for each of my assailants, and arguments about boyhoods lost and a prank gone awry. In one dramatic scene, the defense for Ryan Potter attempted to argue that both boys had been provoked by lascivious behavior, but the judge—this unexpected saint of a man—ordered him to stop. Outside the court house, young men and young women who had traveled from as far away as San Francisco and New Ydrk maintained a vigil. At night, they lit candles and sang, and one girl, she was just a girl, played a flute with such clarity and emotion that she attracted a regular audience of her own. When I had the strength, I met with these people who waited in the heat of the day and the emptiness of the night. "We're in this together," one young man said. He had a pierced nose and told me that he was on leave from a conservatory. He had heard that I was once a student where he now practiced under the tutelage of a renowned violinist. "We'll be here with you until the end." But I did not have the heart to tell him that it was impossible, that it would never end, that I would wake up every day and be reminded of it. Although my lips are left stiff with a temporary paralysis, they remain in their original shape, and I pressed them against cheek after cheek of those who sat in sweet vigilance. Not until later did I consider whether my disfigured face had caused anyone to feel uncomfortable. "What were you doing in the parking lot of the bar known as The Blue Top?" the assistant district attorney asked Ryan Potter, who had decided, against his lawyer's advice, to testify. "Watching." "Watching what?" "Just watching. You know." "The men going into the bar?" "Yes." "Why were you watching them that evening? "Where we come from, men don't act like that. :

The Pupil have every intention of sending at least one of them to a great conservatory before I retire. When I am not teaching or listening to the recordings of my favorite pianists, I often find myself thinking about the ceiling at The Blue Top, and in the evenings, when I feel most alone, I hear voices chanting, "We're all in this together," while a flute softly pierces the desert air. Sitting in the dark, I imagine a flock of white birds with large, human eyes. Ryan Potter corrupted Michael Arlington; that is how I wanted to see it. Or, if only my pupil had continued with his lessons. Dream on, baby, dream on.

It's been more than a year since the event that reunited me with my former student. These days I spend most of the time indoors, just as I had in the past, but the difference now is that I conduct fewer lessons, devoting my attention to the youngest and most promising students. I 116

117


T h e

W a t c h m a n

Ray Nayler

t is the first day of real fall weather, the breeze blown leaves in the street, the smell of burning wood, and the sun through the trees, red and orange and pink and purple. The air is crisp and cold—good sweater weather. The cars whip past, scattering the leaves in the street, making them dance. His eyes are on the sidewalk, inches in front of his shoes (the sidewalk put in new 1969, first year that he lived here, now warped, tree-root humped, and overgrown). He passes the vacant lot, the foundation stones like a giant's lost set of dentures down among the weeds, glittering broken glass behind chain link and brutal concertina wire spirals. His hands are chapped, as they will remain all winter, and he pushes them deep into the pockets of his corduroy coat (bought in 1967, worn above the pockets, shiny from decades of his hands sliding in and out). A small Latino boy tears past him on his BMX, determinedly pedaling. He whips past, around the corner, skidding his back tire, and is gone before he can see the man smiling at him., grinning. The man's face returns to the sidewalk. The wind blows through his hair and ruffles it a little, like a ghost of a mother's hand, and his smile comes back a little, small, hesitant, embarrassed. He passes the vacant lot and then the cafe, its windswept patios empty, chairs stacked. He crosses the street and walks past the bakery, the furniture store, then the empty storefronts. Nothing in the mailbox. He opens the door and walks up the steps, his booted feet treading over three patterns of carpet. He puts his key in #l's battered door and he is 119


T h e

W a t c h m a n

Ray Nayler

t is the first day of real fall weather, the breeze blown leaves in the street, the smell of burning wood, and the sun through the trees, red and orange and pink and purple. The air is crisp and cold—good sweater weather. The cars whip past, scattering the leaves in the street, making them dance. His eyes are on the sidewalk, inches in front of his shoes (the sidewalk put in new 1969, first year that he lived here, now warped, tree-root humped, and overgrown). He passes the vacant lot, the foundation stones like a giant's lost set of dentures down among the weeds, glittering broken glass behind chain link and brutal concertina wire spirals. His hands are chapped, as they will remain all winter, and he pushes them deep into the pockets of his corduroy coat (bought in 1967, worn above the pockets, shiny from decades of his hands sliding in and out). A small Latino boy tears past him on his BMX, determinedly pedaling. He whips past, around the corner, skidding his back tire, and is gone before he can see the man smiling at him., grinning. The man's face returns to the sidewalk. The wind blows through his hair and ruffles it a little, like a ghost of a mother's hand, and his smile comes back a little, small, hesitant, embarrassed. He passes the vacant lot and then the cafe, its windswept patios empty, chairs stacked. He crosses the street and walks past the bakery, the furniture store, then the empty storefronts. Nothing in the mailbox. He opens the door and walks up the steps, his booted feet treading over three patterns of carpet. He puts his key in #l's battered door and he is 119


Berkeley Fiction Review home. He places his coat on the hook by the door where it will sit all night as it has every night, every year since June 19, 1969, nearly 9600 nights (he does the math)—a wonder the hook is not worn down to the nub. The hook is almost as sturdy as him.

"Watch him when he's working on a watch, an his lips- move, you'll see.. .his lips are moving real soft, see? Like he's talking to it." Bill and Frank, common as their names, leaning near the water cooler with the thin paper cone cups in hand, watching him. Bill (continuing): "I bet... I bet you set up a tape recorder over there, you'd hear weird stuff." Frank (stiffly): "Like what? Weird, like gibberish? What?" Bill (drinking, eyes over his cup, meaningful, flat and dead as fish eyes): "Love words." Frank (chuckling): "Love words. Fuuuck off." Bill: "Love words." At his desk he is bent over the watch, the tiny screwdriver like a scalpel, the gold watch open in his hands, beautiful and intricate, insectine, whirring in seeming pleasure as he deftly makes it run again, makes time run again.

He loves the grocery store—the aisles of everything that man makes, it seems—the bounty of the soil canned in brilliant color, piled, stacked, displayed. Even his hand basket is bright in his hands as his eyes rove the aisles like puppies, past the old women who read the labels and glare at him, judge him—the shambling large man, simian-faced, his hair thick, black and curly, the big stubbed brutal hands. (The hand cradling the pocket watch, gold and whirring, the screwdriver, pin-small in his thick but adept fingers.) The young couple staring—a blond girl in jeans, her eyes burning his cheeks as she sweeps his smile away, Evian and tofu and apples in her basket, whispering to her slab of a boyfriend, "Look at that guy— God!" He hurries past the produce, suddenly cold, and does not get any oranges, not even returning for them later, but going straight to the 120

The Watchman check stand and the smiling clerk, and out to the leaves blowing on the pavement.

Then, walking home again, the air chill now, leaves broken by car wheels, gutter strewn, the sky darkening purple and clear. She is sitting at the cafe, by which he walks every day—ducked into his coat until he shrinks a foot—through the tables crowding the sidewalk—but never crossing the street. The brilliant rush of just brushing past people, unnerved by the stares he receives, tattered and burly, but on fire! He sees them, heads inclined toward one another in conversation—in conversation! Talking! Often he would talk, this face in the mirror, his voice coming out harsh and strange, his face foreign to him, gritty and crude. She smiles up at him as he passes, her eyes warm as melted chocolate, long white fingers wrapped around a steaming mug. Her coat is dark green, well worn. Her smile stops him in mid-stride, gulping fishlike for air. "Hello." She says, still smiling—so simple for her. "Hello." He replies, hoarse and surprised, his cheeks reddening, his arms wanting to sink into his coat up to their elbows and hide there like gophers. Something passes between them, blasting him numb-warm down to his shoes—she is smiling at him still, her knowing eyes knowing him. "You fix watches." "I have to go.. .late." He stammers, stumbling off, shrinking himself away from her, wanting the night to close in around him and cut him off from view—but his coat, patched, is visible to her for minutes more as he retreats down the street, turning his keys in the door to his apartment-house, fumbling, dropping them. She sips her coffee, watching the little window far down the street, and its orange glow of light through closed curtains. Warm orange light.

It is Sunday, cloud-crowded sky and frosted car windows until late morning. At the cafe the outside tables are vacant, stacked in neat piles 121


Berkeley Fiction Review home. He places his coat on the hook by the door where it will sit all night as it has every night, every year since June 19, 1969, nearly 9600 nights (he does the math)—a wonder the hook is not worn down to the nub. The hook is almost as sturdy as him.

"Watch him when he's working on a watch, an his lips- move, you'll see.. .his lips are moving real soft, see? Like he's talking to it." Bill and Frank, common as their names, leaning near the water cooler with the thin paper cone cups in hand, watching him. Bill (continuing): "I bet... I bet you set up a tape recorder over there, you'd hear weird stuff." Frank (stiffly): "Like what? Weird, like gibberish? What?" Bill (drinking, eyes over his cup, meaningful, flat and dead as fish eyes): "Love words." Frank (chuckling): "Love words. Fuuuck off." Bill: "Love words." At his desk he is bent over the watch, the tiny screwdriver like a scalpel, the gold watch open in his hands, beautiful and intricate, insectine, whirring in seeming pleasure as he deftly makes it run again, makes time run again.

He loves the grocery store—the aisles of everything that man makes, it seems—the bounty of the soil canned in brilliant color, piled, stacked, displayed. Even his hand basket is bright in his hands as his eyes rove the aisles like puppies, past the old women who read the labels and glare at him, judge him—the shambling large man, simian-faced, his hair thick, black and curly, the big stubbed brutal hands. (The hand cradling the pocket watch, gold and whirring, the screwdriver, pin-small in his thick but adept fingers.) The young couple staring—a blond girl in jeans, her eyes burning his cheeks as she sweeps his smile away, Evian and tofu and apples in her basket, whispering to her slab of a boyfriend, "Look at that guy— God!" He hurries past the produce, suddenly cold, and does not get any oranges, not even returning for them later, but going straight to the 120

The Watchman check stand and the smiling clerk, and out to the leaves blowing on the pavement.

Then, walking home again, the air chill now, leaves broken by car wheels, gutter strewn, the sky darkening purple and clear. She is sitting at the cafe, by which he walks every day—ducked into his coat until he shrinks a foot—through the tables crowding the sidewalk—but never crossing the street. The brilliant rush of just brushing past people, unnerved by the stares he receives, tattered and burly, but on fire! He sees them, heads inclined toward one another in conversation—in conversation! Talking! Often he would talk, this face in the mirror, his voice coming out harsh and strange, his face foreign to him, gritty and crude. She smiles up at him as he passes, her eyes warm as melted chocolate, long white fingers wrapped around a steaming mug. Her coat is dark green, well worn. Her smile stops him in mid-stride, gulping fishlike for air. "Hello." She says, still smiling—so simple for her. "Hello." He replies, hoarse and surprised, his cheeks reddening, his arms wanting to sink into his coat up to their elbows and hide there like gophers. Something passes between them, blasting him numb-warm down to his shoes—she is smiling at him still, her knowing eyes knowing him. "You fix watches." "I have to go.. .late." He stammers, stumbling off, shrinking himself away from her, wanting the night to close in around him and cut him off from view—but his coat, patched, is visible to her for minutes more as he retreats down the street, turning his keys in the door to his apartment-house, fumbling, dropping them. She sips her coffee, watching the little window far down the street, and its orange glow of light through closed curtains. Warm orange light.

