Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 20

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Cover Art by Zachary Harris Copyright 2000 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. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Technical Printing Inc., Sunnyvale, California Cover art scanned by LinoText, Palo Alto, California ISSN 1087-7053

B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

Editors Alex Wedemeyer

Elaine Wong

Associate Editors Marie Bao

Doreen Ho

Editorial Assistants Deanna Ashrobi

Elisha Cohn

Staff Bre Birse Matt Gough Laura Leung Simona Moldovan Gabriel Peters-Lazaro Jake Thomas

Amy Casey Elisa Huang Rachel Markova Jamie Montefu Margaret Raimondi Laurel Westbrook

R e v i e w

Amy Lau

Martha Duffield Philip Kuan Erin McPherson Wendy Park Vlad Shuster Natalie Wright

Cover Art Zachary Harris Interior Art Li a Lackey Young Suh

Special thanks to Nikki Thompson for her expertise. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Committee on Student Publications, the ASUC, and the English Department.


Cover Art by Zachary Harris Copyright 2000 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. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Technical Printing Inc., Sunnyvale, California Cover art scanned by LinoText, Palo Alto, California ISSN 1087-7053

B e r k e l e y

F i c t i o n

Editors Alex Wedemeyer

Elaine Wong

Associate Editors Marie Bao

Doreen Ho

Editorial Assistants Deanna Ashrobi

Elisha Cohn

Staff Bre Birse Matt Gough Laura Leung Simona Moldovan Gabriel Peters-Lazaro Jake Thomas

Amy Casey Elisa Huang Rachel Markova Jamie Montefu Margaret Raimondi Laurel Westbrook

R e v i e w

Amy Lau

Martha Duffield Philip Kuan Erin McPherson Wendy Park Vlad Shuster Natalie Wright

Cover Art Zachary Harris Interior Art Li a Lackey Young Suh

Special thanks to Nikki Thompson for her expertise. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Committee on Student Publications, the ASUC, and the English Department.


A d v i s o r s

F A C U L T Y

Stephen Booth

P U B L I C A T I O N S

Xavier H e r n a n d e z G e o r g e Stilabower

S T U D E N T S

John Rauschenburg

A L U M N I

Grace Fujimoto Nikki T h o m p s o n

F o r e w o r d For nearly twenty years, the Berkeley Fiction Review has been publishing short fiction by new and emerging writers. In that time, our readership has grown, in part due to an intense focus on publicity and distribution. The increasing number of short story submissions we receive each year is reflective of these efforts. The publication itself has evolved into its current format, which features color cover art, full-page line art, and 165 pages of contemporary fiction. In this issue, we are pleased to spotlight four photographs depicting Bay Area scenes as part of our interior art. Issue #20 also includes the winners of our Fourth Annual Sudden Fiction Contest as well as sixteen full-length stories. Though not intentionally, we sometimes select a number of stories that share a certain theme, perspective, or topic. In the case of this issue, we have noticed several such sets of similarities. "Counting to Ten", "Sheath", and "Slut", for instance, are all stories told from a child's perspective. Additionally, "How to Play Bach", "Second Hand Heroes", and "Plain Speaking" represent some of the Berkeley Fiction Review's favorite types of stories—those that experiment with innovative storytelling techniques. As with the rest of the stories in Issue #20, the styles and genres of these pieces complement each other and enhance the variety of this collection. Since last April, our staff has been hard at work reading, selecting, and editing this issue's stories. It is through their time and dedication that we have met the challenges of the publication process. Furthermore, without the efforts and support of the authors and readers of the Berkeley Fiction Review, this publication would not have been possible. We thank all of you for your contributions, and we hope you will enjoy the final product: Berkeley Fiction Review's Issue #20.

Alex Wedemeyer

Elaine Wong'


A d v i s o r s

F A C U L T Y

Stephen Booth

P U B L I C A T I O N S

Xavier H e r n a n d e z G e o r g e Stilabower

S T U D E N T S

John Rauschenburg

A L U M N I

Grace Fujimoto Nikki T h o m p s o n

F o r e w o r d For nearly twenty years, the Berkeley Fiction Review has been publishing short fiction by new and emerging writers. In that time, our readership has grown, in part due to an intense focus on publicity and distribution. The increasing number of short story submissions we receive each year is reflective of these efforts. The publication itself has evolved into its current format, which features color cover art, full-page line art, and 165 pages of contemporary fiction. In this issue, we are pleased to spotlight four photographs depicting Bay Area scenes as part of our interior art. Issue #20 also includes the winners of our Fourth Annual Sudden Fiction Contest as well as sixteen full-length stories. Though not intentionally, we sometimes select a number of stories that share a certain theme, perspective, or topic. In the case of this issue, we have noticed several such sets of similarities. "Counting to Ten", "Sheath", and "Slut", for instance, are all stories told from a child's perspective. Additionally, "How to Play Bach", "Second Hand Heroes", and "Plain Speaking" represent some of the Berkeley Fiction Review's favorite types of stories—those that experiment with innovative storytelling techniques. As with the rest of the stories in Issue #20, the styles and genres of these pieces complement each other and enhance the variety of this collection. Since last April, our staff has been hard at work reading, selecting, and editing this issue's stories. It is through their time and dedication that we have met the challenges of the publication process. Furthermore, without the efforts and support of the authors and readers of the Berkeley Fiction Review, this publication would not have been possible. We thank all of you for your contributions, and we hope you will enjoy the final product: Berkeley Fiction Review's Issue #20.

Alex Wedemeyer

Elaine Wong'


S u d d e n

C o n t e n t s

F i c t i o n

W i n n e r s of t h e Berkeley

Fiction

Review's

F o u r t h A n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest First Place Jason Bellipanni "Dust" Boulder, Colorado Second Place Lois Lorimer "My Hands" Woodstock, Vermont Third Place Marina Hope Wilson "Wife" Forestville, California

Honorable Mention Elizabeth Howkin "Amor Vincit Omnia" Ardmore, Pennsylvania Jon Moore "The Waves" Richmond, California Mike Yachnik "Show's at Eight" West Hollywood, California

Sheath Sandy Asirvatham

17

The Fence Faynessa Armand

24

How to Play Bach Susie Stulz

32

Henry Duchik's Underwear Philip Wexler

38

Dust Jason Bellipanni First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

45

Tangerines Michael Hollister

49

"Slut" Julie Odell

54

A Body Walking Through Space Amina Memory Cain

61

Henrietta and the Headache Jeanne Leiby

72

My Hands Lois Lorimer Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

78

Artificial Home Greg Strong

80


S u d d e n

C o n t e n t s

F i c t i o n

W i n n e r s of t h e Berkeley

Fiction

Review's

F o u r t h A n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest First Place Jason Bellipanni "Dust" Boulder, Colorado Second Place Lois Lorimer "My Hands" Woodstock, Vermont Third Place Marina Hope Wilson "Wife" Forestville, California

Honorable Mention Elizabeth Howkin "Amor Vincit Omnia" Ardmore, Pennsylvania Jon Moore "The Waves" Richmond, California Mike Yachnik "Show's at Eight" West Hollywood, California

Sheath Sandy Asirvatham

17

The Fence Faynessa Armand

24

How to Play Bach Susie Stulz

32

Henry Duchik's Underwear Philip Wexler

38

Dust Jason Bellipanni First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

45

Tangerines Michael Hollister

49

"Slut" Julie Odell

54

A Body Walking Through Space Amina Memory Cain

61

Henrietta and the Headache Jeanne Leiby

72

My Hands Lois Lorimer Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

78

Artificial Home Greg Strong

80


Second Hand Heroes Jenny Belin

93

Yes John Stinson

97

How to Move Merchandise Nanette Lerner

105

Delicious Juice Jurgen Fauth

121

The Rabbits of Roissy Kevin Dolgin

125

Wife Marina Hope Wilson Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

148

Plain Speaking Sue Allison

150

Counting to Ten Jennifer Carr

153


Second Hand Heroes Jenny Belin

93

Yes John Stinson

97

How to Move Merchandise Nanette Lerner

105

Delicious Juice Jurgen Fauth

121

The Rabbits of Roissy Kevin Dolgin

125

Wife Marina Hope Wilson Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

148

Plain Speaking Sue Allison

150

Counting to Ten Jennifer Carr

153






r

; S h e a t h Sandy Asirvatham

y right hand is a shark, the spiny metallic jacks are starfish I scoop and spit out, scoop and spit out. Three at a time, four at a time, five, six, seven, all eight. The pink rubber ball smudges the air going up and wipes its own trace away going down. Recess will be over and I will be scrubbing my hands in the bathroom sink before I notice the sting of scrapes from the rough sidewalk. I have become so fast at this game that Candice has started to act like it's okay for the other girls to know that we're friends. She talks to me out loud now in the classroom, instead of only in secret notes, and she's given me a woven bracelet of silky green and orange thread. Even Mean Mirella Nolan holds her tongue now. She has stopped calling me Brownie or Dothead, although she still never talks directly to me and never uses my name. But when I'm winning this game everyone forgets that I was the only fifth-grader not to receive a Presidential Fitness Certificate because I couldn't do a single chin-up and it took me fifteen minutes to run four times around the track. And the best thing is that I don't have to look at any of them, the strong popular girls who can run a mile in six minutes and do fifty sit-ups in a row. I only look down at the blue and green and red jacks, which are metal but light as feathers, and don't make me nervous like softballs or Frisbees. For once the girls are watching me instead of me always watching them. Far off I can hear them shushing each other so they don't break my concentration. 17


r

; S h e a t h Sandy Asirvatham

y right hand is a shark, the spiny metallic jacks are starfish I scoop and spit out, scoop and spit out. Three at a time, four at a time, five, six, seven, all eight. The pink rubber ball smudges the air going up and wipes its own trace away going down. Recess will be over and I will be scrubbing my hands in the bathroom sink before I notice the sting of scrapes from the rough sidewalk. I have become so fast at this game that Candice has started to act like it's okay for the other girls to know that we're friends. She talks to me out loud now in the classroom, instead of only in secret notes, and she's given me a woven bracelet of silky green and orange thread. Even Mean Mirella Nolan holds her tongue now. She has stopped calling me Brownie or Dothead, although she still never talks directly to me and never uses my name. But when I'm winning this game everyone forgets that I was the only fifth-grader not to receive a Presidential Fitness Certificate because I couldn't do a single chin-up and it took me fifteen minutes to run four times around the track. And the best thing is that I don't have to look at any of them, the strong popular girls who can run a mile in six minutes and do fifty sit-ups in a row. I only look down at the blue and green and red jacks, which are metal but light as feathers, and don't make me nervous like softballs or Frisbees. For once the girls are watching me instead of me always watching them. Far off I can hear them shushing each other so they don't break my concentration. 17


Berkeley Fiction Review Maybe they are even a little frightened of me. At reading period, Miss Gagliano crooks a finger and summons me to her desk, where she is sitting squeezed into the chair that's too small for her. I stand at the front edge, but she pulls me over next to her to undo and retie the sash of my uniform. I like it loose and low but she always makes me wear it tight and high, so that the skirt balloons out and exposes my knees and I feel like a little baby. After that I start to walk away, but she pulls me back. She holds my arm and leans into my face to whisper. I can see where baby powder and sweat are mixing into a paste in the folds of her chins. "It would be just fabulous if Mom came in to answer questions next week after our sex-ed film, don't you think?" Miss Gagliano always calls our parents Mom and Dad instead of your mother and father, like we're all in one big, happy family. "She's a gyn-o-cologist, isn't she?" I'm not sure if she's mispronounced it because she doesn't know better or because she's playing cutesy. But I am sure it's a bad idea, the worst idea I've ever heard. My mother never talks to me—what would she possibly have to say in front of a bunch of strangers? Miss Gagliano presses a note into my hand, a little square of tan paper with big blue ink loops on it. I promise to deliver it. That night I sneak a look at my mother before entering her tiny home office behind the TV room. I peek through the slatted doubledoors, trying to figure out if it's a good time or bad time. There she is, doubled over the low desktop, her waist-length black hair knotted in a bun so tight that I can see where some follicles have snapped and are sticking out in a fuzzy halo around her temples. My father has told me the only three things I know about my mother: that she grew up very poor and unhappy in India; that she married my father to escape; and that, even though she's smart and a great surgeon, the Jewish men doctors at the hospital give her a hard time for being dark-skinned and a woman. These things are not easy for me to understand. It is hard to connect my father's words—words that make my mom sound like a story-book princess who does battle daily with ogres—to the near-silent woman I see through the wooden slats. How could I know about the "very poor" part? Because she's not anymore, and I have never been. The "escape" is okay: I can imagine my mother coming out of a window and climbing down a rope ladder 18

Sheath into my father's arms, even though I have seen pictures of the wedding, and I know it wasn't really that way. But as for the "hard time," well, when I look at my mother's hands, her surgeon's hands whirring, her right hand slicing the air with the silvery mechanical pencil, I can't imagine that anyone would dare cross her. It is eight-thirty and I will be expected to put myself to bed soon, but there is my mother, working through a pile of patient charts, slashing away at the insides of each manila folder with her pencil. I once poked around in those files to see what it is she writes, but it wasn't even English, it was words like fibroid or menses and little mysterious codes like D&C all smashed together with slashes and commas and plus signs. I lean against the door and it clicks softly in the frame. My mother's head snaps up immediately. "What, dear?" Her voice is not cold, but still I feel guilty for interrupting her. I walk in and drop the note on top of the pile of folders. In anger, my mother's features are all movement: her cheeks go red then white then red, her eyes roll in all directions demon-like, and she doesn't hesitate to bear her full mouth of crooked, yellowed, poorgirl's teeth. Only in anger does my mother become a living person. It is her controlled stone face that scares me. She makes a meaningless sound—"Hanh"—and looks over the note, her mouth a dead thing, her eyes fixed in the shadow behind her thick glasses. "Alright," she says, and hands me back the note. "Go to bed now." The week passes slowly. Stupid me, I picked a fight with Candice and now my only friend is not talking to me. It's very odd how she used to love me but then somehow, in just one week, it turns out that really she hates me. It happened on the day we had RE. inside, not because of the rain but because of the lightning. If it was only rain Mr. Daibeck would make us go out and play field hockey in the slick mud anyway. Just like the chin-up bar, the horse is another of those things I can't do. Five tries in P.E. and I have still never made it all the way over. I run, I hear Mr. Daibeck's voice yelling at me to jump, I spring off the 19


Berkeley Fiction Review Maybe they are even a little frightened of me. At reading period, Miss Gagliano crooks a finger and summons me to her desk, where she is sitting squeezed into the chair that's too small for her. I stand at the front edge, but she pulls me over next to her to undo and retie the sash of my uniform. I like it loose and low but she always makes me wear it tight and high, so that the skirt balloons out and exposes my knees and I feel like a little baby. After that I start to walk away, but she pulls me back. She holds my arm and leans into my face to whisper. I can see where baby powder and sweat are mixing into a paste in the folds of her chins. "It would be just fabulous if Mom came in to answer questions next week after our sex-ed film, don't you think?" Miss Gagliano always calls our parents Mom and Dad instead of your mother and father, like we're all in one big, happy family. "She's a gyn-o-cologist, isn't she?" I'm not sure if she's mispronounced it because she doesn't know better or because she's playing cutesy. But I am sure it's a bad idea, the worst idea I've ever heard. My mother never talks to me—what would she possibly have to say in front of a bunch of strangers? Miss Gagliano presses a note into my hand, a little square of tan paper with big blue ink loops on it. I promise to deliver it. That night I sneak a look at my mother before entering her tiny home office behind the TV room. I peek through the slatted doubledoors, trying to figure out if it's a good time or bad time. There she is, doubled over the low desktop, her waist-length black hair knotted in a bun so tight that I can see where some follicles have snapped and are sticking out in a fuzzy halo around her temples. My father has told me the only three things I know about my mother: that she grew up very poor and unhappy in India; that she married my father to escape; and that, even though she's smart and a great surgeon, the Jewish men doctors at the hospital give her a hard time for being dark-skinned and a woman. These things are not easy for me to understand. It is hard to connect my father's words—words that make my mom sound like a story-book princess who does battle daily with ogres—to the near-silent woman I see through the wooden slats. How could I know about the "very poor" part? Because she's not anymore, and I have never been. The "escape" is okay: I can imagine my mother coming out of a window and climbing down a rope ladder 18

Sheath into my father's arms, even though I have seen pictures of the wedding, and I know it wasn't really that way. But as for the "hard time," well, when I look at my mother's hands, her surgeon's hands whirring, her right hand slicing the air with the silvery mechanical pencil, I can't imagine that anyone would dare cross her. It is eight-thirty and I will be expected to put myself to bed soon, but there is my mother, working through a pile of patient charts, slashing away at the insides of each manila folder with her pencil. I once poked around in those files to see what it is she writes, but it wasn't even English, it was words like fibroid or menses and little mysterious codes like D&C all smashed together with slashes and commas and plus signs. I lean against the door and it clicks softly in the frame. My mother's head snaps up immediately. "What, dear?" Her voice is not cold, but still I feel guilty for interrupting her. I walk in and drop the note on top of the pile of folders. In anger, my mother's features are all movement: her cheeks go red then white then red, her eyes roll in all directions demon-like, and she doesn't hesitate to bear her full mouth of crooked, yellowed, poorgirl's teeth. Only in anger does my mother become a living person. It is her controlled stone face that scares me. She makes a meaningless sound—"Hanh"—and looks over the note, her mouth a dead thing, her eyes fixed in the shadow behind her thick glasses. "Alright," she says, and hands me back the note. "Go to bed now." The week passes slowly. Stupid me, I picked a fight with Candice and now my only friend is not talking to me. It's very odd how she used to love me but then somehow, in just one week, it turns out that really she hates me. It happened on the day we had RE. inside, not because of the rain but because of the lightning. If it was only rain Mr. Daibeck would make us go out and play field hockey in the slick mud anyway. Just like the chin-up bar, the horse is another of those things I can't do. Five tries in P.E. and I have still never made it all the way over. I run, I hear Mr. Daibeck's voice yelling at me to jump, I spring off the 19


Sheath

Berkeley Fiction Review

springboard and leap, my hands grip the metal rings, but at the last second I can feel my whole self giving up, my legs go wooden, I forget to lift my knees and pull them through, they slam against the horse like a window coming down on fingers, and then I am stuck there, pasted to the side of the horse, my arms locked straight, and I can't even bend at the elbows to put myself down gently, I just let go and fall. Far off there is laughter, but I don't really hear it, although it makes my skin feel like a burning-hot shirt just out from the clothes dryer. Mr. Daibeck's hand lifts me off the ground. "That's okay, next time," he murmurs, but he can't look me in the eye. I know I have control over myself, know that if I could make myself not afraid, if I could only believe in the solid, steady floor on the other side of that horse, I would fly over the top. But I can't even see it in my mind, can't see the floor behind the horse, not the way I can see the bare black ground underneath the sparkling jacks, the way I can look right through the jacks as if they are already gone, already all swooped up by my hungry right hand. After my turn I go sit next to Candice and Mirella on the bleachers. Mirella says to Candice, loud enough for me to hear, "Why don't you come to my house on Saturday? My Mom's going to show me how to hook a rug. Then we can all go to lunch downtown." This is the first time Mirella has ever invited Candice anywhere, I know. Now Candice turns her back to me and talks only to Mirella. They pretend I'm not even there. I am shrinking into a little ball of nothing inside my skin. Finally I can feel my mouth being forced open by words that want to be said. "Candice, why is that you call Mirella a bitch behind her back but now you're all nicey nice in front of her?" Candice whips around so fast that her braid slaps me across the cheek. "You're stupid, the teachers all think you're smart because you're Indian, but I know you're stupid." Mirella and Candice are hand-in-hand as they walk away from me, laughing. My left eye waters near where Candice's thick rope of auburn hair has whipped me. Then comes the big day. Home Ec is cancelled that afternoon for the program, so after lunch all the fourth- and fifth-grade girls mill 20

1

around outside the auditorium. I want to start up a game of jacks but now that Candice and Mirella ignore me, so do all the other girls, except for Jane Kaplan, who has stringy black hair and bad skin and who nobody likes. Jane says, "I'll play," but I pretend not to hear her. Right on time, my mother drives up in the green Chevy and emerges. I wave to her from near the school doors; she nods once but doesn't wave back. She is wearing her purple rayon pantsuit with big gold buttons, the same old thing she always wears, and a current of red heat shoots up from my belly. From all the way across the parking lot, I can see her orangy lipstick and green eye shadow. She is trying to look right but looks all wrong to me. I want to look through my mother to see my mother, look beyond the purple rayon and green powder to see my mother who is my one and only mother who I love, but I can't. I have met the mothers of the other girls, the mothers who look right, who wear plaid pants and paint watercolors to hang in their kitchens, the mothers who stay home or write magazine articles or teach part-time in nursery schools. You don't have to look very hard to see that these mothers are made to be loved, it's so easy, they are dressed for the part, and they make it easy by talking about it all the time, I LUFTVyou! I LUFTVyou! is what I am always hearing my friends' mothers saying to my friends, and kissing their cheeks, and asking them about which boys they like, and all sorts of stuff that seems so easy to them. Am I your best friend? 1 once asked Candice. She said No, silly, my mother is, and this made me dizzy to think about. A mother a best friend? What could that possibly mean? "Hello," my mother says, but doesn't kiss me, doesn't even quite look at me. I knew this was not going to be good. I don't think she likes to be around people. One look at my mother's dark face all screwed up with seriousness and I feel like I will never again be friends with anyone, not Candice, not anyone, not even ugly Jane Kaplan. They show us a cartoon movie. On the screen there's a cartoon boy and cartoon girl, both blond, standing by a row of lockers, facing each other and smiling. They must be in high school because they have lockers, the floor-to-ceiling kind made of green metal, instead of cubbyholes. And they must be in public school, they're not wearing 21


Sheath

Berkeley Fiction Review

springboard and leap, my hands grip the metal rings, but at the last second I can feel my whole self giving up, my legs go wooden, I forget to lift my knees and pull them through, they slam against the horse like a window coming down on fingers, and then I am stuck there, pasted to the side of the horse, my arms locked straight, and I can't even bend at the elbows to put myself down gently, I just let go and fall. Far off there is laughter, but I don't really hear it, although it makes my skin feel like a burning-hot shirt just out from the clothes dryer. Mr. Daibeck's hand lifts me off the ground. "That's okay, next time," he murmurs, but he can't look me in the eye. I know I have control over myself, know that if I could make myself not afraid, if I could only believe in the solid, steady floor on the other side of that horse, I would fly over the top. But I can't even see it in my mind, can't see the floor behind the horse, not the way I can see the bare black ground underneath the sparkling jacks, the way I can look right through the jacks as if they are already gone, already all swooped up by my hungry right hand. After my turn I go sit next to Candice and Mirella on the bleachers. Mirella says to Candice, loud enough for me to hear, "Why don't you come to my house on Saturday? My Mom's going to show me how to hook a rug. Then we can all go to lunch downtown." This is the first time Mirella has ever invited Candice anywhere, I know. Now Candice turns her back to me and talks only to Mirella. They pretend I'm not even there. I am shrinking into a little ball of nothing inside my skin. Finally I can feel my mouth being forced open by words that want to be said. "Candice, why is that you call Mirella a bitch behind her back but now you're all nicey nice in front of her?" Candice whips around so fast that her braid slaps me across the cheek. "You're stupid, the teachers all think you're smart because you're Indian, but I know you're stupid." Mirella and Candice are hand-in-hand as they walk away from me, laughing. My left eye waters near where Candice's thick rope of auburn hair has whipped me. Then comes the big day. Home Ec is cancelled that afternoon for the program, so after lunch all the fourth- and fifth-grade girls mill 20

1

around outside the auditorium. I want to start up a game of jacks but now that Candice and Mirella ignore me, so do all the other girls, except for Jane Kaplan, who has stringy black hair and bad skin and who nobody likes. Jane says, "I'll play," but I pretend not to hear her. Right on time, my mother drives up in the green Chevy and emerges. I wave to her from near the school doors; she nods once but doesn't wave back. She is wearing her purple rayon pantsuit with big gold buttons, the same old thing she always wears, and a current of red heat shoots up from my belly. From all the way across the parking lot, I can see her orangy lipstick and green eye shadow. She is trying to look right but looks all wrong to me. I want to look through my mother to see my mother, look beyond the purple rayon and green powder to see my mother who is my one and only mother who I love, but I can't. I have met the mothers of the other girls, the mothers who look right, who wear plaid pants and paint watercolors to hang in their kitchens, the mothers who stay home or write magazine articles or teach part-time in nursery schools. You don't have to look very hard to see that these mothers are made to be loved, it's so easy, they are dressed for the part, and they make it easy by talking about it all the time, I LUFTVyou! I LUFTVyou! is what I am always hearing my friends' mothers saying to my friends, and kissing their cheeks, and asking them about which boys they like, and all sorts of stuff that seems so easy to them. Am I your best friend? 1 once asked Candice. She said No, silly, my mother is, and this made me dizzy to think about. A mother a best friend? What could that possibly mean? "Hello," my mother says, but doesn't kiss me, doesn't even quite look at me. I knew this was not going to be good. I don't think she likes to be around people. One look at my mother's dark face all screwed up with seriousness and I feel like I will never again be friends with anyone, not Candice, not anyone, not even ugly Jane Kaplan. They show us a cartoon movie. On the screen there's a cartoon boy and cartoon girl, both blond, standing by a row of lockers, facing each other and smiling. They must be in high school because they have lockers, the floor-to-ceiling kind made of green metal, instead of cubbyholes. And they must be in public school, they're not wearing 21


Berkeley Fiction Review uniforms like our forest-green wool jumpers. The boy is wearing tan corduroy pants, but suddenly, he's not wearing them anymore, although he is still smiling at the girl, and his thing like a yellow teapot handle is sticking up at an angle, pointing directly at the girl's red plaid skirt. But the plaid skirt never disappears the way the boy's pants do. I am sitting next to my mother and wincing in the dark. The boy is suddenly reclothed. Boy and girl still smiling at each other, their faces don't ever move. The narrator's voice says something about how the boy will "place" his thing inside the girl's thing. We do not actually see a cartoon picture of the mystery thing, the girl's thing. Only the fire-engine red plaid skirt. My mother is next to me, I can't look at her. Other girls are giggling. I hear Mirella shout "This is gross!" Miss Gagliano shushes her. Then there's a cartoon egg surrounded by hundreds of cartoon sperm-fishies. The egg is a round yellow smiley-face, with long lashes and red circles for cheeks and big watery blue eyes like Miss Gagliano's. The fishies strike and strike. Then there's the egglady stuck on a wavy red wall, getting bigger and bigger. Then there's a blacked-out screen, the sound of a baby crying, and finally a cartoon baby girl smiling out at us. You're supposed to know it's a girl because of the big pink ribbon on its head. The lights go up and Miss Gagliano hoists herself out of the chair and asks my mother to stand also. I look up and see her rise, her arms folded across her chest tightly, her eyes shrunken and almost invisible behind the big glasses. "Any questions from the girls?" My teacher's voice is all chirpy, all birdy-sounding, and her face shines with sweat. I have lots of questions that will not come out of my mouth. Why do they hide it but paint it red. Why do they hide it but paint it the same color that makes a big bull come at you. Why yellow teapot, why red plaid. My throat burns but I can't say anything. There is only one question, from Mirella of course, who can never, will never, be shushed. "Doesn't that, like, kill, to have something stuck up in there?" The whole room bulges with laughter and yelping and whooping, and the sound of Miss Gagliano trying to get it quiet by saying Ladies... 22

Sheath please... ladies... LADIES... GIRLS, THAT'S ENOUGH! Up there a hundred miles away is my mother. My mother the gynecologist. Who spends all her mysterious days doing mysterious things in some woman's mystery-parts. Who has nothing to say for herself. Who I only know things about because my father tells me stories. Say something. Say something. Tell Mirella, tell me, something, anything. But she doesn't. My aloneness is complete. It is real. In this very moment it has become a real thing. Years will pass and I will grow up and forget everything else, the jacks, the pommel-horse, Candice, Mirella, ugly Jane, even the red plaid sheath and yellow teapot I will forget completely—but I will always remember being there, small in my seat, looking up and knowing that it has become a real, solid thing: myself alone, and the many miles of unswimmable dead calm blue that separates me from her and us from them. Her eyes are narrow like the slits in her slatted office door. I can barely see in. Her mouth opens and closes a few times like a fish-mouth. Then she sits back down without a word.

23


Berkeley Fiction Review uniforms like our forest-green wool jumpers. The boy is wearing tan corduroy pants, but suddenly, he's not wearing them anymore, although he is still smiling at the girl, and his thing like a yellow teapot handle is sticking up at an angle, pointing directly at the girl's red plaid skirt. But the plaid skirt never disappears the way the boy's pants do. I am sitting next to my mother and wincing in the dark. The boy is suddenly reclothed. Boy and girl still smiling at each other, their faces don't ever move. The narrator's voice says something about how the boy will "place" his thing inside the girl's thing. We do not actually see a cartoon picture of the mystery thing, the girl's thing. Only the fire-engine red plaid skirt. My mother is next to me, I can't look at her. Other girls are giggling. I hear Mirella shout "This is gross!" Miss Gagliano shushes her. Then there's a cartoon egg surrounded by hundreds of cartoon sperm-fishies. The egg is a round yellow smiley-face, with long lashes and red circles for cheeks and big watery blue eyes like Miss Gagliano's. The fishies strike and strike. Then there's the egglady stuck on a wavy red wall, getting bigger and bigger. Then there's a blacked-out screen, the sound of a baby crying, and finally a cartoon baby girl smiling out at us. You're supposed to know it's a girl because of the big pink ribbon on its head. The lights go up and Miss Gagliano hoists herself out of the chair and asks my mother to stand also. I look up and see her rise, her arms folded across her chest tightly, her eyes shrunken and almost invisible behind the big glasses. "Any questions from the girls?" My teacher's voice is all chirpy, all birdy-sounding, and her face shines with sweat. I have lots of questions that will not come out of my mouth. Why do they hide it but paint it red. Why do they hide it but paint it the same color that makes a big bull come at you. Why yellow teapot, why red plaid. My throat burns but I can't say anything. There is only one question, from Mirella of course, who can never, will never, be shushed. "Doesn't that, like, kill, to have something stuck up in there?" The whole room bulges with laughter and yelping and whooping, and the sound of Miss Gagliano trying to get it quiet by saying Ladies... 22

Sheath please... ladies... LADIES... GIRLS, THAT'S ENOUGH! Up there a hundred miles away is my mother. My mother the gynecologist. Who spends all her mysterious days doing mysterious things in some woman's mystery-parts. Who has nothing to say for herself. Who I only know things about because my father tells me stories. Say something. Say something. Tell Mirella, tell me, something, anything. But she doesn't. My aloneness is complete. It is real. In this very moment it has become a real thing. Years will pass and I will grow up and forget everything else, the jacks, the pommel-horse, Candice, Mirella, ugly Jane, even the red plaid sheath and yellow teapot I will forget completely—but I will always remember being there, small in my seat, looking up and knowing that it has become a real, solid thing: myself alone, and the many miles of unswimmable dead calm blue that separates me from her and us from them. Her eyes are narrow like the slits in her slatted office door. I can barely see in. Her mouth opens and closes a few times like a fish-mouth. Then she sits back down without a word.

23


The Fence

T h e

You letting everybody know how country you are. You got roosters I got to hear three hours before my alarm goes off. I got the nicest house on the block but I live next door to a farm. In the middle of the city. I bet you didn't have a fence when you lived in Texas. You should have left that old-time shit in that dirt-roaded town where you come from. Or you should have just kept your ass there. You don't live in the country no more, old man. Miss Anne ain't calling you "boy." Tear it down. People say to me, "Oh yeah, you live in the house next to the raggedy fence. That sharecropper-looking fence." We live in a city now.

F e n c e

Faynessa Armand

efore it came down, we used to say the fence looked tired like a woman who had had too many babies too fast. The little paint it had looked like wrinkles and only a handful of the stakes in the front were straight up and down. All the side slats were leaning and bare. Thelma said the fence used to hide a tangle of flowers and plants Odette had cared for. Sometimes we talked about Mose and that fence, like they were a couple. In fact, when Odette died, the first thing Ethaleen said was, "He still got that nasty, old fence."

Mose, you know you should have let them see my flowers. I didn't ask for nothing else. Show my roses. That's all. And you wouldn't do that for me. X

I hate living next to you and that damned fence. I started hating it the day I moved in. I knew you were low-class and would make my life miserable. But you were old then and you're older now. I thought we would be through with you. Sooner than later. I don't ask y'all about what you do inside your houses, don't mess with me about what I do outside my house. I'm coming, Mama. I'm watching the fire. You need to tear it down. Why you got that fence? You don't have anything anybody want. All you got is a big, raggedy, spotted-white eyesore. 24

t

Look around, old man. You see anybody else's house look like it's from Cabin in the Sky} I'm tired of some old, half-blind man messing up how my block looks. Do you know what I had to do to leave that sweaty, stinking, picking cotton in the blazing god-damned sun place so I could live in a real city? You know what I had to do to leave my mama's house? You know what I had to do to go to school at night and work eight hours a day so I could be an almost-nurse? Do you know what I have to do at work everyday, cleaning out people's bedpans and being thrown up on and listening to constant complaining or somebody screaming in pain? You know what I have to put up with with that old man I married to keep this house up? You know I eat tuna and beans with ham bones so I can have enough money to meet my note? And you have to have that fence? Listen to me, old man. More people pay attention to you 'cause you got that fence. If it was gone, we wouldn't think about you twice. 25


The Fence

T h e

You letting everybody know how country you are. You got roosters I got to hear three hours before my alarm goes off. I got the nicest house on the block but I live next door to a farm. In the middle of the city. I bet you didn't have a fence when you lived in Texas. You should have left that old-time shit in that dirt-roaded town where you come from. Or you should have just kept your ass there. You don't live in the country no more, old man. Miss Anne ain't calling you "boy." Tear it down. People say to me, "Oh yeah, you live in the house next to the raggedy fence. That sharecropper-looking fence." We live in a city now.

F e n c e

Faynessa Armand

efore it came down, we used to say the fence looked tired like a woman who had had too many babies too fast. The little paint it had looked like wrinkles and only a handful of the stakes in the front were straight up and down. All the side slats were leaning and bare. Thelma said the fence used to hide a tangle of flowers and plants Odette had cared for. Sometimes we talked about Mose and that fence, like they were a couple. In fact, when Odette died, the first thing Ethaleen said was, "He still got that nasty, old fence."