It is Sunday, cloud-crowded sky and frosted car windows until late morning. At the cafe the outside tables are vacant, stacked in neat piles 121


Berkeley Fiction Review against the wall. Condensation on the chairs. Inside, plates clatter, coffee and coffeecake in warming hands. California in January, the sky gray like a piece of pavement. For the first time, he is there, opening the door with a hand that has rehearsed this simple action now a thousand times, until it could feel the weight and material of the door. He is anticipating the eyes on him burning him like live wires, shrinking him away, but all eyes are on coffee cups and books and friends, and he is in, his heart beating fastfast. He manages to order at the counter a coffee and an oatmeal cookie big as his fist. He pushes his crumpled money across the counter, watching the weary cashier worry it, straighten it, and place it in the drawer. He sits by the window and he waits; he sits and drinks and waits. Sometimes they look at him, and most of the time they do not. Hours pass, and soon he has spent all but five dollars. His heart has beaten fast the whole time, but it begins to slow, he is looking down at his chapped hands clutching the cup, his threadbare shirtsleeves. He is wishing he had not come, gathering the courage to leave. And then, after hours of looking out the window and his mind playing—there she is—tricks on him, her tattered green coat dancing ghostlike on the edge of his vision—she is there. She walks in, her face crisp like the air, fresh, flushed, and the blast of numb heat hits him again. He suppresses a small strange whining noise in his throat and waits for her to see him. She is at the counter and ordering, hearing in her head all the words like darts, the eyes on her back—do they know? Her humiliation—so stupid, stumbling from one man to the next, all of them like great velvet capes, and then the beautiful fabric swinging back to reveal the rot inside, the cancer. You stupid little bitch, you cunt, you whore. Her arm throbs dully still, bruised. But her hair is set just right and her posture hides it all, and when she smiles at the counterboy, he smiles back at her with a wolfen gleam in his eyes. She is sick—the hard eyes of a wolf, undressing her, hungry. She walks away from the counter, head high, defiantly high, and sees him where he sits, his eyes locked on a length of floor before him, his hands shaking, his cheeks lit up red like Christmas. She notices him trying not to look at her, sidles over 122

The Watchman and sits down beside him. (She is like a jackhammer at his chest, almost killing him with pressure.) "Good morning." "Good morning." His words are shaky and wooden, too many times rehearsed. "I've never seen you in here before. You come here... have you come here before?" "Yes. No. Never." His eyes flicker up toward hers and she can see through them; he is like a child, the lie quickly told and then taken back, his eyes open wide with fear—avoiding contact with hers and then drawn like magnets back to her face. "You live in those apartments. Over the market." "Yes." The word becomes swollen with meaning, somehow like a peach. "I have a watch that needs fixing." "I'll fix it for free." The words come out fast, on their own, pouring out. "You don't have it with you?" "No." He smooths his hands through his hair and pushes them into his pockets, saying nothing, the wide blue eyes staring. "I'll bring it by." "Here?" "Your place," and before he can answer she leaves, a whisk of the green coat out the door, the cup of coffee left still steaming on the table, his eyes wide watching her through the window as she walks, with a quick determined step that is almost like a march, away. Her bruised arm aches and she walks home under the metallic sky. The garbage men are making their last rounds, loud and sloppy, jumping off the truck leaving boot prints in rosebuds, and she looks stonily ahead as she passes by them. The whistle of one is like a hard finger jabbed at her bruise. She thinks of the watch, not running for years, and of his large hands, and how she will watch him fix it. His home will look like what? He fears her why? Every day for so long she has watched him walking, and even in passing he has kept her warm. But her shoes are hollow in the dead cold air as she reaches the steps 123


Berkeley Fiction Review against the wall. Condensation on the chairs. Inside, plates clatter, coffee and coffeecake in warming hands. California in January, the sky gray like a piece of pavement. For the first time, he is there, opening the door with a hand that has rehearsed this simple action now a thousand times, until it could feel the weight and material of the door. He is anticipating the eyes on him burning him like live wires, shrinking him away, but all eyes are on coffee cups and books and friends, and he is in, his heart beating fastfast. He manages to order at the counter a coffee and an oatmeal cookie big as his fist. He pushes his crumpled money across the counter, watching the weary cashier worry it, straighten it, and place it in the drawer. He sits by the window and he waits; he sits and drinks and waits. Sometimes they look at him, and most of the time they do not. Hours pass, and soon he has spent all but five dollars. His heart has beaten fast the whole time, but it begins to slow, he is looking down at his chapped hands clutching the cup, his threadbare shirtsleeves. He is wishing he had not come, gathering the courage to leave. And then, after hours of looking out the window and his mind playing—there she is—tricks on him, her tattered green coat dancing ghostlike on the edge of his vision—she is there. She walks in, her face crisp like the air, fresh, flushed, and the blast of numb heat hits him again. He suppresses a small strange whining noise in his throat and waits for her to see him. She is at the counter and ordering, hearing in her head all the words like darts, the eyes on her back—do they know? Her humiliation—so stupid, stumbling from one man to the next, all of them like great velvet capes, and then the beautiful fabric swinging back to reveal the rot inside, the cancer. You stupid little bitch, you cunt, you whore. Her arm throbs dully still, bruised. But her hair is set just right and her posture hides it all, and when she smiles at the counterboy, he smiles back at her with a wolfen gleam in his eyes. She is sick—the hard eyes of a wolf, undressing her, hungry. She walks away from the counter, head high, defiantly high, and sees him where he sits, his eyes locked on a length of floor before him, his hands shaking, his cheeks lit up red like Christmas. She notices him trying not to look at her, sidles over 122

The Watchman and sits down beside him. (She is like a jackhammer at his chest, almost killing him with pressure.) "Good morning." "Good morning." His words are shaky and wooden, too many times rehearsed. "I've never seen you in here before. You come here... have you come here before?" "Yes. No. Never." His eyes flicker up toward hers and she can see through them; he is like a child, the lie quickly told and then taken back, his eyes open wide with fear—avoiding contact with hers and then drawn like magnets back to her face. "You live in those apartments. Over the market." "Yes." The word becomes swollen with meaning, somehow like a peach. "I have a watch that needs fixing." "I'll fix it for free." The words come out fast, on their own, pouring out. "You don't have it with you?" "No." He smooths his hands through his hair and pushes them into his pockets, saying nothing, the wide blue eyes staring. "I'll bring it by." "Here?" "Your place," and before he can answer she leaves, a whisk of the green coat out the door, the cup of coffee left still steaming on the table, his eyes wide watching her through the window as she walks, with a quick determined step that is almost like a march, away. Her bruised arm aches and she walks home under the metallic sky. The garbage men are making their last rounds, loud and sloppy, jumping off the truck leaving boot prints in rosebuds, and she looks stonily ahead as she passes by them. The whistle of one is like a hard finger jabbed at her bruise. She thinks of the watch, not running for years, and of his large hands, and how she will watch him fix it. His home will look like what? He fears her why? Every day for so long she has watched him walking, and even in passing he has kept her warm. But her shoes are hollow in the dead cold air as she reaches the steps 123


Berkeley Fiction Review of her house. Inhabited by a MAN, his voice colorless, chill, and hateful, his hands like icicles.

Bent over his workbench, he cradles the timepiece, small in his big hands, his mind full of green coat, long pale hands, and face. Bill and Frank, crouched by the water cooler, do not note the difference in him, the new happiness. They sip chill water and talk and belittle. 7 She is sitting at the cafe again, watching and waiting. There is a woman named Betty, who has lived in this place for so long that she cracked like the plaster of the old buildings. She sits down, bent knobbed fingers wrapped around a mug, her bloodless lips wrapped around a More Menthol. She works at the diner a block up and over, her psoriasis hurting her between tables, deepening the lines in her face until it is like a mask beneath her too tight, gray French twist. "What's on your mind, dear?" She sits down, smiling. "I met someone." The arch of an eyebrow. You want what? That isn't on the menu. "Really? I thought..." "He's gone." She thinks of his boxes stacked beside the door and his hand on her shoulder. The puppy-dog eyes. And how she'd stood over him with a knife from her kitchen pressed to his throat and a fistful of his hair, shoving his head back against the pillow. The small trickle of blood. The fear in his eyes. And he'd left before dawn, small in his Tshirt and robe, getting into his frost-covered car. Betty drags at her cigarette. "So who's this person you met?" She says it with sarcasm, then, seeing the look on her friend's face, she stops. "Sorry. We get old and jaded." And, she thinks, our jobs crawl into our lives and eat us whole. "Who is he?" So she tells her, and Betty looks as if she's turned to ice. "What?" But Betty turns her attention instead to her coffee for long moments. "Isn't he a little..." "No." 124

The Watchman "You..." She stops. And then she relates the story. Like the newspapers did, years ago. And when she is done, she waits for the 'Oh my God' or the 'Can't be true,' but neither come. Instead, there is a look that Betty has never seen before. They finish their coffee in silence interspersed with banality like floating lily pads hiding deep water.

He calls in sick to work and waits, pacing the small rooms, the carpet like hot coals. In his mind the same scene plays, over and over, the scene that has haunted him as many times as he has hung his coat on the hook by the door, possibly more. Possibly much more. It was 1969 and he was eighteen years old, walking home. January, cold enough for frost on windshields, in the gutters; crystal atoms of frost in the lungs froze you from the inside. He had just moved into his first apartment. Leaving for work every day he would turn the lights on, so the apartment would glow orange as he approached it, a lighthouse that guided him home at 4 a.m., his back pained from lifting boxes, stacking, loading. Eighteen, and his big hands were already grooved by labor. And yet he was always grinning and whistling at 4 a.m., his sweater full of warehouse dust and cardboard fiber. Every night he passed the girl on the corner, in her short faux fur and her heels, years older or months younger than him, he could not tellj her thick eyeliner and thicker lipstick occluding age. Every night he lit her cigarette, and the flame seemed to rush back up his arms and fill his chest with burning. Smiling, and small talk, his palms sweating. Cars would drive by slow, piloted by men with their hats pulled low over their eyes. But she would never get in if he was there. Only after, as he looked out the window, his face blank and tight. 3 u t that night, he was passing the vacant lot (now vacant, vacant then, decades of nothing behind chain link) when he heard her voice— the low got-a-light-hon voice turned up full volume, the breaking "Help!" made icy and deathlike in the freezing air. He was over the fence, running, dodging the broken foundation stone, his eyes strained against the new moon dark for where she had— fallen? They were standing over her; the shorter one had a lead pipe in his hand and was grinning at the taller one, zipping up his jeans, scratching 125


Berkeley Fiction Review of her house. Inhabited by a MAN, his voice colorless, chill, and hateful, his hands like icicles.

Bent over his workbench, he cradles the timepiece, small in his big hands, his mind full of green coat, long pale hands, and face. Bill and Frank, crouched by the water cooler, do not note the difference in him, the new happiness. They sip chill water and talk and belittle. 7 She is sitting at the cafe again, watching and waiting. There is a woman named Betty, who has lived in this place for so long that she cracked like the plaster of the old buildings. She sits down, bent knobbed fingers wrapped around a mug, her bloodless lips wrapped around a More Menthol. She works at the diner a block up and over, her psoriasis hurting her between tables, deepening the lines in her face until it is like a mask beneath her too tight, gray French twist. "What's on your mind, dear?" She sits down, smiling. "I met someone." The arch of an eyebrow. You want what? That isn't on the menu. "Really? I thought..." "He's gone." She thinks of his boxes stacked beside the door and his hand on her shoulder. The puppy-dog eyes. And how she'd stood over him with a knife from her kitchen pressed to his throat and a fistful of his hair, shoving his head back against the pillow. The small trickle of blood. The fear in his eyes. And he'd left before dawn, small in his Tshirt and robe, getting into his frost-covered car. Betty drags at her cigarette. "So who's this person you met?" She says it with sarcasm, then, seeing the look on her friend's face, she stops. "Sorry. We get old and jaded." And, she thinks, our jobs crawl into our lives and eat us whole. "Who is he?" So she tells her, and Betty looks as if she's turned to ice. "What?" But Betty turns her attention instead to her coffee for long moments. "Isn't he a little..." "No." 124

The Watchman "You..." She stops. And then she relates the story. Like the newspapers did, years ago. And when she is done, she waits for the 'Oh my God' or the 'Can't be true,' but neither come. Instead, there is a look that Betty has never seen before. They finish their coffee in silence interspersed with banality like floating lily pads hiding deep water.