Mose, you know you should have let them see my flowers. I didn't ask for nothing else. Show my roses. That's all. And you wouldn't do that for me. X

I hate living next to you and that damned fence. I started hating it the day I moved in. I knew you were low-class and would make my life miserable. But you were old then and you're older now. I thought we would be through with you. Sooner than later. I don't ask y'all about what you do inside your houses, don't mess with me about what I do outside my house. I'm coming, Mama. I'm watching the fire. You need to tear it down. Why you got that fence? You don't have anything anybody want. All you got is a big, raggedy, spotted-white eyesore. 24

t

Look around, old man. You see anybody else's house look like it's from Cabin in the Sky} I'm tired of some old, half-blind man messing up how my block looks. Do you know what I had to do to leave that sweaty, stinking, picking cotton in the blazing god-damned sun place so I could live in a real city? You know what I had to do to leave my mama's house? You know what I had to do to go to school at night and work eight hours a day so I could be an almost-nurse? Do you know what I have to do at work everyday, cleaning out people's bedpans and being thrown up on and listening to constant complaining or somebody screaming in pain? You know what I have to put up with with that old man I married to keep this house up? You know I eat tuna and beans with ham bones so I can have enough money to meet my note? And you have to have that fence? Listen to me, old man. More people pay attention to you 'cause you got that fence. If it was gone, we wouldn't think about you twice. 25


The Fence

Berkeley Fiction Review

National Guard and they're taking those tanks to shoot all the people rioting. They said they're breaking in the windows of the Shop-Rite and Mr. Guardino, the I-talian's store. They said that there's raw hamburger and pork chops on the ground in front of the meat market and Donnetta's mama was running down the street with a television in her arms. They say people are fighting and hitting each other and throwing rocks. They say they're taking white people out of their cars and beating them up. They say that there's fires in trashcans and somebody dumped cans of paint on the sidewalks. And the Mexican people that lived on the corner? They say the daddy's on the porch with a gun and if anybody get on his lawn he said he going to kill them. They say Mr. Armbrister and Mr. Mohammed are helping.white people get away from those teenagers beating them up. J.J. told me him and some other boys set Mr. Guardino's store on fire. They say the fire we been looking at 'cause we can see it from the porch? That's Shop-Rite burning up. They say the reason we can't see and breathe real good is the fires is out of control and the fire department say they not coming here while we acting like animals. They say the smoke is thick and our eyes never going to stop tearing up like this.

I don't care what your story is or if this makes you feel like you your own man or something. I'm trying to live middle-class and your fence is messing with my program. You don't know nothing about me. You think I don't have a right to my fence. You think that I don't have the right to tell somebody to leave what's mine alone. Why you got to even worry about my yard? You think just 'cause I'm old it's okay to take things from me. You think I don't count anymore 'cause you got to impress people. You think somebody is paying attention to you and what you do? If you miss two days in a row from your job they wouldn't remember you enough to fire you. There's fifteen people can take your place at work and you worried about my fence and what people you don't know think about you. You don't even know what to worry about. I went around for weeks looking in lumberyards begging for wood they was going to throw away anyway. I dug the trench by streetlight because I had to put up that fence after I come back from my second job. I hammered in a thousand nails 'cause I knew I wouldn't have time to put it back up if it ever fell. Do you know what I had to hear from my wife about the fence 'cause couldn't nobody see her flowers? I think she maybe hated me for that. A little bit. You know who comes in my yard? Nobody I don't let in. You know who can open my gate or step on my grass? Nobody I don't give permission. Them bad chirren y'all not raising sneak in but I chase 'em out. But everybody else leave mine alone. That's all I want. I don't care what y'all think. I couldn't get no respect in Texas, you'd think I could get it from y'all but it don't matter. I have lived longer than anybody on this street. Y'all need to go to your own houses.

You never even let Odette's flowers show. You keeping up her flowers? Don't nobody ever see you working in your yard. You can see how much I got to work with my yard. I got to water it in the morning before I go to work and I got to push that rusty mower Saturday morning before I cook breakfast because that man I married don't do yard work. He said they tell him what to do Monday through Friday. He say he not going to have me tell him what to do when he's off. Everybody on the block talk about that raggedy fence. Nobody like it. Your tired-assed nephews keep telling me that they going to paint it or prop it up or something but you, me, and them know that if one of them trampish women that want them get a check, they gone. And the fence keep looking worse. That fence make you feel like the master of the plantation?

You never asked me what I wanted. I lived there too.

You know how I felt when I bought this house? And I knew I could build my fence? Not ask anybody for permission? You trying to live like television people. You trying to get ahead by

Mama, the television say there's a riot going on down the street. Those army tanks we saw going down Central Boulevard? They're

27

26

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The Fence

Berkeley Fiction Review

National Guard and they're taking those tanks to shoot all the people rioting. They said they're breaking in the windows of the Shop-Rite and Mr. Guardino, the I-talian's store. They said that there's raw hamburger and pork chops on the ground in front of the meat market and Donnetta's mama was running down the street with a television in her arms. They say people are fighting and hitting each other and throwing rocks. They say they're taking white people out of their cars and beating them up. They say that there's fires in trashcans and somebody dumped cans of paint on the sidewalks. And the Mexican people that lived on the corner? They say the daddy's on the porch with a gun and if anybody get on his lawn he said he going to kill them. They say Mr. Armbrister and Mr. Mohammed are helping.white people get away from those teenagers beating them up. J.J. told me him and some other boys set Mr. Guardino's store on fire. They say the fire we been looking at 'cause we can see it from the porch? That's Shop-Rite burning up. They say the reason we can't see and breathe real good is the fires is out of control and the fire department say they not coming here while we acting like animals. They say the smoke is thick and our eyes never going to stop tearing up like this.

I don't care what your story is or if this makes you feel like you your own man or something. I'm trying to live middle-class and your fence is messing with my program. You don't know nothing about me. You think I don't have a right to my fence. You think that I don't have the right to tell somebody to leave what's mine alone. Why you got to even worry about my yard? You think just 'cause I'm old it's okay to take things from me. You think I don't count anymore 'cause you got to impress people. You think somebody is paying attention to you and what you do? If you miss two days in a row from your job they wouldn't remember you enough to fire you. There's fifteen people can take your place at work and you worried about my fence and what people you don't know think about you. You don't even know what to worry about. I went around for weeks looking in lumberyards begging for wood they was going to throw away anyway. I dug the trench by streetlight because I had to put up that fence after I come back from my second job. I hammered in a thousand nails 'cause I knew I wouldn't have time to put it back up if it ever fell. Do you know what I had to hear from my wife about the fence 'cause couldn't nobody see her flowers? I think she maybe hated me for that. A little bit. You know who comes in my yard? Nobody I don't let in. You know who can open my gate or step on my grass? Nobody I don't give permission. Them bad chirren y'all not raising sneak in but I chase 'em out. But everybody else leave mine alone. That's all I want. I don't care what y'all think. I couldn't get no respect in Texas, you'd think I could get it from y'all but it don't matter. I have lived longer than anybody on this street. Y'all need to go to your own houses.

You never even let Odette's flowers show. You keeping up her flowers? Don't nobody ever see you working in your yard. You can see how much I got to work with my yard. I got to water it in the morning before I go to work and I got to push that rusty mower Saturday morning before I cook breakfast because that man I married don't do yard work. He said they tell him what to do Monday through Friday. He say he not going to have me tell him what to do when he's off. Everybody on the block talk about that raggedy fence. Nobody like it. Your tired-assed nephews keep telling me that they going to paint it or prop it up or something but you, me, and them know that if one of them trampish women that want them get a check, they gone. And the fence keep looking worse. That fence make you feel like the master of the plantation?

You never asked me what I wanted. I lived there too.

You know how I felt when I bought this house? And I knew I could build my fence? Not ask anybody for permission? You trying to live like television people. You trying to get ahead by

Mama, the television say there's a riot going on down the street. Those army tanks we saw going down Central Boulevard? They're

27

26

i


Berkeley Fiction Review bringing down my fence. I moved here so I wouldn't have to pay attention to people who don't want me near them and could tell me what to do. I'm too old to move and my house is paid for. Just leave my yard alone and take care of what's yours. Why you staying, Mr. Guardino? You not scared? How you going to rebuild that store? My daddy say how much money you make off us anyway? I got some things from the store when they first broke the windows. It was just candy and stuff. Can I have it, Mr. Guardino? You know, Mr. Guardino, if they had known it was you they wouldn't have messed up your store. Must of been some of them hoods from Compton my mama tell me stay away from. Mose, Mr. Guardino gave me some flower seeds once. Mama, teacher said because of the riots she don't want to come to our school anymore. She said her husband said it's not safe and that the black teachers will be our teachers but Miss Jenkins, Denise's teacher, is black and she said her husband don't think that she's going to be safe either, so three classes had to be in Mr. Henderson's room because there's not enough teachers. Yesterday at school? Mr. Henderson told Annette to stop showing off the shoes her brother got at the riots. The trash man said he ain't coming so on the television they say we got to keep piling our trash up on the sidewalk. They said they don't know when it's going to be safe to come in the block again, so it's going to start to stink. The trash I mean. I guess the block too. That fence got to come down. You don't know nothing about me. They said at school that the ice cream man said he won't come in our block any more. Mama, how long does a riot last? 28

The Fence We killed that old fence the coolest day in a week of temperatures of a hundred plus degrees. Seemed like armored tanks kept rumbling down the street and the air had stayed filled with smoke and ashes and the noise of breaking glass and occasional gunshots. Garbage was piling higher and we just got tired of trying to keep the children in the house, tired of the stink and tired of all the ugliness. We left our own kitchens and porches and yards and uprooted and snapped the stakes. It wasn't just Ethaleen, it was all of us. The children too. The old wood broke easily. Our hands became peppered with splinters and they itched while we worked, not thinking about what we were doing. We didn 't speak to each other but it became a game for the children. They began to use the larger pieces for swords and the smaller pieces for guns. Evelyn's little girl saw a ball in one of the rose beds and ran and got it. Then all the children left and went into somebody's backyard to play. But we stayed, snapping the splitting wood when we could. For the first time in days, we forgot to fret about the hot, humid air and the rumbling and the fires. All we could hear was the breaking wood, our own grunts and the children's laughter and play noises. Later we would tell our husbands that earlier that day, Ethaleen had stood in front of Mose's yard yelling at him. We would say she started kicking some of the boards, telling us everybody's house would look better if the fence was gone. We would say the fence was about to fall in at any minute anyway. We would say if Mose had made it better, it wouldn't have been able to come up so easily in our hands. We would tell the husbands Mose just stood there while we threw the snapped stakes in piles on the trash-heaped sidewalks. We would say maybe Mose had been crying but we weren't sure. We would say somebody said Mose had a gun and he may have hurt one of the children if somebody hadn 't done something. We would say once we started, we couldn't stop. We would tell the husbands while we were tweezing splinters out of our burning hands. We would decide to keep the children in the house for a day or two. The next week, we would bring Mose covered plates of food. We would tell the husbands we hadn't meant to break up the fence. It just started happening before we could think. 19


Berkeley Fiction Review bringing down my fence. I moved here so I wouldn't have to pay attention to people who don't want me near them and could tell me what to do. I'm too old to move and my house is paid for. Just leave my yard alone and take care of what's yours. Why you staying, Mr. Guardino? You not scared? How you going to rebuild that store? My daddy say how much money you make off us anyway? I got some things from the store when they first broke the windows. It was just candy and stuff. Can I have it, Mr. Guardino? You know, Mr. Guardino, if they had known it was you they wouldn't have messed up your store. Must of been some of them hoods from Compton my mama tell me stay away from. Mose, Mr. Guardino gave me some flower seeds once. Mama, teacher said because of the riots she don't want to come to our school anymore. She said her husband said it's not safe and that the black teachers will be our teachers but Miss Jenkins, Denise's teacher, is black and she said her husband don't think that she's going to be safe either, so three classes had to be in Mr. Henderson's room because there's not enough teachers. Yesterday at school? Mr. Henderson told Annette to stop showing off the shoes her brother got at the riots. The trash man said he ain't coming so on the television they say we got to keep piling our trash up on the sidewalk. They said they don't know when it's going to be safe to come in the block again, so it's going to start to stink. The trash I mean. I guess the block too. That fence got to come down. You don't know nothing about me. They said at school that the ice cream man said he won't come in our block any more. Mama, how long does a riot last? 28

The Fence We killed that old fence the coolest day in a week of temperatures of a hundred plus degrees. Seemed like armored tanks kept rumbling down the street and the air had stayed filled with smoke and ashes and the noise of breaking glass and occasional gunshots. Garbage was piling higher and we just got tired of trying to keep the children in the house, tired of the stink and tired of all the ugliness. We left our own kitchens and porches and yards and uprooted and snapped the stakes. It wasn't just Ethaleen, it was all of us. The children too. The old wood broke easily. Our hands became peppered with splinters and they itched while we worked, not thinking about what we were doing. We didn 't speak to each other but it became a game for the children. They began to use the larger pieces for swords and the smaller pieces for guns. Evelyn's little girl saw a ball in one of the rose beds and ran and got it. Then all the children left and went into somebody's backyard to play. But we stayed, snapping the splitting wood when we could. For the first time in days, we forgot to fret about the hot, humid air and the rumbling and the fires. All we could hear was the breaking wood, our own grunts and the children's laughter and play noises. Later we would tell our husbands that earlier that day, Ethaleen had stood in front of Mose's yard yelling at him. We would say she started kicking some of the boards, telling us everybody's house would look better if the fence was gone. We would say the fence was about to fall in at any minute anyway. We would say if Mose had made it better, it wouldn't have been able to come up so easily in our hands. We would tell the husbands Mose just stood there while we threw the snapped stakes in piles on the trash-heaped sidewalks. We would say maybe Mose had been crying but we weren't sure. We would say somebody said Mose had a gun and he may have hurt one of the children if somebody hadn 't done something. We would say once we started, we couldn't stop. We would tell the husbands while we were tweezing splinters out of our burning hands. We would decide to keep the children in the house for a day or two. The next week, we would bring Mose covered plates of food. We would tell the husbands we hadn't meant to break up the fence. It just started happening before we could think. 19


Berkeley Fiction Review /./. would tell his mother he had set Mr. Guardino, the Italian's store on fire and she would tell him not to tell anybody else. We killed Mose's fence in the middle of the riots and our husbands built Mose a stronger one.

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Berkeley Fiction Review /./. would tell his mother he had set Mr. Guardino, the Italian's store on fire and she would tell him not to tell anybody else. We killed Mose's fence in the middle of the riots and our husbands built Mose a stronger one.

30


How to Play Bach

H

o

w

t o

P l a y

B a c h

Susie Stulz

oday you figured out how to play Bach and you think it's the greatest thing that can happen to anyone in the world. And you're not even a serious player anymore. Hell, you barely play. You used to spend a lot of time on Bach, first because you had to, and second, because you were told it was in your best interest. Only Bach was impossible to play, long phrases with no breaks. It took all of your strength just to make it to the end and when you got there you didn't understand the point of all this torture. Because you didn't know then what you know now, what you learned today alone in your living room: that you have to play Bach in more than one voice. After a while your teacher let you leave Bach to play Mozart... concertos, sonatas, trios and quintets, you played it all. Mozart's much easier than Bach. Much. Pretty little melodies repeated in endless patterns. Very straightforward stuff. You thought you were hot then because you mastered Mozart. You'd pick up your ax and whip something off and people were genuinely impressed, especially if they weren't musicians. But then your teacher made you go back to Bach and your hopes were dashed because you still couldn't play it. Not well anyway. You began to think that you weren't cut from the right stuff. Then you thought you were tone-deaf and became terrified that everyone would find out. How embarrassing. Eventually you changed your mind about going pro. 32

But today you discovered how playable Bach is as long as you allow yourself to be slightly schizophrenic. One line, many voices, that's the key. The notes on the beat provide the bass and you have to play them strong enough to ring through a whole measure, sometimes two. Then the different voices come in and it dawns on you that what you have is simply a dialogue, and like any dialogue there are natural pauses after someone speaks. Just like actors tossing lines back and forth in a play. In an instant it's a lot easier to make it to the end of the piece. Your teacher had told you to play it that way but you couldn't understand it then. You only wanted to be a virtuoso so you applied all of your strength. Brute force. Your other teachers in high school admired your determination. Today you've played until you can't play anymore so you decide to get your shopping done. You're so happy you don't even remember putting your keys in your bag. Outside of Zabar's you run into a friend who asks you what's new. You tell him you learned how to play Bach but he doesn't get why that's such big fucking news. Wait a minute he says, what instrument do you play I didn't know you played anything. You forget that you met him after that life, many incarnations ago, when music meant everything to you. You never told him how you spent hours alone in your room practicing while everyone else your age was learning how to carry on a conversation, going to the movies, becoming alcoholics, falling in and out of love. By the time you decided you wanted a life it was way too late to be normal. You never did learn how to fill in the spaces in a conversation. To ask basic questions. The best you ever learned was how to fake it. Normalcy that is. No, you tell your friend outside of Zabar's, I didn't see the new Star Wars, maybe this weekend. Love to check out the new restaurant in SoHo, maybe this weekend after the movie. Just don't speak about Bach though. You'll never play in public and you'll never play for profit. You lose track of what your friend outside of Zabar's is saying. You're meeting him for dinner next Saturday, that much you know. You just don't know if it's a date or friendly get-together. If you were normal, of course, you'd pick up on these things. You continue down Broadway with a silly smile plastered across your face. You're probably talking to yourself but you can't know for 33


How to Play Bach

H

o

w

t o

P l a y

B a c h

Susie Stulz

oday you figured out how to play Bach and you think it's the greatest thing that can happen to anyone in the world. And you're not even a serious player anymore. Hell, you barely play. You used to spend a lot of time on Bach, first because you had to, and second, because you were told it was in your best interest. Only Bach was impossible to play, long phrases with no breaks. It took all of your strength just to make it to the end and when you got there you didn't understand the point of all this torture. Because you didn't know then what you know now, what you learned today alone in your living room: that you have to play Bach in more than one voice. After a while your teacher let you leave Bach to play Mozart... concertos, sonatas, trios and quintets, you played it all. Mozart's much easier than Bach. Much. Pretty little melodies repeated in endless patterns. Very straightforward stuff. You thought you were hot then because you mastered Mozart. You'd pick up your ax and whip something off and people were genuinely impressed, especially if they weren't musicians. But then your teacher made you go back to Bach and your hopes were dashed because you still couldn't play it. Not well anyway. You began to think that you weren't cut from the right stuff. Then you thought you were tone-deaf and became terrified that everyone would find out. How embarrassing. Eventually you changed your mind about going pro. 32

But today you discovered how playable Bach is as long as you allow yourself to be slightly schizophrenic. One line, many voices, that's the key. The notes on the beat provide the bass and you have to play them strong enough to ring through a whole measure, sometimes two. Then the different voices come in and it dawns on you that what you have is simply a dialogue, and like any dialogue there are natural pauses after someone speaks. Just like actors tossing lines back and forth in a play. In an instant it's a lot easier to make it to the end of the piece. Your teacher had told you to play it that way but you couldn't understand it then. You only wanted to be a virtuoso so you applied all of your strength. Brute force. Your other teachers in high school admired your determination. Today you've played until you can't play anymore so you decide to get your shopping done. You're so happy you don't even remember putting your keys in your bag. Outside of Zabar's you run into a friend who asks you what's new. You tell him you learned how to play Bach but he doesn't get why that's such big fucking news. Wait a minute he says, what instrument do you play I didn't know you played anything. You forget that you met him after that life, many incarnations ago, when music meant everything to you. You never told him how you spent hours alone in your room practicing while everyone else your age was learning how to carry on a conversation, going to the movies, becoming alcoholics, falling in and out of love. By the time you decided you wanted a life it was way too late to be normal. You never did learn how to fill in the spaces in a conversation. To ask basic questions. The best you ever learned was how to fake it. Normalcy that is. No, you tell your friend outside of Zabar's, I didn't see the new Star Wars, maybe this weekend. Love to check out the new restaurant in SoHo, maybe this weekend after the movie. Just don't speak about Bach though. You'll never play in public and you'll never play for profit. You lose track of what your friend outside of Zabar's is saying. You're meeting him for dinner next Saturday, that much you know. You just don't know if it's a date or friendly get-together. If you were normal, of course, you'd pick up on these things. You continue down Broadway with a silly smile plastered across your face. You're probably talking to yourself but you can't know for 33


Berkeley Fiction Review certain because you won't remember the trek to Fairway. People will look at you knowingly. They'll think you just had sex with your neighbor and that's why you're smiling that smile. Not because you've figured out Bach today—they'll never buy that. For starters, you don't look like a musician. And you know you're pretty lame when dead composers make you happier than getting laid. You wonder where you made the wrong turn, how the opportunity slipped away when all your life everyone told you that you had such wonderful promise. Big things in your future, that's what they said. So how exactly then did you end up doing your own shopping at Fairway? Somewhere you made that switch. You traded in your ambition for humbler things, like being part of a clique and having a boyfriend. Not that there wasn't entertainment value in these things; the value just didn't last very long, that's all. Not much past college, in fact, even though it took a lot longer for you to realize it. You thought you made the right choice. You looked at all of your musician friends and the gigs they got. You recognize misery when you see it, and you know you would have been miserable scrambling to get the quartet slot at the Metropolitan Museum on Friday evenings. The lucky ones have steady work in the pit orchestra of a Broadway show. They have a regular paycheck and health insurance, just like a sales rep for IBM. But then your friend outside of Zabar's pops into your head and you try to remember when the last time was that you had sex. You stop dead in your tracks... that was the last time? Your choice comes back to haunt you. Where were the benefits? How'd you gain? You decide it's time to take control of your life. You decide that you must act fast. The next pay phone you see you get the phone number of your friend outside of Zabar's from the operator. You call him even though you know he's not home because you just saw him on the street. Even though you know he'll think you're weird for calling after you just saw him. But you're acting fast. You must do this. You call him and you don't have anything to say so you leave a message on his machine telling him that you felt like calling him even though you don't have anything to say. You remind him that you just 34

How to Play Bach saw him outside of Zabar's. You wonder if he'll think you're coming on to him. You wish you knew how to. Later on he calls and says he wants you to come over tonight to help him mail out the schedule of events for the community garden group he helped organize. You're not sure what his thinking is. It could go either way, really, but you decide to put on your BCBG dress that you got at Filene's Basement. You know it's sexy but it was a bargain-buy, really something you bought spur of the moment so you think it doesn't truly count as a come-on because for real come-ons you pull out your most expensive clothes. No one ever seduces a man in an outfit that cost less than two hundred dollars. You know this; you don't consider that he won't know how much you paid for your dress. When he opens the door he eyes you up and down and suddenly you feel way out of your league, like you can't follow up on the entrance. You have no idea how to make intelligent small talk. You wish you had stayed home with Bach. But then again you've already practiced too much today and you didn't have any other plans for the night. Besides, your growing desire reminds you that you have a normal sex drive so you take a step in the door. You hope he'll take the lead but you can't be sure and you feel pretty awkward so right away you have to tell him you have to pee, can you use the bathroom? God you're slick. When you come out of the bathroom you see that he has spread out the garden letters and envelopes on the floor around him. You sit down across from him and start folding, two or three letters at a time. You really didn't think he was serious about the community garden letters but now you believe that he never wanted to seduce you. You wonder if he's gay; you think he might be. So you act like you expected to fold letters all along. You decide that it's his job to get the conversation going since you're the one doing him a favor in the first place. You feel hostility rise because he isn't saying anything. But it's not so bad once you realize that you have nothing to lose— once you decide that he's a flaming homosexual and probably knows that your dress was a bargain. He probably even sees the flaw that landed it at Filene's to begin with. You start to tell him how Bach has to be played with more then one voice and that you couldn't play him when 35


Berkeley Fiction Review certain because you won't remember the trek to Fairway. People will look at you knowingly. They'll think you just had sex with your neighbor and that's why you're smiling that smile. Not because you've figured out Bach today—they'll never buy that. For starters, you don't look like a musician. And you know you're pretty lame when dead composers make you happier than getting laid. You wonder where you made the wrong turn, how the opportunity slipped away when all your life everyone told you that you had such wonderful promise. Big things in your future, that's what they said. So how exactly then did you end up doing your own shopping at Fairway? Somewhere you made that switch. You traded in your ambition for humbler things, like being part of a clique and having a boyfriend. Not that there wasn't entertainment value in these things; the value just didn't last very long, that's all. Not much past college, in fact, even though it took a lot longer for you to realize it. You thought you made the right choice. You looked at all of your musician friends and the gigs they got. You recognize misery when you see it, and you know you would have been miserable scrambling to get the quartet slot at the Metropolitan Museum on Friday evenings. The lucky ones have steady work in the pit orchestra of a Broadway show. They have a regular paycheck and health insurance, just like a sales rep for IBM. But then your friend outside of Zabar's pops into your head and you try to remember when the last time was that you had sex. You stop dead in your tracks... that was the last time? Your choice comes back to haunt you. Where were the benefits? How'd you gain? You decide it's time to take control of your life. You decide that you must act fast. The next pay phone you see you get the phone number of your friend outside of Zabar's from the operator. You call him even though you know he's not home because you just saw him on the street. Even though you know he'll think you're weird for calling after you just saw him. But you're acting fast. You must do this. You call him and you don't have anything to say so you leave a message on his machine telling him that you felt like calling him even though you don't have anything to say. You remind him that you just 34

How to Play Bach saw him outside of Zabar's. You wonder if he'll think you're coming on to him. You wish you knew how to. Later on he calls and says he wants you to come over tonight to help him mail out the schedule of events for the community garden group he helped organize. You're not sure what his thinking is. It could go either way, really, but you decide to put on your BCBG dress that you got at Filene's Basement. You know it's sexy but it was a bargain-buy, really something you bought spur of the moment so you think it doesn't truly count as a come-on because for real come-ons you pull out your most expensive clothes. No one ever seduces a man in an outfit that cost less than two hundred dollars. You know this; you don't consider that he won't know how much you paid for your dress. When he opens the door he eyes you up and down and suddenly you feel way out of your league, like you can't follow up on the entrance. You have no idea how to make intelligent small talk. You wish you had stayed home with Bach. But then again you've already practiced too much today and you didn't have any other plans for the night. Besides, your growing desire reminds you that you have a normal sex drive so you take a step in the door. You hope he'll take the lead but you can't be sure and you feel pretty awkward so right away you have to tell him you have to pee, can you use the bathroom? God you're slick. When you come out of the bathroom you see that he has spread out the garden letters and envelopes on the floor around him. You sit down across from him and start folding, two or three letters at a time. You really didn't think he was serious about the community garden letters but now you believe that he never wanted to seduce you. You wonder if he's gay; you think he might be. So you act like you expected to fold letters all along. You decide that it's his job to get the conversation going since you're the one doing him a favor in the first place. You feel hostility rise because he isn't saying anything. But it's not so bad once you realize that you have nothing to lose— once you decide that he's a flaming homosexual and probably knows that your dress was a bargain. He probably even sees the flaw that landed it at Filene's to begin with. You start to tell him how Bach has to be played with more then one voice and that you couldn't play him when 35


Berkeley Fiction Review you were young and you assumed it was because you had no talent. You tell him that you missed your opportunity to be normal, but that it's okay because Bach was really alienated as well. He was even thrown into jail in Leipzig. Like you, he had a problem connecting with the people around him because he preferred to live in his head. But he's there for you to channel, a beacon for the socially inept. All you have to do is pick up your ax and you can get him in. Your friend asks you some lame question, like how you chose your instrument but you don't bother to answer because it's not a valid question. Everyone knows the instrument chooses the player, not the other way around. He's not really listening if he asks a question like that. So you ignore his question and press on with your train of thought. You tell him that maybe if you lived in Bach's time you would have been married too, since that type of thing was normally arranged and you probably wouldn't have had much of a choice. You would have been a serf, anyway. You're happy you were born in today's time because it's normal to be single and you can always get a job in some Internet company so you don't have to toil the earth. Deep down, though, you tell your friend, you believe that only Bach has the capability of understanding you. What about Mozart he asks you and you laugh because you know you should, because you understand that it's just too fucking weird for anyone to take what you've said at face value. Bach's been dead for over four hundred years. Besides, you could never love such a deeply religious man. By then you notice that your friend has lit a candle and has stopped folding. You try to pin-point exactly when he stopped but you can't. You can't even remember what you just said. You notice, however, that your stack is a lot bigger than his. He rubs your cheek with the back of his fingers and you begin to panic so you do what you always do when you're nervous: you hum a Brahms lullaby which is stupid but you can't help yourself. What's that you're humming he asks you. His lips are right next to your ear. You don't want to say it's Brahms after you talked about Bach all night long. You could easily say it's Bach since your friend wouldn't know the difference. You could lie scot-free. But you don't like lying and you don't want to betray Bach.

How to Play Bach You wonder if you should give yourself to this friend of yours tonight—provided that he makes it clear enough that he wants to make love. You think you want to, even though his face is completely unfamiliar and you wonder if the two of you have something—anything at all—in common. You ask him vaguely if he's ever played the organ and you surprise yourself at how sexual it sounded. You couldn't have planned it better if you had tried. Later when you're putting on your clothes to go back home you wonder if you'll ever see him again. You wonder if it's okay to tell him that you'd like to. But you think that he'll be afraid that you're trying to trap him, or that you're only after sex. After all, you called him only five minutes after seeing him outside of Zabar's. You buckle up your sandals and try to sound nonchalant as you head for the door. You wonder if he'll kiss you good-bye. You don't want to appear as the happy housewife going off to do the midnight shopping at the all-night Fairway so you turn your face away as you leave. No expectations you think you're saying. You're relieved and angered that he doesn't wait by the elevator with you. In that order. But what can you expect from a man who has absolutely no comprehension of Bach? Who doesn't play any instrument so he doesn't even have the capability of ever understanding Bach? He'll never get it, you realize. You shiver to think that you just made love to him. You're glad you're not married to someone like him. Better to toil the earth. The elevator is stuck on the sixth floor and you hope he doesn't take the garbage to the chute and find you still standing there. How pathetic. For the second time tonight your hostility rises. Outside the elevator you run through the list of your married friends; not one of them is happy, not after kids anyway. Not the women anyway. So you think you're lucky you're not married, just like you think you're lucky that you're not in the pit orchestra of Annie Get Your Gun. The elevator finally arrives and you step in. You don't bother to suck in your stomach when you see the mirror because no one is watching you. You can't wait to go home so you can listen to Bach's two-part inventions. Now he's a man worth holding out for.

The only man who could have ever loved you. 36

37


Berkeley Fiction Review you were young and you assumed it was because you had no talent. You tell him that you missed your opportunity to be normal, but that it's okay because Bach was really alienated as well. He was even thrown into jail in Leipzig. Like you, he had a problem connecting with the people around him because he preferred to live in his head. But he's there for you to channel, a beacon for the socially inept. All you have to do is pick up your ax and you can get him in. Your friend asks you some lame question, like how you chose your instrument but you don't bother to answer because it's not a valid question. Everyone knows the instrument chooses the player, not the other way around. He's not really listening if he asks a question like that. So you ignore his question and press on with your train of thought. You tell him that maybe if you lived in Bach's time you would have been married too, since that type of thing was normally arranged and you probably wouldn't have had much of a choice. You would have been a serf, anyway. You're happy you were born in today's time because it's normal to be single and you can always get a job in some Internet company so you don't have to toil the earth. Deep down, though, you tell your friend, you believe that only Bach has the capability of understanding you. What about Mozart he asks you and you laugh because you know you should, because you understand that it's just too fucking weird for anyone to take what you've said at face value. Bach's been dead for over four hundred years. Besides, you could never love such a deeply religious man. By then you notice that your friend has lit a candle and has stopped folding. You try to pin-point exactly when he stopped but you can't. You can't even remember what you just said. You notice, however, that your stack is a lot bigger than his. He rubs your cheek with the back of his fingers and you begin to panic so you do what you always do when you're nervous: you hum a Brahms lullaby which is stupid but you can't help yourself. What's that you're humming he asks you. His lips are right next to your ear. You don't want to say it's Brahms after you talked about Bach all night long. You could easily say it's Bach since your friend wouldn't know the difference. You could lie scot-free. But you don't like lying and you don't want to betray Bach.

How to Play Bach You wonder if you should give yourself to this friend of yours tonight—provided that he makes it clear enough that he wants to make love. You think you want to, even though his face is completely unfamiliar and you wonder if the two of you have something—anything at all—in common. You ask him vaguely if he's ever played the organ and you surprise yourself at how sexual it sounded. You couldn't have planned it better if you had tried. Later when you're putting on your clothes to go back home you wonder if you'll ever see him again. You wonder if it's okay to tell him that you'd like to. But you think that he'll be afraid that you're trying to trap him, or that you're only after sex. After all, you called him only five minutes after seeing him outside of Zabar's. You buckle up your sandals and try to sound nonchalant as you head for the door. You wonder if he'll kiss you good-bye. You don't want to appear as the happy housewife going off to do the midnight shopping at the all-night Fairway so you turn your face away as you leave. No expectations you think you're saying. You're relieved and angered that he doesn't wait by the elevator with you. In that order. But what can you expect from a man who has absolutely no comprehension of Bach? Who doesn't play any instrument so he doesn't even have the capability of ever understanding Bach? He'll never get it, you realize. You shiver to think that you just made love to him. You're glad you're not married to someone like him. Better to toil the earth. The elevator is stuck on the sixth floor and you hope he doesn't take the garbage to the chute and find you still standing there. How pathetic. For the second time tonight your hostility rises. Outside the elevator you run through the list of your married friends; not one of them is happy, not after kids anyway. Not the women anyway. So you think you're lucky you're not married, just like you think you're lucky that you're not in the pit orchestra of Annie Get Your Gun. The elevator finally arrives and you step in. You don't bother to suck in your stomach when you see the mirror because no one is watching you. You can't wait to go home so you can listen to Bach's two-part inventions. Now he's a man worth holding out for.

The only man who could have ever loved you. 36

37


Henry Duchik's Underwear

H e n r y

D u c h i k ' s

U n d e r w e a r Philip Wexler

rs. Duchik was a buzzard. Her naked face was wrinkled and wizened even m o r e t h a n my shriveled old grandmother's, and she was just as confused. But it had to be more than the face, more than the red wattles under her chin that made me think of a buzzard, technically a turkey vulture, a creature I had never associated a woman with before. Men could become old buzzards, but this was usually in the abstract. As for Mrs. Duchik, she was tall and bulky with a head too small for her body and she always wore dark, heavyweight clothes—black, gray, or brown plumage—regardless of the season. Her silver hair was flattened against her head under an ever-present hairnet. I couldn't tell if she had the enormous wingspread of buzzards, for it seemed she was always perching on a dead tree or utility pole, staking out the territory, and often I was in it. I would find her hovering in the hallway between the doors of our adjacent apartments at least half of the times I came or went. She shuffled around this small space, studiously surveying the carpet as if it were a field she wanted to land on. She always hesitated before approaching me, but almost always approached me nonetheless, asking for favors. Either she had a leak somewhere, or the television needed repairs, or the refrigerator wasn't keeping the food cold anymore. I usually was able to escape by saying that I wasn't handy, that I would love to help, but that I ran into the same problems in my apartment all the time, and I got in touch with the super. I suggested she do the same. But when 38

she asked me to help her replace a light bulb or oil a squeaky door hinge, I couldn't say no. Money was a big topic of conversation. She never asked for much, just small change, but she was very precise. It would have to be the exact amount to cover the price of the item plus tax, say $1.67 for a box of twenty-five tea bags, 60 cents for a candy bar, $1.19 for a medium-size box of all-bran cereal. Sizes and brand names were always included in her descriptions. It was a different item each time. This was one topic in which she did not repeat herself. She would tell me exactly which supermarket she intended to go to and in which aisle the treasure would be located. Once a week she would want bus fare to go downtown and back, though she never reported back on these trips, and I never saw her near a bus stop. Although she alluded to keeping a tally of what she owed me, there was no pretense of paying this money back anytime soon. On some sunny weekend days Mrs. Duchik would ask to borrow my umbrella only to return it a few minutes later, soaked. All I could imagine is that for some reason, sensible to her alone, she held it under a faucet. I never actually saw her leave the building on rainy days. She asked several times if I didn't have any other umbrellas, not that there was anything wrong with the black one I repeatedly loaned her. Apparently she just liked variety. When I asked why she didn't buy an inexpensive umbrella she laughed, and said, "You're joking. On Henry's pension? Besides, then I'd still only have one umbrella." I was tempted to give her the money for three umbrellas or present her with a gift, but I thought I'd just get led deeper into a place that I already was having difficulty getting out of. When I recommended that she try the other neighbors, she said their umbrellas looked the same as mine, and then she'd go into a tirade about the neighbors. Mrs. Duchik was fond of complaining about the neighbors. I couldn't help but think she complained to them about me when I wasn't around, although I never really saw her speak to anyone else. When the neighbors saw her in the hallway or lobby, they shunned and even sneered at her. She made me complain for her to the super mostly about their noisiness and smells and how they were leaving the building dirty. I'm not sure what compelled me to agree to this. I knew what she said wasn't true and that the building, though not perfect, was 39


Henry Duchik's Underwear

H e n r y

D u c h i k ' s

U n d e r w e a r Philip Wexler

rs. Duchik was a buzzard. Her naked face was wrinkled and wizened even m o r e t h a n my shriveled old grandmother's, and she was just as confused. But it had to be more than the face, more than the red wattles under her chin that made me think of a buzzard, technically a turkey vulture, a creature I had never associated a woman with before. Men could become old buzzards, but this was usually in the abstract. As for Mrs. Duchik, she was tall and bulky with a head too small for her body and she always wore dark, heavyweight clothes—black, gray, or brown plumage—regardless of the season. Her silver hair was flattened against her head under an ever-present hairnet. I couldn't tell if she had the enormous wingspread of buzzards, for it seemed she was always perching on a dead tree or utility pole, staking out the territory, and often I was in it. I would find her hovering in the hallway between the doors of our adjacent apartments at least half of the times I came or went. She shuffled around this small space, studiously surveying the carpet as if it were a field she wanted to land on. She always hesitated before approaching me, but almost always approached me nonetheless, asking for favors. Either she had a leak somewhere, or the television needed repairs, or the refrigerator wasn't keeping the food cold anymore. I usually was able to escape by saying that I wasn't handy, that I would love to help, but that I ran into the same problems in my apartment all the time, and I got in touch with the super. I suggested she do the same. But when 38

she asked me to help her replace a light bulb or oil a squeaky door hinge, I couldn't say no. Money was a big topic of conversation. She never asked for much, just small change, but she was very precise. It would have to be the exact amount to cover the price of the item plus tax, say $1.67 for a box of twenty-five tea bags, 60 cents for a candy bar, $1.19 for a medium-size box of all-bran cereal. Sizes and brand names were always included in her descriptions. It was a different item each time. This was one topic in which she did not repeat herself. She would tell me exactly which supermarket she intended to go to and in which aisle the treasure would be located. Once a week she would want bus fare to go downtown and back, though she never reported back on these trips, and I never saw her near a bus stop. Although she alluded to keeping a tally of what she owed me, there was no pretense of paying this money back anytime soon. On some sunny weekend days Mrs. Duchik would ask to borrow my umbrella only to return it a few minutes later, soaked. All I could imagine is that for some reason, sensible to her alone, she held it under a faucet. I never actually saw her leave the building on rainy days. She asked several times if I didn't have any other umbrellas, not that there was anything wrong with the black one I repeatedly loaned her. Apparently she just liked variety. When I asked why she didn't buy an inexpensive umbrella she laughed, and said, "You're joking. On Henry's pension? Besides, then I'd still only have one umbrella." I was tempted to give her the money for three umbrellas or present her with a gift, but I thought I'd just get led deeper into a place that I already was having difficulty getting out of. When I recommended that she try the other neighbors, she said their umbrellas looked the same as mine, and then she'd go into a tirade about the neighbors. Mrs. Duchik was fond of complaining about the neighbors. I couldn't help but think she complained to them about me when I wasn't around, although I never really saw her speak to anyone else. When the neighbors saw her in the hallway or lobby, they shunned and even sneered at her. She made me complain for her to the super mostly about their noisiness and smells and how they were leaving the building dirty. I'm not sure what compelled me to agree to this. I knew what she said wasn't true and that the building, though not perfect, was 39


Berkeley Fiction Review surprisingly quiet and clean. I had lived in some bad ones. "Tell her," the super said to me on one occasion, "if she thinks the building is a mess, why does she drop her candy wrappers in the hallway? Maybe it stinks because she needs a bath. As for noise, the people in the building across the street call me up about her shouting out the window at night. The woman needs help. Sometimes she stands up on the roof terrace with binoculars staring at people—on the sidewalks, in their apartments. I've had complaints, plenty of complaints. Why do you bother with the old bird? I'm not saying she doesn't need help. But why you? The next step for her is a nursing home. You know that and I know that. You've got your own life to deal with. Do you feel so sorry for her, is that it?" I didn't have any answers. But for all the favors requested, Mrs. Duchik could be generous. On several occasions she offered me her deceased husband's clothing—suits, shirts, outerwear. After I said "no" often enough, she gave up asking but soon started in again with an offer of underwear. She kept telling me that I just must take them, they were made for me, I would look exceptional; Henry would have approved (although he died five years before I moved into the building and I never knew him). Each time I declined politely, pointing out that Henry's build, from what I could tell from the one photo she carried around, of a dwarfish, rather duck-like, mustached man, was smaller than mine. "Yes, but you should have seen how he filled them out," she countered. With respect to Henry, I didn't know if this meant that they were tight on him or if she was hinting at parts of his anatomy that required a larger size than height and weight alone would dictate. With respect to me, I tried not to think about what she might be implying. She would bring up the subject daily and I feared some neighbor would overhear us in the hallway. I praised her kindness but said it was quite out of the question and that I had more briefs than I needed. She didn't for a moment suspect the lie when I told her of my standing order with an Arizona mail-order firm for shipment of seven pair twice a year. All she said was that a man could never have enough and that I'd look like a million. Arriving home one evening, I saw her waiting outside my door with a big brown shopping bag. She was pulling out a pair of 40

Henry Duchik's Underwear unmistakably used, or "formerly owned" as they say in the luxury car business, white boxer shorts embroidered with little white open umbrellas. I knew I could be in for a long round and surely didn't want to be seen with her like this, so I invited her into my apartment for the first time, much to her satisfaction. "I did all the embroidery myself," she said, as I unlocked the door and quickly ushered her in. "When I told people, they said, 'Why shorts? Who's going to admire the needlework on your husband's shorts?' But I didn't need admiration. Henry would see them and I would see them. That was good enough. Maybe you don't like the pattern? I can't undo it, but I can add on. Flowers under the umbrellas maybe? Oh no, how silly, not for a man. How about streetlights and little drops of rain? Or ducks—that would be cute." Settling onto the sofa and emptying out the whole bag of dozens of shorts next to her, she took another tack when she noticed I wasn't impressed with the idea of additional embroidery. "I'll tell you, I knew you wouldn't care about the embroidery one way or another. I've got a much better idea." She then revealed her plan to sew fresh elastic into the stretched out waists, convinced this would surely win me over. "I realized that's why you were hesitating for so long. No matter how nicely you keep your shorts, and Henry was good about that, sooner or later the elastic will give. Now you might think he should have discarded them long before the elastic stretched out, but he appreciated what went into them, my sewing I mean. And that's why we saved them. Each and every pair from our three-year marriage. It came late and was short but we had sweet times." "Mrs. Duchik, I do find the embroidery lovely, but you must understand this entire situation is very awkward for me." "I wasn't going to boast," she answered, "but since you brought up the embroidery again—did you know I sewed each and every one of those umbrellas onto the shorts while Henry was wearing them? It made the gift more personal. I mean, not every wife could handle that. And Henry was proud to have it done that way, absolutely loved it. He told me it was like sitting for a portrait, even though he was standing. And if sometimes the needle slipped, and it wasn't often, Henry bore it, and I tended to him. Let me tell you, those were tender moments I'll never see again." At this point she needed some tissues. 41


Berkeley Fiction Review surprisingly quiet and clean. I had lived in some bad ones. "Tell her," the super said to me on one occasion, "if she thinks the building is a mess, why does she drop her candy wrappers in the hallway? Maybe it stinks because she needs a bath. As for noise, the people in the building across the street call me up about her shouting out the window at night. The woman needs help. Sometimes she stands up on the roof terrace with binoculars staring at people—on the sidewalks, in their apartments. I've had complaints, plenty of complaints. Why do you bother with the old bird? I'm not saying she doesn't need help. But why you? The next step for her is a nursing home. You know that and I know that. You've got your own life to deal with. Do you feel so sorry for her, is that it?" I didn't have any answers. But for all the favors requested, Mrs. Duchik could be generous. On several occasions she offered me her deceased husband's clothing—suits, shirts, outerwear. After I said "no" often enough, she gave up asking but soon started in again with an offer of underwear. She kept telling me that I just must take them, they were made for me, I would look exceptional; Henry would have approved (although he died five years before I moved into the building and I never knew him). Each time I declined politely, pointing out that Henry's build, from what I could tell from the one photo she carried around, of a dwarfish, rather duck-like, mustached man, was smaller than mine. "Yes, but you should have seen how he filled them out," she countered. With respect to Henry, I didn't know if this meant that they were tight on him or if she was hinting at parts of his anatomy that required a larger size than height and weight alone would dictate. With respect to me, I tried not to think about what she might be implying. She would bring up the subject daily and I feared some neighbor would overhear us in the hallway. I praised her kindness but said it was quite out of the question and that I had more briefs than I needed. She didn't for a moment suspect the lie when I told her of my standing order with an Arizona mail-order firm for shipment of seven pair twice a year. All she said was that a man could never have enough and that I'd look like a million. Arriving home one evening, I saw her waiting outside my door with a big brown shopping bag. She was pulling out a pair of 40

Henry Duchik's Underwear unmistakably used, or "formerly owned" as they say in the luxury car business, white boxer shorts embroidered with little white open umbrellas. I knew I could be in for a long round and surely didn't want to be seen with her like this, so I invited her into my apartment for the first time, much to her satisfaction. "I did all the embroidery myself," she said, as I unlocked the door and quickly ushered her in. "When I told people, they said, 'Why shorts? Who's going to admire the needlework on your husband's shorts?' But I didn't need admiration. Henry would see them and I would see them. That was good enough. Maybe you don't like the pattern? I can't undo it, but I can add on. Flowers under the umbrellas maybe? Oh no, how silly, not for a man. How about streetlights and little drops of rain? Or ducks—that would be cute." Settling onto the sofa and emptying out the whole bag of dozens of shorts next to her, she took another tack when she noticed I wasn't impressed with the idea of additional embroidery. "I'll tell you, I knew you wouldn't care about the embroidery one way or another. I've got a much better idea." She then revealed her plan to sew fresh elastic into the stretched out waists, convinced this would surely win me over. "I realized that's why you were hesitating for so long. No matter how nicely you keep your shorts, and Henry was good about that, sooner or later the elastic will give. Now you might think he should have discarded them long before the elastic stretched out, but he appreciated what went into them, my sewing I mean. And that's why we saved them. Each and every pair from our three-year marriage. It came late and was short but we had sweet times." "Mrs. Duchik, I do find the embroidery lovely, but you must understand this entire situation is very awkward for me." "I wasn't going to boast," she answered, "but since you brought up the embroidery again—did you know I sewed each and every one of those umbrellas onto the shorts while Henry was wearing them? It made the gift more personal. I mean, not every wife could handle that. And Henry was proud to have it done that way, absolutely loved it. He told me it was like sitting for a portrait, even though he was standing. And if sometimes the needle slipped, and it wasn't often, Henry bore it, and I tended to him. Let me tell you, those were tender moments I'll never see again." At this point she needed some tissues. 41


Berkeley Fiction Review After she composed herself she said that being a tidy man, I must have been concerned about the cleanliness of the shorts. She assured me she had bleached them three times since Henry died and that the remaining discoloration in the seat areas, and she turned one inside out to show me as she was explaining, was nothing more than natural aging of the cotton. With that she lifted her skirt, grabbing some folds of flabby thigh to demonstrate what she meant by aging. "Look, I'm a complex woman and this is what became of me. I wasn't always like this. What can you expect of some thrown together fabric? But there's still value. Go ahead, feel it." "Please Mrs. Duchik," I said, "I don't mean to be ungrateful but I can't accept these. I've heard you out and you've been eloquent in your case." I began to reach for her skirt to pull it back down over her legs and I saw a glint in her eyes as she must have thought I was reaching to examine her flesh. Instead I took her arm and helped her up. Of its own accord, the skirt dropped back down to cover the damage. This seemed to ruffle her feathers. "Won't you kindly go home now and make yourself some tea?" I escorted her out hastily, not giving her a chance to respond, locked the door, and steeped some myself. My hands were shaky as I returned to the living room with the tea, and I was so unsettled by seeing the stock of shorts still recumbent upon the sofa that the cup slipped out of my hand, soiling both the upholstery and the underwear. I couldn't return them to her in this condition so I put on some black gloves and stuffed them into a black plastic trash bag, holding my breath instinctively, but needlessly really, for they didn't smell at all. I opened the door and looked both ways down the hall to be sure no one was watching. Then, avoiding the elevator, I softly walked, like a cat burglar, to the stairwell and down three flights to the basement laundry room. Only after making sure that the laundry room was empty, did I let out a deep breath and only then realize that I had been holding it all the way from my apartment. I put the whole bag in the washing machine and then took out the shorts one by one. I heard some clicks nearby and when the room went totally quiet, it became clear that the washing machine next to mine had just finished its spin cycle. That meant somebody could come in at any moment. No one did, but I was on guard, standing next to my washing machine, protectively laying my 42

Henry Duchik's Underwear hand on the lid, and checking the entrance every few seconds for signs of life. When my load was finished, again I put the plastic bag in, stuffed it with the sodden shorts, and transferred them to a tall front-loading dryer with, unfortunately, a large circular window. I deposited the coins and pressed the start button, and as I was thinking if I should somehow cover the window, even if with my body, I was startled by a voice behind me saying, "Didn't that underwear belong to Henry Duchik?" I was doubly startled when I turned and saw Mrs. Duchik. She began screaming that neighbors always betrayed her. They were noisy and filthy and, now, thieves. She seemed to partially recognize me or recognize parts of me. "I know you," she continued, not exactly screaming anymore but in a loud and disturbed voice. "So I borrowed an umbrella from you once or twice. Does that give you any right? Don't answer. I'll tell you. No, it does not give you any right. You knew, you always knew I was a widow. And it's so easy to take advantage of a widow. Henry knew. Do you think he cared about Fred? Do you think he cared beans? Twice a widow, twice a widow. Fred at least was a saint. Everything Henry got, he deserved. It was perversion with Henry, night after night, perversion." She flapped her arms slightly and then more widely, but with great labor. Eventually she extended them fully from her sides, and kept them rigid. There was enough lift to keep her gliding for a long time. She was trying to determine how much I could be told, how much I had guessed already. The undershorts were going round and round— an enormous cyclopean eye rolling. The little white umbrellas were like parachutes being released over and over. "With Fred things were regular, more or less. No picnic, of course, but still. Drinking I could tolerate. He really was a saint, a drunken saint. Then he started blaming me. That was his mistake. I only drank with him. He got so sick and said he was miserable. That was another mistake. And he asked me to put him out of his misery, and I thought, 'Why not?' That was my mistake." "But Henry—umbrellas in bed. Do you know what a fetish is? You shouldn't know. And he blamed me. I know it could be sweet, night after night, but then I came out of it, and it wasn't sweet, and Henry 43


Berkeley Fiction Review After she composed herself she said that being a tidy man, I must have been concerned about the cleanliness of the shorts. She assured me she had bleached them three times since Henry died and that the remaining discoloration in the seat areas, and she turned one inside out to show me as she was explaining, was nothing more than natural aging of the cotton. With that she lifted her skirt, grabbing some folds of flabby thigh to demonstrate what she meant by aging. "Look, I'm a complex woman and this is what became of me. I wasn't always like this. What can you expect of some thrown together fabric? But there's still value. Go ahead, feel it." "Please Mrs. Duchik," I said, "I don't mean to be ungrateful but I can't accept these. I've heard you out and you've been eloquent in your case." I began to reach for her skirt to pull it back down over her legs and I saw a glint in her eyes as she must have thought I was reaching to examine her flesh. Instead I took her arm and helped her up. Of its own accord, the skirt dropped back down to cover the damage. This seemed to ruffle her feathers. "Won't you kindly go home now and make yourself some tea?" I escorted her out hastily, not giving her a chance to respond, locked the door, and steeped some myself. My hands were shaky as I returned to the living room with the tea, and I was so unsettled by seeing the stock of shorts still recumbent upon the sofa that the cup slipped out of my hand, soiling both the upholstery and the underwear. I couldn't return them to her in this condition so I put on some black gloves and stuffed them into a black plastic trash bag, holding my breath instinctively, but needlessly really, for they didn't smell at all. I opened the door and looked both ways down the hall to be sure no one was watching. Then, avoiding the elevator, I softly walked, like a cat burglar, to the stairwell and down three flights to the basement laundry room. Only after making sure that the laundry room was empty, did I let out a deep breath and only then realize that I had been holding it all the way from my apartment. I put the whole bag in the washing machine and then took out the shorts one by one. I heard some clicks nearby and when the room went totally quiet, it became clear that the washing machine next to mine had just finished its spin cycle. That meant somebody could come in at any moment. No one did, but I was on guard, standing next to my washing machine, protectively laying my 42

Henry Duchik's Underwear hand on the lid, and checking the entrance every few seconds for signs of life. When my load was finished, again I put the plastic bag in, stuffed it with the sodden shorts, and transferred them to a tall front-loading dryer with, unfortunately, a large circular window. I deposited the coins and pressed the start button, and as I was thinking if I should somehow cover the window, even if with my body, I was startled by a voice behind me saying, "Didn't that underwear belong to Henry Duchik?" I was doubly startled when I turned and saw Mrs. Duchik. She began screaming that neighbors always betrayed her. They were noisy and filthy and, now, thieves. She seemed to partially recognize me or recognize parts of me. "I know you," she continued, not exactly screaming anymore but in a loud and disturbed voice. "So I borrowed an umbrella from you once or twice. Does that give you any right? Don't answer. I'll tell you. No, it does not give you any right. You knew, you always knew I was a widow. And it's so easy to take advantage of a widow. Henry knew. Do you think he cared about Fred? Do you think he cared beans? Twice a widow, twice a widow. Fred at least was a saint. Everything Henry got, he deserved. It was perversion with Henry, night after night, perversion." She flapped her arms slightly and then more widely, but with great labor. Eventually she extended them fully from her sides, and kept them rigid. There was enough lift to keep her gliding for a long time. She was trying to determine how much I could be told, how much I had guessed already. The undershorts were going round and round— an enormous cyclopean eye rolling. The little white umbrellas were like parachutes being released over and over. "With Fred things were regular, more or less. No picnic, of course, but still. Drinking I could tolerate. He really was a saint, a drunken saint. Then he started blaming me. That was his mistake. I only drank with him. He got so sick and said he was miserable. That was another mistake. And he asked me to put him out of his misery, and I thought, 'Why not?' That was my mistake." "But Henry—umbrellas in bed. Do you know what a fetish is? You shouldn't know. And he blamed me. I know it could be sweet, night after night, but then I came out of it, and it wasn't sweet, and Henry 43


Berkeley Fiction Review wasn't sweet, and then he was dead, dead by his precious umbrellas, dead and buried with them. And where was I? Here. And with you? So what's your game? I suppose his underwear wasn't good enough for you. Henry didn't mind. He didn't mind second-hand. Fred was dead. I suppose you want me to do a little sewing on yours, and then you'll blame me, of course, if anything goes wrong. Go ahead, drop your pants. I'm used to it. Go ahead. I always carry needle and thread. What did you say it would be? Ducks?" She wasn't moving in for the kill. She couldn't. She thought I was dead already. Otherwise she would never have unburdened herself. But I could be consumed. I was very consumable. The shorts were spinning around, fluffing up, hitting the window of the dryer, calling out. We both looked. Something about this sight made her add a wrinkle to her wrinkled brow, drop her wings, crumple up. Mrs. Duchik was crying. "Can you imagine? Night after night. And now you. And where will I be when you go?" "My intentions were honorable, I assure you, Mrs. Duchik," I said, slowly backing out of the room. I left her sobbing, the old buzzard, staring at the porthole of the dryer, waiting for it to end.

44

First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

D u s t Jason Bellipanni

can barely see a pair of yellow eyes through the dust. An animal for sure, but an elk? A deer? I hear the breathing from somewhere behind my car and I pop the hood. The wind stings, swirling sand onto my bare legs, my arms. It probably just needs oil, or it needed oil. I'm afraid it is beyond needing anything. On my hands and knees I see a glowing green puddle the size of a Frisbee. I can barely see the animal's legs pass behind a rear tire. When I stand, I see corners of an old gas station down the road through the swirling funnels of dust. Miniature tornadoes dancing the hip dance. A broken window, a wooden sign with flaking blue paint, a rusted car frame with its nose to the ground. Steps follow me and I hear snorting. I can see the yellow eyes in my mind and I trot toward the station. I stop and turn and it stands three feet away, curled horns lowered. It gallops toward me. I face him head on and raise my arms to make myself look bigger. I tense my body to deflect the hit, but the bonecolored horns pound flat against my chest. A chill runs'through me when my back hits the road. Like falling on a frozen pond, smacking against the ice and losing my breath. Waiting in silence for air with the thought that I may be dying. A single cloud hangs like a smoke ring in the sky. Nothing to pass through it, no airplane thread, no imaginary boat. Maybe this is what it's like to die. 45


Berkeley Fiction Review wasn't sweet, and then he was dead, dead by his precious umbrellas, dead and buried with them. And where was I? Here. And with you? So what's your game? I suppose his underwear wasn't good enough for you. Henry didn't mind. He didn't mind second-hand. Fred was dead. I suppose you want me to do a little sewing on yours, and then you'll blame me, of course, if anything goes wrong. Go ahead, drop your pants. I'm used to it. Go ahead. I always carry needle and thread. What did you say it would be? Ducks?" She wasn't moving in for the kill. She couldn't. She thought I was dead already. Otherwise she would never have unburdened herself. But I could be consumed. I was very consumable. The shorts were spinning around, fluffing up, hitting the window of the dryer, calling out. We both looked. Something about this sight made her add a wrinkle to her wrinkled brow, drop her wings, crumple up. Mrs. Duchik was crying. "Can you imagine? Night after night. And now you. And where will I be when you go?" "My intentions were honorable, I assure you, Mrs. Duchik," I said, slowly backing out of the room. I left her sobbing, the old buzzard, staring at the porthole of the dryer, waiting for it to end.

44

First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

D u s t Jason Bellipanni

can barely see a pair of yellow eyes through the dust. An animal for sure, but an elk? A deer? I hear the breathing from somewhere behind my car and I pop the hood. The wind stings, swirling sand onto my bare legs, my arms. It probably just needs oil, or it needed oil. I'm afraid it is beyond needing anything. On my hands and knees I see a glowing green puddle the size of a Frisbee. I can barely see the animal's legs pass behind a rear tire. When I stand, I see corners of an old gas station down the road through the swirling funnels of dust. Miniature tornadoes dancing the hip dance. A broken window, a wooden sign with flaking blue paint, a rusted car frame with its nose to the ground. Steps follow me and I hear snorting. I can see the yellow eyes in my mind and I trot toward the station. I stop and turn and it stands three feet away, curled horns lowered. It gallops toward me. I face him head on and raise my arms to make myself look bigger. I tense my body to deflect the hit, but the bonecolored horns pound flat against my chest. A chill runs'through me when my back hits the road. Like falling on a frozen pond, smacking against the ice and losing my breath. Waiting in silence for air with the thought that I may be dying. A single cloud hangs like a smoke ring in the sky. Nothing to pass through it, no airplane thread, no imaginary boat. Maybe this is what it's like to die. 45


Berkeley Fiction Review Just a cloud ring floating along until my body remembers what to do. Breathe. I stand, head bowed to acknowledge defeat. To plead mercy while I walk backwards in the direction of the gas station. The ram lowers its head, nodding to me. Then the shock, like cold water, the animal smell, and the sandy pavement gritting against my head. I never make it to the gas station. I spend my time bruising my ribs and coughing up dusty spit. A few times I'm sure my shirt is heavy with blood, but when I look down it is soaked clear. Dirt has changed into mud smears. Each time I stand and wait for the ram to be satisfied or bored, and finally someone stops to help. A teenage girl in a pickup helps me to the passenger side. She tells the ram to scat. She wears no bra and spits tobacco juice onto the ground. For a moment I see her like my nurse. I fall in love with the bruise on her knee. My nose is inches from it, my ear to her crotch, and as she drives, I clutch my body in order to hold it together. Sandy is her name and she looks down at me without expression. I wonder if beaten men often curl up on her lap and she brushes hair away from the side of my face. She says I've got something under my eye and she rubs a wet thumb to wipe it away. She watches the road and I think about her tobacco spit, swaying in a glass jar at the base of the long stick shift. Her brothers used to beat her up when she was younger and she knows how I feel. Once they chained her into a metal trash can and rolled her off the hayloft. Another time they roped her down and made the cat lick food off her. That wasn't so bad, it even tickled, but afterward they always called her tuna delight. I suddenly believe in internal bleeding and I think a faucet roars inside my stomach. I can die on Sandy's lap. In fact I would rather it, and she raises her miniature spittoon past my head. Spit echoes in the glass jar. She says the most important thing is to stay awake so that I don't slip into a coma. She pokes her finger inside my ear once in a while to make sure I'm listening. Her dad will be at home watching The Price Is Right and he'll know what to do. Could be nothing but a few bruises, maybe a sprain. Sandy hopes she'll be able to keep me. She is seventeen and her hand rests against my cheek. 46

Dust It feels like a toilet flushes inside my chest cavity, pours into my stomach. The dad sleeps on the couch so Sandy helps me up the stairs into a room. She opens a closet door and gingerly guides me down onto the musty mattress. Sandy thinks it's funny that I lie on the same mattress her brothers used that time with the cat. She kneels and tells me it will be okay. She kisses me on the lips until I fall asleep. While I curl in the dark, the kissing continues in my dreams. I open my eyes and stand, brush myself off before stepping into the room. My chest aches but whatever had been sloshing around inside my body has either hardened or evaporated and I try to stretch. Sandy sits cross-legged on her bed and stares out the window. The thunder in the dark sky rumbles alone, not a drop of rain has fallen. I clear my throat. Sandy doesn't move so I go and sit on the edge of her bed. She says, "I love the sound of thunder." "We could use the rain," I say. It doesn't even smell like rain. Her profile against the window startles me and tears collect in my eyes. My ribs feel tender. I speak without hearing my own voice. Sandy turns. "Don't ask if you don't mean it, Randy. Don't be such a little boy." I wonder when I told her my name and slowly I remember that days have passed. I have eaten chicken soup. I think about the gas station and the ram. I kneel near the bed and grope in the dark until I find her cool hand. I remember the bruise on her knee. "Will you marry me?" I hear myself ask again. Sandy turns to me and her cheeks shine, polished. She says, "I chew tobacco and wear the same underwear for days." "I used to chew gum scraped off the sidewalks," I say. "You must be the most beautiful creature on earth." Now I sit on the bed, holding her hand in my lap while she stares out the window. The thunder continues like a bowling alley and I kiss each of her knuckles, one by one. She says, "Yes." She closes her eyes, tilts her chin up. "We love each other, don't we Randy?" I say we do. I say it's one of those crazy things that happen. Fate. I 47


Berkeley Fiction Review Just a cloud ring floating along until my body remembers what to do. Breathe. I stand, head bowed to acknowledge defeat. To plead mercy while I walk backwards in the direction of the gas station. The ram lowers its head, nodding to me. Then the shock, like cold water, the animal smell, and the sandy pavement gritting against my head. I never make it to the gas station. I spend my time bruising my ribs and coughing up dusty spit. A few times I'm sure my shirt is heavy with blood, but when I look down it is soaked clear. Dirt has changed into mud smears. Each time I stand and wait for the ram to be satisfied or bored, and finally someone stops to help. A teenage girl in a pickup helps me to the passenger side. She tells the ram to scat. She wears no bra and spits tobacco juice onto the ground. For a moment I see her like my nurse. I fall in love with the bruise on her knee. My nose is inches from it, my ear to her crotch, and as she drives, I clutch my body in order to hold it together. Sandy is her name and she looks down at me without expression. I wonder if beaten men often curl up on her lap and she brushes hair away from the side of my face. She says I've got something under my eye and she rubs a wet thumb to wipe it away. She watches the road and I think about her tobacco spit, swaying in a glass jar at the base of the long stick shift. Her brothers used to beat her up when she was younger and she knows how I feel. Once they chained her into a metal trash can and rolled her off the hayloft. Another time they roped her down and made the cat lick food off her. That wasn't so bad, it even tickled, but afterward they always called her tuna delight. I suddenly believe in internal bleeding and I think a faucet roars inside my stomach. I can die on Sandy's lap. In fact I would rather it, and she raises her miniature spittoon past my head. Spit echoes in the glass jar. She says the most important thing is to stay awake so that I don't slip into a coma. She pokes her finger inside my ear once in a while to make sure I'm listening. Her dad will be at home watching The Price Is Right and he'll know what to do. Could be nothing but a few bruises, maybe a sprain. Sandy hopes she'll be able to keep me. She is seventeen and her hand rests against my cheek. 46

Dust It feels like a toilet flushes inside my chest cavity, pours into my stomach. The dad sleeps on the couch so Sandy helps me up the stairs into a room. She opens a closet door and gingerly guides me down onto the musty mattress. Sandy thinks it's funny that I lie on the same mattress her brothers used that time with the cat. She kneels and tells me it will be okay. She kisses me on the lips until I fall asleep. While I curl in the dark, the kissing continues in my dreams. I open my eyes and stand, brush myself off before stepping into the room. My chest aches but whatever had been sloshing around inside my body has either hardened or evaporated and I try to stretch. Sandy sits cross-legged on her bed and stares out the window. The thunder in the dark sky rumbles alone, not a drop of rain has fallen. I clear my throat. Sandy doesn't move so I go and sit on the edge of her bed. She says, "I love the sound of thunder." "We could use the rain," I say. It doesn't even smell like rain. Her profile against the window startles me and tears collect in my eyes. My ribs feel tender. I speak without hearing my own voice. Sandy turns. "Don't ask if you don't mean it, Randy. Don't be such a little boy." I wonder when I told her my name and slowly I remember that days have passed. I have eaten chicken soup. I think about the gas station and the ram. I kneel near the bed and grope in the dark until I find her cool hand. I remember the bruise on her knee. "Will you marry me?" I hear myself ask again. Sandy turns to me and her cheeks shine, polished. She says, "I chew tobacco and wear the same underwear for days." "I used to chew gum scraped off the sidewalks," I say. "You must be the most beautiful creature on earth." Now I sit on the bed, holding her hand in my lap while she stares out the window. The thunder continues like a bowling alley and I kiss each of her knuckles, one by one. She says, "Yes." She closes her eyes, tilts her chin up. "We love each other, don't we Randy?" I say we do. I say it's one of those crazy things that happen. Fate. I 47


Berkeley Fiction Review remember the fluorescent green puddle under my old car. The rain taps against the window and we lie back and fall asleep on Sandy's bed. T a n g e r i n e s Michael Hollister

t

t dawn the call to prayer wailed through loudspeakers from the minaret across the alley, high-pitched and crackling static. The tangerine man, stripped bare to his waist, rose from the narrow bed and stood at the French doors to the balcony, looking out beyond a thick old date palm at the harbor of Tangier. He always stayed in the old quarter, away from the Americans, this time in a cheap narrow room with a high stained ceiling. The Hotel Cosmo had declined from wicked to seedy as a relic of the International Zone with chipped paint and rusting iron balconies, where now and then the few guests, speaking Arabic, echo through corridors walled in blue mudejar tile. With his bare toe he nudged away the canvas snake full of sand that blocked the draft under the French doors, then he pulled the doors open to the heat and smells, a waft of sea, cooked lamb, and sewage at the edge of Africa. Behind him on the bed, the girl sighed. She went on sleeping in the early light with her face to the wall, one pale shoulder exposed, sweating through a fever, the sheet draped over her damp form and lay mashed flat where he had slept on top of it beside her. In Marrakech, the marketplace of Djemaa El Fna among the tents and camels, black cobras and charmers, she looked so American. Jeans and backpack, that easy look, showing her money. Independent, as they like to say. The vendors and beggars and thieves were crowding around her, Bashir declaring himself her guide, Ahmed trying to sell her camel dung as kif.