He calls in sick to work and waits, pacing the small rooms, the carpet like hot coals. In his mind the same scene plays, over and over, the scene that has haunted him as many times as he has hung his coat on the hook by the door, possibly more. Possibly much more. It was 1969 and he was eighteen years old, walking home. January, cold enough for frost on windshields, in the gutters; crystal atoms of frost in the lungs froze you from the inside. He had just moved into his first apartment. Leaving for work every day he would turn the lights on, so the apartment would glow orange as he approached it, a lighthouse that guided him home at 4 a.m., his back pained from lifting boxes, stacking, loading. Eighteen, and his big hands were already grooved by labor. And yet he was always grinning and whistling at 4 a.m., his sweater full of warehouse dust and cardboard fiber. Every night he passed the girl on the corner, in her short faux fur and her heels, years older or months younger than him, he could not tellj her thick eyeliner and thicker lipstick occluding age. Every night he lit her cigarette, and the flame seemed to rush back up his arms and fill his chest with burning. Smiling, and small talk, his palms sweating. Cars would drive by slow, piloted by men with their hats pulled low over their eyes. But she would never get in if he was there. Only after, as he looked out the window, his face blank and tight. 3 u t that night, he was passing the vacant lot (now vacant, vacant then, decades of nothing behind chain link) when he heard her voice— the low got-a-light-hon voice turned up full volume, the breaking "Help!" made icy and deathlike in the freezing air. He was over the fence, running, dodging the broken foundation stone, his eyes strained against the new moon dark for where she had— fallen? They were standing over her; the shorter one had a lead pipe in his hand and was grinning at the taller one, zipping up his jeans, scratching 125


Berkeley Fiction Review his ribs through his shirt. Then, a shape like a bear broke from the shadows, roaring, and the taller one fell forward; his head split open with a dull pop like a bowling ball thudding on a lane. Blood sprayed on the shorter one before the pipe was wrenched from his hand. Later, pulling the sheet back, the coroner shook his head over the pipe-smashed face of the boy, and smoked two cigarettes with his back turned before resuming the autopsy. She lay in the dirt, her face a swollen mountain range of lumps, the faux fur coat hanging over a bush, her shoes broken, dress torn, her lipstick a smear, like a clown mouth. He picked her up—so light and brittle, like a dying baby bird. Later, they asked him, in his apartment filled with cheap suits, badges and smoke: why didn't he call the police? Later, they asked him, in the courtroom with its marble columns and oak tables, gray suits and twelve stone faces: why didn't he call an ambulance? Was he her pimp? Couldn't he tell she was dying? Did he even know first aid? And the taller boy's hard gray father, steel worker, hands blackened as wrought iron, spit in his face as he was taken out in chains. In prison he took a correspondence course in watch repair. He learned to fix timepieces, delicate tiny things, gold and brass like bees and flowers. Released, employed, he moved back for the second time to his first apartment. Twenty-eight years and two dozen broken windows later, he stands at his window and waits for her to come up the street in her coat, her pale oval face flushed and smiling. And when she does, he feels his veins fill with numb heat, and fear creeps into his chest, and expectation. He opens the door and leads her up the stairs. She could have handed the watch to him at the door, but that is not what she is here for. He smiles, seems about to stop her at the doorway, but she brushes past him, and they go inside. "Oh, my." He is taking her coat with shaking hands, hanging it on the hook (his own coat he hangs in the closet for the first time). She is standing, staring. For the walls are hung—no, covered—with clocks. Cuckoo clocks with peaked roofs, gold German clocks ready to 126

The Watchman announce the hour with marching men of whirring gears, grandfather clocks of polished wood, their pendulums rocking, simple modern black plastic clocks, 50s diner models resplendent with neon and chrome— all ticking and clicking and tocking in a multitude of overlapping, discordant rhythms. "Why do you have all these?" He smiles, shy, shrugging. "I don't know. I like them." She sits beneath an ancient wooden wall clock, silver pendulum and ivory face behind delicate blown glass. The chair is old, overstuffed, patched. He is bringing her coffee from the kitchen, and she thinks of his strong hands around the rock, smashing the man's skull; his hands carrying the dying girl here, tending to her as she slips away; the frantic call to the ambulance, the police cuffing him, stubbing their cigarettes out in his sink, shaking their heads. He hands her the mug and sits down across from her, his hands in his lap, wringing. "Why did you come here?" In reply she stands up and moves slowly about the room, pulling plugs, flipping switches, stopping pendulums, quieting the clocks, one by one, until there is the single ticking of a great old grandfather clock in the far corner. She opens its case and, hands determined, stops the heavy brass pendulum. The room is silent then, and the sudden sound of rain starts against the windows, the drops sliding down the glass as she sits beside him.

127


Berkeley Fiction Review his ribs through his shirt. Then, a shape like a bear broke from the shadows, roaring, and the taller one fell forward; his head split open with a dull pop like a bowling ball thudding on a lane. Blood sprayed on the shorter one before the pipe was wrenched from his hand. Later, pulling the sheet back, the coroner shook his head over the pipe-smashed face of the boy, and smoked two cigarettes with his back turned before resuming the autopsy. She lay in the dirt, her face a swollen mountain range of lumps, the faux fur coat hanging over a bush, her shoes broken, dress torn, her lipstick a smear, like a clown mouth. He picked her up—so light and brittle, like a dying baby bird. Later, they asked him, in his apartment filled with cheap suits, badges and smoke: why didn't he call the police? Later, they asked him, in the courtroom with its marble columns and oak tables, gray suits and twelve stone faces: why didn't he call an ambulance? Was he her pimp? Couldn't he tell she was dying? Did he even know first aid? And the taller boy's hard gray father, steel worker, hands blackened as wrought iron, spit in his face as he was taken out in chains. In prison he took a correspondence course in watch repair. He learned to fix timepieces, delicate tiny things, gold and brass like bees and flowers. Released, employed, he moved back for the second time to his first apartment. Twenty-eight years and two dozen broken windows later, he stands at his window and waits for her to come up the street in her coat, her pale oval face flushed and smiling. And when she does, he feels his veins fill with numb heat, and fear creeps into his chest, and expectation. He opens the door and leads her up the stairs. She could have handed the watch to him at the door, but that is not what she is here for. He smiles, seems about to stop her at the doorway, but she brushes past him, and they go inside. "Oh, my." He is taking her coat with shaking hands, hanging it on the hook (his own coat he hangs in the closet for the first time). She is standing, staring. For the walls are hung—no, covered—with clocks. Cuckoo clocks with peaked roofs, gold German clocks ready to 126

The Watchman announce the hour with marching men of whirring gears, grandfather clocks of polished wood, their pendulums rocking, simple modern black plastic clocks, 50s diner models resplendent with neon and chrome— all ticking and clicking and tocking in a multitude of overlapping, discordant rhythms. "Why do you have all these?" He smiles, shy, shrugging. "I don't know. I like them." She sits beneath an ancient wooden wall clock, silver pendulum and ivory face behind delicate blown glass. The chair is old, overstuffed, patched. He is bringing her coffee from the kitchen, and she thinks of his strong hands around the rock, smashing the man's skull; his hands carrying the dying girl here, tending to her as she slips away; the frantic call to the ambulance, the police cuffing him, stubbing their cigarettes out in his sink, shaking their heads. He hands her the mug and sits down across from her, his hands in his lap, wringing. "Why did you come here?" In reply she stands up and moves slowly about the room, pulling plugs, flipping switches, stopping pendulums, quieting the clocks, one by one, until there is the single ticking of a great old grandfather clock in the far corner. She opens its case and, hands determined, stops the heavy brass pendulum. The room is silent then, and the sudden sound of rain starts against the windows, the drops sliding down the glass as she sits beside him.

127


The Importance ofSetting

T h e

I m p o r t a n c e

O f

S e t t i n g LisaWeckerle

hispers came pouring in, words overlapping, sentences I strangled by the paragraphs they found. Moments of calm I were imagined, and with difficulty. Clarity sometimes peeked its head from beneath the covers, but the whirling touched its tender nose and it sank back into itself, wounded. But wouldn't it be nice if the thing would write itself? I, only following, but there's no light. Why won't you take up the match? I will not take up the match. I will wait here. I can outwait you in the darkness. You need the light more than me. She walked along as if drawn by a string... No. No, she walked as if she were playing the piano with her footsteps and each note was deliberate; she was not composing, she was not even sight reading. This was a well-memorized recital piece she was walking. So well-memorized she did not even hear it anymore. Her fingers were what she had trained, not her ear. She was confident in her playing, confident and joyless. For what joy can come from watching something fall into place as you know it will? The joy comes from the surprise, from remembering the note a second too late, leaving the anxious syncopated pause. The thrill of forgetting, completely independent of the relief of remembering. For in forgetting some notes, you realize that you have been remembering the others. But she was not forgetting, her playing was haunting in its surety, well-buried in comfortable monotony. 128

I would like to tell you that she was walking along the beach. That is what I set out to tell you. I thought I could take a trite but loaded setting and put someone in it and start to figure her out and wait for a story to emerge. I wanted her to be looking at the moon and stars and remembering and wondering. I wanted her to have insight and tragedy and pain and, most importantly, consciousness of all these things that she possessed. I think I secredy wanted her to be in love or obsessively waiting for love, but I wouldn't have forced it on her. I wanted her to exist and do as she pleased, just so long as she let me into her thoughts. Just a glimpse of someone else's internal monologue... I would have taken such good care of her. I loved her before she was born, you know. I had the ability to give her whatever she wanted. Of course, one should let the character suffer over her choices for a time. Otherwise the choice has no significance. The choices must evolve and seem impossible to achieve, so that when she grasps her dreams, she feels something between her fingers. I would not have given anything to her in the first chapters, the delayed gratification would have been for her own good—not merely the constrained and insisted upon pattern most prevalent in literature at this time. Perhaps I am selfish because I wanted her to suffer a little, but even that is really no excuse for what she did. I first saw her at an angle, an aerial perspective—me perched afar on jagged rocks, she far below on crusty sand. I dressed her in a flowing gauze robe—half ghost and half bride. She walked carelessly, letting her feet squash the sand. Then in my mind's eye, I saw her eyes. I was inches away from her; I was close enough to kiss her. I was too close, I suppose, so close that all I saw were those blurry eyes so full of what they saw in front of them—which was not me. So I went back to my rock and thought about her eyes. I was pleased with them—they were appropriately fraught with indiscernible emotion, precluding any description of the eyes in terms of aesthetics—the meaning was too clear to allow them to be something so frivolous as pretty. As I said, I went back to my rock and I watched her. Thought about what directions she would go in. A blank character. With all the world in front of her. I was jealous, I suppose. Lately, I felt my life had been written too much, I missed the delicious terror of blank pages. 129


The Importance ofSetting

T h e

I m p o r t a n c e

O f

S e t t i n g LisaWeckerle

hispers came pouring in, words overlapping, sentences I strangled by the paragraphs they found. Moments of calm I were imagined, and with difficulty. Clarity sometimes peeked its head from beneath the covers, but the whirling touched its tender nose and it sank back into itself, wounded. But wouldn't it be nice if the thing would write itself? I, only following, but there's no light. Why won't you take up the match? I will not take up the match. I will wait here. I can outwait you in the darkness. You need the light more than me. She walked along as if drawn by a string... No. No, she walked as if she were playing the piano with her footsteps and each note was deliberate; she was not composing, she was not even sight reading. This was a well-memorized recital piece she was walking. So well-memorized she did not even hear it anymore. Her fingers were what she had trained, not her ear. She was confident in her playing, confident and joyless. For what joy can come from watching something fall into place as you know it will? The joy comes from the surprise, from remembering the note a second too late, leaving the anxious syncopated pause. The thrill of forgetting, completely independent of the relief of remembering. For in forgetting some notes, you realize that you have been remembering the others. But she was not forgetting, her playing was haunting in its surety, well-buried in comfortable monotony. 128

I would like to tell you that she was walking along the beach. That is what I set out to tell you. I thought I could take a trite but loaded setting and put someone in it and start to figure her out and wait for a story to emerge. I wanted her to be looking at the moon and stars and remembering and wondering. I wanted her to have insight and tragedy and pain and, most importantly, consciousness of all these things that she possessed. I think I secredy wanted her to be in love or obsessively waiting for love, but I wouldn't have forced it on her. I wanted her to exist and do as she pleased, just so long as she let me into her thoughts. Just a glimpse of someone else's internal monologue... I would have taken such good care of her. I loved her before she was born, you know. I had the ability to give her whatever she wanted. Of course, one should let the character suffer over her choices for a time. Otherwise the choice has no significance. The choices must evolve and seem impossible to achieve, so that when she grasps her dreams, she feels something between her fingers. I would not have given anything to her in the first chapters, the delayed gratification would have been for her own good—not merely the constrained and insisted upon pattern most prevalent in literature at this time. Perhaps I am selfish because I wanted her to suffer a little, but even that is really no excuse for what she did. I first saw her at an angle, an aerial perspective—me perched afar on jagged rocks, she far below on crusty sand. I dressed her in a flowing gauze robe—half ghost and half bride. She walked carelessly, letting her feet squash the sand. Then in my mind's eye, I saw her eyes. I was inches away from her; I was close enough to kiss her. I was too close, I suppose, so close that all I saw were those blurry eyes so full of what they saw in front of them—which was not me. So I went back to my rock and thought about her eyes. I was pleased with them—they were appropriately fraught with indiscernible emotion, precluding any description of the eyes in terms of aesthetics—the meaning was too clear to allow them to be something so frivolous as pretty. As I said, I went back to my rock and I watched her. Thought about what directions she would go in. A blank character. With all the world in front of her. I was jealous, I suppose. Lately, I felt my life had been written too much, I missed the delicious terror of blank pages. 129


Berkeley Fiction Review I was breathless as I watched her walking. She took deliberate ballerina steps in the shells. She was thinking about something. I had to figure out what she was thinking and put it down on paper. Invade her private musings. I would give her life and she would give me the story I have always been waiting for. The story that people would read, and fall in love with, and want to live inside. The kind of story you read over and over, pretending you don't know what will happen, even though you do. Wanting to capture that first feeling of the story closing in around you, like a shrinking skin, which squeezes something out of you that you haven't felt in years. But nothing could prepare me for what she did next. I watched helpless on the rock, tentative and curious about which direction she would take. She could have stepped left or right, into the arms of a prince; she could have gone mad and rolled in the sand until it clumped up her hair and gown; she could have walked back to her old life, or fled to her new one. I was drunk on the vertigo of what might happen next. Her tiny feet pointed their way to the ocean. She breathed a sigh of relief as the surf brushed her ankles. She turned away from me, so I could not see her face, just the scarves flurrying in the gales of the storm. They must have been whipping at her face, slapping her with sand and salt. She must have felt some pain, but she did not react. Instead she walked calmly forward into the water, the scarves hectic like tentacles around her. She was walking into the ocean, I realized. She would keep walking along the bottom of the sea, until her lungs filled up with snails and sand and seaweed. Until the tiny carcass-feeding fish had nibbled her eye sockets clean. This was her will, not her fate. I wanted to call out to her, to ask her why, to change her mind. But I was only her painter; I could give her shape and form and tone and shadow, but the language of her movement was hers. And she moved into the sea, drawn by some voice of her own imagining. I watched the water lap up her sides, licking her limbs, swallowing her hair, until all I could see was the last tentacle of her veil tremble in the wind for one frozen moment before it disappeared with her hair and her eyes and her untold stories, beneath the surface, where she would not let me follow.

130


Berkeley Fiction Review I was breathless as I watched her walking. She took deliberate ballerina steps in the shells. She was thinking about something. I had to figure out what she was thinking and put it down on paper. Invade her private musings. I would give her life and she would give me the story I have always been waiting for. The story that people would read, and fall in love with, and want to live inside. The kind of story you read over and over, pretending you don't know what will happen, even though you do. Wanting to capture that first feeling of the story closing in around you, like a shrinking skin, which squeezes something out of you that you haven't felt in years. But nothing could prepare me for what she did next. I watched helpless on the rock, tentative and curious about which direction she would take. She could have stepped left or right, into the arms of a prince; she could have gone mad and rolled in the sand until it clumped up her hair and gown; she could have walked back to her old life, or fled to her new one. I was drunk on the vertigo of what might happen next. Her tiny feet pointed their way to the ocean. She breathed a sigh of relief as the surf brushed her ankles. She turned away from me, so I could not see her face, just the scarves flurrying in the gales of the storm. They must have been whipping at her face, slapping her with sand and salt. She must have felt some pain, but she did not react. Instead she walked calmly forward into the water, the scarves hectic like tentacles around her. She was walking into the ocean, I realized. She would keep walking along the bottom of the sea, until her lungs filled up with snails and sand and seaweed. Until the tiny carcass-feeding fish had nibbled her eye sockets clean. This was her will, not her fate. I wanted to call out to her, to ask her why, to change her mind. But I was only her painter; I could give her shape and form and tone and shadow, but the language of her movement was hers. And she moved into the sea, drawn by some voice of her own imagining. I watched the water lap up her sides, licking her limbs, swallowing her hair, until all I could see was the last tentacle of her veil tremble in the wind for one frozen moment before it disappeared with her hair and her eyes and her untold stories, beneath the surface, where she would not let me follow.

130


Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

Karen An-hwei lee

ou are unfamiliar with the poetics of death as space. You look in the living room, in the light of blackened I sunflowers enormous with death. At last you find her where she has always been, quietly brooming a white moth out of your life, yes, a place she has prepared for you, lighting an obscure candle over the water, a means to suicide. In winter, the well-watered mountains occupy our conversation, filling us up with earthy compressions, with frankness, gentle isolation, covering our humble groves. Pivotal is the point, V. V says the irresistible scent of an egg draws sperm. Since the time of her conception, V has dreamed that her father stands by a river, urinating black ink running to the sea, filling her mother's silence. We write on many things. On blooms. O n photosynthesis. On dead matter in the river. On rootless plants. On orchids. On manifestos. V's father rubs his thighs in the other room, his lust a white fungus frilled as a little girl's skirts filled with her father's semen. Opening your hands you tell me, diamonds are made from thirst, streams 132

infields of blue ground, or in pipes resembling throats of extinct volcanoes. You break blue ground from below, crushing to sift for gems flawless of pores, free of fissures. V is under her father. There is an odor in the room, like bitter parsley leaves. The trees in winter are stump-like, tumors, a man's appurtenances for life. As soon as the leaves are picked, they are covered with sheeting and left for a day. V boils water and brings a tray. On it she places a pair of scissors, sandalwood and bactericide, a cloth. V makes the castration tea. It is green and black, only partly fermented. Dark leaves settle in her dreams at the bottom of her body, flavoring the place where water and desire vanish. V Her father's hand dips inside, crooked V of loose cotton. Iodine lies next to her father's sleeping spirits. I have also seen tomato roots, potato eyes, nightshade poison. Belladonna. She is only eight. She does not yet even know any words that begin with V, other than her own name, and vanish, and very. She knows it only as a very private place, a place of two p's, her abbreviated understanding. It is my lack he desires, she says. Granular gold, the first ovulation passes like a shadow unnoticed, unremarkable. One imagines a day in late April when this shadow passes, when V is still lean in drained ground. Continents drift beneath glass and earth, only two solids that flow. The two coasts will come together as sure as your pockets fill with leaves and ash. What are rose hips? I ask. Chinese women's legs are fat white radishes. Then I'm only half a radish, I retort. And you're a bengua toh, you have a cucumber shoved in your brains.

133


Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

Karen An-hwei lee

ou are unfamiliar with the poetics of death as space. You look in the living room, in the light of blackened I sunflowers enormous with death. At last you find her where she has always been, quietly brooming a white moth out of your life, yes, a place she has prepared for you, lighting an obscure candle over the water, a means to suicide. In winter, the well-watered mountains occupy our conversation, filling us up with earthy compressions, with frankness, gentle isolation, covering our humble groves. Pivotal is the point, V. V says the irresistible scent of an egg draws sperm. Since the time of her conception, V has dreamed that her father stands by a river, urinating black ink running to the sea, filling her mother's silence. We write on many things. On blooms. O n photosynthesis. On dead matter in the river. On rootless plants. On orchids. On manifestos. V's father rubs his thighs in the other room, his lust a white fungus frilled as a little girl's skirts filled with her father's semen. Opening your hands you tell me, diamonds are made from thirst, streams 132

infields of blue ground, or in pipes resembling throats of extinct volcanoes. You break blue ground from below, crushing to sift for gems flawless of pores, free of fissures. V is under her father. There is an odor in the room, like bitter parsley leaves. The trees in winter are stump-like, tumors, a man's appurtenances for life. As soon as the leaves are picked, they are covered with sheeting and left for a day. V boils water and brings a tray. On it she places a pair of scissors, sandalwood and bactericide, a cloth. V makes the castration tea. It is green and black, only partly fermented. Dark leaves settle in her dreams at the bottom of her body, flavoring the place where water and desire vanish. V Her father's hand dips inside, crooked V of loose cotton. Iodine lies next to her father's sleeping spirits. I have also seen tomato roots, potato eyes, nightshade poison. Belladonna. She is only eight. She does not yet even know any words that begin with V, other than her own name, and vanish, and very. She knows it only as a very private place, a place of two p's, her abbreviated understanding. It is my lack he desires, she says. Granular gold, the first ovulation passes like a shadow unnoticed, unremarkable. One imagines a day in late April when this shadow passes, when V is still lean in drained ground. Continents drift beneath glass and earth, only two solids that flow. The two coasts will come together as sure as your pockets fill with leaves and ash. What are rose hips? I ask. Chinese women's legs are fat white radishes. Then I'm only half a radish, I retort. And you're a bengua toh, you have a cucumber shoved in your brains.

133


Berkeley Fiction Review In death, her innocence is fresh water rising everywhere, indiscriminately—it hums in all places, hunting out thirst, and carries with it the colors of its fallen creation. It is a whole fiction floating on alcohol, you write. A transparent poison burning years, seraph flaming in a nervous system sensitive at the depth of one hundred pages. The mons of V, sumptuously small, an inverted modest pine, is not aligned with the rest of her body. But in her smallness and crookedness, it is not cold. She lets her hair down and ties it up again. Salmon slain from wayward roads of living sea, freshly bled, are sweeter in her arms, on her inner thighs, under soles, on the stippled small of her back, wherever I wish, wherever my fancy pleases me, with gentlest restraint there, delectable, a succulence. It could kill. I could catch it. Tinctured with ammonia, scent of pleasure. I could catch something.

Seaports of fear form in my body as trees, your tactile nerve endings, alight. Dead seas long ago divined themselves on you. It takes a certain abstinence to appreciate the brittle rose. Your loins have shriveled up, a wasted piece. Your body disposed. Your winter minima, decreasing bone density. Where the city is in shadow, where the women sleep in the river, V claims she has taken many lovers since, but she forgets the names, she confuses the details, she has yet to see one not fictional. Here is the distortion of my inner ear from diving deep* to greet her. My voyeur, voyeuse.

It was raining lightly, evening. She was walking down the street in short shagreen heels with her umbrella and empty bottles of XO. She sobbed, hurled the bottles against streetlights, sidewalks, the cars in sickened roads, pot-ridden and rain-stricken, aching like a madwoman well-acquainted with the cruel valences of the city. Venus de Milo? Vituperative? Vas deferens? Vasectomy? Vendetta? Viceroy? What about eviscerate? Vanadium? Vagina dentata? Vox Dei? Volvox? Venereal disease? Virginia? A woman's name? A title, a very hidden essence, the Ravishing of LolStein, of Lol V Stein? Is it vanishing? Vanity? A void? Under cold waters, a giant thallus feeds without roots or flowers or true leaves in a dark grove littered with creatures pure of nerve and sin. There, her father sits at a table, snapping up winter fish with clicking bone sticks. The river we grew up with carries oil and cadavers and drowned carts, tinted centuries of stone, a man's grotesqueries tightening in his hands. 134

135


Berkeley Fiction Review In death, her innocence is fresh water rising everywhere, indiscriminately—it hums in all places, hunting out thirst, and carries with it the colors of its fallen creation. It is a whole fiction floating on alcohol, you write. A transparent poison burning years, seraph flaming in a nervous system sensitive at the depth of one hundred pages. The mons of V, sumptuously small, an inverted modest pine, is not aligned with the rest of her body. But in her smallness and crookedness, it is not cold. She lets her hair down and ties it up again. Salmon slain from wayward roads of living sea, freshly bled, are sweeter in her arms, on her inner thighs, under soles, on the stippled small of her back, wherever I wish, wherever my fancy pleases me, with gentlest restraint there, delectable, a succulence. It could kill. I could catch it. Tinctured with ammonia, scent of pleasure. I could catch something.

Seaports of fear form in my body as trees, your tactile nerve endings, alight. Dead seas long ago divined themselves on you. It takes a certain abstinence to appreciate the brittle rose. Your loins have shriveled up, a wasted piece. Your body disposed. Your winter minima, decreasing bone density. Where the city is in shadow, where the women sleep in the river, V claims she has taken many lovers since, but she forgets the names, she confuses the details, she has yet to see one not fictional. Here is the distortion of my inner ear from diving deep* to greet her. My voyeur, voyeuse.