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r

f

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Berkeley Fiction Review remember the fluorescent green puddle under my old car. The rain taps against the window and we lie back and fall asleep on Sandy's bed. T a n g e r i n e s Michael Hollister

t

t dawn the call to prayer wailed through loudspeakers from the minaret across the alley, high-pitched and crackling static. The tangerine man, stripped bare to his waist, rose from the narrow bed and stood at the French doors to the balcony, looking out beyond a thick old date palm at the harbor of Tangier. He always stayed in the old quarter, away from the Americans, this time in a cheap narrow room with a high stained ceiling. The Hotel Cosmo had declined from wicked to seedy as a relic of the International Zone with chipped paint and rusting iron balconies, where now and then the few guests, speaking Arabic, echo through corridors walled in blue mudejar tile. With his bare toe he nudged away the canvas snake full of sand that blocked the draft under the French doors, then he pulled the doors open to the heat and smells, a waft of sea, cooked lamb, and sewage at the edge of Africa. Behind him on the bed, the girl sighed. She went on sleeping in the early light with her face to the wall, one pale shoulder exposed, sweating through a fever, the sheet draped over her damp form and lay mashed flat where he had slept on top of it beside her. In Marrakech, the marketplace of Djemaa El Fna among the tents and camels, black cobras and charmers, she looked so American. Jeans and backpack, that easy look, showing her money. Independent, as they like to say. The vendors and beggars and thieves were crowding around her, Bashir declaring himself her guide, Ahmed trying to sell her camel dung as kif.

i4 »

r

f

„ 48

49


Berkeley Fiction Review "Allez! Allez!" he waved them away. Then he pushed back the hood of his burnoose and showed her his smiling good-natured American face showing through his stubble. He took her to a cafe with tiled walls and flowers in a vase on each table, where it felt cool and safe and quiet. She turned out to be British. He gave her a tangerine, cautioning her about the water. Outside afterward, she felt ill. She let him take her backpack and pull her along through the crowd, insisting to him in a weak sick voice that she would be all right if she could just lie down. He offered to take her to a doctor in the French section. She shook her head, clutching his sleeve. In the bus station, he helped her to the toilet hole in the floor of the stall and left her there, throwing up. He bought two tickets to Tangier. On the bus he pulled her window open enough for some air. Then for her refreshment, he fed her segments of tangerine. She passed out with her head against the glass and snakes of hair stuck to the sweat on her face. Across the aisle, a Muslim in a white turban kept staring at him with this bare-faced girl. The tangerine man sat back, withdrawing his face into the sanctuary of his hood, as up the aisle a shiny red chicken squawked and wildly thrashed against its cage. The bus entered a village and as it slowed to a stop, the locals crowded all around it. The British girl turned her head and squinted outside at a blind old beggar with a beard and white cataracts approaching her window, holding out his hand and calling for alms. She shrank back. "I'm sorry." Her eyes filled. Out her window, the begging white eyes turned up to the sky. "Can you call your father?" A goat with shaggy black eyebrows looked at her over the back of the seat and snorted. "Oh God." Her eyes were trickling. He wiped the sweat off her face with the sleeve of his burnoose and pushed through her dry lips a sweet juicy segment of tangerine. She had come to study and improve her Arabic, she told him. The people all were wonderful, but then, her voice fell, then something happened in the desert. Too horrible. Mumbling in her fever dreams, 50

Tangerines she could not get out of the desert, could not escape a stranger with his back to her, a bearded trader who made her tea and offered to escort her home. He took her into the desert and left her there to walk out. He took her jeans and money and almost everything. She felt so bad, she had to give up. Her eyes looked too long in the desert. She made her way from Bierut to Marrakech and it felt so good to meet an American. Sure he would help her get home. He fed her sweetness and would help her to reach the port of Tangier. She said she felt dizzy and nauseous, her muscles feeble. She complained of pain like her skull would burst and kept passing out. The harbor of Tangier glittered as the sun rose behind the hotels along a scimitar of beach. In the markets and on the streets, old women in black sat down behind displays of oranges and tangerines. Seagulls cruised through shadows of the hotels and down in a garden of palms and Moorish arches, waiters in clean aprons were spreading white tablecloths. On this table against the wall, two spots of orange were framed by the room. Bright orange. He always put them on the table like that, side by side. If there was anything else on the table he cleared it off, so there would be nothing else. He liked to see the dawn light glow on the tangerines. Sometimes, if he liked the girl, he would offer her more than two. It depended on the girl. She stirred under the sheet without opening her eyes. Her pale face looked comatose with dark bags under her eyes, dry cracked lips and hair all tangled and sweaty. He watched her now with his mouth dry too, recalling the desert. When she opened her eyes, she looked first at him, then at the two tangerines on the table, gleaming orange in the light. Her lips stuck together before parting, then she coughed. "How are you feeling?" She looked at him with feverish eyes, trying to get him in focus. "Who are you?" "I'm an American." "Where are we?" "This is Tangier. We came in on the bus last night. I slept on the floor, mostly." "God, I'm thirsty." 51


Berkeley Fiction Review "Allez! Allez!" he waved them away. Then he pushed back the hood of his burnoose and showed her his smiling good-natured American face showing through his stubble. He took her to a cafe with tiled walls and flowers in a vase on each table, where it felt cool and safe and quiet. She turned out to be British. He gave her a tangerine, cautioning her about the water. Outside afterward, she felt ill. She let him take her backpack and pull her along through the crowd, insisting to him in a weak sick voice that she would be all right if she could just lie down. He offered to take her to a doctor in the French section. She shook her head, clutching his sleeve. In the bus station, he helped her to the toilet hole in the floor of the stall and left her there, throwing up. He bought two tickets to Tangier. On the bus he pulled her window open enough for some air. Then for her refreshment, he fed her segments of tangerine. She passed out with her head against the glass and snakes of hair stuck to the sweat on her face. Across the aisle, a Muslim in a white turban kept staring at him with this bare-faced girl. The tangerine man sat back, withdrawing his face into the sanctuary of his hood, as up the aisle a shiny red chicken squawked and wildly thrashed against its cage. The bus entered a village and as it slowed to a stop, the locals crowded all around it. The British girl turned her head and squinted outside at a blind old beggar with a beard and white cataracts approaching her window, holding out his hand and calling for alms. She shrank back. "I'm sorry." Her eyes filled. Out her window, the begging white eyes turned up to the sky. "Can you call your father?" A goat with shaggy black eyebrows looked at her over the back of the seat and snorted. "Oh God." Her eyes were trickling. He wiped the sweat off her face with the sleeve of his burnoose and pushed through her dry lips a sweet juicy segment of tangerine. She had come to study and improve her Arabic, she told him. The people all were wonderful, but then, her voice fell, then something happened in the desert. Too horrible. Mumbling in her fever dreams, 50

Tangerines she could not get out of the desert, could not escape a stranger with his back to her, a bearded trader who made her tea and offered to escort her home. He took her into the desert and left her there to walk out. He took her jeans and money and almost everything. She felt so bad, she had to give up. Her eyes looked too long in the desert. She made her way from Bierut to Marrakech and it felt so good to meet an American. Sure he would help her get home. He fed her sweetness and would help her to reach the port of Tangier. She said she felt dizzy and nauseous, her muscles feeble. She complained of pain like her skull would burst and kept passing out. The harbor of Tangier glittered as the sun rose behind the hotels along a scimitar of beach. In the markets and on the streets, old women in black sat down behind displays of oranges and tangerines. Seagulls cruised through shadows of the hotels and down in a garden of palms and Moorish arches, waiters in clean aprons were spreading white tablecloths. On this table against the wall, two spots of orange were framed by the room. Bright orange. He always put them on the table like that, side by side. If there was anything else on the table he cleared it off, so there would be nothing else. He liked to see the dawn light glow on the tangerines. Sometimes, if he liked the girl, he would offer her more than two. It depended on the girl. She stirred under the sheet without opening her eyes. Her pale face looked comatose with dark bags under her eyes, dry cracked lips and hair all tangled and sweaty. He watched her now with his mouth dry too, recalling the desert. When she opened her eyes, she looked first at him, then at the two tangerines on the table, gleaming orange in the light. Her lips stuck together before parting, then she coughed. "How are you feeling?" She looked at him with feverish eyes, trying to get him in focus. "Who are you?" "I'm an American." "Where are we?" "This is Tangier. We came in on the bus last night. I slept on the floor, mostly." "God, I'm thirsty." 51


Berkeley Fiction Review "You shouldn't drink the water." She looked at the tangerines. In the morning light, they were succulent balls. He picked one up and offered it to her. She propped herself up weakly and took it. She fumbled with it, too weak to stay propped up on her elbow. "Here," he said sweetly. "Let me." He pulled up the straight-back chair by the bed and sat down where she could watch him. He liked tangerines better than oranges because they peeled more easily and did not get messy. The skin came off like a jacket and the segments easily came apart. A tangerine was like an orange that got sick, he thought, and never fully developed, so the sweetness got more concentrated and intense. Tangerines made him feel tender and pure and good. He stuck his thumbnail into the tangerine skin. Then he began to peel it, slowly, all in one piece. He exposed the bare fruit and let her look at it. He liked to hold the naked tangerine in his palm, soft and full of juice. Dangling the first segment above her lips for a moment until she opened wider, he wanted her to want it, taste it before she could have it. She opened her mouth like a sick bird. Then he fed them to her, one at a time, and watched her lips. He liked this girl. Turning his back to her, he bent over his cloth bag and worked inside it, then turned back to her smiling goodnaturedly, holding out another tangerine. She struggled to rise but could not. "Why don't you have one?" she asked weakly. "They're for you. You're sick." "I've had enough." "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Please." v "Don't you want another one?" She tried to get up, then sagged back and closed her eyes. "I have to get home." "If you need money for air fare, you can send a wire at the American Express Office. I'll do it for you if you like." "My father. Look in my bag." He found a letter on the stationary of a brokerage firm in London, as formal looking as a report to a client, urging her to catch the next 52

Tangerines flight and enclosing a money order, presumably cashed and spent—he found only a few dollars—signed with love by her father. Outside and down the alley, he bought some kif from a boy in the big archway. After having a smoke, he went on to the American Express Office and before entering pulled up the hood of his burnoose to shadow his face. He only came in every few months to send a wire. He would do everything for her until she cashed the money order. It was just a fee, that was all. She could wire for more. It was easy, British girls were so naive. When he got what he needed for a few months, and plenty of kif, he would catch a bus on back to the desert. This time when the tangerine man unlocked and opened the door of his room at the Cosmo Hotel the girl was standing on his bed. Just as he saw her, she slugged him in the back of his head with the snake of sand. He dropped facedown on the floor. Only seconds later it seemed, he heard sounds, the door burst open and a policeman in uniform pulled him from his knees to his feet. Another dumped out his bag on the bed. They found his vial of strychnine and his syringe. Tangerines spilled out and rolled around the floor. Downstairs at the front desk, the clerk told the gendarmes the girl said he would pay. The tangerine man said he had nothing, that thief of a girl took all he had. Then the clerk handed over a tangerine he said the girl told him was evidence. The two gendarmes handled the suspect roughly, pushing him into the cage in the back of their car. Going down the "steep hill toward the station downtown, he looked out the cage and down a side street and saw the girl in her backpack hurrying down to the dock to catch the hydrofoil to Gibralter. The gendarmes wanted to detain her, but he was not going to help them gather evidence against him. H e would be deported, that was all. He would move on to another warm tourist spot, some place with plenty of tangerines.

53


Berkeley Fiction Review "You shouldn't drink the water." She looked at the tangerines. In the morning light, they were succulent balls. He picked one up and offered it to her. She propped herself up weakly and took it. She fumbled with it, too weak to stay propped up on her elbow. "Here," he said sweetly. "Let me." He pulled up the straight-back chair by the bed and sat down where she could watch him. He liked tangerines better than oranges because they peeled more easily and did not get messy. The skin came off like a jacket and the segments easily came apart. A tangerine was like an orange that got sick, he thought, and never fully developed, so the sweetness got more concentrated and intense. Tangerines made him feel tender and pure and good. He stuck his thumbnail into the tangerine skin. Then he began to peel it, slowly, all in one piece. He exposed the bare fruit and let her look at it. He liked to hold the naked tangerine in his palm, soft and full of juice. Dangling the first segment above her lips for a moment until she opened wider, he wanted her to want it, taste it before she could have it. She opened her mouth like a sick bird. Then he fed them to her, one at a time, and watched her lips. He liked this girl. Turning his back to her, he bent over his cloth bag and worked inside it, then turned back to her smiling goodnaturedly, holding out another tangerine. She struggled to rise but could not. "Why don't you have one?" she asked weakly. "They're for you. You're sick." "I've had enough." "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Please." v "Don't you want another one?" She tried to get up, then sagged back and closed her eyes. "I have to get home." "If you need money for air fare, you can send a wire at the American Express Office. I'll do it for you if you like." "My father. Look in my bag." He found a letter on the stationary of a brokerage firm in London, as formal looking as a report to a client, urging her to catch the next 52

Tangerines flight and enclosing a money order, presumably cashed and spent—he found only a few dollars—signed with love by her father. Outside and down the alley, he bought some kif from a boy in the big archway. After having a smoke, he went on to the American Express Office and before entering pulled up the hood of his burnoose to shadow his face. He only came in every few months to send a wire. He would do everything for her until she cashed the money order. It was just a fee, that was all. She could wire for more. It was easy, British girls were so naive. When he got what he needed for a few months, and plenty of kif, he would catch a bus on back to the desert. This time when the tangerine man unlocked and opened the door of his room at the Cosmo Hotel the girl was standing on his bed. Just as he saw her, she slugged him in the back of his head with the snake of sand. He dropped facedown on the floor. Only seconds later it seemed, he heard sounds, the door burst open and a policeman in uniform pulled him from his knees to his feet. Another dumped out his bag on the bed. They found his vial of strychnine and his syringe. Tangerines spilled out and rolled around the floor. Downstairs at the front desk, the clerk told the gendarmes the girl said he would pay. The tangerine man said he had nothing, that thief of a girl took all he had. Then the clerk handed over a tangerine he said the girl told him was evidence. The two gendarmes handled the suspect roughly, pushing him into the cage in the back of their car. Going down the "steep hill toward the station downtown, he looked out the cage and down a side street and saw the girl in her backpack hurrying down to the dock to catch the hydrofoil to Gibralter. The gendarmes wanted to detain her, but he was not going to help them gather evidence against him. H e would be deported, that was all. He would move on to another warm tourist spot, some place with plenty of tangerines.

53


F 'Slut"

a S l u t " Julie Odell

ednesday, Kelly Morris told George Miller she was going to strip. Since then, the sixth grade is together for the first time ever and it is amazing. I mean amazing like magic. It's never been like this, everyone getting along, everyone friends. We're just this one big gang and everyone belongs. Before this, the only word for it was mean. The whole sixth grade was broken into tight little knots where you had to be mean to be cool and if you stopped for a minute and forgot and were nice, the mean would just turn on you. Today I can't believe how easy it is to just talk. I'm not scared I'm going to say the wrong thing. I could talk forever, talk and talk. I want to run too. It feels so good, not like gym, nor like a game, but just to run. The whole thing is like waking up in a dream only the dream is for real. It's spring finally too, just to make it all perfect. It won't get cold again for a long time. It's warm and junior high starts in the fall. We'll be in junior high, out of elementary school, and maybe this new way of the sixth grade is the way for good. Right now we're playing the hugest soccer game ever. There must be fifty kids, the whole grade plus some of the fifth. We started staying after school Wednesday. At first just some kids who lived closest to the school but in three days it grew and now look at this. There's fifty kids in loose clumps, some talking that easy way of talking, but mostly we're running, kicking the ball, not even keeping score. 54

Well, the truth is, it's not this easy. It's not like the whole sixth grade just decided to get along for no reason. It's only happening because Kelly Morris told George Miller she was going to strip. George Miller has power. He told Kelly he would be her boyfriend if she took her clothes off in the woods behind school. I guess Kelly will do anything for George. All the girls want George for their boyfriend. Well I don't, but everybody else does. He's the boyfriend of every cool girl, then breaks up with them after a week. He's not even like a sixth grader. It's like he has a secret life outside of school and he has girlfriends who are grownup women. Of course George is lying about being Kelly's boyfriend. Kelly Morris is a nothing and she must be crazy or stupid on top of that to think George would ever want her. I think of her before this, I see her—just a beige lump, a nothing. Greasy hair of dark yellow and skin so pale and pink like sunburn, like she can't take the sun, like a baby. She has pimples and a greasy face, thick arms, pale and pink and round. She's just nothing with nothing clothes, a nothing brain, a nothing life. But George says she already has a body. It's a surprise that Kelly Morris could have something no one else has. I never knew it, but we all believe George. No other girls have a body in sixth grade. Girls are the same as boys. All our shirts go straight down. But George would know. George has the most power of anyone. We all think he's beautiful. He is beautiful, but one time I stopped and thought about it. Is he beautiful really? Or is it just blue eyes with tan skin, white teeth, puka shells like everyone wears but on him it looks like vacation. It looks rich. Tiny little nose, tiny thin eyebrows like-a lady's but his go up and down like the devil. But is George beautiful? Or is it just his coolness and hardness and the way he always thinks fastest, says the mean thing before anyone else even gets an idea? Sula Mikos says to Darla Wood that Kelly and George are for real. It's real love to George, and Kelly will be naked for George and if it's love it's not a bad thing. But Sula and Darla are nothing. They are lumps like Kelly, so what do they know? Sula thinks the nakedness is OK, but not Darla. She says it is bad and maybe she will try to stop it. Now we're running on the grass and it's loose and the air moves easy. It's all easy now, running, but Kelly should be here soon. George 55


F 'Slut"

a S l u t " Julie Odell

ednesday, Kelly Morris told George Miller she was going to strip. Since then, the sixth grade is together for the first time ever and it is amazing. I mean amazing like magic. It's never been like this, everyone getting along, everyone friends. We're just this one big gang and everyone belongs. Before this, the only word for it was mean. The whole sixth grade was broken into tight little knots where you had to be mean to be cool and if you stopped for a minute and forgot and were nice, the mean would just turn on you. Today I can't believe how easy it is to just talk. I'm not scared I'm going to say the wrong thing. I could talk forever, talk and talk. I want to run too. It feels so good, not like gym, nor like a game, but just to run. The whole thing is like waking up in a dream only the dream is for real. It's spring finally too, just to make it all perfect. It won't get cold again for a long time. It's warm and junior high starts in the fall. We'll be in junior high, out of elementary school, and maybe this new way of the sixth grade is the way for good. Right now we're playing the hugest soccer game ever. There must be fifty kids, the whole grade plus some of the fifth. We started staying after school Wednesday. At first just some kids who lived closest to the school but in three days it grew and now look at this. There's fifty kids in loose clumps, some talking that easy way of talking, but mostly we're running, kicking the ball, not even keeping score. 54

Well, the truth is, it's not this easy. It's not like the whole sixth grade just decided to get along for no reason. It's only happening because Kelly Morris told George Miller she was going to strip. George Miller has power. He told Kelly he would be her boyfriend if she took her clothes off in the woods behind school. I guess Kelly will do anything for George. All the girls want George for their boyfriend. Well I don't, but everybody else does. He's the boyfriend of every cool girl, then breaks up with them after a week. He's not even like a sixth grader. It's like he has a secret life outside of school and he has girlfriends who are grownup women. Of course George is lying about being Kelly's boyfriend. Kelly Morris is a nothing and she must be crazy or stupid on top of that to think George would ever want her. I think of her before this, I see her—just a beige lump, a nothing. Greasy hair of dark yellow and skin so pale and pink like sunburn, like she can't take the sun, like a baby. She has pimples and a greasy face, thick arms, pale and pink and round. She's just nothing with nothing clothes, a nothing brain, a nothing life. But George says she already has a body. It's a surprise that Kelly Morris could have something no one else has. I never knew it, but we all believe George. No other girls have a body in sixth grade. Girls are the same as boys. All our shirts go straight down. But George would know. George has the most power of anyone. We all think he's beautiful. He is beautiful, but one time I stopped and thought about it. Is he beautiful really? Or is it just blue eyes with tan skin, white teeth, puka shells like everyone wears but on him it looks like vacation. It looks rich. Tiny little nose, tiny thin eyebrows like-a lady's but his go up and down like the devil. But is George beautiful? Or is it just his coolness and hardness and the way he always thinks fastest, says the mean thing before anyone else even gets an idea? Sula Mikos says to Darla Wood that Kelly and George are for real. It's real love to George, and Kelly will be naked for George and if it's love it's not a bad thing. But Sula and Darla are nothing. They are lumps like Kelly, so what do they know? Sula thinks the nakedness is OK, but not Darla. She says it is bad and maybe she will try to stop it. Now we're running on the grass and it's loose and the air moves easy. It's all easy now, running, but Kelly should be here soon. George 55


Berkeley Fiction Review and them, Tom and Kevin and Devon, they're all sitting in a clump on the grass with their heads together like it's important and serious. The teachers don't know. They should see there are more than fifty kids staying after school but they don't. It's never been the whole sixth grade before, all together. You'd think some grownup would think something. You'd think they'd notice George and his power and he'd be in trouble. Suddenly I start to think in that broad way, the way I know it's bad to think too much, but I think that George will fall now. After the thing of Kelly stripping, everyone will know he is evil. George is evil for real. I moved here last year when fifth grade started. I came in new and I didn't know. In Rochester I was so cool with long hair to my waist, hardly ever combed. And I wore widelegged jeans and Indian shirts with flowers sewn on. When I came here at first no one said anything, but then came George. He looked me up and down and said, "Hippie freak you are so uncool." In Rochester I was cool, but George said, "New girl, you are so out of it," and I thought about Ellen, coolest Ellen, my best babysitter. Ellen who looked like Laurie Partridge only better. Ellen wore clogs and long skirts. When she was my babysitter she would teach me macrame' and let me stay up. Her hair was long, long and fringed all the way on the sides. She gave me a pin once, green and white. It means ecology and it's on my book bag still. I'll never take it off. But George was right. Here I was a hippie freak. Here everyone, the girls and the boys, has short hair feathered and wears tight jeans, straight and unfaded and in the back pocket a big bright comb for feathering hair. It's so ugly. My old way was prettier. But I'm not in Rochester anymore so it doesn't matter. I made my mom get me ugly straight Toughskins jeans and my pretty, wild hair is back so boring in barrettes. By junior high it will probably get cut short and feathered. Even Ellen would be uncool here, and when I think of her I want to cry, all because of George. I hate George and I hate his eyebrows. When he's near me sometimes it's hard to breathe. This year he's even meaner to me, even though I'm not a hippie freak anymore. Before Christmas, Jen Harris told George I said I liked him, when of course I didn't. Of course I didn't! Maybe I liked Tom Spencer for awhile, I liked his eyes, but I never liked George. Why did Jen Harris tell him I did? Sometimes at 56

"Slut" night when I'm almost asleep I think of it and then I'm wide awake and hot and prickly and I want to smash a hammer into Jen's head. She told George I said I liked him and worse, that I want to know does he like me? Like I'm waiting to hear, does he like me? Anyway, what happened was George said, "Yeah, right, maybe when hell freezes over." It got around good, when hell freezes over, and it became something that everyone said for while. I felt like throwing up because I never even liked him. I would never even think of it. I didn't think I was going to move here and be like Jen or Diane Cooper—they are so perfect. I never thought I'd be like that but I thought I'd be at least somewhere in the middle. Somewhere at least, but when hell freezes over got all around and now no boys will ever like me. I don't get it. I keep looking in the mirror to see if I'm ugly. I try to see what George sees. But it's like a secret from me, because in the mirror I really don't see a freak. I look normal. The worst part of the whole thing is I think every day how if George wanted he could have just said no, I don't like her, but he didn't. He had to say something cool. When hell freezes over. Soon we're not playing soccer anymore. We're just standing around. A parent driving by would know something is wrong. They would have to. A few kids who really play soccer, kids who would be staying after school anyway, are still playing but now it's getting dark. It's almost six. Everyone's saying it won't happen, that Kelly stripping is a lie. George is full of it. I start thinking that would be good, for George to be wrong, but it would also be good for Kelly to strip, so I can't decide what I want. But at least we're getting along. I'm talking to Alice Crumley. In the fall I made up Algie Crudball and it got around. Everyone said it and for that I will always feel bad. But Alice can be mean too. Once when we were playing Four Square with Diane and Jen, Alice whispered a change in the rules so I wouldn't hear and the game changed and I didn't know. The ball smacked me in the leg and I got tears in my eyes and everyone laughed. But me and Alice still sleep over sometimes and I love her house because it is empty. She just has a brother in high school and he's never home, so there's not a bunch of little kids like at my house. Alice's house is warm and small and her father bakes bread to relax so it always smells like we're about to eat. Sometimes we go 57


Berkeley Fiction Review and them, Tom and Kevin and Devon, they're all sitting in a clump on the grass with their heads together like it's important and serious. The teachers don't know. They should see there are more than fifty kids staying after school but they don't. It's never been the whole sixth grade before, all together. You'd think some grownup would think something. You'd think they'd notice George and his power and he'd be in trouble. Suddenly I start to think in that broad way, the way I know it's bad to think too much, but I think that George will fall now. After the thing of Kelly stripping, everyone will know he is evil. George is evil for real. I moved here last year when fifth grade started. I came in new and I didn't know. In Rochester I was so cool with long hair to my waist, hardly ever combed. And I wore widelegged jeans and Indian shirts with flowers sewn on. When I came here at first no one said anything, but then came George. He looked me up and down and said, "Hippie freak you are so uncool." In Rochester I was cool, but George said, "New girl, you are so out of it," and I thought about Ellen, coolest Ellen, my best babysitter. Ellen who looked like Laurie Partridge only better. Ellen wore clogs and long skirts. When she was my babysitter she would teach me macrame' and let me stay up. Her hair was long, long and fringed all the way on the sides. She gave me a pin once, green and white. It means ecology and it's on my book bag still. I'll never take it off. But George was right. Here I was a hippie freak. Here everyone, the girls and the boys, has short hair feathered and wears tight jeans, straight and unfaded and in the back pocket a big bright comb for feathering hair. It's so ugly. My old way was prettier. But I'm not in Rochester anymore so it doesn't matter. I made my mom get me ugly straight Toughskins jeans and my pretty, wild hair is back so boring in barrettes. By junior high it will probably get cut short and feathered. Even Ellen would be uncool here, and when I think of her I want to cry, all because of George. I hate George and I hate his eyebrows. When he's near me sometimes it's hard to breathe. This year he's even meaner to me, even though I'm not a hippie freak anymore. Before Christmas, Jen Harris told George I said I liked him, when of course I didn't. Of course I didn't! Maybe I liked Tom Spencer for awhile, I liked his eyes, but I never liked George. Why did Jen Harris tell him I did? Sometimes at 56

"Slut" night when I'm almost asleep I think of it and then I'm wide awake and hot and prickly and I want to smash a hammer into Jen's head. She told George I said I liked him and worse, that I want to know does he like me? Like I'm waiting to hear, does he like me? Anyway, what happened was George said, "Yeah, right, maybe when hell freezes over." It got around good, when hell freezes over, and it became something that everyone said for while. I felt like throwing up because I never even liked him. I would never even think of it. I didn't think I was going to move here and be like Jen or Diane Cooper—they are so perfect. I never thought I'd be like that but I thought I'd be at least somewhere in the middle. Somewhere at least, but when hell freezes over got all around and now no boys will ever like me. I don't get it. I keep looking in the mirror to see if I'm ugly. I try to see what George sees. But it's like a secret from me, because in the mirror I really don't see a freak. I look normal. The worst part of the whole thing is I think every day how if George wanted he could have just said no, I don't like her, but he didn't. He had to say something cool. When hell freezes over. Soon we're not playing soccer anymore. We're just standing around. A parent driving by would know something is wrong. They would have to. A few kids who really play soccer, kids who would be staying after school anyway, are still playing but now it's getting dark. It's almost six. Everyone's saying it won't happen, that Kelly stripping is a lie. George is full of it. I start thinking that would be good, for George to be wrong, but it would also be good for Kelly to strip, so I can't decide what I want. But at least we're getting along. I'm talking to Alice Crumley. In the fall I made up Algie Crudball and it got around. Everyone said it and for that I will always feel bad. But Alice can be mean too. Once when we were playing Four Square with Diane and Jen, Alice whispered a change in the rules so I wouldn't hear and the game changed and I didn't know. The ball smacked me in the leg and I got tears in my eyes and everyone laughed. But me and Alice still sleep over sometimes and I love her house because it is empty. She just has a brother in high school and he's never home, so there's not a bunch of little kids like at my house. Alice's house is warm and small and her father bakes bread to relax so it always smells like we're about to eat. Sometimes we go 57


r Berkeley Fiction Review into her brother's room where it's dark and cool and he has a row of plants and the whole room is blue with special lights. Everyone is talking about whether George is lying about Kelly, whether she will strip. There's still that feeling like we're all together and no one will be mean anymore, but there's also this excited feeling on top, this wondering about Kelly. Just then, so perfect, Kelly and Sula ride up on bikes. Everyone gets quiet and we watch the way they ride, slow like a parade. They're just looking straight ahead, not at us. It's like the president is coming. Kelly and Sula look over finally and they look scared. The whole sixth grade is here. I guess they didn't know—I guess they thought it would just be George and I think I would be scared too, but then I think this would never be me. I would never strip for George or even think for a second that he would be my boyfriend. So how should I know if Kelly is scared? Kelly and Sula stop and just stand there with their bikes and George goes over and then they drop the bikes without the kickstands and the three of them walk towards the woods. The sun is falling and there's an orange glow all over the grass and all the kids. The whole sixth grade turns around to follow Kelly and Sula and George. We're like a big gang the way we walk, strong legs, and I look around and everything I see is glittering. We're loud, laughing and talking and yelling, walking like a big gang, tough, and some boy yells hey man, run! and we start running downhill to the woods. The tall weeds scratch my arms and it tickles. Kelly and Sula and George look behind them and start running too like they're going to get pounded by our gang if they don't. We run through this big field with weeds and we're running and jumping like we're galloping and I look at Alice and she's smiling. It's like we never did or said anything mean to each other and I'm smiling too and we do the high-five. Suddenly we're in the woods and the sun is gone and I can hardly see for a minute because it's so dark. Deep down in the woods it's cool, cold almost. Kelly and George and Sula are already there, just standing. Everybody stops running and walks slowly towards them. We make a big circle around them, not too close. George whispers to Kelly and he and Sula move back. Kelly stands alone. George has got on a red sweat jacket and no shirt. He's small and skinny. It looks like a poof of air 58

'Slut" could blow him over, but because of him the whole sixth grade is in the woods. It's so quiet now. It feels weird. It shouldn't, because we've all been in the woods before, but of course not in this huge gang. Now it feels like something new. Kelly just stands and looks like nothing. She looks around with a blank face, no look at all. More than one hundred eyes look back at her. She looks around with her mouth closed and her arms at her side— blank—just a girl, like a drawing of a girl in an alphabet book under the letter "G." Finally she bends down and reaches to her shoes, then socks and then back up. Her fingers are at her throat, going slowly on the buttons and her shirt is ugly, ugly flowers with ruffles to the top. Her buttons open and I look down at my own feet. I shouldn't watch her. I look around and some people are on tiptoes to see. Alice looks behind us and I worry if a teacher or a parent is coming but they aren't. Somebody whistles loud and I look up even though I shouldn't. I look up and Kelly is naked. Kelly is standing alone and she's naked, her arms are out and away from her. She is naked with her palms up like she's a gift. The woods smell wet and green and Kelly looks like she's offering. She stands right there and turns in a circle, real slow, turning naked. I know I shouldn't keep looking but it's like I can't stop. Her body is there naked. And it's true what George said—Kelly does have a body. It's so different. She has breasts, like a real woman's, and she is curved in the legs. It's dark and she shouldn't do this, but for some reason the whole thing changes and stops being bad. I think she is beautiful. She turns like she's offering, like a painting, a goddess. She is white in the dark. I keep looking and Kelly keeps turning, just blank, no smile. She's not scared. It's so quiet and we all just keep looking. Then all of a sudden someone yells and things snap and people are moving and Kelly's clothes are flying everywhere. Sula is yelling, "Quit it, quit tt you guys!" but now the clothes are in the trees and Kelly is squatting naked in the bushes looking like she's going to cry. This is bad. We're going to get in trouble, not just from school or from our parents, but worse, like from God. It's really getting dark. Sula's screaming, "Give her her clothes!" and Kelly's still in the bushes. 59


r Berkeley Fiction Review into her brother's room where it's dark and cool and he has a row of plants and the whole room is blue with special lights. Everyone is talking about whether George is lying about Kelly, whether she will strip. There's still that feeling like we're all together and no one will be mean anymore, but there's also this excited feeling on top, this wondering about Kelly. Just then, so perfect, Kelly and Sula ride up on bikes. Everyone gets quiet and we watch the way they ride, slow like a parade. They're just looking straight ahead, not at us. It's like the president is coming. Kelly and Sula look over finally and they look scared. The whole sixth grade is here. I guess they didn't know—I guess they thought it would just be George and I think I would be scared too, but then I think this would never be me. I would never strip for George or even think for a second that he would be my boyfriend. So how should I know if Kelly is scared? Kelly and Sula stop and just stand there with their bikes and George goes over and then they drop the bikes without the kickstands and the three of them walk towards the woods. The sun is falling and there's an orange glow all over the grass and all the kids. The whole sixth grade turns around to follow Kelly and Sula and George. We're like a big gang the way we walk, strong legs, and I look around and everything I see is glittering. We're loud, laughing and talking and yelling, walking like a big gang, tough, and some boy yells hey man, run! and we start running downhill to the woods. The tall weeds scratch my arms and it tickles. Kelly and Sula and George look behind them and start running too like they're going to get pounded by our gang if they don't. We run through this big field with weeds and we're running and jumping like we're galloping and I look at Alice and she's smiling. It's like we never did or said anything mean to each other and I'm smiling too and we do the high-five. Suddenly we're in the woods and the sun is gone and I can hardly see for a minute because it's so dark. Deep down in the woods it's cool, cold almost. Kelly and George and Sula are already there, just standing. Everybody stops running and walks slowly towards them. We make a big circle around them, not too close. George whispers to Kelly and he and Sula move back. Kelly stands alone. George has got on a red sweat jacket and no shirt. He's small and skinny. It looks like a poof of air 58

'Slut" could blow him over, but because of him the whole sixth grade is in the woods. It's so quiet now. It feels weird. It shouldn't, because we've all been in the woods before, but of course not in this huge gang. Now it feels like something new. Kelly just stands and looks like nothing. She looks around with a blank face, no look at all. More than one hundred eyes look back at her. She looks around with her mouth closed and her arms at her side— blank—just a girl, like a drawing of a girl in an alphabet book under the letter "G." Finally she bends down and reaches to her shoes, then socks and then back up. Her fingers are at her throat, going slowly on the buttons and her shirt is ugly, ugly flowers with ruffles to the top. Her buttons open and I look down at my own feet. I shouldn't watch her. I look around and some people are on tiptoes to see. Alice looks behind us and I worry if a teacher or a parent is coming but they aren't. Somebody whistles loud and I look up even though I shouldn't. I look up and Kelly is naked. Kelly is standing alone and she's naked, her arms are out and away from her. She is naked with her palms up like she's a gift. The woods smell wet and green and Kelly looks like she's offering. She stands right there and turns in a circle, real slow, turning naked. I know I shouldn't keep looking but it's like I can't stop. Her body is there naked. And it's true what George said—Kelly does have a body. It's so different. She has breasts, like a real woman's, and she is curved in the legs. It's dark and she shouldn't do this, but for some reason the whole thing changes and stops being bad. I think she is beautiful. She turns like she's offering, like a painting, a goddess. She is white in the dark. I keep looking and Kelly keeps turning, just blank, no smile. She's not scared. It's so quiet and we all just keep looking. Then all of a sudden someone yells and things snap and people are moving and Kelly's clothes are flying everywhere. Sula is yelling, "Quit it, quit tt you guys!" but now the clothes are in the trees and Kelly is squatting naked in the bushes looking like she's going to cry. This is bad. We're going to get in trouble, not just from school or from our parents, but worse, like from God. It's really getting dark. Sula's screaming, "Give her her clothes!" and Kelly's still in the bushes. 59


w Berkeley Fiction Review Boys are climbing the trees like crazy and the clothes are falling and George is standing there laughing like the devil. We are definitely in trouble. Back out of the woods the sun's nearly down. It's almost night now and everyone's moving. We will never play soccer like this again. I hear "got to go, go, go" all around and I say goodbye to Alice, my friend Alice, and I see some kids from my street and we start toward home. Kelly and Sula are still in the woods and now it's like who cares? We all start walking and then I look back and they're coming out finally. They're just two dots but Kelly is dressed and probably she's crying. They are walking to their bikes still lying on the grass. George and Tom are whooping, being loud. It isn't funny, this whole thing, but they're laughing and they yell and do the high-five again and again. Tom, whose eyes I used to like. He yells over and over it seems, but maybe just once, "Kelly Morris you are a SLUT." It's a new word, "slut," and I see it now in that big way of thinking. This word will get around. It will be the next big thing and it's definitely so mean. I think the sixth grade was never friends. For these last three days it wasn't real. The easy talking and running and being a big gang was just a way to get Kelly Morris naked and to get George more power. It was really just mean as always. It was a joke.