It was raining lightly, evening. She was walking down the street in short shagreen heels with her umbrella and empty bottles of XO. She sobbed, hurled the bottles against streetlights, sidewalks, the cars in sickened roads, pot-ridden and rain-stricken, aching like a madwoman well-acquainted with the cruel valences of the city. Venus de Milo? Vituperative? Vas deferens? Vasectomy? Vendetta? Viceroy? What about eviscerate? Vanadium? Vagina dentata? Vox Dei? Volvox? Venereal disease? Virginia? A woman's name? A title, a very hidden essence, the Ravishing of LolStein, of Lol V Stein? Is it vanishing? Vanity? A void? Under cold waters, a giant thallus feeds without roots or flowers or true leaves in a dark grove littered with creatures pure of nerve and sin. There, her father sits at a table, snapping up winter fish with clicking bone sticks. The river we grew up with carries oil and cadavers and drowned carts, tinted centuries of stone, a man's grotesqueries tightening in his hands. 134

135


Beautiful Flower

Beautiful

F l o w e r

DeWitt Henry

O N SELF-IMMOLATION

!*

Somehow alien, another world, another history, religion, character, culture. Human, but not us, not me. Maybe one or two monks here too, on monument steps, I can't recall. But do recall, from the news, a student's immolation on Amherst Common, the same Common where 25 years earlier, I had, with drunken fraternity brothers, children of the 1950s, crowded in the city's Christmas Kresh, like a wiseman, hiding from a police cruiser. Ubi sunt: Where are they, my friends, Tim Colvin (who later died of a drug overdose in his adman's swank Manhattan apartment), David Lahm (jazz composer and pianist), Dave Hamilton (teacher, essayist, editor), Jim Goldberg (technical writer, one-time Columbia University rioter and activist, who never finished his thesis on Matthew Arnold). "Amherst Common," indeed, given supposed potential and privilege in common. At our 25 t h class reunion: doctors, lawyers, teachers, financiers. A carpenter or two. The self-disappointed fail to show.

I have watched snuff films, the ultimate pornography; the idea of which is a verifiable, undeniable extremity, the viewer guilty of witness, if not of being an accessory after the fact. Increasingly graphic special effects have heightened our appetites for the literal. There is no faking a knife in the chest, not a real knife, a real chest. No faking a bullet. No faking the astonishment and terror of the victim. No faking strangulation and the death afterwards. Mean exasperation with the fake, strike through the mask. Faking orgasm, yes. The male ejaculation on the female stomach for us all to see, we know that is real. But the female, who will ever know? And it matters, whether what we imagine and witness is real or is pretending.

What is a life's passion? I think of another classmate, Jon Rohde, working class background, regular guy, athlete, beer drinker, but a grind too, an uncompromising learner; married Candy from Mount Holyoke just after graduation, went on to Harvard Medical, two daughters, dedicated himself for years in a research lab in Dhaka, East Pakistan, fighting cholera; relief work in India; taught medicine in rural Central Java; then to a post in Haiti in 1980, charged with "helping to develop"— he writes in our reunion book— "a nationwide rural health care delivery system...then, it all came unglued as Duvalier was deposed...Haiti, the nation ofJob"; back to India as Advisor to UNICEF, USAID and other agencies working with child health.

The same, somehow, is true of mortal self-sacrifice. I hate war. I hate the powers, almost beyond understanding, who propagate war. I could spend a lifetime, like Bertrand Russell, expressing my hatred in words: but would you heed them? Would anyone heed them?

Here is Evan Fraser, Amherst class of 1988, a sophomore, dreaming of a just society. Son of the Chairman of the English Department, University of Northern Florida. He came to Amherst on a merit scholarship. He wrote his high school English teacher, Rose Dufresne, that he sought with his life to express a brilliance that would stun the eye, so the image would linger. Five feet, six inches, 140 pounds, white male, reads the Town of Amherst Police report. No evidence of drug possession or use. Interviews with students, teachers, and neighbors determined that he was a "normal, young man," "decent," "earnest

Accustomed enough to newsreels. The Buddhist monk in saffron, calmly cross-legged, hands on knees, as the flames sear and bloom, until finally, losing consciousness, he tilts and topples, consumed. How many in protest of the Viet Nam war? But there, in Asia, on temple steps. 136

137


Beautiful Flower

Beautiful

F l o w e r

DeWitt Henry

O N SELF-IMMOLATION

!*

Somehow alien, another world, another history, religion, character, culture. Human, but not us, not me. Maybe one or two monks here too, on monument steps, I can't recall. But do recall, from the news, a student's immolation on Amherst Common, the same Common where 25 years earlier, I had, with drunken fraternity brothers, children of the 1950s, crowded in the city's Christmas Kresh, like a wiseman, hiding from a police cruiser. Ubi sunt: Where are they, my friends, Tim Colvin (who later died of a drug overdose in his adman's swank Manhattan apartment), David Lahm (jazz composer and pianist), Dave Hamilton (teacher, essayist, editor), Jim Goldberg (technical writer, one-time Columbia University rioter and activist, who never finished his thesis on Matthew Arnold). "Amherst Common," indeed, given supposed potential and privilege in common. At our 25 t h class reunion: doctors, lawyers, teachers, financiers. A carpenter or two. The self-disappointed fail to show.

I have watched snuff films, the ultimate pornography; the idea of which is a verifiable, undeniable extremity, the viewer guilty of witness, if not of being an accessory after the fact. Increasingly graphic special effects have heightened our appetites for the literal. There is no faking a knife in the chest, not a real knife, a real chest. No faking a bullet. No faking the astonishment and terror of the victim. No faking strangulation and the death afterwards. Mean exasperation with the fake, strike through the mask. Faking orgasm, yes. The male ejaculation on the female stomach for us all to see, we know that is real. But the female, who will ever know? And it matters, whether what we imagine and witness is real or is pretending.

What is a life's passion? I think of another classmate, Jon Rohde, working class background, regular guy, athlete, beer drinker, but a grind too, an uncompromising learner; married Candy from Mount Holyoke just after graduation, went on to Harvard Medical, two daughters, dedicated himself for years in a research lab in Dhaka, East Pakistan, fighting cholera; relief work in India; taught medicine in rural Central Java; then to a post in Haiti in 1980, charged with "helping to develop"— he writes in our reunion book— "a nationwide rural health care delivery system...then, it all came unglued as Duvalier was deposed...Haiti, the nation ofJob"; back to India as Advisor to UNICEF, USAID and other agencies working with child health.

The same, somehow, is true of mortal self-sacrifice. I hate war. I hate the powers, almost beyond understanding, who propagate war. I could spend a lifetime, like Bertrand Russell, expressing my hatred in words: but would you heed them? Would anyone heed them?

Here is Evan Fraser, Amherst class of 1988, a sophomore, dreaming of a just society. Son of the Chairman of the English Department, University of Northern Florida. He came to Amherst on a merit scholarship. He wrote his high school English teacher, Rose Dufresne, that he sought with his life to express a brilliance that would stun the eye, so the image would linger. Five feet, six inches, 140 pounds, white male, reads the Town of Amherst Police report. No evidence of drug possession or use. Interviews with students, teachers, and neighbors determined that he was a "normal, young man," "decent," "earnest

Accustomed enough to newsreels. The Buddhist monk in saffron, calmly cross-legged, hands on knees, as the flames sear and bloom, until finally, losing consciousness, he tilts and topples, consumed. How many in protest of the Viet Nam war? But there, in Asia, on temple steps. 136

137


Beautiful Flower

Berkeley Fiction Review student," "good sense of humor." He lived in an apartment offcampus, where other student renters saw him working hard, riding his motorcycle. He was survived by an older brother and sister. Mother died when he was fifteen. Father baffled. The message, the letter left for friends, society, the world: "I am Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi. Love one another." Long run first, perhaps. Wonder at this world, this envelope. The shower, scalding, then cold. Skin glowing. Shaving. The layered, cotton clothing in 80 degree heat. Save the Whales tee shirt. Heavy socks. The five gallon can, heavy, sloshing. The rehearsals and viewings of news clips over and over. Saturate the grass first. Heavy can over head, after the clothes have been soaked. Sting in eyes, bitter on lips, fumes, cough, breathing. Cloth heavy with wetness. Quick before anyone realizes or can interfere. Intensity of purpose, graceful, efficiency of movement. Like ablution. Flic the Bic. It sears like hunger sears, like birth, like bursting bones, like impotence before the earthquake or the tidal wave. The pain is other, tangible, enemy and lover, engrossing, intimate. A corridor. A tunnel that I shoulder through, breathess and gasping. But then sheer vision, faith.

II. ETERNE IN MUTIBILITY Recorded lifetimes, stop-time photos, sped up after ninety years, so the faces morph like unfurling, then withering flowers, all in three minutes... The immolater, one subject of this study, needs to be slowed down in order to match the rhythm of the others; his twenty-two years ending in the stop frame, now, of two minutes, slow motioning his lighting the Bic, the flame itself like a bud, a flower unfurling, and then the bloom of fire slowly wrapping him around like a silken, bright robe, or even garlands blooming, something fragile, fragrant and soft, his face dissolving and melting, as all others melt at other speeds, within the liquidity, the pouring and the light.

138 i !

An audience of fifty watches, ranging themselves in age from twentytwo to sixty, and evenly divided in gender, race, class, religion, and sexual orientation. After the fifty cases, result of a lifetime's experiment in film, the lights come up. Most in the audience are weeping, some are laughing, two, one fifty-two-year-old male, one twenty-six-year-old female, at extreme distances, up front and to the side, in back, are heedlessly masturbating. The rest are uneasily silent, denying and believing that they have seen anything yet, when will the show begin? They stare ahead stubbornly, expectantly, ignoring even the others as somehow rude, embarrassing, invisible.

III. A LECTURE O N LIEBENTOT He stands before his 15 th annual class in Shakespearian Tragedy. "Liebentot," he says to the thirteen faces, bright, young faces, college juniors, though sleepy and hung over this Tuesday, "dying for love. How do we understand this? Tristan and Isolde? Dido for Aeneas? Romeo for Juliet (the dope); Juliet for Romeo? Othello for Desdemona? Antony for Cleopatra, and then a whole act later, Cleopatra, with the asp sucking its mistress asleep? 'Husband I come!' What is this? Jonestown?" And you, you Ms. Bright one, Ms. Mystery, YOU say: "Not Jonestown. Just proof. Proof of eternal devotion. Most lovers die one day at a time, like alcoholics stay sober. The silver, the golden anniversary. There's our proof, whatever they may think they mean themselves; they mean what they do. The deed in living, like those gison statues that Leonard Baskin did on the Smith College campus. Let attention be paid. Not kings and princes, memorialized for their nobility on burial caskets. But a steelworker, a miner...beer belly distended, naked, noble too in his selfsacrifice, his daily endurance, his lifetime's act of love—" or perhaps, you sneer, "his failure of imagination." I wait and you go on. "One day at a time, like an alcoholic staying sober. Down all the days, adding up. A marriage, a career, a life's meaning. For the tragic characters, that's all sped up. The same passion, less time." I pull a little rank: "Dying in Shakespeare's time was a pun, based on the idea that everytime you had an orgasm you took a day from the end of your life. The act of love, then, was a bargain, maybe a good one, maybe a bad, for intensity at 139


Beautiful Flower

Berkeley Fiction Review student," "good sense of humor." He lived in an apartment offcampus, where other student renters saw him working hard, riding his motorcycle. He was survived by an older brother and sister. Mother died when he was fifteen. Father baffled. The message, the letter left for friends, society, the world: "I am Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi. Love one another." Long run first, perhaps. Wonder at this world, this envelope. The shower, scalding, then cold. Skin glowing. Shaving. The layered, cotton clothing in 80 degree heat. Save the Whales tee shirt. Heavy socks. The five gallon can, heavy, sloshing. The rehearsals and viewings of news clips over and over. Saturate the grass first. Heavy can over head, after the clothes have been soaked. Sting in eyes, bitter on lips, fumes, cough, breathing. Cloth heavy with wetness. Quick before anyone realizes or can interfere. Intensity of purpose, graceful, efficiency of movement. Like ablution. Flic the Bic. It sears like hunger sears, like birth, like bursting bones, like impotence before the earthquake or the tidal wave. The pain is other, tangible, enemy and lover, engrossing, intimate. A corridor. A tunnel that I shoulder through, breathess and gasping. But then sheer vision, faith.