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B o d y

T h r o u g h

W a l k i n g S p a c e

Amina Memor y Cain

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y roommate Kiki wears little red and pink paper umbrellas in her hair, the kind you get in mixed drinks. She sticks them behind her ears with bobby pins before she goes to boutiques to sell her hand-made dresses that look like nightgowns. She tries to get me to wear the dresses and once in a while I do. They are so thin, like wearing nothing. Kiki tells me to layer them so the colors mix together and also for extra warmth on chilly nights. She cares if I'm cold. I liked Kiki right away when I met her, but I didn't see how we were ever going to become friends. We were too polite. The night I moved into .the apartment she made baked salmon on a bed of sweet peas. I made mushroom soup and steamed kale, which didn't go with her dish at all. "Would you mind if I used a very small amount of your lemon juice for the salmon?" Kiki asked me. "Not at all," I answered. Then when I was setting the table I asked her in the same way: "Would it be okay to use your bowls?" Kiki's kitchen things were more beautiful than anything I had ever owned, the bowls green inside like sea water, the outsides as lightbrown as sand. I placed them gently on the table. I didn't know how to tell her I couldn't eat the fish. As she washed her hands, I thought of all the trouble she had gone through to prepare it, thinking we would eat it together. "I hope you like this," she said. 61


w Berkeley Fiction Review Boys are climbing the trees like crazy and the clothes are falling and George is standing there laughing like the devil. We are definitely in trouble. Back out of the woods the sun's nearly down. It's almost night now and everyone's moving. We will never play soccer like this again. I hear "got to go, go, go" all around and I say goodbye to Alice, my friend Alice, and I see some kids from my street and we start toward home. Kelly and Sula are still in the woods and now it's like who cares? We all start walking and then I look back and they're coming out finally. They're just two dots but Kelly is dressed and probably she's crying. They are walking to their bikes still lying on the grass. George and Tom are whooping, being loud. It isn't funny, this whole thing, but they're laughing and they yell and do the high-five again and again. Tom, whose eyes I used to like. He yells over and over it seems, but maybe just once, "Kelly Morris you are a SLUT." It's a new word, "slut," and I see it now in that big way of thinking. This word will get around. It will be the next big thing and it's definitely so mean. I think the sixth grade was never friends. For these last three days it wasn't real. The easy talking and running and being a big gang was just a way to get Kelly Morris naked and to get George more power. It was really just mean as always. It was a joke.

60

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B o d y

T h r o u g h

W a l k i n g S p a c e

Amina Memor y Cain

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y roommate Kiki wears little red and pink paper umbrellas in her hair, the kind you get in mixed drinks. She sticks them behind her ears with bobby pins before she goes to boutiques to sell her hand-made dresses that look like nightgowns. She tries to get me to wear the dresses and once in a while I do. They are so thin, like wearing nothing. Kiki tells me to layer them so the colors mix together and also for extra warmth on chilly nights. She cares if I'm cold. I liked Kiki right away when I met her, but I didn't see how we were ever going to become friends. We were too polite. The night I moved into .the apartment she made baked salmon on a bed of sweet peas. I made mushroom soup and steamed kale, which didn't go with her dish at all. "Would you mind if I used a very small amount of your lemon juice for the salmon?" Kiki asked me. "Not at all," I answered. Then when I was setting the table I asked her in the same way: "Would it be okay to use your bowls?" Kiki's kitchen things were more beautiful than anything I had ever owned, the bowls green inside like sea water, the outsides as lightbrown as sand. I placed them gently on the table. I didn't know how to tell her I couldn't eat the fish. As she washed her hands, I thought of all the trouble she had gone through to prepare it, thinking we would eat it together. "I hope you like this," she said. 61


r Berkeley Fiction Review "It looks good," I said. "Thanks." "But I can't." I swirled my hand around and around in one of the bowls. "Why?" I pulled a chair out from the table and sat down. "Because I'm vegetarian." "Oh." She took the pan out of the oven and dropped it on the stove where it clanged loudly for a few seconds, then stopped. "I guess I should have asked you first." "No," I said, "it's my fault. I should have said something." Kiki sat with the plate of salmon in front of her plate, but she didn't eat it. I sipped at my soup. When the broth was almost gone I took my bowl into the hallway and scooped out what was left with my fingers. That's the way I like to eat, but I didn't think she would want to see me do that. When I walked back in Kiki was eating the fish. She looked at me while she chewed. Then she got up and washed all her dishes while I scrubbed the stove and counters. The kitchen was quiet. I felt mountains, lakes, and forests away from the place I had left to get here. She wrapped the salmon in tinfoil and set it on the top shelf of the refrigerator, where it sat for a week. Everyday I was greeted by a small, silver lump when I opened the refrigerator door. I wished I could eat it for Kiki's sake, but I couldn't. Finally I threw it out. Kiki and I are close now, even though we don't always understand each other and sometimes have trouble talking. Last week we sat in the living room together as it grew dark. While Kiki cut fabric from a pattern, I read The Backpacker, a book I had gotten from the library. Walking is more than just walking. It's a way of being aware. Once you've got your walking technique down you can forget it. Then you are a body walking through space-time. You are there and your legs are moving you. When Kiki got up from the floor to measure my waist with her tape measurer I asked her, "Do you ever think about the motion your hands and arms make when you sew?" "No." 62

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A Body Walking Through Space "That it might be the movement you make more than any other in your whole life?" "No," she said, and she stared down at the tape measurer like she was trying to concentrate all her energy on it. Kiki is making dresses for me to wear when I take my dream trip to Montana next winter. I don't tell her it'll be so cold I'll have to wear pants most of the time, that the snowflakes will sting my legs. She is a firm believer in dresses. She thinks you can wear them anywhere, no matter what the weather. I love that Kiki sews clothes for me. No one has ever done that before. I work at a stationery store near Chinatown called Jerome's Paper. Most of the time I leave early for work so I can walk. Sometimes I ride the bus. Inside the store it's dark even in the daytime, especially in the back where there are no windows. But there are small lamps on the shelves. When people buy paper they have to hold a sheet under one of the lamps to see which direction the grain is running. I'm not sure the dark is good for business, but Jerome doesn't like harsh lights. He says they hurt his eyes. Sometimes Jerome's brothers come in, but mostly it's just me and a skinny security guard named Fillmore. He tries to talk like he's older than I am, even though I know he's only twenty. I saw his age on his application before he got hired. He gives me lots of attention, which means he looks at me while I look away. Fillmore doesn't look like a security guard, even in the navy blue uniform Jerome makes him wear. He looks like a pot smoker or a mathematician. His hair is dark and messy and he stares at things, like the flame in his lighter. I think he forgets where he is sometimes, holding the lighter up to a piece of the fanciest kind of paper we sell as if he's going to burn it up in his hand, He stares at that flame so intently, more intently than he stares at me. Kiki told me she got jealous once over a sexy cartoon character in a comic book her ex-boyfriend used to read, but Fillmore isn't my boyfriend, which makes my situation even more stupid than Kiki's. He gives me so much attention, then takes it all away, and when it's gone 63


r Berkeley Fiction Review "It looks good," I said. "Thanks." "But I can't." I swirled my hand around and around in one of the bowls. "Why?" I pulled a chair out from the table and sat down. "Because I'm vegetarian." "Oh." She took the pan out of the oven and dropped it on the stove where it clanged loudly for a few seconds, then stopped. "I guess I should have asked you first." "No," I said, "it's my fault. I should have said something." Kiki sat with the plate of salmon in front of her plate, but she didn't eat it. I sipped at my soup. When the broth was almost gone I took my bowl into the hallway and scooped out what was left with my fingers. That's the way I like to eat, but I didn't think she would want to see me do that. When I walked back in Kiki was eating the fish. She looked at me while she chewed. Then she got up and washed all her dishes while I scrubbed the stove and counters. The kitchen was quiet. I felt mountains, lakes, and forests away from the place I had left to get here. She wrapped the salmon in tinfoil and set it on the top shelf of the refrigerator, where it sat for a week. Everyday I was greeted by a small, silver lump when I opened the refrigerator door. I wished I could eat it for Kiki's sake, but I couldn't. Finally I threw it out. Kiki and I are close now, even though we don't always understand each other and sometimes have trouble talking. Last week we sat in the living room together as it grew dark. While Kiki cut fabric from a pattern, I read The Backpacker, a book I had gotten from the library. Walking is more than just walking. It's a way of being aware. Once you've got your walking technique down you can forget it. Then you are a body walking through space-time. You are there and your legs are moving you. When Kiki got up from the floor to measure my waist with her tape measurer I asked her, "Do you ever think about the motion your hands and arms make when you sew?" "No." 62

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A Body Walking Through Space "That it might be the movement you make more than any other in your whole life?" "No," she said, and she stared down at the tape measurer like she was trying to concentrate all her energy on it. Kiki is making dresses for me to wear when I take my dream trip to Montana next winter. I don't tell her it'll be so cold I'll have to wear pants most of the time, that the snowflakes will sting my legs. She is a firm believer in dresses. She thinks you can wear them anywhere, no matter what the weather. I love that Kiki sews clothes for me. No one has ever done that before. I work at a stationery store near Chinatown called Jerome's Paper. Most of the time I leave early for work so I can walk. Sometimes I ride the bus. Inside the store it's dark even in the daytime, especially in the back where there are no windows. But there are small lamps on the shelves. When people buy paper they have to hold a sheet under one of the lamps to see which direction the grain is running. I'm not sure the dark is good for business, but Jerome doesn't like harsh lights. He says they hurt his eyes. Sometimes Jerome's brothers come in, but mostly it's just me and a skinny security guard named Fillmore. He tries to talk like he's older than I am, even though I know he's only twenty. I saw his age on his application before he got hired. He gives me lots of attention, which means he looks at me while I look away. Fillmore doesn't look like a security guard, even in the navy blue uniform Jerome makes him wear. He looks like a pot smoker or a mathematician. His hair is dark and messy and he stares at things, like the flame in his lighter. I think he forgets where he is sometimes, holding the lighter up to a piece of the fanciest kind of paper we sell as if he's going to burn it up in his hand, He stares at that flame so intently, more intently than he stares at me. Kiki told me she got jealous once over a sexy cartoon character in a comic book her ex-boyfriend used to read, but Fillmore isn't my boyfriend, which makes my situation even more stupid than Kiki's. He gives me so much attention, then takes it all away, and when it's gone 63


A Body Walking Through Space

Berkeley Fiction Review I miss it. When he stares at the lighter and the piece of paper, I want to be in the little space that holds all that. I want us to be in motion together across a dark, snowy field towards someone's house for dinner. I want to have my hands in that messy hair. The other day Jerome's arthritis acted up and he couldn't get either of his brothers to fill in, so Fillmore and I were the only ones in the store. I dusted the pens and brushes with Jerome's orange feather duster, and Fillmore watched me from where he sat on an unopened cardboard box. Then there were reams of paper that needed straightening. I asked Fillmore questions as I walked up and down the dimly lit rows. "What's your apartment like?" He stood up so he could watch me more easily. "Why, do you want to see it?" "No. I want you to tell me." "It's small," he said. "I've got a studio with a kitchen you can barely move around in. It's more like a closet." He stopped talking and pulled his bright blue lighter out of his pocket. "But it's warm. The landlord controls the heat and she never turns it off." "You have heat?" I said. Hardly any of the buildings in San Francisco have heat. Our apartment is always cold. I watched Fillmore light his lighter until I realized I was watching. Then I walked back to the counter and opened up my book. Fillmore followed me. "What are you reading?" he asked. "A book about walking all over the earth." He pressed the lighter gently against his mouth. "What do you mean?" "It's about making yourself happy." He shrugged and looked out the window. "What's your place like?" he asked. "I have a roommate." "Is she nice?" "Yes." "Do you kiss her?"

:

The next morning I walked to Jerome's Paper in the fog. As soon as I got there I swept the floors, and when we opened, Jerome, now healthy, shuffled to the back. When I first started the job Jerome stayed out in the store with me and tried to sell paper. Now he just naps in his office so Fillmore and I take it easy, too. I like Jerome. He's almost seventy. He's got lots of hair for his age and wears jeans. Fillmore watched Jerome leave. He pulled his lighter out of his pocket but he didn't light it. "You know what a golden shower is?" he asked me. I looked at him. I could tell he had recently washed his hair. It looked puffier than normal. "Yes," I said.

Later that night, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and watched Kiki cut her hair. She was wearing men's pajamas, red flannel with the shirtsleeves rolled up and oversized bottoms. When she looked into

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the mirror she did this pretty pouty thing with her lips. The bathroom was quiet, the same way every room we are in together is quiet, at least for a little while. The dark woodwork around the windows and door, the salmon-colored walls calmed me, made me want to watch Kiki cut her hair forever. "I almost bought fish for you," I said, so that one of us would be saying something. "That's so nice of you." Then I felt guilty because it wasn't the truth. "I didn't, though," I said. "I didn't want to carry it with me on the bus." "It's still nice," she said. She set the scissors down on the sink. "How do I look?" She turned slowly in a circle and stopped when she faced me. Her hair looked the same to me as it always had. Long, dark, and tangled. The way I wished mine looked. "Breathtaking," I said. She leaned against the sink. "I feel ugly." "Don't." "Okay." She smiled at me and looked away. "How was work?" "Fine." "Was Fillmore there?" "Yes." She snapped off the overhead light and for a second we stayed in the darkness together, me still sitting on the edge of the bathtub, her by the sink.

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A Body Walking Through Space

Berkeley Fiction Review I miss it. When he stares at the lighter and the piece of paper, I want to be in the little space that holds all that. I want us to be in motion together across a dark, snowy field towards someone's house for dinner. I want to have my hands in that messy hair. The other day Jerome's arthritis acted up and he couldn't get either of his brothers to fill in, so Fillmore and I were the only ones in the store. I dusted the pens and brushes with Jerome's orange feather duster, and Fillmore watched me from where he sat on an unopened cardboard box. Then there were reams of paper that needed straightening. I asked Fillmore questions as I walked up and down the dimly lit rows. "What's your apartment like?" He stood up so he could watch me more easily. "Why, do you want to see it?" "No. I want you to tell me." "It's small," he said. "I've got a studio with a kitchen you can barely move around in. It's more like a closet." He stopped talking and pulled his bright blue lighter out of his pocket. "But it's warm. The landlord controls the heat and she never turns it off." "You have heat?" I said. Hardly any of the buildings in San Francisco have heat. Our apartment is always cold. I watched Fillmore light his lighter until I realized I was watching. Then I walked back to the counter and opened up my book. Fillmore followed me. "What are you reading?" he asked. "A book about walking all over the earth." He pressed the lighter gently against his mouth. "What do you mean?" "It's about making yourself happy." He shrugged and looked out the window. "What's your place like?" he asked. "I have a roommate." "Is she nice?" "Yes." "Do you kiss her?"

:

The next morning I walked to Jerome's Paper in the fog. As soon as I got there I swept the floors, and when we opened, Jerome, now healthy, shuffled to the back. When I first started the job Jerome stayed out in the store with me and tried to sell paper. Now he just naps in his office so Fillmore and I take it easy, too. I like Jerome. He's almost seventy. He's got lots of hair for his age and wears jeans. Fillmore watched Jerome leave. He pulled his lighter out of his pocket but he didn't light it. "You know what a golden shower is?" he asked me. I looked at him. I could tell he had recently washed his hair. It looked puffier than normal. "Yes," I said.

Later that night, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and watched Kiki cut her hair. She was wearing men's pajamas, red flannel with the shirtsleeves rolled up and oversized bottoms. When she looked into

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the mirror she did this pretty pouty thing with her lips. The bathroom was quiet, the same way every room we are in together is quiet, at least for a little while. The dark woodwork around the windows and door, the salmon-colored walls calmed me, made me want to watch Kiki cut her hair forever. "I almost bought fish for you," I said, so that one of us would be saying something. "That's so nice of you." Then I felt guilty because it wasn't the truth. "I didn't, though," I said. "I didn't want to carry it with me on the bus." "It's still nice," she said. She set the scissors down on the sink. "How do I look?" She turned slowly in a circle and stopped when she faced me. Her hair looked the same to me as it always had. Long, dark, and tangled. The way I wished mine looked. "Breathtaking," I said. She leaned against the sink. "I feel ugly." "Don't." "Okay." She smiled at me and looked away. "How was work?" "Fine." "Was Fillmore there?" "Yes." She snapped off the overhead light and for a second we stayed in the darkness together, me still sitting on the edge of the bathtub, her by the sink.

k


Berkeley Fiction Review He pushed down on the lighter and the flame shot up. "Have you ever done that?" "Maybe," I said. "Maybe? Yes or no." "Maybe." "Oh my god. You do that?" He put his head in his hands. "One of Jerome's brothers, Lewis, you know that one?" I nodded. "He did it. He told me about it. I would never do that." "Why?" I asked. "Because it's disgusting." He took a drink of coffee from a paper cup which sat on the windowsill. Then he handed the cup to me; "Here," he said, watching me, "have some." I held the cup in my hands. I could hear the sea lions barking from the wharf and I pictured them sliding around on their floating planks of wood in the fog, then into the water as they fought and pushed each other off. And me moving towards them in the cold. That weekend I went to Mt. Tamalpais to walk. The sun was bright and high above me in the sky, so all I had to do to stay warm was stay under it. The trail meandered between foothills and sometimes into a little bit of forest that I walked out of as soon as I entered. Every once in a while I'd catch a glimpse of the ocean. Or a flock of birds would explode out around me from where they'd been perched in the dry, brown grass. After a few hours, the trail wound down to the beach. I stopped and sat down in the sand, ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich out of a Tupperware container. The beach was deserted. It felt like there was no one around for miles even though I knew people were everywhere all of the time. There was probably a whole family watching me from the trail, only I would be a dot to them, and they would be a family of dots if I could see them. Sometimes being around people is so nice it almost feels uncomfortable. When the sun went down I looked at the water rushing towards me, at the cliffs, ragged and still. I looked at my own hands. Then it got dark. The trees behind me stood so close together they looked like one 66

A Body Walking Through Space thing. I tried to imagine what it looked like far into the water, the part lit by fish with natural lights attached to their gills, and electric eels. I lay down and made angels like I had once made in the snow. Things were in motion all around me, just like people, but they were things I couldn't see. Waves of energy transferring themselves from one place to another. Even though all the other grocery stores are closer, Kiki and I shop at the grocery store next to the ocean because I like buying food near the sea. That night Kiki pushed the cart through the aisles and I loaded it with dark green vegetables, black bread, and milk. When I left her to get something I had forgotten it took me a long time to find her again, and I wandered the store, my arms full of food, until I saw her stopped in front of a dirty glass aquarium packed with lobsters. "I couldn't find you," I said. "Sorry," Kiki said, watching the lobsters crawl all over each other. "I'm going to make you soup," I told her while she watched, "with sea vegetables and soil vegetables mixed together." She nodded. Sometimes she doesn't like to talk. Kiki is as beautiful as a sea vegetable, a sea angel with tangled hair. After we paid for our groceries we carried our bags across the empty parking lot to the bus stop and her hair whipped around her face. Inside the glass we stood huddled together while we made each other laugh. She set the bags all around me like rocks around a campfire. "You are in the middle of food," she said. After work on Monday night I invited Fillmore up to the roof of the store. I showed him how to fold down the ladder and we climbed up with the radio Jerome keeps in the back room. We sat up there for a long time and watched the lit-up boats and steamers in the bay. Then Fillmore leaned back and rubbed his stomach with his hand. He pulled his shirt up a little so I'd be able to see what his stomach looked like. "I'll bet you have pictures of rock stars on your bedroom walls," he said. "Nope." "Or paintings from old boyfriends." "I don't have any old painter boyfriends." 67


Berkeley Fiction Review He pushed down on the lighter and the flame shot up. "Have you ever done that?" "Maybe," I said. "Maybe? Yes or no." "Maybe." "Oh my god. You do that?" He put his head in his hands. "One of Jerome's brothers, Lewis, you know that one?" I nodded. "He did it. He told me about it. I would never do that." "Why?" I asked. "Because it's disgusting." He took a drink of coffee from a paper cup which sat on the windowsill. Then he handed the cup to me; "Here," he said, watching me, "have some." I held the cup in my hands. I could hear the sea lions barking from the wharf and I pictured them sliding around on their floating planks of wood in the fog, then into the water as they fought and pushed each other off. And me moving towards them in the cold. That weekend I went to Mt. Tamalpais to walk. The sun was bright and high above me in the sky, so all I had to do to stay warm was stay under it. The trail meandered between foothills and sometimes into a little bit of forest that I walked out of as soon as I entered. Every once in a while I'd catch a glimpse of the ocean. Or a flock of birds would explode out around me from where they'd been perched in the dry, brown grass. After a few hours, the trail wound down to the beach. I stopped and sat down in the sand, ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich out of a Tupperware container. The beach was deserted. It felt like there was no one around for miles even though I knew people were everywhere all of the time. There was probably a whole family watching me from the trail, only I would be a dot to them, and they would be a family of dots if I could see them. Sometimes being around people is so nice it almost feels uncomfortable. When the sun went down I looked at the water rushing towards me, at the cliffs, ragged and still. I looked at my own hands. Then it got dark. The trees behind me stood so close together they looked like one 66

A Body Walking Through Space thing. I tried to imagine what it looked like far into the water, the part lit by fish with natural lights attached to their gills, and electric eels. I lay down and made angels like I had once made in the snow. Things were in motion all around me, just like people, but they were things I couldn't see. Waves of energy transferring themselves from one place to another. Even though all the other grocery stores are closer, Kiki and I shop at the grocery store next to the ocean because I like buying food near the sea. That night Kiki pushed the cart through the aisles and I loaded it with dark green vegetables, black bread, and milk. When I left her to get something I had forgotten it took me a long time to find her again, and I wandered the store, my arms full of food, until I saw her stopped in front of a dirty glass aquarium packed with lobsters. "I couldn't find you," I said. "Sorry," Kiki said, watching the lobsters crawl all over each other. "I'm going to make you soup," I told her while she watched, "with sea vegetables and soil vegetables mixed together." She nodded. Sometimes she doesn't like to talk. Kiki is as beautiful as a sea vegetable, a sea angel with tangled hair. After we paid for our groceries we carried our bags across the empty parking lot to the bus stop and her hair whipped around her face. Inside the glass we stood huddled together while we made each other laugh. She set the bags all around me like rocks around a campfire. "You are in the middle of food," she said. After work on Monday night I invited Fillmore up to the roof of the store. I showed him how to fold down the ladder and we climbed up with the radio Jerome keeps in the back room. We sat up there for a long time and watched the lit-up boats and steamers in the bay. Then Fillmore leaned back and rubbed his stomach with his hand. He pulled his shirt up a little so I'd be able to see what his stomach looked like. "I'll bet you have pictures of rock stars on your bedroom walls," he said. "Nope." "Or paintings from old boyfriends." "I don't have any old painter boyfriends." 67


Berkeley Fiction Review "What were they then?" "I don't know," I said. I cleaned out the inside of my thumbnail with a thin little twig. There was dirt there. "They didn't really do anything, just went to school and played basketball and rode their bikes." "And you let them pee on you," he said. "Why do you want to know so bad? You're only twenty. You shouldn't be thinking about things like that." "So?" he said. "Last night I met this thirty-year-old woman at the Fairmont Hotel and had sex with her." "So." I gazed out across the water, at the lights on the other side of the bay. I wanted to be over there. I didn't want to be here with Fillmore anymore, trying to pretend like I knew him well enough for us to sit on a roof together. I touched his hair. "You haven't washed it in a few days, have you?" Kiki knew a woman at a hotel downtown who could get us into a heated pool, but I didn't know if it would help me the way I wanted it to. I needed the water to be warm and soft and clean away the layers of confusion I had accumulated. I needed it to do an ocean's job. It was raining, so we put on our coats and hats in the hallway. Then I stood waiting for her while she used the bathroom. I could hear her open the drawer under the sink and close it again. I leaned against the wall and flicked the light switch on and off. I wanted someone, her or maybe even Fillmore, to receive the same messages I did from the world, to understand the same thing, even if it was small and lasted only for a moment. I wanted to be in the dark bathroom with her again. On the bus, water streamed down the windows in one silky layer. I told Kiki what Fillmore had said to me, about golden showers and the older woman and how he always held his lighter button down so the flame shot up. "He sounds like a jerk," Kiki said, wiping rain water from her face. "Sort of," I said. I wrote my name in cursive on the window and drew a heart around it, then blew softly on the glass to make it disappear. At the pool Kiki and I swam laps. When I got tired I floated on my

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A Body Walking Through Space back. I lay down in the water and listened to people's voices echo throughout the room. I looked at Kiki from far away, at how gracefully she swam. The quiet waves lapped the sides of the pool. In the locker room Kiki rubbed lotion ail over her body before she put on her skirt and sweater. I sat on a bench in my underwear in the middle of all the lockers and combed my hair. It's not hard to love someone, it's hard to tell them you do. "Do you want some?" Kiki asked, handing me the lotion. I rubbed it on my legs, then my arms and stomach, and the moisture felt good on my dry chlorine skin. "I like the way my hair looks when it's wet," I said. Then I stared at my comb and felt embarrassed. "That was dumb." She sat down next to me on the bench and held my hand, circled my wrist with her warm fingers, while women wrapped in white, fluffy towels walked past us on their way to the shower. I held Kiki's hand. I didn't move. I held her fingers. Later that week Kiki came into the store wearing high-heeled sandals and a sundress she had made the night before with purple and blue flowers. She said she came to buy paper for letters she needed to write, but I think it was because she wanted to see Fillmore. She drank bottled water the whole time and pulled things in and out of her purse. "Your roommate is gorgeous," Fillmore said after she left. "I know." When he asked me to go to the movies with him, I said yes. Possibilities stretched in different directions, away from each other like mountains, one of which I would climb. Anything could happen. We could burn things up with his lighter, we could hate each other, we could kiss, we could do things with a condom. Kiki listened to music in her room while I got ready, the door closed the whole time. I wore two of her dresses and glitter around my eyes. I could tell Fillmore liked that because he tried to get a staring match going, but I pretended not to notice. He bought popcorn and about halfway through the movie his hand began the journey that would end at my hand fifteen minutes later. It made me think about him differently. What if I moved my hand, then what would he do? But I kept it right where it 69


Berkeley Fiction Review "What were they then?" "I don't know," I said. I cleaned out the inside of my thumbnail with a thin little twig. There was dirt there. "They didn't really do anything, just went to school and played basketball and rode their bikes." "And you let them pee on you," he said. "Why do you want to know so bad? You're only twenty. You shouldn't be thinking about things like that." "So?" he said. "Last night I met this thirty-year-old woman at the Fairmont Hotel and had sex with her." "So." I gazed out across the water, at the lights on the other side of the bay. I wanted to be over there. I didn't want to be here with Fillmore anymore, trying to pretend like I knew him well enough for us to sit on a roof together. I touched his hair. "You haven't washed it in a few days, have you?" Kiki knew a woman at a hotel downtown who could get us into a heated pool, but I didn't know if it would help me the way I wanted it to. I needed the water to be warm and soft and clean away the layers of confusion I had accumulated. I needed it to do an ocean's job. It was raining, so we put on our coats and hats in the hallway. Then I stood waiting for her while she used the bathroom. I could hear her open the drawer under the sink and close it again. I leaned against the wall and flicked the light switch on and off. I wanted someone, her or maybe even Fillmore, to receive the same messages I did from the world, to understand the same thing, even if it was small and lasted only for a moment. I wanted to be in the dark bathroom with her again. On the bus, water streamed down the windows in one silky layer. I told Kiki what Fillmore had said to me, about golden showers and the older woman and how he always held his lighter button down so the flame shot up. "He sounds like a jerk," Kiki said, wiping rain water from her face. "Sort of," I said. I wrote my name in cursive on the window and drew a heart around it, then blew softly on the glass to make it disappear. At the pool Kiki and I swam laps. When I got tired I floated on my

J

A Body Walking Through Space back. I lay down in the water and listened to people's voices echo throughout the room. I looked at Kiki from far away, at how gracefully she swam. The quiet waves lapped the sides of the pool. In the locker room Kiki rubbed lotion ail over her body before she put on her skirt and sweater. I sat on a bench in my underwear in the middle of all the lockers and combed my hair. It's not hard to love someone, it's hard to tell them you do. "Do you want some?" Kiki asked, handing me the lotion. I rubbed it on my legs, then my arms and stomach, and the moisture felt good on my dry chlorine skin. "I like the way my hair looks when it's wet," I said. Then I stared at my comb and felt embarrassed. "That was dumb." She sat down next to me on the bench and held my hand, circled my wrist with her warm fingers, while women wrapped in white, fluffy towels walked past us on their way to the shower. I held Kiki's hand. I didn't move. I held her fingers. Later that week Kiki came into the store wearing high-heeled sandals and a sundress she had made the night before with purple and blue flowers. She said she came to buy paper for letters she needed to write, but I think it was because she wanted to see Fillmore. She drank bottled water the whole time and pulled things in and out of her purse. "Your roommate is gorgeous," Fillmore said after she left. "I know." When he asked me to go to the movies with him, I said yes. Possibilities stretched in different directions, away from each other like mountains, one of which I would climb. Anything could happen. We could burn things up with his lighter, we could hate each other, we could kiss, we could do things with a condom. Kiki listened to music in her room while I got ready, the door closed the whole time. I wore two of her dresses and glitter around my eyes. I could tell Fillmore liked that because he tried to get a staring match going, but I pretended not to notice. He bought popcorn and about halfway through the movie his hand began the journey that would end at my hand fifteen minutes later. It made me think about him differently. What if I moved my hand, then what would he do? But I kept it right where it 69


Berkeley Fiction Review was, on top of my dress, and he held it. It was dark everywhere around us. "What do you think?" he whispered. "It's good," I said. I looked back at the screen and pretended to watch it, but I knew Fillmore was staring at me, which meant I couldn't really watch anything. In the car I watched the streets rush past the window in the same way. Fillmore drove to Twin Peaks, and when we got there we didn't get out of the car. We just sat in our seats. The wind blew so hard the windows rattled. I held my hands up to the heating vent. He lit his lighter. I slid down in my seat so all I could see was the inside of the car. "What's that dress you're wearing?" he asked. "Kiki made it." "That's a nice dress," he said. He moved down in his seat also, so that we were both practically lying down. We stayed that way for a long time, until his hand found the thin material of my dress the way it had earlier that night. He felt all of the tiny ruffles along the bottom, but lightly, so that it almost felt like he wasn't touching them at all. "What color is that dress?" "It's two dresses," I said. "The one underneath is green, and the one on top is blue." "It's fucking beautiful." He took his lighter off the dashboard and lit it again. He kept it lit so the flame stayed for a few minutes before going back down inside the lighter. He lit it over and over until I thought he wouldn't stop. "See this flame," he said. "Yeah," I said. "It's our own light like all those houses have down there. They look cozy, right? But it's just as cozy in this car." I looked at him. It was cozy. With the heat on, and the little flame that shot up from his hands, and the quiet that came after, while we sat in our own separate seats. "Watch," he said. He held his hands together and made shadows on the side of the dashboard. When a car drove past, its headlights swallowed the shadows, then it got dark and I could see them again. "Are those supposed to be birds?" I asked. "No, silly," he said. "This is supposed to be you and me symbolically 70

A Body Walking Through Space making love." I closed my eyes. "Shut up." "No," he said, and I felt him move and make the shadows again. "Fillmore," I said. I sat up in my seat. "If you had to think of a motion you've made more than any other in your whole life, what would it be?" "Why?" "Mine's either walking or swimming," I said. He lit his lighter and said, "I'd like mine to be lying down." "That's not a motion." "I don't want to be a motion." I climbed into the back seat and sat cross-legged directly behind the spot in which I had been sitting all night. Fillmore came back with me. He lay his head on my lap and put some of my dress into his mouth. Then I lay next to him on the seat. "Hey," I whispered, "give me some room." At first we were still. Then we pressed against each other the way you do in high school with your boyfriend. I kissed his shoulders, his collarbone, his mouth. Cars came and went, their motors idling. I liked having my breathing all mixed up with his. My mind flashed to Kiki sitting in her room. Fillmore pressed his forehead against my shoulder.-1 remembered driving here across the country in a Hertz-Penske truck, everything I owned inside it, how I hadn't felt anything until the trip was almost over, until I drove over the Bay Bridge. Then I felt the distance I had traveled expand out in front of me in the dark like a snake, like a warm, warm snake that never stops.

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Berkeley Fiction Review was, on top of my dress, and he held it. It was dark everywhere around us. "What do you think?" he whispered. "It's good," I said. I looked back at the screen and pretended to watch it, but I knew Fillmore was staring at me, which meant I couldn't really watch anything. In the car I watched the streets rush past the window in the same way. Fillmore drove to Twin Peaks, and when we got there we didn't get out of the car. We just sat in our seats. The wind blew so hard the windows rattled. I held my hands up to the heating vent. He lit his lighter. I slid down in my seat so all I could see was the inside of the car. "What's that dress you're wearing?" he asked. "Kiki made it." "That's a nice dress," he said. He moved down in his seat also, so that we were both practically lying down. We stayed that way for a long time, until his hand found the thin material of my dress the way it had earlier that night. He felt all of the tiny ruffles along the bottom, but lightly, so that it almost felt like he wasn't touching them at all. "What color is that dress?" "It's two dresses," I said. "The one underneath is green, and the one on top is blue." "It's fucking beautiful." He took his lighter off the dashboard and lit it again. He kept it lit so the flame stayed for a few minutes before going back down inside the lighter. He lit it over and over until I thought he wouldn't stop. "See this flame," he said. "Yeah," I said. "It's our own light like all those houses have down there. They look cozy, right? But it's just as cozy in this car." I looked at him. It was cozy. With the heat on, and the little flame that shot up from his hands, and the quiet that came after, while we sat in our own separate seats. "Watch," he said. He held his hands together and made shadows on the side of the dashboard. When a car drove past, its headlights swallowed the shadows, then it got dark and I could see them again. "Are those supposed to be birds?" I asked. "No, silly," he said. "This is supposed to be you and me symbolically 70

A Body Walking Through Space making love." I closed my eyes. "Shut up." "No," he said, and I felt him move and make the shadows again. "Fillmore," I said. I sat up in my seat. "If you had to think of a motion you've made more than any other in your whole life, what would it be?" "Why?" "Mine's either walking or swimming," I said. He lit his lighter and said, "I'd like mine to be lying down." "That's not a motion." "I don't want to be a motion." I climbed into the back seat and sat cross-legged directly behind the spot in which I had been sitting all night. Fillmore came back with me. He lay his head on my lap and put some of my dress into his mouth. Then I lay next to him on the seat. "Hey," I whispered, "give me some room." At first we were still. Then we pressed against each other the way you do in high school with your boyfriend. I kissed his shoulders, his collarbone, his mouth. Cars came and went, their motors idling. I liked having my breathing all mixed up with his. My mind flashed to Kiki sitting in her room. Fillmore pressed his forehead against my shoulder.-1 remembered driving here across the country in a Hertz-Penske truck, everything I owned inside it, how I hadn't felt anything until the trip was almost over, until I drove over the Bay Bridge. Then I felt the distance I had traveled expand out in front of me in the dark like a snake, like a warm, warm snake that never stops.

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T Henrietta and the Headache 4

H e n r i e t t a

a n d

t h e

H e a d a c h e J e a n n e Leiby

enrietta slipped out of bed, crept down the long hallway, but it was still dark and she was still afraid even though today was her seventh birthday. The kitchen where later she and her mother would make cookies and lemonade for the party wasn't soft and warm yet. It didn't smell like vanilla. The walls were blue-black and crisscrossed by unfamiliar shadows of familiar things. A loud, damp silence rattled around her head like the wind. But today was Henrietta's seventh birthday, and she knew there was something she must do. So she crept down the long hallway, passed the bruised kitchen, and out the screen door. This cottage her parents rented for the summer was in the woods, and even in broad daylight, Henrietta would not go down the narrow, muddy path that led to the lake by herself. She wasn't afraid of the trees; plenty of maples and birches grew in her neighborhood, at least two dozen trees on her block alone. But front yards grew only one tree each—usually a single young sapling, recently planted, supported by thin wires that ran from bottom branches to big silver eyebolts stuck into the ground. Silly little half-trees, Henrietta understood now, trunks no thicker than her thighs. But at least they were ordered and predictable. In these woods, it was the shadows she didn't like, the spaces between trees, cool and dark and most certainly alive with snakes, raccoons, and spiders suspended in invisible webs stretched from trunk to trunk. When Henrietta wanted to go down to the beach, she had to

wait for her older sister Peggy. But this summer, Peggy wore haltertops and bikinis, and she couldn't be bothered to go down to the lake at all unless the Johnson Boys from Split Rock Cove were fishing from the jetty. Even then, Peggy would only wade into thighdeep water or tread gingerly down the thin strip of sand, pick through broken shells searching for pieces of water glass. Peggy slept in late this summer, and it was often nearly noon when she finally grabbed Henrietta's hand—Stop being such a baby—and pulled her into the damp, uneven shadows. To calm her nerves, to settle the near panic rising in her throat, Henrietta followed exactly in Peggy's footsteps. To not see the beady, black eyes or darting gray fur, Henrietta counted the soft pink freckles that dotted Peggy's thin white shoulder blades. Standing outside in the cold, blue-black dawn, Henrietta knew one thing: shadows that two-stepped with trees, trees that picked up root and pirouetted across the path, paths that dipped and folded in upon themselves like the strings from a loose helium balloon—these things were unfriendly to a six-year-old. But Henrietta was seven now, and that meant there was something she had to do. So she listened. Through the thin cottage walls, Henrietta heard her father's alarm clock, and she knew that soon would follow the gruff and rugged sounds of his morning: splash, cough, spit, flush, and then the almost rhythmic click of his spoon against his cereal bowl. This summer, her father seemed to be only sound and echo, and each morning, Henrietta lay in bed, listening hard until she heard the wheeze of his truck engine, the crunch of gravel, the fading growl of his pickup as he backed down the driveway. She listened as far as she could until she heard the truck turn onto the paved road that would take her father back to Windsor, back over the Ambassador Bridge, to work at one of the deep limestone quarries on the south side of Detroit. Henrietta didn't like the silence of the cottage without her father, so she practiced evaporation. She willed her body into a floating fijm as thin and insubstantial as an echo. She floated herself alongside the cab of the truck, and if she concentrated—really concentrated— Henrietta sometimes found herself next to her father on the long front seat. She saw herself barefoot and felt her toes skimming the tops of empty coffee cups, stray tools, and candy wrappers that littered the 73

72

L


T Henrietta and the Headache 4

H e n r i e t t a

a n d

t h e

H e a d a c h e J e a n n e Leiby

enrietta slipped out of bed, crept down the long hallway, but it was still dark and she was still afraid even though today was her seventh birthday. The kitchen where later she and her mother would make cookies and lemonade for the party wasn't soft and warm yet. It didn't smell like vanilla. The walls were blue-black and crisscrossed by unfamiliar shadows of familiar things. A loud, damp silence rattled around her head like the wind. But today was Henrietta's seventh birthday, and she knew there was something she must do. So she crept down the long hallway, passed the bruised kitchen, and out the screen door. This cottage her parents rented for the summer was in the woods, and even in broad daylight, Henrietta would not go down the narrow, muddy path that led to the lake by herself. She wasn't afraid of the trees; plenty of maples and birches grew in her neighborhood, at least two dozen trees on her block alone. But front yards grew only one tree each—usually a single young sapling, recently planted, supported by thin wires that ran from bottom branches to big silver eyebolts stuck into the ground. Silly little half-trees, Henrietta understood now, trunks no thicker than her thighs. But at least they were ordered and predictable. In these woods, it was the shadows she didn't like, the spaces between trees, cool and dark and most certainly alive with snakes, raccoons, and spiders suspended in invisible webs stretched from trunk to trunk. When Henrietta wanted to go down to the beach, she had to

wait for her older sister Peggy. But this summer, Peggy wore haltertops and bikinis, and she couldn't be bothered to go down to the lake at all unless the Johnson Boys from Split Rock Cove were fishing from the jetty. Even then, Peggy would only wade into thighdeep water or tread gingerly down the thin strip of sand, pick through broken shells searching for pieces of water glass. Peggy slept in late this summer, and it was often nearly noon when she finally grabbed Henrietta's hand—Stop being such a baby—and pulled her into the damp, uneven shadows. To calm her nerves, to settle the near panic rising in her throat, Henrietta followed exactly in Peggy's footsteps. To not see the beady, black eyes or darting gray fur, Henrietta counted the soft pink freckles that dotted Peggy's thin white shoulder blades. Standing outside in the cold, blue-black dawn, Henrietta knew one thing: shadows that two-stepped with trees, trees that picked up root and pirouetted across the path, paths that dipped and folded in upon themselves like the strings from a loose helium balloon—these things were unfriendly to a six-year-old. But Henrietta was seven now, and that meant there was something she had to do. So she listened. Through the thin cottage walls, Henrietta heard her father's alarm clock, and she knew that soon would follow the gruff and rugged sounds of his morning: splash, cough, spit, flush, and then the almost rhythmic click of his spoon against his cereal bowl. This summer, her father seemed to be only sound and echo, and each morning, Henrietta lay in bed, listening hard until she heard the wheeze of his truck engine, the crunch of gravel, the fading growl of his pickup as he backed down the driveway. She listened as far as she could until she heard the truck turn onto the paved road that would take her father back to Windsor, back over the Ambassador Bridge, to work at one of the deep limestone quarries on the south side of Detroit. Henrietta didn't like the silence of the cottage without her father, so she practiced evaporation. She willed her body into a floating fijm as thin and insubstantial as an echo. She floated herself alongside the cab of the truck, and if she concentrated—really concentrated— Henrietta sometimes found herself next to her father on the long front seat. She saw herself barefoot and felt her toes skimming the tops of empty coffee cups, stray tools, and candy wrappers that littered the 73

72

L


Berkeley Fiction Review footwell. Sometimes her father sang; he pounded out the beat of "King of the Road" and "A Boy Named Sue" on the dusty dashboard. Henrietta breathed in the soft, warm dust from the quarry and fell asleep. But always the windy, buzzing silence of the cottage snapped her back like a rubber band to the big bed where Peggy's breath was warm and wet on her shoulder. Today was different and the cottage was as still as the woods. Henrietta held her breath and didn't move. She held her breath until her head hurt and a dull green pain ran temple to temple, penetrated a full two inches into her skull. "Wow," she thought. "My first migraine." When Henrietta's mother had migraines, she slept until early afternoon and couldn't be bothered. Migraines meant Henrietta could eat raspberry jelly straight from the jar; she could take sugar cubes from the bright blue bowl and suck them until her tongue burned. Migraines meant freedom. So Henrietta crept along the outside of the cottage wall and ran her fingers over the rough gray shingles. This place had a history and a name written above the screen door—Madasadosa, 1875. She moved quietly along the wall, careful not to step on the sweetpeas and petunias, careful not to think about the night crawlers that most definitely wove their way through the damp grass. Henrietta sang to herself: Mad-a-Sad-osa, mad-A-sad-Osa. Madasadosa madasadosa. Madasadosa. The name tasted good, tasted better the faster she said it. Tasted great this morning as it rolled around with the pain in her head, moved over her tongue and teeth and out of her mouth in a small, white cloud: Madasadosa. Henrietta hoisted herself up onto the birdbath beneath her parents' bedroom window, careful not to catch her nightie on the coarse, white ceramic, and she held herself steady on the outstretched wings of the cement eagle. She could barely distinguish the shape of her mother's thin body beneath the covers. Her mother was beautiful; everybody said so. Back in Detroit, Henrietta thought her mother most beautiful on Saturday evenings before the babysitter came over, long Saturday dusks when it took her mother a full hour to comb her thick, black hair, twist it into complicated knots and braids that hung down the full length of her narrow back. Long, slow hours when Henrietta was 74

Henrietta and the Headache allowed to bounce on the bed, bury her nose into sweet smelling pillows and blankets. But in this one-of-a-kind dawn, her mother's body was almost nowhere to be seen. The white bedsheets glowed like a haunted house. In the corner of the room, Henrietta's father dressed. A shadow-—thick, black, one-dimensional against the deep gray wall. He danced into his work pants, wiggled and shook to do up the zipper. He put on his shirt last, and he looked for a moment like a giant bird flexing its wings. Henrietta had a headache of her own, and it whispered in her ear: "Later, you will ask for aspirin and a cold washcloth for your forehead. You will lie on the chaise lounge under the quilt your grandmother made. Peggy will bring you fresh orange juice and you don't have to drink it. Dad will not go to work. Mom will kiss your cheek, sing for you alone the refrain from 'My Funny Valentine' and you will say Mom, please stop that singing dear. I have a headache." Henrietta knew there was something she must do, but she didn't know what. "You must go forward," her headache said, so she climbed down from the birdbath, inched along the wall of the cottage until there was no more wall and she was standing in the clearing between Madasadosa and the woods. "You must go forward." But the only place forward was the woods and Henrietta knew she could not go there alone. "I'll go with you," her headache whispered. So Henrietta went forward, not slowly or cautiously or step-bystep like she did when she was in Peggy's tow, but running and leaping and laughing until she was at the edge of the woods. And then she was at the head of the path. And then she was down the path, ten, fifteen, twenty yards. "I'm going to die," she said. "That may well be," her headache said. "But it won't happen here or now. You're seven years old and there's something you must do." Henrietta could not see in the dark. She squinted and stared but all she saw was nothing and she knew the spiders were coming. They would build a web big enough, strong enough to trap a seven-year-old, and the glossy strings would taste sweet like cotton candy, but soon they would cover her nose and mouth like darkness and she would surely die. "I really think I'm going to die," Henrietta said again. 75


Berkeley Fiction Review footwell. Sometimes her father sang; he pounded out the beat of "King of the Road" and "A Boy Named Sue" on the dusty dashboard. Henrietta breathed in the soft, warm dust from the quarry and fell asleep. But always the windy, buzzing silence of the cottage snapped her back like a rubber band to the big bed where Peggy's breath was warm and wet on her shoulder. Today was different and the cottage was as still as the woods. Henrietta held her breath and didn't move. She held her breath until her head hurt and a dull green pain ran temple to temple, penetrated a full two inches into her skull. "Wow," she thought. "My first migraine." When Henrietta's mother had migraines, she slept until early afternoon and couldn't be bothered. Migraines meant Henrietta could eat raspberry jelly straight from the jar; she could take sugar cubes from the bright blue bowl and suck them until her tongue burned. Migraines meant freedom. So Henrietta crept along the outside of the cottage wall and ran her fingers over the rough gray shingles. This place had a history and a name written above the screen door—Madasadosa, 1875. She moved quietly along the wall, careful not to step on the sweetpeas and petunias, careful not to think about the night crawlers that most definitely wove their way through the damp grass. Henrietta sang to herself: Mad-a-Sad-osa, mad-A-sad-Osa. Madasadosa madasadosa. Madasadosa. The name tasted good, tasted better the faster she said it. Tasted great this morning as it rolled around with the pain in her head, moved over her tongue and teeth and out of her mouth in a small, white cloud: Madasadosa. Henrietta hoisted herself up onto the birdbath beneath her parents' bedroom window, careful not to catch her nightie on the coarse, white ceramic, and she held herself steady on the outstretched wings of the cement eagle. She could barely distinguish the shape of her mother's thin body beneath the covers. Her mother was beautiful; everybody said so. Back in Detroit, Henrietta thought her mother most beautiful on Saturday evenings before the babysitter came over, long Saturday dusks when it took her mother a full hour to comb her thick, black hair, twist it into complicated knots and braids that hung down the full length of her narrow back. Long, slow hours when Henrietta was 74

Henrietta and the Headache allowed to bounce on the bed, bury her nose into sweet smelling pillows and blankets. But in this one-of-a-kind dawn, her mother's body was almost nowhere to be seen. The white bedsheets glowed like a haunted house. In the corner of the room, Henrietta's father dressed. A shadow-—thick, black, one-dimensional against the deep gray wall. He danced into his work pants, wiggled and shook to do up the zipper. He put on his shirt last, and he looked for a moment like a giant bird flexing its wings. Henrietta had a headache of her own, and it whispered in her ear: "Later, you will ask for aspirin and a cold washcloth for your forehead. You will lie on the chaise lounge under the quilt your grandmother made. Peggy will bring you fresh orange juice and you don't have to drink it. Dad will not go to work. Mom will kiss your cheek, sing for you alone the refrain from 'My Funny Valentine' and you will say Mom, please stop that singing dear. I have a headache." Henrietta knew there was something she must do, but she didn't know what. "You must go forward," her headache said, so she climbed down from the birdbath, inched along the wall of the cottage until there was no more wall and she was standing in the clearing between Madasadosa and the woods. "You must go forward." But the only place forward was the woods and Henrietta knew she could not go there alone. "I'll go with you," her headache whispered. So Henrietta went forward, not slowly or cautiously or step-bystep like she did when she was in Peggy's tow, but running and leaping and laughing until she was at the edge of the woods. And then she was at the head of the path. And then she was down the path, ten, fifteen, twenty yards. "I'm going to die," she said. "That may well be," her headache said. "But it won't happen here or now. You're seven years old and there's something you must do." Henrietta could not see in the dark. She squinted and stared but all she saw was nothing and she knew the spiders were coming. They would build a web big enough, strong enough to trap a seven-year-old, and the glossy strings would taste sweet like cotton candy, but soon they would cover her nose and mouth like darkness and she would surely die. "I really think I'm going to die," Henrietta said again. 75


Berkeley Fiction Review "That may well be," her headache said. "But you're seven years old now and there's something you must do. Go forward." Fantasy comes easily to a seven-year-old, but Henrietta would finally be an old woman—a life collapsing in upon itself, a body becoming shadow—before she had the words to describe what she saw webbed in the darkness just beyond Madasadosa. Saplings relaxed their arms; they turned toward Henrietta with eyes fierce and severe. Knotted bark melted into uneasy grins. Small animals stopped in their tracks, stood their full height and more—so much more. Odd, jagged shadows rose up from the still damp earth, joined one-dimensional hands and wavered in front of Henrietta like a string of paper dolls. "I think I need to go home now," Henrietta said, but her words fell heavy into the damp undergrowth. "This is home," her headache said, now so very real. "There's something we must tell you." The shadows and trees and small animals came to her in turn; each apparition took her hand, whispered the same short message in her ear: "Welcome to the body," they said. "Welcome to the pain." When the silhouettes took her hand, when they placed a hand on her chilled shoulder, Henrietta's imagination filled with pictures of places she'd never been: empty alleys, crack-plastered rooms that smelled of urine and sweat, cold spaces where she felt herself trapped by the strong arms of faceless men. Sounds and smells as real and unforgiving as the cold, damp ground that burned her feet. Henrietta didn't have the words for it then, but she knew what she saw was called future: cold and gray and gloomy as the woods. And in the future lay the sad, cold truths: Baba Yaga boils children and Hansel and Gretel die. And the handsome prince turns away because he's afraid, repulsed by cold, white lips. As suddenly as the parade began, it ended: images, shadows, creatures settled back into the dew from which they had arisen. Henrietta's headache stood behind her, his hand firm and solid on her shoulder. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the crunch of gravel beneath the wheels of her father's truck, and she knew that soon—too soon—she would be all alone. 76

Henrietta and the Headache "I'm sorry," she said. "But I don't think I understand." But before her words had the chance to fully take shape, before she had the energy to gather the breath necessary to propel these words out into the darkened woods, her headache bowed and kissed her gently on the cheek. Henrietta closed her eyes and saw only the very real pain that grew between her temples. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone. In her peripheral vision, she thought she saw something dart through the trees, the shape of a man running pale between the stormy shadows.

77


Berkeley Fiction Review "That may well be," her headache said. "But you're seven years old now and there's something you must do. Go forward." Fantasy comes easily to a seven-year-old, but Henrietta would finally be an old woman—a life collapsing in upon itself, a body becoming shadow—before she had the words to describe what she saw webbed in the darkness just beyond Madasadosa. Saplings relaxed their arms; they turned toward Henrietta with eyes fierce and severe. Knotted bark melted into uneasy grins. Small animals stopped in their tracks, stood their full height and more—so much more. Odd, jagged shadows rose up from the still damp earth, joined one-dimensional hands and wavered in front of Henrietta like a string of paper dolls. "I think I need to go home now," Henrietta said, but her words fell heavy into the damp undergrowth. "This is home," her headache said, now so very real. "There's something we must tell you." The shadows and trees and small animals came to her in turn; each apparition took her hand, whispered the same short message in her ear: "Welcome to the body," they said. "Welcome to the pain." When the silhouettes took her hand, when they placed a hand on her chilled shoulder, Henrietta's imagination filled with pictures of places she'd never been: empty alleys, crack-plastered rooms that smelled of urine and sweat, cold spaces where she felt herself trapped by the strong arms of faceless men. Sounds and smells as real and unforgiving as the cold, damp ground that burned her feet. Henrietta didn't have the words for it then, but she knew what she saw was called future: cold and gray and gloomy as the woods. And in the future lay the sad, cold truths: Baba Yaga boils children and Hansel and Gretel die. And the handsome prince turns away because he's afraid, repulsed by cold, white lips. As suddenly as the parade began, it ended: images, shadows, creatures settled back into the dew from which they had arisen. Henrietta's headache stood behind her, his hand firm and solid on her shoulder. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the crunch of gravel beneath the wheels of her father's truck, and she knew that soon—too soon—she would be all alone. 76

Henrietta and the Headache "I'm sorry," she said. "But I don't think I understand." But before her words had the chance to fully take shape, before she had the energy to gather the breath necessary to propel these words out into the darkened woods, her headache bowed and kissed her gently on the cheek. Henrietta closed her eyes and saw only the very real pain that grew between her temples. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone. In her peripheral vision, she thought she saw something dart through the trees, the shape of a man running pale between the stormy shadows.

77


My Hands

S e c o n d Place S u d d e n Fiction W i n n e r

M

y

by a kerchief, print of mistletoe. Her head was whole and sound and rounded. I touched it with my hands.

H a n d s

Lois Lorimer

ith my hands I wrap bright salmon in soft dough for kulebiak. At the Rovaniemi guest house, I make the food expected here in northern Finland. I press and seal my oval pie and glaze it with egg wash. When I first came here I couldn't crack an egg, couldn't bear to cut open a melon. Now I slice and mash and chop. I know an egg is just an egg, a melon just a melon. But there are other things I know, things a mother should never know. A mother should never see the cracked skull of her child, her hands should never touch her daughter's brain. My husband says I should forget. How can I forget? As a child, I dug domed forts in banks of snow. But I never shaped my tunnel to the road; my igloo entrance always faced the field. Why did my daughter come crawling out when I was backing, when the drive was slick with ice? Why then? When the car might slide, skid, thump. Thump over. A year later, we came here on the train, my husband and I. He'd sold the car, I think. In the Rovaniemi station there were gypsies, a smell of beer in early morning, the smoke of cigarettes. A gypsy girl, just her size, clutched me by my skirt. Her hair was shiny, dark and glossy, covered 78

19


My Hands

S e c o n d Place S u d d e n Fiction W i n n e r

M

y

by a kerchief, print of mistletoe. Her head was whole and sound and rounded. I touched it with my hands.

H a n d s

Lois Lorimer

ith my hands I wrap bright salmon in soft dough for kulebiak. At the Rovaniemi guest house, I make the food expected here in northern Finland. I press and seal my oval pie and glaze it with egg wash. When I first came here I couldn't crack an egg, couldn't bear to cut open a melon. Now I slice and mash and chop. I know an egg is just an egg, a melon just a melon. But there are other things I know, things a mother should never know. A mother should never see the cracked skull of her child, her hands should never touch her daughter's brain. My husband says I should forget. How can I forget? As a child, I dug domed forts in banks of snow. But I never shaped my tunnel to the road; my igloo entrance always faced the field. Why did my daughter come crawling out when I was backing, when the drive was slick with ice? Why then? When the car might slide, skid, thump. Thump over. A year later, we came here on the train, my husband and I. He'd sold the car, I think. In the Rovaniemi station there were gypsies, a smell of beer in early morning, the smoke of cigarettes. A gypsy girl, just her size, clutched me by my skirt. Her hair was shiny, dark and glossy, covered 78

19


Artificial Home

A r t i f i c i a l

H o m e

Greg Strong

ike some mother ship fallen from space, Dove Run has been dropped into the middle of the desert, a thirty-minute drive from Tucson. It has been populated with relocated saguaros, sculpted palo verdes, and faux waterfalls. Four thousand homes are under construction, waiting to be filled with packs of laughing children, sullen teenagers, stern fathers, indulgent mothers and all the complications of life that people shove into moving vans and carry with them. Bernie spends his workdays in a model home, sitting at his desk in the middle of the living room, greeting prospective homebuyers. He works alone with no one looking over his shoulder. He sits inside all day in air-conditioning while the people come to him. It is a cushy job as far as real estate goes. He has earned it and he is good at it. Or at least he has been until recently. He loves the idea of model work—the uncomplicated act of slowly filling up a planned community with the people for whom it is designed. His customers fit themselves into the stucco boxes as neatly as mail slipped into its slot. Over the course of a sale, many of the homebuyers come to trust him and think of him as a friend. After they move in, he watches them through his picture window, walking their dogs and pushing strollers. They sometimes turn up his driveway and stop in to visit, bring him things: warm loaves of banana bread, iced lemonade. He enjoys the accompanying sense of community they bring with them. 80

He especially likes the early feeling of populating a development— when it is still fresh and clean and largely un-lived in, as Dove Run is now. Early in the mornings, before he opens up the house, he slowly drives the winding roads of the subdivision, savoring the quiet sterility of the empty homes, the uncluttered lawns, the unstained driveways. He has a fantasy: if he didn't have to work for a living, if selling wasn't his job, if he were obnoxiously rich, he would build these developments all over the country and keep them empty. He would gate them off like protected wilderness areas which people could visit during daylight hours to enjoy the quiet serenity of an unmarred and perfectly ordered sanctuary, a haven from the messiness of outside life. They would picnic on the lawns, walk through the community center, and tour the homes, but entry to the rooms would be barred with velvet rope. But selling is his job. For seven years he has done it happily, done it well, and then returned to his own home and wife in the city at the end of the day. Recently, though, there has been an addition. He and his wife, both thirty-three, decided to have a child. Now Kathy and Owen wait together for Bernie to come home. In the four weeks since Owen was born, the sense of comfort and contentment Bernie feels at his job has begun to fade. The endless parade of customers has become an intrusion. When a car pulls into the driveway or a stranger knocks on the front door, his impulse is to hide in one of the back bedrooms. Only when he musters all of his strength can he bring himself to greet them with a smile. In fact, over the course of the last month, he has come to think of the model home as his own. Against his better judgement, two, three, sometimes four times a week, he locks the front door at noon, draws the shades, and hangs the "closed" sign in the picture window facing the street. In the master bedroom, he changes out of his suit into the jeans, loose golf shirt, and slip-on tennis shoes he has stashed in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Then he gets a yogurt and an orange out of the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and watches daytime TV The commercials are for either personal injury lawyers or truck driving schools. Bernie considers the truck driving ones. He watches the panoramic shots of smoking big rigs cruising the open plains of the Midwest against a setting sun, the crisply dressed and smiling man who steps out of the 81


Artificial Home

A r t i f i c i a l

H o m e

Greg Strong

ike some mother ship fallen from space, Dove Run has been dropped into the middle of the desert, a thirty-minute drive from Tucson. It has been populated with relocated saguaros, sculpted palo verdes, and faux waterfalls. Four thousand homes are under construction, waiting to be filled with packs of laughing children, sullen teenagers, stern fathers, indulgent mothers and all the complications of life that people shove into moving vans and carry with them. Bernie spends his workdays in a model home, sitting at his desk in the middle of the living room, greeting prospective homebuyers. He works alone with no one looking over his shoulder. He sits inside all day in air-conditioning while the people come to him. It is a cushy job as far as real estate goes. He has earned it and he is good at it. Or at least he has been until recently. He loves the idea of model work—the uncomplicated act of slowly filling up a planned community with the people for whom it is designed. His customers fit themselves into the stucco boxes as neatly as mail slipped into its slot. Over the course of a sale, many of the homebuyers come to trust him and think of him as a friend. After they move in, he watches them through his picture window, walking their dogs and pushing strollers. They sometimes turn up his driveway and stop in to visit, bring him things: warm loaves of banana bread, iced lemonade. He enjoys the accompanying sense of community they bring with them. 80

He especially likes the early feeling of populating a development— when it is still fresh and clean and largely un-lived in, as Dove Run is now. Early in the mornings, before he opens up the house, he slowly drives the winding roads of the subdivision, savoring the quiet sterility of the empty homes, the uncluttered lawns, the unstained driveways. He has a fantasy: if he didn't have to work for a living, if selling wasn't his job, if he were obnoxiously rich, he would build these developments all over the country and keep them empty. He would gate them off like protected wilderness areas which people could visit during daylight hours to enjoy the quiet serenity of an unmarred and perfectly ordered sanctuary, a haven from the messiness of outside life. They would picnic on the lawns, walk through the community center, and tour the homes, but entry to the rooms would be barred with velvet rope. But selling is his job. For seven years he has done it happily, done it well, and then returned to his own home and wife in the city at the end of the day. Recently, though, there has been an addition. He and his wife, both thirty-three, decided to have a child. Now Kathy and Owen wait together for Bernie to come home. In the four weeks since Owen was born, the sense of comfort and contentment Bernie feels at his job has begun to fade. The endless parade of customers has become an intrusion. When a car pulls into the driveway or a stranger knocks on the front door, his impulse is to hide in one of the back bedrooms. Only when he musters all of his strength can he bring himself to greet them with a smile. In fact, over the course of the last month, he has come to think of the model home as his own. Against his better judgement, two, three, sometimes four times a week, he locks the front door at noon, draws the shades, and hangs the "closed" sign in the picture window facing the street. In the master bedroom, he changes out of his suit into the jeans, loose golf shirt, and slip-on tennis shoes he has stashed in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Then he gets a yogurt and an orange out of the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and watches daytime TV The commercials are for either personal injury lawyers or truck driving schools. Bernie considers the truck driving ones. He watches the panoramic shots of smoking big rigs cruising the open plains of the Midwest against a setting sun, the crisply dressed and smiling man who steps out of the 81


Berkeley Fiction Review cab with a clipboard in his hand. He is sure that he could handle one of these machines. He feels the lure of the open road. He mutes the TV when he hears the voices of frustrated customers outside his front door—people who have made the trip from town. Despite the "closed" sign, they often jiggle the knob and attempt to peer in the window, violating his privacy and treating the model as if it were a Pizza Hut. After they leave, he dozes in front of the TV He knows this is risky. If even one of those frustrated customers reports back to Margaret, his sales manager, he would likely be fired. And that can't happen, especially not now. When he wakes up he finds the light in the house has gone soft, the sun having dropped behind the mountains. He waits in the dark house until it is time to go home. The model is supposed to be kept open untiPseven, but he has been staying later by an hour or more, avoiding "getting into his car. At home, he alternates between telling Kathy that he's had a lot of customers, a lot of paperwork, or that there was an unexpected meeting. In the failing light, Bernie walks through the house. It is completely furnished and decorated by a contracted interior design operation out of Phoenix: the master bedroom in dark oak—window valences and dust ruffles around the bed, thick hand towels in the bathrooms, the family room with a pool table, sofa, and big-screen TV. The kitchen features clean, white Whirlpool appliances. There are children's bedrooms, one furnished for an anonymous girl with a statue of a rearing horse on the dresser and one for a generic ten-year-old boy—striped wallpaper and a painting of a sad clown hanging over a bed shaped like a race car. He has come to think of this room as Owen's. In the closet, next to the dresser, are the bags of toys that he has bought for Owen but has not yet given to him. There is a pile of stuffed animals, a clay-sculpting set, a pink plastic kick-ball, a Styrofoam glider with a six-foot wingspan, and a finger-paint kit. Before Owen was born, when Bernie was still full of the excitement of his arriving son, he would stop at the Toys R Us on his way home from work and walk the aisles, imagining a life with his boy while filling a shopping cart. Bernie was captivated by the idea that he was connecting with his son at all different points in his growth. He knew not all of the toys were age-appropriate for Owen, but the shopping trips were impulsive. Some of them are toys that 82

Artificial Home Bernie himself would have liked to have as a boy. Once he paid for them though, he got scared. Was it a good idea to bring armloads of toys into the house for a son he did not yet know? Would they imply a promise of something he wasn't sure he could fulfill? The toys had always ended up in the trunk of his car and then here in the closet of the model home. Now that Owen was born, the shopping trips have stopped. When Bernie drives by the strip mall that holds the Toys R Us, he keeps his gaze straight ahead, as if avoiding the awkward eye contact of a former lover. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he holds the pink kick-ball, turns it over and over in his hands, trying to comprehend how it is he's come to be frightened of his son. At home Kathy is nursing again, while Jeopardy plays on the TV against the wall. Owen, wrapped in a blue blanket, clutches to her breast like a carpenter ant. He is pink and wrinkled. Under his thin brown hair, blue veins snake beneath his scalp. Bernie bends over into their intimate space, and Kathy tilts her head up to kiss him. "How did it go today?" he asks, lingering for a moment. "He can't get enough," she says, smiling down at Owen. "Maybe there's something wrong with him." "I don't think so. He's just growing." She unwraps the blanket from around his legs. "See how long he's getting?" To Bernie, Owen's pudgy legs look like cased and linked sausages. "I don't know. He doesn't look that different from when we brought him home." After he says it, he hears how hurtful it might sound. But Kathy doesn't react, only smiles down at the baby. She is enraptured. She is clearly in love. In the kitchen, Bernie peels aluminum foil from the plate of food Kathy has left warming in the oven. Rice with gravy, a gray pork chop, a pile of soft broccoli. As he fills a glass of water at the sink, she comes into the kitchen without Owen. "He's asleep," she whispers. Standing behind him, she puts her hands on his waist. "I'm glad you're home." "Sorry I'm late. Work's been nuts. The people keep coming." He can make out his faint reflection in the window over the sink—the holes of his eyes, his sharp chin. He doesn't like what he sees. He 83