II. ETERNE IN MUTIBILITY Recorded lifetimes, stop-time photos, sped up after ninety years, so the faces morph like unfurling, then withering flowers, all in three minutes... The immolater, one subject of this study, needs to be slowed down in order to match the rhythm of the others; his twenty-two years ending in the stop frame, now, of two minutes, slow motioning his lighting the Bic, the flame itself like a bud, a flower unfurling, and then the bloom of fire slowly wrapping him around like a silken, bright robe, or even garlands blooming, something fragile, fragrant and soft, his face dissolving and melting, as all others melt at other speeds, within the liquidity, the pouring and the light.

138 i !

An audience of fifty watches, ranging themselves in age from twentytwo to sixty, and evenly divided in gender, race, class, religion, and sexual orientation. After the fifty cases, result of a lifetime's experiment in film, the lights come up. Most in the audience are weeping, some are laughing, two, one fifty-two-year-old male, one twenty-six-year-old female, at extreme distances, up front and to the side, in back, are heedlessly masturbating. The rest are uneasily silent, denying and believing that they have seen anything yet, when will the show begin? They stare ahead stubbornly, expectantly, ignoring even the others as somehow rude, embarrassing, invisible.

III. A LECTURE O N LIEBENTOT He stands before his 15 th annual class in Shakespearian Tragedy. "Liebentot," he says to the thirteen faces, bright, young faces, college juniors, though sleepy and hung over this Tuesday, "dying for love. How do we understand this? Tristan and Isolde? Dido for Aeneas? Romeo for Juliet (the dope); Juliet for Romeo? Othello for Desdemona? Antony for Cleopatra, and then a whole act later, Cleopatra, with the asp sucking its mistress asleep? 'Husband I come!' What is this? Jonestown?" And you, you Ms. Bright one, Ms. Mystery, YOU say: "Not Jonestown. Just proof. Proof of eternal devotion. Most lovers die one day at a time, like alcoholics stay sober. The silver, the golden anniversary. There's our proof, whatever they may think they mean themselves; they mean what they do. The deed in living, like those gison statues that Leonard Baskin did on the Smith College campus. Let attention be paid. Not kings and princes, memorialized for their nobility on burial caskets. But a steelworker, a miner...beer belly distended, naked, noble too in his selfsacrifice, his daily endurance, his lifetime's act of love—" or perhaps, you sneer, "his failure of imagination." I wait and you go on. "One day at a time, like an alcoholic staying sober. Down all the days, adding up. A marriage, a career, a life's meaning. For the tragic characters, that's all sped up. The same passion, less time." I pull a little rank: "Dying in Shakespeare's time was a pun, based on the idea that everytime you had an orgasm you took a day from the end of your life. The act of love, then, was a bargain, maybe a good one, maybe a bad, for intensity at 139


Beautiful Flower

Berkeley Fiction Review the expense of longevity." YOU, you Ms. Bright, to be honest, you scare me. Maybe as much as Shakespeare scares those boys in back, the ones who, at Lear's entrance with Cordelia dead in his arms, start barking like dogs, "Howl! Howl! Arf! Bow-wow! Woof! Howl!" I tell them, "Guys, guys.. .you are giggling, wisecracking and whistling in the dark, like virgins in a whorehouse..."

V. NEW ENGLAND FALL, THIS YEAR

IV ONTOGENY RECAPITULATES PHYLOGENY?

VI. SOMETHING RESISTS

"An animal in its individual development passes through a series of constructive stages like those in the evolutionary development of the race to which it belongs..." (Haaeckel's biogenic law, 1868).

Something will not burn. King Nebuchadnezzar cast Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego into the burning fiery furnace but this was God's showmanship, the clincher, preserving flesh from fire: "the hair of their heads was not singed, their mantles were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them." Then there is purgatory, holy fires cleansing to essence. "I lean forward over my clasped hands and stare into thefire,"says Dante, "thinking of human bodies I once saw burned, and once more see them there." One dreams that faith itself preserves. To imagine burning is not to burn.

Primordial soup. Thick and slab. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Blake: "Eternity rolled wide apart/wide assunder rolling." Complex protein. Protozoa, four billion years ago. Sperm swarm, tail churn. Nature's germains. The single penetration, egg ignites. DNA. Chromosomes. Cells divide, divide. Germinal to embryonic. Three billion years, future in the instant. Cambrian is gill arches. Placenta sea. My mother is a fish. Blake: "The globe of life blood trembled/ Branching out into roots/ Fibrous, writhing upon the winds." Now inner ear and neck, cartilage of larynx. Tail emerges, disappears. Zygote into embryo. Ordovician. Four hundred million years. Third moon, cartilage to bone. Fourth moon, heart forms; fifth mpon, ears, eyes, arms, and legs. Embryo to fetus. Mesozoic. Jurassic. Two hundred million years ago. Sixth moon, early primates. Skeleton visible. Sex organs distinct. Translucent skin. Eyelashes. Eyebrows. Body movements. Seventh moon, survival outside womb probable. Pleistocene. Homo erectus. Neanderthal. Hundred thousand years ago. Holocene. Weight gain. Increased activity in kidneys, heart. Ninth moon, fetus to newborn. You. Me.

My fifty-sixth autumn, yet still craning to peer through my windshield, then out of my open driver's window,' I stare with disbelief at the colors, the crimson glow, leaves lit by sunlight, against the deep blue of the sky.

I ask you, now? The miracle, the life. The person out of the person, body from the body, flesh from flesh, crying we come forth. Time itself, apocalypse; ignition; adam tp atom; all existence in the flash.

140

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Beautiful Flower

Berkeley Fiction Review the expense of longevity." YOU, you Ms. Bright, to be honest, you scare me. Maybe as much as Shakespeare scares those boys in back, the ones who, at Lear's entrance with Cordelia dead in his arms, start barking like dogs, "Howl! Howl! Arf! Bow-wow! Woof! Howl!" I tell them, "Guys, guys.. .you are giggling, wisecracking and whistling in the dark, like virgins in a whorehouse..."

V. NEW ENGLAND FALL, THIS YEAR

IV ONTOGENY RECAPITULATES PHYLOGENY?

VI. SOMETHING RESISTS

"An animal in its individual development passes through a series of constructive stages like those in the evolutionary development of the race to which it belongs..." (Haaeckel's biogenic law, 1868).

Something will not burn. King Nebuchadnezzar cast Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego into the burning fiery furnace but this was God's showmanship, the clincher, preserving flesh from fire: "the hair of their heads was not singed, their mantles were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them." Then there is purgatory, holy fires cleansing to essence. "I lean forward over my clasped hands and stare into thefire,"says Dante, "thinking of human bodies I once saw burned, and once more see them there." One dreams that faith itself preserves. To imagine burning is not to burn.

Primordial soup. Thick and slab. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Blake: "Eternity rolled wide apart/wide assunder rolling." Complex protein. Protozoa, four billion years ago. Sperm swarm, tail churn. Nature's germains. The single penetration, egg ignites. DNA. Chromosomes. Cells divide, divide. Germinal to embryonic. Three billion years, future in the instant. Cambrian is gill arches. Placenta sea. My mother is a fish. Blake: "The globe of life blood trembled/ Branching out into roots/ Fibrous, writhing upon the winds." Now inner ear and neck, cartilage of larynx. Tail emerges, disappears. Zygote into embryo. Ordovician. Four hundred million years. Third moon, cartilage to bone. Fourth moon, heart forms; fifth mpon, ears, eyes, arms, and legs. Embryo to fetus. Mesozoic. Jurassic. Two hundred million years ago. Sixth moon, early primates. Skeleton visible. Sex organs distinct. Translucent skin. Eyelashes. Eyebrows. Body movements. Seventh moon, survival outside womb probable. Pleistocene. Homo erectus. Neanderthal. Hundred thousand years ago. Holocene. Weight gain. Increased activity in kidneys, heart. Ninth moon, fetus to newborn. You. Me.

My fifty-sixth autumn, yet still craning to peer through my windshield, then out of my open driver's window,' I stare with disbelief at the colors, the crimson glow, leaves lit by sunlight, against the deep blue of the sky.

I ask you, now? The miracle, the life. The person out of the person, body from the body, flesh from flesh, crying we come forth. Time itself, apocalypse; ignition; adam tp atom; all existence in the flash.

140

141


m

m

O l d

M o u t h

Caleb Smith

•J*$i

H i

^f"-m

e have heard this story, it has made its way around to us, grown more flesh and bite in its passing from mouth to ear, been absorbed, digested, and then come spilling out again, from new mouth. We are feeling troubled these days with the story coming to life and creeping around among us. We are old and tired, we do not hear so well as we once did, though our mouths with new teeth are as strong as ever. It ought to be told in some other language, we think—it ought to be spoken in some remote and musical dialect, without one syllable in common with the speech or thought of Chester Krieley, or of his boy Bobby Lee, or even of, we say, Duke Phelps— some other way of telling, we imagine, might carry along a little less of its, the story's, spit and blood, but we have among us only this one tongue. The Krieley couple have lived, since their marriage, in a house not unlike our own, whose outside walls are sided with aluminum and which sits in the middle of a stretch of yellowed grass in the late summer, this time of year. We all live close enough to each other and far away from anyone else. We are thirty miles from what might be called a city. Both of them grew up here, courted through high school, and married soon after. We used to watch them, in the first days of their marriage, when they sat out on their porch together, and he lit cigarettes and swallowed down the smoke, then let it come curling slowly from his throat, and she closed her eyes and puckered her strawberry mouth and breathed it down. This sharing of smoke was something we had not seen before. 143


m

m

O l d

M o u t h

Caleb Smith

•J*$i

H i

^f"-m

e have heard this story, it has made its way around to us, grown more flesh and bite in its passing from mouth to ear, been absorbed, digested, and then come spilling out again, from new mouth. We are feeling troubled these days with the story coming to life and creeping around among us. We are old and tired, we do not hear so well as we once did, though our mouths with new teeth are as strong as ever. It ought to be told in some other language, we think—it ought to be spoken in some remote and musical dialect, without one syllable in common with the speech or thought of Chester Krieley, or of his boy Bobby Lee, or even of, we say, Duke Phelps— some other way of telling, we imagine, might carry along a little less of its, the story's, spit and blood, but we have among us only this one tongue. The Krieley couple have lived, since their marriage, in a house not unlike our own, whose outside walls are sided with aluminum and which sits in the middle of a stretch of yellowed grass in the late summer, this time of year. We all live close enough to each other and far away from anyone else. We are thirty miles from what might be called a city. Both of them grew up here, courted through high school, and married soon after. We used to watch them, in the first days of their marriage, when they sat out on their porch together, and he lit cigarettes and swallowed down the smoke, then let it come curling slowly from his throat, and she closed her eyes and puckered her strawberry mouth and breathed it down. This sharing of smoke was something we had not seen before. 143


Berkeley Fiction Review

II

-J I

We wondered, we had a feeling about what kind of girl this was who was not afraid to let herself be seen this way. We ourselves feared what kind of trouble she might bring into the world. We like Chester Krieley; we knew he worked hard and wanted what we wanted at the end of the day: the warmth and calm of the marriage bed. We knew also that his young wife was not so simple in her desires. The boy, Bobby Lee, was born to them four years after their wedding. He is twelve years old. He has his mother's brown eyes and round nose—this kind of soft-ended nose, which is more perfectly a part of a face because, tipless, it is never pointing anywhere—but his red curls and high girlish hips did not come from her, nor from his horse-boned father. This did not escape our attention, though it was more of a coming into the world than a revelation. The lady's languid restlessness was, by this time, well-known among us. The novelty was that now the talk had taken on flesh and hair, and was alive, and we could see it, see him, with our own eyes, and watch the fits of his face while he sucked in air and shrieked it out. We said little, and what little we said, we hushed from Chester's ears. He chose the boy's name himself and meant to raise him. It pleased us to see him, his body fully muscled into a man's body now, and carrying his son around on his shoulders. He charmed us with his proud grin, and he charmed us into liking the boy, too. We were so fond of both of them. He was unwearying in his endeavor to bring up Bobby Lee, and we could not say that the boy's high voice and flirting lashes—he had, he has, his mother's slow and lovely blink—had not frustrated the father. He doubled his efforts. They spent hours together every clear day out on their little piece of land; Chester working to teach his son to throw a baseball, to split wood, to fire a shotgun. When they left home in the evenings, they left together in their red-striped truck. They chewed Wrigley's gum and stuck it on the plastic dash when their mouths were tired. It rained on Friday. It is the middle of August; for close to two months, we had lived without a drop from the sky, and then suddenly we had clouds rolling in, gray and low and fast-moving, and for the stretch of one afternoon, it rained. It was no deluge, no drenching storm, but it was enough for Chester Krieley to quit work early, not long after lunch, and go home to spend time with Bobby Lee. He picked the boy up in the truck and they drove into town for onion rings and ice cream 144