Berkeley Fiction Review cab with a clipboard in his hand. He is sure that he could handle one of these machines. He feels the lure of the open road. He mutes the TV when he hears the voices of frustrated customers outside his front door—people who have made the trip from town. Despite the "closed" sign, they often jiggle the knob and attempt to peer in the window, violating his privacy and treating the model as if it were a Pizza Hut. After they leave, he dozes in front of the TV He knows this is risky. If even one of those frustrated customers reports back to Margaret, his sales manager, he would likely be fired. And that can't happen, especially not now. When he wakes up he finds the light in the house has gone soft, the sun having dropped behind the mountains. He waits in the dark house until it is time to go home. The model is supposed to be kept open untiPseven, but he has been staying later by an hour or more, avoiding "getting into his car. At home, he alternates between telling Kathy that he's had a lot of customers, a lot of paperwork, or that there was an unexpected meeting. In the failing light, Bernie walks through the house. It is completely furnished and decorated by a contracted interior design operation out of Phoenix: the master bedroom in dark oak—window valences and dust ruffles around the bed, thick hand towels in the bathrooms, the family room with a pool table, sofa, and big-screen TV. The kitchen features clean, white Whirlpool appliances. There are children's bedrooms, one furnished for an anonymous girl with a statue of a rearing horse on the dresser and one for a generic ten-year-old boy—striped wallpaper and a painting of a sad clown hanging over a bed shaped like a race car. He has come to think of this room as Owen's. In the closet, next to the dresser, are the bags of toys that he has bought for Owen but has not yet given to him. There is a pile of stuffed animals, a clay-sculpting set, a pink plastic kick-ball, a Styrofoam glider with a six-foot wingspan, and a finger-paint kit. Before Owen was born, when Bernie was still full of the excitement of his arriving son, he would stop at the Toys R Us on his way home from work and walk the aisles, imagining a life with his boy while filling a shopping cart. Bernie was captivated by the idea that he was connecting with his son at all different points in his growth. He knew not all of the toys were age-appropriate for Owen, but the shopping trips were impulsive. Some of them are toys that 82

Artificial Home Bernie himself would have liked to have as a boy. Once he paid for them though, he got scared. Was it a good idea to bring armloads of toys into the house for a son he did not yet know? Would they imply a promise of something he wasn't sure he could fulfill? The toys had always ended up in the trunk of his car and then here in the closet of the model home. Now that Owen was born, the shopping trips have stopped. When Bernie drives by the strip mall that holds the Toys R Us, he keeps his gaze straight ahead, as if avoiding the awkward eye contact of a former lover. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he holds the pink kick-ball, turns it over and over in his hands, trying to comprehend how it is he's come to be frightened of his son. At home Kathy is nursing again, while Jeopardy plays on the TV against the wall. Owen, wrapped in a blue blanket, clutches to her breast like a carpenter ant. He is pink and wrinkled. Under his thin brown hair, blue veins snake beneath his scalp. Bernie bends over into their intimate space, and Kathy tilts her head up to kiss him. "How did it go today?" he asks, lingering for a moment. "He can't get enough," she says, smiling down at Owen. "Maybe there's something wrong with him." "I don't think so. He's just growing." She unwraps the blanket from around his legs. "See how long he's getting?" To Bernie, Owen's pudgy legs look like cased and linked sausages. "I don't know. He doesn't look that different from when we brought him home." After he says it, he hears how hurtful it might sound. But Kathy doesn't react, only smiles down at the baby. She is enraptured. She is clearly in love. In the kitchen, Bernie peels aluminum foil from the plate of food Kathy has left warming in the oven. Rice with gravy, a gray pork chop, a pile of soft broccoli. As he fills a glass of water at the sink, she comes into the kitchen without Owen. "He's asleep," she whispers. Standing behind him, she puts her hands on his waist. "I'm glad you're home." "Sorry I'm late. Work's been nuts. The people keep coming." He can make out his faint reflection in the window over the sink—the holes of his eyes, his sharp chin. He doesn't like what he sees. He 83


Berkeley Fiction Review wonders when the first time he lied to her was. "At least it means more commissions." She says, "We need you here. I need your help with this." "What? I'm here now, aren't I?" "He's a project. A real project." He spins around to face her. "What's that supposed to mean? I'm trying to make some money here. I'm trying to make it so we can keep the house. We'll be lucky if we can make it until you go back to work." She takes a step away from him and pats his chest with flat palms. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. That's not what I'm saying. I want you here, that's all. I know you're working hard. I want it to be the three of us. It's a weird time. I know that." "Weird time," Bernie snorts. "No kidding." "I'm not trying to make you do something you don't want to do. I'm just telling how I feel." "Okay." He holds his arms out to her. She steps back into him and they hug in silence for a while and Bernie remembers when it was just them in this house. It was a simpler time, though he didn't know that then. They understood their roles and filled them. Now everything has changed and Bernie is having a hard time adapting. The sound of Owen fussing makes them both look toward the living room. "He's awake again. I swear he only sleeps in cat naps," she says, as she squeezes his hand and heads toward the hall. "I'm going upstairs. Can you watch him for a minute?" "Yeah. Sure." She's halfway down the hall before he says, "I'm sorry," but she doesn't stop and he doesn't think he spoke loud enough. He carries his plate and glass into the living room. When he sees Owen lying on the couch swaddled in his blanket with only his red, pinched face poking out, Bernie's forehead prickles with anxiety. Owen is flat on his back, his little eyes staring toward the ceiling, blinking every few seconds. Bernie sits in his recliner where he can see both the couch and the TV Working the buttons of the remote, Bernie flips from channel to channel, trying to find something that will take his attention away from the fact that he is alone with this living bundle. It's strange to see him 84

Artificial Home alone. He looks vulnerable. Bernie has grown used to Owen's being a part of Kathy, her appendage, hiding in the crook of her elbow. He hopes that Owen will make no noise or require any attention, but Owen grows more active. His chunky arms have worked themselves free of the folds of the blanket. They are waving slowly back and forth as if directing jet traffic out at the airport. He is squirming, letting out little chirps of complaint. Something changes in Owen's breathing. Even from ten feet away, Bernie hears it. It becomes more labored. Owen emits a cry, then coughs, and then a white mess spills from his mouth onto his face, the blanket and the cushion of the couch. More liquid than Bernie would have thought he could hold. He is still coughing and Bernie runs over to him, kneels next to the couch, and turns him on his side so that he can cough the rest of it out. Owen cries for a moment, and then he is quiet, going back to his mellow gurgling. Bernie holds him, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth coming through the blanket. With his other hand, Bernie lifts a towel from the armrest and cleans Owen's face, then the blanket and the couch. He puts the towel down and, with both hands cradling him, lifts Owen close to his face. He wants to love his son. He had been waiting for that primal sense of recognition and affection promised him by a friend of his who has a two-year-old. "You may not think you want kids," the friend told him months ago, "but when you hold him for the first time, you're hooked. Everything you think is important right now—forget it. It's gonna get flipped upside down." Ever since Kathy came home with the news of her pregnancy, he has anticipated this feeling. And when the ultrasound revealed the blurry outline of his son, he felt excitement. As their noses touch, he thinks perhaps this was how such things began. Like jump-starting a car, perhaps what Bernie needs is the deliberate act of smelling his son. Owen's eyes swim in their sockets, lazy and unfocused. He inhales deeply. Underneath his lotion and powder, Owen's breath and skin have a rich smell, an animal smell, milky and warm. Bernie searches the smell for something familiar, some piece of himself or Kathy, thinking that if he can detect such a thing then his heart might open up. Owen's arms are swinging and his fingers brush Bernie's ears. He takes the small hand and presses it to his own face, his eyelids and forehead, his chin and lips, trying to get some 85


Berkeley Fiction Review wonders when the first time he lied to her was. "At least it means more commissions." She says, "We need you here. I need your help with this." "What? I'm here now, aren't I?" "He's a project. A real project." He spins around to face her. "What's that supposed to mean? I'm trying to make some money here. I'm trying to make it so we can keep the house. We'll be lucky if we can make it until you go back to work." She takes a step away from him and pats his chest with flat palms. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. That's not what I'm saying. I want you here, that's all. I know you're working hard. I want it to be the three of us. It's a weird time. I know that." "Weird time," Bernie snorts. "No kidding." "I'm not trying to make you do something you don't want to do. I'm just telling how I feel." "Okay." He holds his arms out to her. She steps back into him and they hug in silence for a while and Bernie remembers when it was just them in this house. It was a simpler time, though he didn't know that then. They understood their roles and filled them. Now everything has changed and Bernie is having a hard time adapting. The sound of Owen fussing makes them both look toward the living room. "He's awake again. I swear he only sleeps in cat naps," she says, as she squeezes his hand and heads toward the hall. "I'm going upstairs. Can you watch him for a minute?" "Yeah. Sure." She's halfway down the hall before he says, "I'm sorry," but she doesn't stop and he doesn't think he spoke loud enough. He carries his plate and glass into the living room. When he sees Owen lying on the couch swaddled in his blanket with only his red, pinched face poking out, Bernie's forehead prickles with anxiety. Owen is flat on his back, his little eyes staring toward the ceiling, blinking every few seconds. Bernie sits in his recliner where he can see both the couch and the TV Working the buttons of the remote, Bernie flips from channel to channel, trying to find something that will take his attention away from the fact that he is alone with this living bundle. It's strange to see him 84

Artificial Home alone. He looks vulnerable. Bernie has grown used to Owen's being a part of Kathy, her appendage, hiding in the crook of her elbow. He hopes that Owen will make no noise or require any attention, but Owen grows more active. His chunky arms have worked themselves free of the folds of the blanket. They are waving slowly back and forth as if directing jet traffic out at the airport. He is squirming, letting out little chirps of complaint. Something changes in Owen's breathing. Even from ten feet away, Bernie hears it. It becomes more labored. Owen emits a cry, then coughs, and then a white mess spills from his mouth onto his face, the blanket and the cushion of the couch. More liquid than Bernie would have thought he could hold. He is still coughing and Bernie runs over to him, kneels next to the couch, and turns him on his side so that he can cough the rest of it out. Owen cries for a moment, and then he is quiet, going back to his mellow gurgling. Bernie holds him, feeling the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth coming through the blanket. With his other hand, Bernie lifts a towel from the armrest and cleans Owen's face, then the blanket and the couch. He puts the towel down and, with both hands cradling him, lifts Owen close to his face. He wants to love his son. He had been waiting for that primal sense of recognition and affection promised him by a friend of his who has a two-year-old. "You may not think you want kids," the friend told him months ago, "but when you hold him for the first time, you're hooked. Everything you think is important right now—forget it. It's gonna get flipped upside down." Ever since Kathy came home with the news of her pregnancy, he has anticipated this feeling. And when the ultrasound revealed the blurry outline of his son, he felt excitement. As their noses touch, he thinks perhaps this was how such things began. Like jump-starting a car, perhaps what Bernie needs is the deliberate act of smelling his son. Owen's eyes swim in their sockets, lazy and unfocused. He inhales deeply. Underneath his lotion and powder, Owen's breath and skin have a rich smell, an animal smell, milky and warm. Bernie searches the smell for something familiar, some piece of himself or Kathy, thinking that if he can detect such a thing then his heart might open up. Owen's arms are swinging and his fingers brush Bernie's ears. He takes the small hand and presses it to his own face, his eyelids and forehead, his chin and lips, trying to get some 85


Berkeley Fiction Review feeling from it. He kisses the tiny fingers, fingers topped with the smallest of pink nails and white half-moons. Owen's smell is not repellant, or even unpleasant, but it is not a smell that Bernie recognizes or feels ready to know. He lowers Owen back onto the couch, sits on the floor and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. Kathy's footsteps sound on the stairs. When she appears in the doorway, Bernie is back in his chair, flipping channels. "Any problems?" Kathy asks. "No," he shrugs and smiles. "No problems." When Bernie sleeps that night, he dreams of Owen as a man. He is large and angry and dressed in a leather jacket. He face is scruffy and he looks nothing like Bernie or Kathy but somehow Bernie knows him as his son. There is a chain that runs from a belt loop on his jeans to a wallet in his back pocket. In a deep and gruff voice, Owen is telling Bernie he wants nothing to do with him, ever. He is swinging the chain in a circle and Bernie feels threatened. With his face in a grimace, almost in a cry, Owen is telling Bernie that he deserves everything he gets. Then Owen climbs into a semi-truck. He has become a trucker, a longhauler, just so he never has to come home. The dream is interrupted by the sound of Owen crying and Kathy rising from the bed for a feeding. The next day, a Friday, Bernie rises at six and dashes to the model home. He lies on the couch next to his desk in the living room. The quiet is sweet relief and he sleeps until eight. While making coffee in the kitchen, he makes a decision about the day: he will keep the house open until the official closing time, return home immediately, and try again to connect with Owen. He will keep trying until something between them clicks into place. Bernie is excited by his new determination. He feels like he can make this happen. He carries the coffee to his desk and arranges his papers, straightens his business cards. He turns on NPR and whistles along with the theme song. At ten-thirty, a burgundy sedan pulls into the driveway. He eagerly steps out onto the stoop to greet his visitors. It is a young couple, younger than Bernie, maybe in their mid-twenties. Bernie waves and watches as the man opens the rear door and pulls a baby from a safety 86

Artificial Home seat as the woman unfolds a stroller. But they don't use it. The man carries the child as the woman pushes the empty stroller ahead of her. They are both smiling at Bernie and he has the sudden impulse to run into the house and lock the door. Instead, he waits, smiling back at them. They are George and Greta Pierson and their six-month-old daughter, Madeline, from Wisconsin. They are Midwest friendly. George is here programming computers. They are chatterers. Watching George with Madeline, all of Bernie's earlier conviction evaporates and he is suddenly exhausted again. He is not sure if he can make it through this. While George coos and kisses Madeline, Bernie shoves some literature into Greta's hands, quickly points out the miniature layout of Dove Run—three golf courses, community center, town green—and starts moving them toward the front door. But they want to see the home. He tries to hustle them through the house but they are careful buyers. They've read books. They insist on inspecting every nook of every room and testing every appliance. They want to talk about life in the desert, shopping, golf, the temperature of the pool at the community center, and whether the playground equipment will be made of wood or plastic. After a half-hour they end up in the boy's room, standing beside the race car bed. Madeline is hanging on George's shoulder. Bernie talks to him but can't meet his eyes because he is watching Greta behind him. She is rooting in the closet and she emerges with one of the bags of toys. "What's this?" she cries out. "Toys! Maddy loves toys." Bernie, embarrassed, admits they are for his newborn and tells them that he got carried away in Christmas shopping. At the mention of a newborn, Greta lights up even brighter and asks if it is a boy or girl. "A boy," Bernie says. "Owen." "A boy," says Greta in a dreamy voice. "Boys are so nice. My sister has two. Twins. How old is he?" "Four weeks." Bernie looks at his watch. "Just today." "Oh, what zgreat age," says George. "Has he rolled over yet?" "Yeah. Oh, yeah." Bernie has no idea. The room feels very small with the four of them packed into it. Bernie looks at the back of Madeline's head against George's shoulder. It is white and perfectly round. Thick blond hair spills down her neck. George's large hand is 87


Berkeley Fiction Review feeling from it. He kisses the tiny fingers, fingers topped with the smallest of pink nails and white half-moons. Owen's smell is not repellant, or even unpleasant, but it is not a smell that Bernie recognizes or feels ready to know. He lowers Owen back onto the couch, sits on the floor and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. Kathy's footsteps sound on the stairs. When she appears in the doorway, Bernie is back in his chair, flipping channels. "Any problems?" Kathy asks. "No," he shrugs and smiles. "No problems." When Bernie sleeps that night, he dreams of Owen as a man. He is large and angry and dressed in a leather jacket. He face is scruffy and he looks nothing like Bernie or Kathy but somehow Bernie knows him as his son. There is a chain that runs from a belt loop on his jeans to a wallet in his back pocket. In a deep and gruff voice, Owen is telling Bernie he wants nothing to do with him, ever. He is swinging the chain in a circle and Bernie feels threatened. With his face in a grimace, almost in a cry, Owen is telling Bernie that he deserves everything he gets. Then Owen climbs into a semi-truck. He has become a trucker, a longhauler, just so he never has to come home. The dream is interrupted by the sound of Owen crying and Kathy rising from the bed for a feeding. The next day, a Friday, Bernie rises at six and dashes to the model home. He lies on the couch next to his desk in the living room. The quiet is sweet relief and he sleeps until eight. While making coffee in the kitchen, he makes a decision about the day: he will keep the house open until the official closing time, return home immediately, and try again to connect with Owen. He will keep trying until something between them clicks into place. Bernie is excited by his new determination. He feels like he can make this happen. He carries the coffee to his desk and arranges his papers, straightens his business cards. He turns on NPR and whistles along with the theme song. At ten-thirty, a burgundy sedan pulls into the driveway. He eagerly steps out onto the stoop to greet his visitors. It is a young couple, younger than Bernie, maybe in their mid-twenties. Bernie waves and watches as the man opens the rear door and pulls a baby from a safety 86

Artificial Home seat as the woman unfolds a stroller. But they don't use it. The man carries the child as the woman pushes the empty stroller ahead of her. They are both smiling at Bernie and he has the sudden impulse to run into the house and lock the door. Instead, he waits, smiling back at them. They are George and Greta Pierson and their six-month-old daughter, Madeline, from Wisconsin. They are Midwest friendly. George is here programming computers. They are chatterers. Watching George with Madeline, all of Bernie's earlier conviction evaporates and he is suddenly exhausted again. He is not sure if he can make it through this. While George coos and kisses Madeline, Bernie shoves some literature into Greta's hands, quickly points out the miniature layout of Dove Run—three golf courses, community center, town green—and starts moving them toward the front door. But they want to see the home. He tries to hustle them through the house but they are careful buyers. They've read books. They insist on inspecting every nook of every room and testing every appliance. They want to talk about life in the desert, shopping, golf, the temperature of the pool at the community center, and whether the playground equipment will be made of wood or plastic. After a half-hour they end up in the boy's room, standing beside the race car bed. Madeline is hanging on George's shoulder. Bernie talks to him but can't meet his eyes because he is watching Greta behind him. She is rooting in the closet and she emerges with one of the bags of toys. "What's this?" she cries out. "Toys! Maddy loves toys." Bernie, embarrassed, admits they are for his newborn and tells them that he got carried away in Christmas shopping. At the mention of a newborn, Greta lights up even brighter and asks if it is a boy or girl. "A boy," Bernie says. "Owen." "A boy," says Greta in a dreamy voice. "Boys are so nice. My sister has two. Twins. How old is he?" "Four weeks." Bernie looks at his watch. "Just today." "Oh, what zgreat age," says George. "Has he rolled over yet?" "Yeah. Oh, yeah." Bernie has no idea. The room feels very small with the four of them packed into it. Bernie looks at the back of Madeline's head against George's shoulder. It is white and perfectly round. Thick blond hair spills down her neck. George's large hand is 87


Berkeley Fiction Review spread across her back. He is rubbing her to sleep. "That's good, right?" They pause for a moment and Bernie detects a glance between them. "Ah," George says, waving his free hand. "They're all different. You never know what they're going to do next. This one flushed the toilet the other day. We have no idea how she did it and I was standing right there, shaving." Greta pulls the pink kick-ball from the closet and holds it up to Madeline. "Hey baby hey baby hey baby," she murmurs in a soft voice. Madeline, half asleep, reaches out and lays a hand on the ball. Bernie puts a hand behind them and ushers them back into the living room. He makes sure they have all of their Dove Run literature and then herds them out the front door and down the walk toward their car. "You have fun with that boy of yours. I know he's going to love his presents," Greta says as George loads Madeline back into the safety seat. "Thanks," says Bernie. "Good luck to you. Call me with your questions. I'd love to earn your business," he calls out to them but he doesn't really mean it. He never wants to see them again. He waves them off and goes back inside. Despite the earlier promise to himself, he realizes he can't handle any more people today. He wonders vaguely if he should call Margaret to tell her that he is sick, but decides he will just take a quick break. He draws the shades, locks the door, collapses in the family room and falls asleep in front of Kirk and Ashley arguing about Mona's bastard child on One Life to Live. His sleep is fitful, filled with the sounds of the TV and of people walking around his house, trying to get in, talking outside the window. When the sound of the TV goes off, Bernie's eyes flip open and he is staring at Margaret's doughy knees sagging beneath the hem of her skirt. She is standing over him holding the remote. "Comfortable, Bernie?" "Jesus." Bernie sits up quickly and his head rushes. "Margaret." "I hope you don't mind that I was bold enough to let myself in." Bernie rubs his eyes and the spinning colors of the Wheel of Fortune came into focus on the set behind her. "No, no that's okay. I was just lying here thinking about next week's sales meeting."

Artificial Home "Of course. Done for the day, are we?" "Done? I don't know. What time is it, anyway?" "It's six o'clock, Bernie. Six p.m." "Well, I guess I've got an hour to go. Just taking a little breather. Still not getting a lot of sleep at home, what with the new baby." "Actually, I've been here for forty-five minutes, sitting at the kitchen table and going through my considerable stack of sales resumes." Her affected English accent grates on him. She is fifty-ish and heavy-set. Her stiff, yellow hair glows in the light of the television. She does not like Bernie and Bernie does not like her. But for five years he has been her top salesman, so she tolerates him, and grants him the coveted model work. "Yeah, well." She sits down next to him. He hates the way she tries to get personal when all she really wants is to chew him out. "Let's cut to the chase, Bernie. I've been getting calls. Two yesterday, one today. Customers are not pleased, so I'm not pleased. I'm forced to ask you how long this has been going on, though I'm not entirely sure I want to know." "What?" "How long, Bernie. How long have you been closing up the model early?" Bernie sits back on the couch and sighs. "I don't know, three weeks, a month. Since around the time Owen was born." "A month} Good god. Do you realize how many units we could have moved in that time?" "Hey! I moved a few. Give me a little credit here." She pulls a slip of paper from her coat pocket. "Five. In the last four weeks you have sold exactly five Dove Run units. Thirty would have been a more realistic number. Even that would be below par." He holds up his hands. "You're right. I'm sorry. I've just had some problems at home is all. No more game-playing. I'll be straight from now on." Her face grows grave. "Yes, I know." "You know?" "I want to rearrange things, Bernie. I want you back in the office for a while. Martin's going to come in to work the model." "Martin? He can't sell shit, Margaret, and you know it." She shakes 89


Berkeley Fiction Review spread across her back. He is rubbing her to sleep. "That's good, right?" They pause for a moment and Bernie detects a glance between them. "Ah," George says, waving his free hand. "They're all different. You never know what they're going to do next. This one flushed the toilet the other day. We have no idea how she did it and I was standing right there, shaving." Greta pulls the pink kick-ball from the closet and holds it up to Madeline. "Hey baby hey baby hey baby," she murmurs in a soft voice. Madeline, half asleep, reaches out and lays a hand on the ball. Bernie puts a hand behind them and ushers them back into the living room. He makes sure they have all of their Dove Run literature and then herds them out the front door and down the walk toward their car. "You have fun with that boy of yours. I know he's going to love his presents," Greta says as George loads Madeline back into the safety seat. "Thanks," says Bernie. "Good luck to you. Call me with your questions. I'd love to earn your business," he calls out to them but he doesn't really mean it. He never wants to see them again. He waves them off and goes back inside. Despite the earlier promise to himself, he realizes he can't handle any more people today. He wonders vaguely if he should call Margaret to tell her that he is sick, but decides he will just take a quick break. He draws the shades, locks the door, collapses in the family room and falls asleep in front of Kirk and Ashley arguing about Mona's bastard child on One Life to Live. His sleep is fitful, filled with the sounds of the TV and of people walking around his house, trying to get in, talking outside the window. When the sound of the TV goes off, Bernie's eyes flip open and he is staring at Margaret's doughy knees sagging beneath the hem of her skirt. She is standing over him holding the remote. "Comfortable, Bernie?" "Jesus." Bernie sits up quickly and his head rushes. "Margaret." "I hope you don't mind that I was bold enough to let myself in." Bernie rubs his eyes and the spinning colors of the Wheel of Fortune came into focus on the set behind her. "No, no that's okay. I was just lying here thinking about next week's sales meeting."

Artificial Home "Of course. Done for the day, are we?" "Done? I don't know. What time is it, anyway?" "It's six o'clock, Bernie. Six p.m." "Well, I guess I've got an hour to go. Just taking a little breather. Still not getting a lot of sleep at home, what with the new baby." "Actually, I've been here for forty-five minutes, sitting at the kitchen table and going through my considerable stack of sales resumes." Her affected English accent grates on him. She is fifty-ish and heavy-set. Her stiff, yellow hair glows in the light of the television. She does not like Bernie and Bernie does not like her. But for five years he has been her top salesman, so she tolerates him, and grants him the coveted model work. "Yeah, well." She sits down next to him. He hates the way she tries to get personal when all she really wants is to chew him out. "Let's cut to the chase, Bernie. I've been getting calls. Two yesterday, one today. Customers are not pleased, so I'm not pleased. I'm forced to ask you how long this has been going on, though I'm not entirely sure I want to know." "What?" "How long, Bernie. How long have you been closing up the model early?" Bernie sits back on the couch and sighs. "I don't know, three weeks, a month. Since around the time Owen was born." "A month} Good god. Do you realize how many units we could have moved in that time?" "Hey! I moved a few. Give me a little credit here." She pulls a slip of paper from her coat pocket. "Five. In the last four weeks you have sold exactly five Dove Run units. Thirty would have been a more realistic number. Even that would be below par." He holds up his hands. "You're right. I'm sorry. I've just had some problems at home is all. No more game-playing. I'll be straight from now on." Her face grows grave. "Yes, I know." "You know?" "I want to rearrange things, Bernie. I want you back in the office for a while. Martin's going to come in to work the model." "Martin? He can't sell shit, Margaret, and you know it." She shakes 89


Berkeley Fiction Review her head at him as he speaks. "Don't do this to me. Model work is what I do. You can't just—" She holds out a hand to stop him. "Tell you what. Let's call it a trial. Six months. I've already told him. He's earned it. He wants it." "/want it." "I don't think you do. Go tend to your family. Come join us in the office for a while—it's not as bad as you think." She wags a finger at him. "There's the camaraderie you're forgetting. In six months, we'll reevaluate." She stands up and turns the volume on the TV back up, tosses the remote control to him. Pat Sajak looks awkward and old, bending over the big wheel. "Margaret..." On her way out of the family room, she smiles back at him. "Why don't you knock off early tonight? I'll see you at the office on Monday." Then she is gone and Bernie is alone, staring at the TV while Pat leers at him and a very pregnant Vanna claps to the beat of the spinning wheel. Bernie sits there for a long time. He feels like a scolded child who's been caught doing something naughty. He throws the remote at the TV where it clinks off the glass. He collects his clothes out of the dresser, his food out of the refrigerator, his toothbrush from the medicine cabinet, and his personals from the desk in the living room. He throws everything into two shopping bags, carries the bags to the car and backs out of the garage. Pulling into the street, he remembers Owen's toys in the closet. He pauses there, halfway into the street and considers whether he should leave them there. It was stupid that he even bought them. Let Martin find them and give them to his damn kids. But they were expensive, so he pulls back into the driveway and parks. Inside, the place seems to have changed in the few minutes he was gone. As he walks through the house, it's as if he's seeing things as they are for the first time: there is a desk in the middle of the living room and next to that the three-dimensional layout of Dove Run. Four feet high, three feet square and peppered with tiny houses and green puddles that represent fairways, it is an obscene sort of coffee table. He's walked around it every morning, he's stared it at all day. In the bathroom, under the toilet seat, there is a round plywood board 90

Artificial Home covering the bowl with a yellow smiley face painted on it and the words "No Pee-Pee!"—the toilet plumbing is not hooked up and Bernie has had to walk to a Port-O-Let down by the construction site to relieve himself. There are expensive bedspreads on all of the beds but no sheets underneath. In the kitchen, colored pasta is mounded into decorated glass canisters but the cupboards are bare; there are no pots in which to cook it. What kind of house is this? Who could live here? It feels cold and void of personality. How could he have ever thought of this place as his? Everything there that belonged to him is now in two shopping bags in the car. He hurries to Owen's room, gathers the bags of toys, stuffs them into his trunk and takes the most direct route out of Dove Run. He drives the desert two-lane that winds west toward the interstate. A russet sun is perched on the Tucson Mountains. Cars are turning their headlights on. He can see eighteen-wheelers charging north, toward Phoenix and beyond, their trailers lit up in strings of yellow, like Christmas lights. He considers the idea of not going- home. He doesn't know if he can face Kathy. If he turns right when he gets to the interchange, he can be at the California border in three hours. Four more hours and he is in L.A. He has a friend who lives on the beach in Venice. What would he say to Kathy when he got home? He is embarrassed and ashamed. He almost lost the only thing that he positively knows how to provide for his wife and son, his only connection with his family, the one thing that he knows he can do for them: work. Bring home money. Provide security. All the things a father is supposed to do. At the interchange, he takes the ramp up to the northbound lanes and eases in with the other traffic that is heading away from Tucson. At highway speeds, his mind relaxes and he convinces himself that he is playing chicken, just to see how it would feel to have his home and family falling behind him at seventy-five miles an hour, just to see how it would feel to be a wholly different person—a man who actually could be unfeeling and angry and scared enough to leave his family behind. He is comforted by the thought that at any of these exits, any of these illegal U-turns, he has the option to back down and return to who he is. But the exits keep speeding by and after a while he forgets 91


Berkeley Fiction Review her head at him as he speaks. "Don't do this to me. Model work is what I do. You can't just—" She holds out a hand to stop him. "Tell you what. Let's call it a trial. Six months. I've already told him. He's earned it. He wants it." "/want it." "I don't think you do. Go tend to your family. Come join us in the office for a while—it's not as bad as you think." She wags a finger at him. "There's the camaraderie you're forgetting. In six months, we'll reevaluate." She stands up and turns the volume on the TV back up, tosses the remote control to him. Pat Sajak looks awkward and old, bending over the big wheel. "Margaret..." On her way out of the family room, she smiles back at him. "Why don't you knock off early tonight? I'll see you at the office on Monday." Then she is gone and Bernie is alone, staring at the TV while Pat leers at him and a very pregnant Vanna claps to the beat of the spinning wheel. Bernie sits there for a long time. He feels like a scolded child who's been caught doing something naughty. He throws the remote at the TV where it clinks off the glass. He collects his clothes out of the dresser, his food out of the refrigerator, his toothbrush from the medicine cabinet, and his personals from the desk in the living room. He throws everything into two shopping bags, carries the bags to the car and backs out of the garage. Pulling into the street, he remembers Owen's toys in the closet. He pauses there, halfway into the street and considers whether he should leave them there. It was stupid that he even bought them. Let Martin find them and give them to his damn kids. But they were expensive, so he pulls back into the driveway and parks. Inside, the place seems to have changed in the few minutes he was gone. As he walks through the house, it's as if he's seeing things as they are for the first time: there is a desk in the middle of the living room and next to that the three-dimensional layout of Dove Run. Four feet high, three feet square and peppered with tiny houses and green puddles that represent fairways, it is an obscene sort of coffee table. He's walked around it every morning, he's stared it at all day. In the bathroom, under the toilet seat, there is a round plywood board 90

Artificial Home covering the bowl with a yellow smiley face painted on it and the words "No Pee-Pee!"—the toilet plumbing is not hooked up and Bernie has had to walk to a Port-O-Let down by the construction site to relieve himself. There are expensive bedspreads on all of the beds but no sheets underneath. In the kitchen, colored pasta is mounded into decorated glass canisters but the cupboards are bare; there are no pots in which to cook it. What kind of house is this? Who could live here? It feels cold and void of personality. How could he have ever thought of this place as his? Everything there that belonged to him is now in two shopping bags in the car. He hurries to Owen's room, gathers the bags of toys, stuffs them into his trunk and takes the most direct route out of Dove Run. He drives the desert two-lane that winds west toward the interstate. A russet sun is perched on the Tucson Mountains. Cars are turning their headlights on. He can see eighteen-wheelers charging north, toward Phoenix and beyond, their trailers lit up in strings of yellow, like Christmas lights. He considers the idea of not going- home. He doesn't know if he can face Kathy. If he turns right when he gets to the interchange, he can be at the California border in three hours. Four more hours and he is in L.A. He has a friend who lives on the beach in Venice. What would he say to Kathy when he got home? He is embarrassed and ashamed. He almost lost the only thing that he positively knows how to provide for his wife and son, his only connection with his family, the one thing that he knows he can do for them: work. Bring home money. Provide security. All the things a father is supposed to do. At the interchange, he takes the ramp up to the northbound lanes and eases in with the other traffic that is heading away from Tucson. At highway speeds, his mind relaxes and he convinces himself that he is playing chicken, just to see how it would feel to have his home and family falling behind him at seventy-five miles an hour, just to see how it would feel to be a wholly different person—a man who actually could be unfeeling and angry and scared enough to leave his family behind. He is comforted by the thought that at any of these exits, any of these illegal U-turns, he has the option to back down and return to who he is. But the exits keep speeding by and after a while he forgets 91


Berkeley Fiction Review that it is only a game he is playing, that he is filling someone else's shoes. Three hours later, sitting on the edge of a bed in a hotel off the interstate, he calls Kathy. His eyes follow the seams in the cinder block walls as the telephone rings on the other end. Kathy picks up on the third ring but before she can say hello, as the receiver passes through the air to her ear, he hears Owen crying in the background. "It's me," he says. "Where are you? What happened?" "I'm near Phoenix. I'm past Phoenix. Some cheap hotel." There is a long pause from her end. Owen's crying grows louder. "I have to get him. Call me back. No. Give me your number." "He's hungry," Bernie says. "That's his hungry cry." "That's right," she says. "Come home and help me take care of him." "I don't think I can do this right now," he says. "Give me your number, Bernie." The sound of trucks winding up on the interstate floats through the walls. "Maybe it's just tonight, but I'm really tapped out." "Bernie, I have to get him. Stay on the line. Just let me grab him." The phone clunks down on the table. Bernie can see the table and how the telephone is sitting on it. He knows she just has to dash across the living room to get Owen off the couch. He can see the slippers she's wearing and knows exactly how many steps she has to take. He can see everything as if he were standing in the room with them. She has Owen in one arm now, coming back across the room, reaching for the phone. He lays the receiver down in the cradle, his thoughts eased by the fact that he is only playing another game, assuming the role of a man who could actually hang up on his wife and crying child. It's like acting, like escape. And the best aspect of the game, the one that thrills Bernie even as it terrifies him, is that every exit and every U-turn is another chance to turn back.