OldMouth * sundaes at Mike Parson's Tasty Freeze, and they sat in there and ate and talked between bites for an hour while it rained outside. They were on their way back out to the truck when Chester saw, across our little town square, his wife sitting up close to Duke Phelps on a bench in front of the post office. They were sharing a bottle of red wine from his liquor store; the both of them drinking in turns from its glistening mouth; the both of them were soaked with the rain but hardly seemed to notice. They were busy with the wine and with their bodies and their talking. We had seen them there, turned almost sideways to face each other, she with her hand down between the two yellow-panted columns of his legs, he with one arm stretched along the back of the bench, around her. The Duke is the former mayor of our town, past fifty years old and proud, and he was just now having a time with Chester Krieley's wife, the two of them drunk and smiling, showing their teeth. This was too much for Chester to take. He locked his boy up inside the truck and went walking across the square with the rain falling on him, and we were really watching now, they had our attention. They saw him coming over, but they pretended to pay him no mind until he was right up on them, and even then, she did not remove her hand from his legs and he left his arm resting around her. Chester looked his wife in her face and asked her what she was doing, and she just smiled her over-ripe strawberry smile and said how it pleased her—it pleased her, she said, to sit out in the rain on a Friday afternoon and share a bottle of wine with a well-dressed man who knew what it meant to treat a lady right. It was what we might have expected her to say. Chester didn't stay there long, and we imagined he was in a hurry to get Bobby Lee out of there, and besides that, he just couldn't stand the sight, and so he started backing away. He stumbled a little, walking that way, still looking back and forth from her face to the Duke's smiling face, though they had already turned back to each other and the bottle. We felt a good deal of sorrow for Chester while we watched him go back to his truck and drive away with the boy, headed home. We felt a little nervous, too, at what might come of this, the first time he found himself looking at her with another man, the vision of it burning up his eyes, and certainly this was her first time with such an old man, a man of real, if recently faded, public stature, and right there in our town square. 145


Berkeley Fiction Review

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We wondered, we had a feeling about what kind of girl this was who was not afraid to let herself be seen this way. We ourselves feared what kind of trouble she might bring into the world. We like Chester Krieley; we knew he worked hard and wanted what we wanted at the end of the day: the warmth and calm of the marriage bed. We knew also that his young wife was not so simple in her desires. The boy, Bobby Lee, was born to them four years after their wedding. He is twelve years old. He has his mother's brown eyes and round nose—this kind of soft-ended nose, which is more perfectly a part of a face because, tipless, it is never pointing anywhere—but his red curls and high girlish hips did not come from her, nor from his horse-boned father. This did not escape our attention, though it was more of a coming into the world than a revelation. The lady's languid restlessness was, by this time, well-known among us. The novelty was that now the talk had taken on flesh and hair, and was alive, and we could see it, see him, with our own eyes, and watch the fits of his face while he sucked in air and shrieked it out. We said little, and what little we said, we hushed from Chester's ears. He chose the boy's name himself and meant to raise him. It pleased us to see him, his body fully muscled into a man's body now, and carrying his son around on his shoulders. He charmed us with his proud grin, and he charmed us into liking the boy, too. We were so fond of both of them. He was unwearying in his endeavor to bring up Bobby Lee, and we could not say that the boy's high voice and flirting lashes—he had, he has, his mother's slow and lovely blink—had not frustrated the father. He doubled his efforts. They spent hours together every clear day out on their little piece of land; Chester working to teach his son to throw a baseball, to split wood, to fire a shotgun. When they left home in the evenings, they left together in their red-striped truck. They chewed Wrigley's gum and stuck it on the plastic dash when their mouths were tired. It rained on Friday. It is the middle of August; for close to two months, we had lived without a drop from the sky, and then suddenly we had clouds rolling in, gray and low and fast-moving, and for the stretch of one afternoon, it rained. It was no deluge, no drenching storm, but it was enough for Chester Krieley to quit work early, not long after lunch, and go home to spend time with Bobby Lee. He picked the boy up in the truck and they drove into town for onion rings and ice cream 144

OldMouth * sundaes at Mike Parson's Tasty Freeze, and they sat in there and ate and talked between bites for an hour while it rained outside. They were on their way back out to the truck when Chester saw, across our little town square, his wife sitting up close to Duke Phelps on a bench in front of the post office. They were sharing a bottle of red wine from his liquor store; the both of them drinking in turns from its glistening mouth; the both of them were soaked with the rain but hardly seemed to notice. They were busy with the wine and with their bodies and their talking. We had seen them there, turned almost sideways to face each other, she with her hand down between the two yellow-panted columns of his legs, he with one arm stretched along the back of the bench, around her. The Duke is the former mayor of our town, past fifty years old and proud, and he was just now having a time with Chester Krieley's wife, the two of them drunk and smiling, showing their teeth. This was too much for Chester to take. He locked his boy up inside the truck and went walking across the square with the rain falling on him, and we were really watching now, they had our attention. They saw him coming over, but they pretended to pay him no mind until he was right up on them, and even then, she did not remove her hand from his legs and he left his arm resting around her. Chester looked his wife in her face and asked her what she was doing, and she just smiled her over-ripe strawberry smile and said how it pleased her—it pleased her, she said, to sit out in the rain on a Friday afternoon and share a bottle of wine with a well-dressed man who knew what it meant to treat a lady right. It was what we might have expected her to say. Chester didn't stay there long, and we imagined he was in a hurry to get Bobby Lee out of there, and besides that, he just couldn't stand the sight, and so he started backing away. He stumbled a little, walking that way, still looking back and forth from her face to the Duke's smiling face, though they had already turned back to each other and the bottle. We felt a good deal of sorrow for Chester while we watched him go back to his truck and drive away with the boy, headed home. We felt a little nervous, too, at what might come of this, the first time he found himself looking at her with another man, the vision of it burning up his eyes, and certainly this was her first time with such an old man, a man of real, if recently faded, public stature, and right there in our town square. 145


Berkeley Fiction Review

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•M

I!

1 ! i'

This is an old and brittle piece of the world, we know it, especially* in summertime and despite our one strange day of rain. We must be careful when we strike our matches, that the land itself does not catch. It is so dried out here that it might all go up quickly in flames and leave just a spread of ashes for the wind to scatter. We are vulnerable to the smallest uncontrolled spark, which is perhaps why, when we are in need of beauty, when our eyes need resting, we look to the water, which we hold in small ponds and in the lake east of town, while old rounded mountains stand to the west. And which (the fear of burning away) is also perhaps why we felt that ominous rising in our nerves when we saw Chester Krieley's wife sitting with the Duke in front of the post office, when we saw him backing away from them and angry. It brought us a little cautious comfort to see Saturday pass without incident. Incident, incineration: we hear the likeness of the two words when we speak them, and we do not only hear it, we feel it in our mouths. We did not see Chester or his wife all day, or even the boy. The sky cleared and the dry heat was with us again, which was at least familiar and slow in its effects. How long does it take for the sun itself to dry out completely and then burn away a spot such as ours on the face of the earth? We wonder this way sometimes, we wonder out loud. We cannot sleep so well anymore, and so we talk to rest. Like Chester's wife we are languid. We languish in our language, we feel we have hardly, or not at all the energy, for acting, even perhaps for the action of this story. Our mouths feel so far away, almost unconnected, from our stomachs, our muscles, our hearts. We feel all we can do anymore is to speak this way, and so this way of speaking has become our sweetest indulgence. On Sunday morning Chester was up and dressed in church clothes before dawn. We cannot say with certainty when he rose, and we imagine he may never have gone to sleep at all, may have changed his clothes in the late evening and sat up all night in a hard-backed chair, sharpening the blade on his straight razor. He had the boy out of bed, too, by daybreak, and had him not just awake but dressed up and clean, with his hair slick and combed back. Chester spent some time pressing the palm of one hand flat across the top of his son's head, trying to make the curls lie down, but when they stepped outside, the boy's hair began quickly to frizz out of place. We know at least this much, that the two 146

OldMouth of them left the house bare-headed just around sunrise, dressed in similar worn black suits with their hair freshly washed. They got into the truck and Bobby Lee held his father's twelve gauge Remington with the barrel coming up through his knees—and this, the presence of the shotgun, might almost have been merciful, we think now. There is no radio in Chester's truck, and they must have been the only ones on the road so early, and the drive could hardly have taken more than ten minutes, but it was almost certainly a long stretch of time in such quiet and with the early light coming on and the thoughts they had to be thinking. Their truck pulled all the way into the driveway of the Duke's white two-story house (newly painted white, the house, and most of it rebuilt with decadence in the last few years, since the Duke retired as mayor and has been making money on his liquor store) and parked behind his purple Cadillac. The two of them stepped quietly, the father carrying the shotgun now and the boy following close behind, and they walked in through the front door; we are not in the habit of keeping our doors locked. We imagine they must have taken some time inside the place, to learn its doors and also just to feel what it feels like to be in someone else's home and unsuspected. The staircase in the middle of the house is wide and velvety red, the color Chester's wife paints her lips when she goes out. Chester led the boy up these stairs and they found the Duke's bedroom and went inside. They woke him with the mouth of the shotgun against his temple and told him to stand up, and he did, in just his white shorts, decorated with dancing ladies in red and blue. Chester had him step out of these, so that he was naked in front of them, bone-pale with his back against his uncurtained bedroom window. He stood there afraid for perhaps the first time in his life, and he must have been a horrifying sight, especially to the boy, who was no longer holding the gun because his father was holding it and who had nothing at all to do yet but watch. So it may even have come as a relief to him, when presently, his father with his free hand reached into the pocket of his dress pants and took out the old straight razor and told his son to take it. We tell softly the unspeakable thing which followed; it makes us shiver. We take care with the very positioning of our mouths. Chester Krieley told the Duke to raise his hands above his head, high and hold them there, and then he told his boy to take hold of those parts of the man that (more so even than his mouth) had insulted him and his wife 147


Berkeley Fiction Review

J

•M

I!

1 ! i'

This is an old and brittle piece of the world, we know it, especially* in summertime and despite our one strange day of rain. We must be careful when we strike our matches, that the land itself does not catch. It is so dried out here that it might all go up quickly in flames and leave just a spread of ashes for the wind to scatter. We are vulnerable to the smallest uncontrolled spark, which is perhaps why, when we are in need of beauty, when our eyes need resting, we look to the water, which we hold in small ponds and in the lake east of town, while old rounded mountains stand to the west. And which (the fear of burning away) is also perhaps why we felt that ominous rising in our nerves when we saw Chester Krieley's wife sitting with the Duke in front of the post office, when we saw him backing away from them and angry. It brought us a little cautious comfort to see Saturday pass without incident. Incident, incineration: we hear the likeness of the two words when we speak them, and we do not only hear it, we feel it in our mouths. We did not see Chester or his wife all day, or even the boy. The sky cleared and the dry heat was with us again, which was at least familiar and slow in its effects. How long does it take for the sun itself to dry out completely and then burn away a spot such as ours on the face of the earth? We wonder this way sometimes, we wonder out loud. We cannot sleep so well anymore, and so we talk to rest. Like Chester's wife we are languid. We languish in our language, we feel we have hardly, or not at all the energy, for acting, even perhaps for the action of this story. Our mouths feel so far away, almost unconnected, from our stomachs, our muscles, our hearts. We feel all we can do anymore is to speak this way, and so this way of speaking has become our sweetest indulgence. On Sunday morning Chester was up and dressed in church clothes before dawn. We cannot say with certainty when he rose, and we imagine he may never have gone to sleep at all, may have changed his clothes in the late evening and sat up all night in a hard-backed chair, sharpening the blade on his straight razor. He had the boy out of bed, too, by daybreak, and had him not just awake but dressed up and clean, with his hair slick and combed back. Chester spent some time pressing the palm of one hand flat across the top of his son's head, trying to make the curls lie down, but when they stepped outside, the boy's hair began quickly to frizz out of place. We know at least this much, that the two 146

OldMouth of them left the house bare-headed just around sunrise, dressed in similar worn black suits with their hair freshly washed. They got into the truck and Bobby Lee held his father's twelve gauge Remington with the barrel coming up through his knees—and this, the presence of the shotgun, might almost have been merciful, we think now. There is no radio in Chester's truck, and they must have been the only ones on the road so early, and the drive could hardly have taken more than ten minutes, but it was almost certainly a long stretch of time in such quiet and with the early light coming on and the thoughts they had to be thinking. Their truck pulled all the way into the driveway of the Duke's white two-story house (newly painted white, the house, and most of it rebuilt with decadence in the last few years, since the Duke retired as mayor and has been making money on his liquor store) and parked behind his purple Cadillac. The two of them stepped quietly, the father carrying the shotgun now and the boy following close behind, and they walked in through the front door; we are not in the habit of keeping our doors locked. We imagine they must have taken some time inside the place, to learn its doors and also just to feel what it feels like to be in someone else's home and unsuspected. The staircase in the middle of the house is wide and velvety red, the color Chester's wife paints her lips when she goes out. Chester led the boy up these stairs and they found the Duke's bedroom and went inside. They woke him with the mouth of the shotgun against his temple and told him to stand up, and he did, in just his white shorts, decorated with dancing ladies in red and blue. Chester had him step out of these, so that he was naked in front of them, bone-pale with his back against his uncurtained bedroom window. He stood there afraid for perhaps the first time in his life, and he must have been a horrifying sight, especially to the boy, who was no longer holding the gun because his father was holding it and who had nothing at all to do yet but watch. So it may even have come as a relief to him, when presently, his father with his free hand reached into the pocket of his dress pants and took out the old straight razor and told his son to take it. We tell softly the unspeakable thing which followed; it makes us shiver. We take care with the very positioning of our mouths. Chester Krieley told the Duke to raise his hands above his head, high and hold them there, and then he told his boy to take hold of those parts of the man that (more so even than his mouth) had insulted him and his wife 147


Berkeley Fiction Review and his son. The boy did this without a great deal of difficulty, though he is still so young, and so his hands were small and trembling. He took hold without a great deal of difficulty because the Duke was cold just out of bed, and in men's terms—this is the way we have heard it told— undergrown. Bobby Lee trusted his father, whose gun was still fiercely planted into the side of the man's head. He did just what Chester told him to do. With the blade of the newly-sharpened straight razor, he cut the Duke's testicles loose from the rest of him, and then he stood there holding them while the man howled and convulsed, not knowing exactly if he should drop them to the ground or hand them to his father. He stood there comically holding them, we say, in the loud confusion, and we are afraid even to laugh when we say it. We do not know if Chester was speaking now, if he made any attempt to explain himself to the Duke or to explain what kind of lesson this was supposed to be to the boy, but we doubt anyone could have heard his quiet voice in such a moment. Finally there was the sound of the shotgun fired into the Duke's face, which ended the human noise of his howling. He slumped down to the floor now, into his own blood, in which Chester Krieley and his son were standing, and into which the boy finally let fall what he was holding, with two separate, quiet splashes. It frightens us, this sound: splash, splash. We do not know how to pronounce, to reproduce it right. We have never before had this fear, that just the speaking of something might corrupt our mouths. We feel betrayed by Chester and his boy, by his wife too, and by the Duke. We feel they have forced our jaws and tongues, our voices and our words themselves into new and uncomfortable positions. There is a new heat in our dry throats now; the telling threatens to blister our palettes. We do our best to wet our lips; we close our mouths.

148


Berkeley Fiction Review and his son. The boy did this without a great deal of difficulty, though he is still so young, and so his hands were small and trembling. He took hold without a great deal of difficulty because the Duke was cold just out of bed, and in men's terms—this is the way we have heard it told— undergrown. Bobby Lee trusted his father, whose gun was still fiercely planted into the side of the man's head. He did just what Chester told him to do. With the blade of the newly-sharpened straight razor, he cut the Duke's testicles loose from the rest of him, and then he stood there holding them while the man howled and convulsed, not knowing exactly if he should drop them to the ground or hand them to his father. He stood there comically holding them, we say, in the loud confusion, and we are afraid even to laugh when we say it. We do not know if Chester was speaking now, if he made any attempt to explain himself to the Duke or to explain what kind of lesson this was supposed to be to the boy, but we doubt anyone could have heard his quiet voice in such a moment. Finally there was the sound of the shotgun fired into the Duke's face, which ended the human noise of his howling. He slumped down to the floor now, into his own blood, in which Chester Krieley and his son were standing, and into which the boy finally let fall what he was holding, with two separate, quiet splashes. It frightens us, this sound: splash, splash. We do not know how to pronounce, to reproduce it right. We have never before had this fear, that just the speaking of something might corrupt our mouths. We feel betrayed by Chester and his boy, by his wife too, and by the Duke. We feel they have forced our jaws and tongues, our voices and our words themselves into new and uncomfortable positions. There is a new heat in our dry throats now; the telling threatens to blister our palettes. We do our best to wet our lips; we close our mouths.

148


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C o n t r i b u t o r

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N o t e s

Stacey Barnett is a graduate of the Creatve Writing Program at New York University. She lives and works in New York City. This is her first published story.

Thea Hillman, nicknamed "Trouble" by her friends, works hard to maintain her reputation. Her work has appeared in Ragshock, First Person Sexual, and Queer View Mirror 2. She can be found at Mills College in Oakland and squalling erotica and slamming poetry at San Francisco dive bars.

James Braziel lives in Western Massachusetts where he divides his time between taking care of his children and writing. He has received a grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts and his work has appeared in Hoyden's Ferry Review and Nexus, among other journals.

Laurel Hunter, a San Francisco resident, writes stage plays and screenplays in addition to short fiction. She was a winner in the 1996 Highsmith Playwriting Awards for her stage play, Ten Red Things and holds a BA. in English/Creative Writing/Playwriting from San Francisco State University.

Jake Bumgardner grew up in the great American middlewest and eventually ran away to France where it all changed. He moved from Toronto to San Francisco a year ago and now lives high above the Tenderloin. This is his first published fiction.

Karen An-hwei Lee is the co-winner of the 1998 Eisner Prize for Creative Arts in prose literature, and is currently a graduate student in the English doctorate program at U.C. Berkeley. She was a 1997 Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, and holds an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Brown University.

AUTHORS

Trish Cantillon is a fiction and screenwriter, living in Los Angeles. "Tuesday" was written after viewing photographs in an "outsider art" exhibit. Tracy DeBrincat is a free-lance advertising copywriter for the entertainment industry and is currently working on her second novel. The manuscript for her first novel, Every Porpoise Under Heaven, received First Prize in the 1996 Washington Arward for Fiction. Alicia Erian has taught creative writing and screenwriting at the University of Cetnral Florida in Orlando, and plans to shoot her fourth short film this summer, Whiff. Her work has appeared previously in Painted Bride Quarterly. I! k

June 1998. His recent essays have appeared in The Iowa Review and the Colorado Review.

DeWitt Henry has co-edited (with James Alan McPherson) Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men, due from Beacon Press,

Ray Nayler is 21 years old and is a full-time American Literature student at UCSC. He was born in Chicoutimi, Quebec, and has lived in California for most of his life. He has been published in Lines in the Sand and in Deathrealm magazine; he has a story upcoming in Onionhead, and is currently working on a novel. David Rompf lives in Oakland, California, and has published fiction, essays and articles in The Hawaii Review, Santa Clara Review, Christopher Street, Z Magazine, and elsewhere. Caleb Smith is a UC Berkeley junior. His story, "Twin Bridges" (BFR issue 16), won the University of California's Crothers Prize and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Just now he is living and studying in Northern Italy. W.A. Smith was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and


M

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C o n t r i b u t o r

s

N o t e s

Stacey Barnett is a graduate of the Creatve Writing Program at New York University. She lives and works in New York City. This is her first published story.

Thea Hillman, nicknamed "Trouble" by her friends, works hard to maintain her reputation. Her work has appeared in Ragshock, First Person Sexual, and Queer View Mirror 2. She can be found at Mills College in Oakland and squalling erotica and slamming poetry at San Francisco dive bars.

James Braziel lives in Western Massachusetts where he divides his time between taking care of his children and writing. He has received a grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts and his work has appeared in Hoyden's Ferry Review and Nexus, among other journals.

Laurel Hunter, a San Francisco resident, writes stage plays and screenplays in addition to short fiction. She was a winner in the 1996 Highsmith Playwriting Awards for her stage play, Ten Red Things and holds a BA. in English/Creative Writing/Playwriting from San Francisco State University.

Jake Bumgardner grew up in the great American middlewest and eventually ran away to France where it all changed. He moved from Toronto to San Francisco a year ago and now lives high above the Tenderloin. This is his first published fiction.

Karen An-hwei Lee is the co-winner of the 1998 Eisner Prize for Creative Arts in prose literature, and is currently a graduate student in the English doctorate program at U.C. Berkeley. She was a 1997 Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, and holds an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Brown University.

AUTHORS

Trish Cantillon is a fiction and screenwriter, living in Los Angeles. "Tuesday" was written after viewing photographs in an "outsider art" exhibit. Tracy DeBrincat is a free-lance advertising copywriter for the entertainment industry and is currently working on her second novel. The manuscript for her first novel, Every Porpoise Under Heaven, received First Prize in the 1996 Washington Arward for Fiction. Alicia Erian has taught creative writing and screenwriting at the University of Cetnral Florida in Orlando, and plans to shoot her fourth short film this summer, Whiff. Her work has appeared previously in Painted Bride Quarterly. I! k

June 1998. His recent essays have appeared in The Iowa Review and the Colorado Review.

DeWitt Henry has co-edited (with James Alan McPherson) Fathering Daughters: Reflections by Men, due from Beacon Press,

Ray Nayler is 21 years old and is a full-time American Literature student at UCSC. He was born in Chicoutimi, Quebec, and has lived in California for most of his life. He has been published in Lines in the Sand and in Deathrealm magazine; he has a story upcoming in Onionhead, and is currently working on a novel. David Rompf lives in Oakland, California, and has published fiction, essays and articles in The Hawaii Review, Santa Clara Review, Christopher Street, Z Magazine, and elsewhere. Caleb Smith is a UC Berkeley junior. His story, "Twin Bridges" (BFR issue 16), won the University of California's Crothers Prize and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Just now he is living and studying in Northern Italy. W.A. Smith was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and


received his B.A. from the University of Virginia and his M A . in English/Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. His completed work includes a collection of stories and a novel. Currently, he is at work on his second novel. W

Edward Wahl is retired, a former paper executive, and his stories have appeared in 42 publications: Footwork, CPU Review, The Sun, Green's of Canada, Readers Break and others. He has a novel half completed about a turn-of-the-century doctor for which he is obliged to do never-ending research. Lisa Weckerle is a graduate student in Performance Studies at the University of Texas. Her stories have been adapted and performed, but this is the first time her fiction has been published. She lives in Austin with her dog Sabia. Gina Willner-Pardo is the author of Iz Books for Children. She lives in Northern California. ARTIST

Joel Elrod is a nationally known illustrator based in San Francisco. His work has appeared in such annuals as American Illustration 17 and Print's Regional Annual 1997.


received his B.A. from the University of Virginia and his M A . in English/Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. His completed work includes a collection of stories and a novel. Currently, he is at work on his second novel. W

Edward Wahl is retired, a former paper executive, and his stories have appeared in 42 publications: Footwork, CPU Review, The Sun, Green's of Canada, Readers Break and others. He has a novel half completed about a turn-of-the-century doctor for which he is obliged to do never-ending research. Lisa Weckerle is a graduate student in Performance Studies at the University of Texas. Her stories have been adapted and performed, but this is the first time her fiction has been published. She lives in Austin with her dog Sabia. Gina Willner-Pardo is the author of Iz Books for Children. She lives in Northern California. ARTIST

Joel Elrod is a nationally known illustrator based in San Francisco. His work has appeared in such annuals as American Illustration 17 and Print's Regional Annual 1997.


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fiction by: Stacey Harnett James IBraziel Jake "Bumgardner Irish Cantillon Tracy "Dellrincat Alicia "Brian "De"Witt Henry Thea Hillman LaurelHunter "Karen An-hwei Lee "Ray O^ayler "DavidOfympf Caleb Smith WJL Smith "Edward "Wahl Lisa "Wecfgrle Qina "Wilner-Tardo Cover Art and Illustration by: Joel "Elrod