92

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H a n d

H e r o e s

J e n n y Belin

econd Hand Tramp is a vintage clothing shop downtown. You can go there to daydream about flamboyance and masquerades. Rummage through the flapper aisles and find a five-point rhinestoned tiara. A slinky feathered boa. A pale creme slip dress with a plunging sweetheart neckline. You can dress up like a doll, in classic relics of the glamour years. But everything is too expensive for you to take home. Pomade Johnny works in the 1940s section, whistling, "a kiss is just a kiss". You show him everything you want but can't have. In strapless mint chiffon, he says you're breaking all the rules. You should try it with some fishnets, baby, to be fancy. "Here is a costume shop and a playground," your mother might have said, while flipping through dresses on a 1950s rack. The Ieavebehinds of an overdosed blonde with vintage curves. Here, you can feel inspired to write love poems for boyfriends you have misplaced. Poems that you choose to never finish. Scotty is your closest friend. He found you one day, when your face was a smear of teardrops and the rain. He took you home when you said you were a stray. A soggy stray, he must have thought. You stayed for soup. You stayed all spring. Slow afternoons in dim blue light, on a flannel sofa with no social calls. Then the quietness made memories and loneliness noisy in your head. Scotty is a New York anti-social wreck. His apartment is full of 93


Berkeley Fiction Review that it is only a game he is playing, that he is filling someone else's shoes. Three hours later, sitting on the edge of a bed in a hotel off the interstate, he calls Kathy. His eyes follow the seams in the cinder block walls as the telephone rings on the other end. Kathy picks up on the third ring but before she can say hello, as the receiver passes through the air to her ear, he hears Owen crying in the background. "It's me," he says. "Where are you? What happened?" "I'm near Phoenix. I'm past Phoenix. Some cheap hotel." There is a long pause from her end. Owen's crying grows louder. "I have to get him. Call me back. No. Give me your number." "He's hungry," Bernie says. "That's his hungry cry." "That's right," she says. "Come home and help me take care of him." "I don't think I can do this right now," he says. "Give me your number, Bernie." The sound of trucks winding up on the interstate floats through the walls. "Maybe it's just tonight, but I'm really tapped out." "Bernie, I have to get him. Stay on the line. Just let me grab him." The phone clunks down on the table. Bernie can see the table and how the telephone is sitting on it. He knows she just has to dash across the living room to get Owen off the couch. He can see the slippers she's wearing and knows exactly how many steps she has to take. He can see everything as if he were standing in the room with them. She has Owen in one arm now, coming back across the room, reaching for the phone. He lays the receiver down in the cradle, his thoughts eased by the fact that he is only playing another game, assuming the role of a man who could actually hang up on his wife and crying child. It's like acting, like escape. And the best aspect of the game, the one that thrills Bernie even as it terrifies him, is that every exit and every U-turn is another chance to turn back.

92

S e c o n d

H a n d

H e r o e s

J e n n y Belin

econd Hand Tramp is a vintage clothing shop downtown. You can go there to daydream about flamboyance and masquerades. Rummage through the flapper aisles and find a five-point rhinestoned tiara. A slinky feathered boa. A pale creme slip dress with a plunging sweetheart neckline. You can dress up like a doll, in classic relics of the glamour years. But everything is too expensive for you to take home. Pomade Johnny works in the 1940s section, whistling, "a kiss is just a kiss". You show him everything you want but can't have. In strapless mint chiffon, he says you're breaking all the rules. You should try it with some fishnets, baby, to be fancy. "Here is a costume shop and a playground," your mother might have said, while flipping through dresses on a 1950s rack. The Ieavebehinds of an overdosed blonde with vintage curves. Here, you can feel inspired to write love poems for boyfriends you have misplaced. Poems that you choose to never finish. Scotty is your closest friend. He found you one day, when your face was a smear of teardrops and the rain. He took you home when you said you were a stray. A soggy stray, he must have thought. You stayed for soup. You stayed all spring. Slow afternoons in dim blue light, on a flannel sofa with no social calls. Then the quietness made memories and loneliness noisy in your head. Scotty is a New York anti-social wreck. His apartment is full of 93


Berkeley Fiction Review books. The genre is noir. He never lies to you. He never hurts you. He always wants you around. But Scotty has no shimmer, just reclusive darkness. An occasional phobia. And he has never learned to understand your point. Last night you made banana splits. You told Scotty some stories about Shu-Shu, your old orange cat. He was your closest friend when you were a little girl, before you started getting boyfriends. Shu-Shu had piggy fat. You called him pig. Love was kissing your pig. That's what you told Scotty last night. His nose was in a book. You moved closer on the sofa so that the book jacket brushed against your brow. You lost an eyelash in its spine. Then you told Scotty you were having a fantasy. "Tomorrow morning, a railroad train. No books, no magazines allowed. Only holding hands and legs. And thighs. We will pass rundown houses, clothing lines with hanging bed sheets and underwear. We'll get off to have pie. And then some wine. Then a bedroom to ravage each other meaningful. Then night will come, midnight blue with two pale stars. We will re-train and come home with visions and perspectives." Your fantasy came out fast. In excited run-ons. "Was he a nice cat? Like a dog?" Scotty asked. And swished the eyelash off his book. "Except he was a cat." Scotty stayed breathing into his book. Not on you. Mae West was on TV whispering want me. Want me. And you ate all his dessert. Maybe if you had loved your man last night, you could write a poem for him. You start one in your head. About a raven, beatnik boy who romanced you in black unlustrous swoops. But you are distracted by a red velvet clutch purse. Looks like a valentine. It was made for you. Pomade Johnny smiles as you press ruffles to your cheek. He is Southern like a poster boy in a retro ad for Pepsi Cola. Full lips to kiss a girl passionate, on the hood of a whisper blue Trans Am, weeping cowboy music. All in denim, with a tattoo on his left arm biceps. A heart torn in half. One side says I never Cried, the other side says Cherry Pie. You feel he has a tickle for you. You make eyes at Johnny, then shyly turn away to look at hats. As a child, your mother was very sick. She lay in bed for days. You would tap dance for her and hula-hoop with Piggy. 94

Second Hand Heroes Knock Knock, Who's there? Shu-Shu Piggy's underwear! Settle down, she'd say. So you'd lie with her and pretend to sleep. Her hands were cold. She always lay with a pillow between her knees. Sometimes you could make your mommy smile, but you could never make her well. Johnny comes behind you and smothers you in black feathers. "Shanghai Lily," he suggests. "Trouble is my business," you return. He starts you,a dressing room with the costumes he's watched you get dreamy over. First, you try a twenties tutu dress that's waisted at the hip. Pomade Johnny turns your stockings down. He sings about Charlestons, gin fizzies and a manhandled coquette. Ziegfeld's folly. You've got flapper's rash, like a Kansas City candy girl who packed her bags to be a Hollywood jazz baby. You twirl fake pearls and go back to your dressing room, walking on your toes. In a dark velvet smoking jacket with padded shoulders, you look on your game. You are a broad. A postwar handsome dame with guts. The kind who wears pants and never turns her men off. The kind with over-penciled scarlet lips to reaffirm she's got a big mouth. The jacket comes with an ivory ermine muff. Johnny brings you after dinner gloves in dove gray and a cloche hat lined with pearls. It's too small. It triggers hat nostalgia. Sad hat mishaps. You begin hating nostalgia and Tramps. When you were thirteen, you pinned shoulder bows to your mother's hospital gown. When cancer drugs made her lose her hair, you designed a delicate bonnet trimmed with crepe paper. Yellow roses. Hats became your bag. You did a summer line. Her favorite was made of navy straw and glue-gunned red felt ladybugs. The last hat you made for your mother was a style you had copied from a movie with Claudette Colbert. You were too fast and imprecise. It was a bad hat, because it didn't cover enough head. You cried about that hat. You cried so much on your mother, that her pajamas became soaked. When you grew older, your mother told you to keep making new friends. She told you she was sorry she could never make you laugh. 95


Berkeley Fiction Review books. The genre is noir. He never lies to you. He never hurts you. He always wants you around. But Scotty has no shimmer, just reclusive darkness. An occasional phobia. And he has never learned to understand your point. Last night you made banana splits. You told Scotty some stories about Shu-Shu, your old orange cat. He was your closest friend when you were a little girl, before you started getting boyfriends. Shu-Shu had piggy fat. You called him pig. Love was kissing your pig. That's what you told Scotty last night. His nose was in a book. You moved closer on the sofa so that the book jacket brushed against your brow. You lost an eyelash in its spine. Then you told Scotty you were having a fantasy. "Tomorrow morning, a railroad train. No books, no magazines allowed. Only holding hands and legs. And thighs. We will pass rundown houses, clothing lines with hanging bed sheets and underwear. We'll get off to have pie. And then some wine. Then a bedroom to ravage each other meaningful. Then night will come, midnight blue with two pale stars. We will re-train and come home with visions and perspectives." Your fantasy came out fast. In excited run-ons. "Was he a nice cat? Like a dog?" Scotty asked. And swished the eyelash off his book. "Except he was a cat." Scotty stayed breathing into his book. Not on you. Mae West was on TV whispering want me. Want me. And you ate all his dessert. Maybe if you had loved your man last night, you could write a poem for him. You start one in your head. About a raven, beatnik boy who romanced you in black unlustrous swoops. But you are distracted by a red velvet clutch purse. Looks like a valentine. It was made for you. Pomade Johnny smiles as you press ruffles to your cheek. He is Southern like a poster boy in a retro ad for Pepsi Cola. Full lips to kiss a girl passionate, on the hood of a whisper blue Trans Am, weeping cowboy music. All in denim, with a tattoo on his left arm biceps. A heart torn in half. One side says I never Cried, the other side says Cherry Pie. You feel he has a tickle for you. You make eyes at Johnny, then shyly turn away to look at hats. As a child, your mother was very sick. She lay in bed for days. You would tap dance for her and hula-hoop with Piggy. 94

Second Hand Heroes Knock Knock, Who's there? Shu-Shu Piggy's underwear! Settle down, she'd say. So you'd lie with her and pretend to sleep. Her hands were cold. She always lay with a pillow between her knees. Sometimes you could make your mommy smile, but you could never make her well. Johnny comes behind you and smothers you in black feathers. "Shanghai Lily," he suggests. "Trouble is my business," you return. He starts you,a dressing room with the costumes he's watched you get dreamy over. First, you try a twenties tutu dress that's waisted at the hip. Pomade Johnny turns your stockings down. He sings about Charlestons, gin fizzies and a manhandled coquette. Ziegfeld's folly. You've got flapper's rash, like a Kansas City candy girl who packed her bags to be a Hollywood jazz baby. You twirl fake pearls and go back to your dressing room, walking on your toes. In a dark velvet smoking jacket with padded shoulders, you look on your game. You are a broad. A postwar handsome dame with guts. The kind who wears pants and never turns her men off. The kind with over-penciled scarlet lips to reaffirm she's got a big mouth. The jacket comes with an ivory ermine muff. Johnny brings you after dinner gloves in dove gray and a cloche hat lined with pearls. It's too small. It triggers hat nostalgia. Sad hat mishaps. You begin hating nostalgia and Tramps. When you were thirteen, you pinned shoulder bows to your mother's hospital gown. When cancer drugs made her lose her hair, you designed a delicate bonnet trimmed with crepe paper. Yellow roses. Hats became your bag. You did a summer line. Her favorite was made of navy straw and glue-gunned red felt ladybugs. The last hat you made for your mother was a style you had copied from a movie with Claudette Colbert. You were too fast and imprecise. It was a bad hat, because it didn't cover enough head. You cried about that hat. You cried so much on your mother, that her pajamas became soaked. When you grew older, your mother told you to keep making new friends. She told you she was sorry she could never make you laugh. 95


Berkeley Fiction Review In the mirror at Second Hand Tramp, you are crying into the costumes. You miss her. You try to make friends easy, but you can only attract downers. You get close to a guy like Scotty, and you feel that it is your calling to lighten him up. But he'll hate cats and hula-hoops and candy. You change back to blue jeans, and try to sneak out of the shop unnoticed. You walk into a rainy day, and then suddenly you are being umbrellaed. Pomade Johnny puts you in a cab. He has snuck out the valentine clutch purse, and he tucks it in your lap. "You might have said goodbye," he says. "Next time," you say back. The taxi takes you home, and you hold onto the purse tightly.

Y e s J o h n S tins o n

hy I was up in that tree escapes me now, though I am sure it had something to do with all the liquor and some girl I no doubt liked. It's difficult to remember my exact motivation for scaling the branches or to recall exactly what I hoped to accomplish. I have an inkling that I was trying to get a better look at the full moon. That's the sort of thing that occurs to a young drunk, or a spurned lover, on a thick spring night. I didn't even consider the question of what I was doing there until after I told a friend the story of those two people who screwed below me. I told him the story and sat quite impressed with myself for the experience, and he asked and I didn't have any answer. I don't know why the hell I was up there. What I saw went beyond all that stuff. I do know—and I told my smart-ass friend this—that I certainly wasn't up the tree in hopes of catching a glimpse of something like what I saw. That was pure coincidence, one of those things that happens, particularly on thick spring nights. It's not that what I saw was particularly erotic. It was more pathetic than anything else. That's half the reason I told my friend about it anyway, because it was so sad. We had a big laugh. If it had been a remarkable encounter, something out of an Anai's Nin book, I would have kept it to myself, or saved it for an entirely different brand of friend. There is also no way I could tell him that I think I have a crush on the girl. Here's how it went. I was up in the tree pretty high. Like I said, I think I was trying to look at the moon and didn't realize until I was in

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Berkeley Fiction Review In the mirror at Second Hand Tramp, you are crying into the costumes. You miss her. You try to make friends easy, but you can only attract downers. You get close to a guy like Scotty, and you feel that it is your calling to lighten him up. But he'll hate cats and hula-hoops and candy. You change back to blue jeans, and try to sneak out of the shop unnoticed. You walk into a rainy day, and then suddenly you are being umbrellaed. Pomade Johnny puts you in a cab. He has snuck out the valentine clutch purse, and he tucks it in your lap. "You might have said goodbye," he says. "Next time," you say back. The taxi takes you home, and you hold onto the purse tightly.

Y e s J o h n S tins o n

hy I was up in that tree escapes me now, though I am sure it had something to do with all the liquor and some girl I no doubt liked. It's difficult to remember my exact motivation for scaling the branches or to recall exactly what I hoped to accomplish. I have an inkling that I was trying to get a better look at the full moon. That's the sort of thing that occurs to a young drunk, or a spurned lover, on a thick spring night. I didn't even consider the question of what I was doing there until after I told a friend the story of those two people who screwed below me. I told him the story and sat quite impressed with myself for the experience, and he asked and I didn't have any answer. I don't know why the hell I was up there. What I saw went beyond all that stuff. I do know—and I told my smart-ass friend this—that I certainly wasn't up the tree in hopes of catching a glimpse of something like what I saw. That was pure coincidence, one of those things that happens, particularly on thick spring nights. It's not that what I saw was particularly erotic. It was more pathetic than anything else. That's half the reason I told my friend about it anyway, because it was so sad. We had a big laugh. If it had been a remarkable encounter, something out of an Anai's Nin book, I would have kept it to myself, or saved it for an entirely different brand of friend. There is also no way I could tell him that I think I have a crush on the girl. Here's how it went. I was up in the tree pretty high. Like I said, I think I was trying to look at the moon and didn't realize until I was in

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Yes

the tree that the branches and leaves would obstruct my view. So I kept going higher and higher, thinking I would eventually get a clear shot. I said I was drunk. At some point it must have dawned on me that I was getting nowhere with the moon, so I stopped and jammed myself between a couple of branches to rest. I may have even lit up a cigarette. I heard a slurred whispering and looked down to see a guy dragging a girl by the hand. They were both stumbling. All I could see of him was his white baseball cap nodding over a blue oxford shirt. He looked pretty big. That's all I could come up with. The girl was slight and blonde, not my type at all. Very thin lips and the look of a wet cat, sour and accusatory. I don't really know what I thought of her that night— the thin-lipped cat thing is what I see right now, when I see her around. They pulled up to the tree as an afterthought, like they were going to blaze past it and me, but lost steam and settled for it. He pressed her against the trunk and started mashing his face into hers. She didn't seem particularly interested, and for that matter, neither did he. It was all sort of mechanical from where I was sitting. Then again, I couldn't see anyone's face, the expression, the position of the eyebrows. They might have been totally engaged in the activity, just clunky at doing it. It didn't take long for him to reach inside her shirt. I remember that because he did it so strangely. She had a scoop-neck top on and he just dipped down into the neck of it and started groping around. It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. He didn't bother pulling the shirt out of her jeans and working up from there. He reached awkwardly down her front like he was trying to fish a set of keys he dropped into a large vase. The hand from the top pretty much spells out how the whole encounter went. In maybe two minutes, he had her jeans off all of her but one foot. He hunched on top of her chugging away like an old pneumatic pump. What caught my eye were her pale arms and legs, splayed out like a kid resting from making a snow angel. They looked like the wings of a dragonfly, curled up and whitened by a flame, and his body became the furry, bug-like trunk of the beast. Still, there was something in the helplessness of the girl, the ridiculous way her legs were thrown out from her, that made me get excited. I'm not proud of it. She didn't make any noise and they went on slowly for a long time like that. Finally, he made the requisite grunt and collapsed on her.

The guy might have fallen asleep on her because just a minute or two later, she started hitting him on the hat with the palm of her hand. I was glad because I wanted to get out of there and go home. He rolled off of her and I got to see a flash of her naked lower body. Very skinny, almost to the point of ugly, but titillating nonetheless. That kind of thing sticks in your mind no matter how contemptible it is or even whether it fits any of your notions of what is sexy. She pulled on her pants again and stepped into her shoes. Tan espadrilles are what they looked like. I was a lot more lucid by then. The two of them began to walk back to the same party that had intoxicated me. They shuffled now instead of stumbling, and they were at least a foot apart at all times, maybe more. They both seemed to want it that way. I think it all would have been fine if it went the way I told it to my friend. "1 saw this thing—it was so messed up!" But it was more than that and still is. Not that the scene on the roots of the tree was more than I just said. It wasn't. I saw a party fuck, that's all. Happens all the time. It's just how things are. The difficulty is that I see the girl around, and I can't escape the image of her like that. After I climbed down from the tree, I started to go home, but I ended up back at the party. The two people were there, and both stayed for quite some time after our little tryst. That was the most erotic part of the whole thing, being in a crowded room with a man and a woman I had just watched having sex—or some truncated form of it, anyway. Something about that, or the fact that they had just wandered off and blithely done it worked me up. I wanted to know why I couldn't just meet some girl at a party, take her out in the dark for a quick rutting, then return to business as usual. I wondered if maybe I could, and I started scanning the crowd for my potential mate. I mean, if Marvin the Pneumatic Pump could get things going, then I certainly could. But as soon as I started climbing toward that, I would stall. I scanned the crowd, picked up some girl's eyes and immediately lost heart. This happened a few times. I could not even go talk to them with that intention in mind, but I could not give up the hunt either. The only girl in the place I saw who I could imagine going through it with was the one I had seen from the tree. Maybe I figured I had a shot since there was precedent for her saying "yes."

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the tree that the branches and leaves would obstruct my view. So I kept going higher and higher, thinking I would eventually get a clear shot. I said I was drunk. At some point it must have dawned on me that I was getting nowhere with the moon, so I stopped and jammed myself between a couple of branches to rest. I may have even lit up a cigarette. I heard a slurred whispering and looked down to see a guy dragging a girl by the hand. They were both stumbling. All I could see of him was his white baseball cap nodding over a blue oxford shirt. He looked pretty big. That's all I could come up with. The girl was slight and blonde, not my type at all. Very thin lips and the look of a wet cat, sour and accusatory. I don't really know what I thought of her that night— the thin-lipped cat thing is what I see right now, when I see her around. They pulled up to the tree as an afterthought, like they were going to blaze past it and me, but lost steam and settled for it. He pressed her against the trunk and started mashing his face into hers. She didn't seem particularly interested, and for that matter, neither did he. It was all sort of mechanical from where I was sitting. Then again, I couldn't see anyone's face, the expression, the position of the eyebrows. They might have been totally engaged in the activity, just clunky at doing it. It didn't take long for him to reach inside her shirt. I remember that because he did it so strangely. She had a scoop-neck top on and he just dipped down into the neck of it and started groping around. It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. He didn't bother pulling the shirt out of her jeans and working up from there. He reached awkwardly down her front like he was trying to fish a set of keys he dropped into a large vase. The hand from the top pretty much spells out how the whole encounter went. In maybe two minutes, he had her jeans off all of her but one foot. He hunched on top of her chugging away like an old pneumatic pump. What caught my eye were her pale arms and legs, splayed out like a kid resting from making a snow angel. They looked like the wings of a dragonfly, curled up and whitened by a flame, and his body became the furry, bug-like trunk of the beast. Still, there was something in the helplessness of the girl, the ridiculous way her legs were thrown out from her, that made me get excited. I'm not proud of it. She didn't make any noise and they went on slowly for a long time like that. Finally, he made the requisite grunt and collapsed on her.

The guy might have fallen asleep on her because just a minute or two later, she started hitting him on the hat with the palm of her hand. I was glad because I wanted to get out of there and go home. He rolled off of her and I got to see a flash of her naked lower body. Very skinny, almost to the point of ugly, but titillating nonetheless. That kind of thing sticks in your mind no matter how contemptible it is or even whether it fits any of your notions of what is sexy. She pulled on her pants again and stepped into her shoes. Tan espadrilles are what they looked like. I was a lot more lucid by then. The two of them began to walk back to the same party that had intoxicated me. They shuffled now instead of stumbling, and they were at least a foot apart at all times, maybe more. They both seemed to want it that way. I think it all would have been fine if it went the way I told it to my friend. "1 saw this thing—it was so messed up!" But it was more than that and still is. Not that the scene on the roots of the tree was more than I just said. It wasn't. I saw a party fuck, that's all. Happens all the time. It's just how things are. The difficulty is that I see the girl around, and I can't escape the image of her like that. After I climbed down from the tree, I started to go home, but I ended up back at the party. The two people were there, and both stayed for quite some time after our little tryst. That was the most erotic part of the whole thing, being in a crowded room with a man and a woman I had just watched having sex—or some truncated form of it, anyway. Something about that, or the fact that they had just wandered off and blithely done it worked me up. I wanted to know why I couldn't just meet some girl at a party, take her out in the dark for a quick rutting, then return to business as usual. I wondered if maybe I could, and I started scanning the crowd for my potential mate. I mean, if Marvin the Pneumatic Pump could get things going, then I certainly could. But as soon as I started climbing toward that, I would stall. I scanned the crowd, picked up some girl's eyes and immediately lost heart. This happened a few times. I could not even go talk to them with that intention in mind, but I could not give up the hunt either. The only girl in the place I saw who I could imagine going through it with was the one I had seen from the tree. Maybe I figured I had a shot since there was precedent for her saying "yes."

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Berkeley Fiction Review That notion went further. Because I saw it, I should have access to it, to her. And because what she went through was bad, I should have a shot at setting things right. The second half really bothered me. That guy, Mr. White Hat, did poorly by the girl with the skinny legs, and I didn't want her going around thinking that was all sex had to offer. Or sex with guys, or sex with young, white guys like me. Sounds ridiculous like that, but in my head, it was as sensible and well-designed as a shipping canal. By the time I stumbled away from the party, I was unable to shake the mission from my head. I see the girl around. This is a resort area and if you work here, you see everyone who works. You go to the same parties, fill up at the same gas station, talk to the same people. It's like being at college or belonging to a country club, or even, I imagine, living in a real neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else. So, I see her all the time. I see the guy around, as well. I should not underplay that. As much as seeing her makes me want to make an approach and a "proposition," seeing him convinces me that I am completely right. He struts around like he's something to consider, even though I know he's as simple and mechanical as a forklift. The sight of her could be drowned out by something else, some other girl, but he's a walking challenge to me. Since I'm not about to slap his face or kick his ass, I need to humiliate him in the place he is most deficient. That all sounds too brave and chivalrous. That's not it. I don't care about the guy. I care about what the guy says about me by being the guy he is. That's the ass I want to kick. That and the one that would just rise and fall like his did, like the world were all about traffic and television schedules. Listen. I will bring it back to the story. I saw Skinny Legs one day and I approached her. I had some excuse, a distant acquaintance who had left town. I knew she left town, but I approached the woman with this: "Excuse me. I don't know you, but did you know Mary?" "Mary? Sure. Left-for-Portland-a-month-ago Mary?" "See, I knew she was talking about that, and..." And the rest is history—apologies for the cliche. Maybe I should have said that to her. She was willing to speak to me, but she was diffident about sitting for a cup of coffee. I guess the approach was too 100

Yes obvious. Then again, I can't imagine that White Hat was any smoother than me. I made a point of seeing her around and tried to build up more of a rapport with her. I found out two things: she isn't and probably never was dating White Hat, and she isn't interested in having me set things right. How could this be? The second thing, I mean. It's wrong, terribly wrong, I know, but the thought just kept getting worse. How could she party fuck the nobody and completely ignore me? I was good about it, human. That was clearly the problem right there. I am not an evil person. I can't even imagine doing something like White Hat did, which is not necessarily evil, just inconsiderate and pathetic. I could never be like that because I consider too many things, I consider the other person too well. Still, I decided that I needed to do something, really do something, not so much because I wanted it but because she demanded it. Skinny Legs was not going to respond to cups of coffee and pleasant attempts at talk. I wasn't going to force anything. Or maybe I would force things, but not by using force. I can't even imagine doing that without practically upchucking. My chokes had simply run out, leaving me with nothing but the very direct approach. I'll call it the-White Hat Way, only done how I would have it. There was another party on another night, this one hotter and closer to the height of summer. The crowd was large and intoxicated—people were dancing in a way that showed a lack of concern. It might have been the heat. There's just no way to keep away the sweat and the grime on a night like that. You have to adjust your notions. So the realm of cool expanded well beyond its normal boundaries to include all sorts of splendidly ridiculous behavior, stuff that was normally intolerable no matter how drunk everybody got. Disco records played and then there would be something artistic and slow. No objection from either camp, just dancing. People spoke to anyone and walked away at a silent spot because someone else was thirsty and they had to bring the drink and that was all fine. Embarrassing comments flew around the room. We understood, every last one of us. Skinny Legs was around, talking and laughing. She did not take part in the dancing, though, no matter how large the crowd grew. I 101


Berkeley Fiction Review That notion went further. Because I saw it, I should have access to it, to her. And because what she went through was bad, I should have a shot at setting things right. The second half really bothered me. That guy, Mr. White Hat, did poorly by the girl with the skinny legs, and I didn't want her going around thinking that was all sex had to offer. Or sex with guys, or sex with young, white guys like me. Sounds ridiculous like that, but in my head, it was as sensible and well-designed as a shipping canal. By the time I stumbled away from the party, I was unable to shake the mission from my head. I see the girl around. This is a resort area and if you work here, you see everyone who works. You go to the same parties, fill up at the same gas station, talk to the same people. It's like being at college or belonging to a country club, or even, I imagine, living in a real neighborhood where everybody knows everybody else. So, I see her all the time. I see the guy around, as well. I should not underplay that. As much as seeing her makes me want to make an approach and a "proposition," seeing him convinces me that I am completely right. He struts around like he's something to consider, even though I know he's as simple and mechanical as a forklift. The sight of her could be drowned out by something else, some other girl, but he's a walking challenge to me. Since I'm not about to slap his face or kick his ass, I need to humiliate him in the place he is most deficient. That all sounds too brave and chivalrous. That's not it. I don't care about the guy. I care about what the guy says about me by being the guy he is. That's the ass I want to kick. That and the one that would just rise and fall like his did, like the world were all about traffic and television schedules. Listen. I will bring it back to the story. I saw Skinny Legs one day and I approached her. I had some excuse, a distant acquaintance who had left town. I knew she left town, but I approached the woman with this: "Excuse me. I don't know you, but did you know Mary?" "Mary? Sure. Left-for-Portland-a-month-ago Mary?" "See, I knew she was talking about that, and..." And the rest is history—apologies for the cliche. Maybe I should have said that to her. She was willing to speak to me, but she was diffident about sitting for a cup of coffee. I guess the approach was too 100

Yes obvious. Then again, I can't imagine that White Hat was any smoother than me. I made a point of seeing her around and tried to build up more of a rapport with her. I found out two things: she isn't and probably never was dating White Hat, and she isn't interested in having me set things right. How could this be? The second thing, I mean. It's wrong, terribly wrong, I know, but the thought just kept getting worse. How could she party fuck the nobody and completely ignore me? I was good about it, human. That was clearly the problem right there. I am not an evil person. I can't even imagine doing something like White Hat did, which is not necessarily evil, just inconsiderate and pathetic. I could never be like that because I consider too many things, I consider the other person too well. Still, I decided that I needed to do something, really do something, not so much because I wanted it but because she demanded it. Skinny Legs was not going to respond to cups of coffee and pleasant attempts at talk. I wasn't going to force anything. Or maybe I would force things, but not by using force. I can't even imagine doing that without practically upchucking. My chokes had simply run out, leaving me with nothing but the very direct approach. I'll call it the-White Hat Way, only done how I would have it. There was another party on another night, this one hotter and closer to the height of summer. The crowd was large and intoxicated—people were dancing in a way that showed a lack of concern. It might have been the heat. There's just no way to keep away the sweat and the grime on a night like that. You have to adjust your notions. So the realm of cool expanded well beyond its normal boundaries to include all sorts of splendidly ridiculous behavior, stuff that was normally intolerable no matter how drunk everybody got. Disco records played and then there would be something artistic and slow. No objection from either camp, just dancing. People spoke to anyone and walked away at a silent spot because someone else was thirsty and they had to bring the drink and that was all fine. Embarrassing comments flew around the room. We understood, every last one of us. Skinny Legs was around, talking and laughing. She did not take part in the dancing, though, no matter how large the crowd grew. I 101


Berkeley Fiction Review watched her a little. I didn't want to be watching her. I just kept checking on her status. It was a good idea. She left the party early. She milled in front of the door with a few laughing girls with bobbed hair. Their eyes shone out at one another in a tug-of-war of spite and friendship. One girl handed Skinny Legs a beer, which she opened. Another girl tucked one under her arm. Then they opened the door for her and sent her on her way. She stepped into the hot night and I followed. That sounds terrible. How can I say it so it doesn't sound like I am a creep? It wasn't like that. It wasn't. This was... important. Kind of. But not important-like-obsessive. It was important and meaningless. "It should be done"—or something like that. I wasn't going to do anything wrong, maybe that is the difference. I had no bad intent. The night sweated off of me but the heat did not dampen my resolve or my pace. I had a good idea where she was going. A nice, secluded spot with a few trees lay between there and the party. Again, rings ominous. Think of it as romantic or mysterious. That's what was going on in the air. She reached the spot. "N—." "Yes?" And we said nothing more. I approached and kissed her. She recognized me before and after the kiss. She didn't say anything, not even through the joining of our lips. We mashed faces like they did, maybe a little smoother. I was smoother. I added a few undulating bobs into it. I pulled her along with me into the trees. I'm pretty sure she still had that beer tucked under her arm. It was dark and all the sounds of the street were blanketed, while at the same time they were made distinct. We kissed and kissed. She felt pliant in my hands. I pictured the dragonfly, and then I pictured her legs flopping a little with each thrust by the White Hat. That was still strangely exciting. I knew I was on the edge of those pictures, about to climb on. A moment. That was just it: I was climbing on. I kissed her for a long time and every second, the act grew deader. I pulled away from her. I almost laughed in the girl's face. She showed no expression, said nothing. I would be as ridiculous as the White Hat. She wouldn't let it go any other way. I walked away from her, out to the sidewalk. I know it was because she didn't say "yes." She just let it happen. I didn't ask and she just let it happen. I used to ask every time, ask out 102

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Yes loud. From age twelve until I was seventeen. It seemed right. Then someone told me it was stupid to ask, that I should just do. Right in the middle of my telling him of a success. I laughed that off at first, but then I started doing it and I haven't stopped. I never ask anyone. There's no chance that someone will say "no." You at least get something, even if they pull away a second later. That was the guy's argument, anyway. Of course, I can't even remember the guy's name. But his scheme became a habit right away. It bothers me, not asking. I always think I could be just any chump who moved his face in close. To ask means they really mean it when they kiss you. And then you're not just another jerk who threw his face up into hers. With Skinny Legs in the trees, I was just the chump, and I got the idea right away that any chump would do, whether it was a hot summer night or a thick spring one. The only consolation I had was the surety that she never said "yes" to White Hat, either. He just moved in and kept moving. At least I had the decency to know when I wasn't wanted, just allowed. So my big lesson is another cliche: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I hope that's not too sardonic a conclusion. Maybe I would have been better off sticking to my original story. "I saw this thing—it was so messed up!" The long version of everything isn't fit for my smart-ass friend and it didn't turn out good for Anais Nin either. Truth isn't necessarily stranger than fiction, it's just more difficult to classify. I don't know what she did after I walked away. I imagine she just continued on her way home as if nothing had happened between us. That's the way it went with White Flat, anyway. Except, I didn't go so far as to inconvenience her with a screwing. Maybe she went home thinking that was nice of me. Her beer didn't get too warm before she had a chance to drink it. I walked around the block and re-entered the quiet tree area. Don't worry, I wasn't expecting to find her, and she was long gone by the time I got back. I climbed one of the trees because, I guess, it seemed appropriate. Again, I wasn't expecting something to happen. It would be ridiculous to say that something did. I just climbed and sat for a while, happy that I had left and maybe cursing myself a little for not just going through with it. But I know I did the right thing. 103


Berkeley Fiction Review watched her a little. I didn't want to be watching her. I just kept checking on her status. It was a good idea. She left the party early. She milled in front of the door with a few laughing girls with bobbed hair. Their eyes shone out at one another in a tug-of-war of spite and friendship. One girl handed Skinny Legs a beer, which she opened. Another girl tucked one under her arm. Then they opened the door for her and sent her on her way. She stepped into the hot night and I followed. That sounds terrible. How can I say it so it doesn't sound like I am a creep? It wasn't like that. It wasn't. This was... important. Kind of. But not important-like-obsessive. It was important and meaningless. "It should be done"—or something like that. I wasn't going to do anything wrong, maybe that is the difference. I had no bad intent. The night sweated off of me but the heat did not dampen my resolve or my pace. I had a good idea where she was going. A nice, secluded spot with a few trees lay between there and the party. Again, rings ominous. Think of it as romantic or mysterious. That's what was going on in the air. She reached the spot. "N—." "Yes?" And we said nothing more. I approached and kissed her. She recognized me before and after the kiss. She didn't say anything, not even through the joining of our lips. We mashed faces like they did, maybe a little smoother. I was smoother. I added a few undulating bobs into it. I pulled her along with me into the trees. I'm pretty sure she still had that beer tucked under her arm. It was dark and all the sounds of the street were blanketed, while at the same time they were made distinct. We kissed and kissed. She felt pliant in my hands. I pictured the dragonfly, and then I pictured her legs flopping a little with each thrust by the White Hat. That was still strangely exciting. I knew I was on the edge of those pictures, about to climb on. A moment. That was just it: I was climbing on. I kissed her for a long time and every second, the act grew deader. I pulled away from her. I almost laughed in the girl's face. She showed no expression, said nothing. I would be as ridiculous as the White Hat. She wouldn't let it go any other way. I walked away from her, out to the sidewalk. I know it was because she didn't say "yes." She just let it happen. I didn't ask and she just let it happen. I used to ask every time, ask out 102

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Yes loud. From age twelve until I was seventeen. It seemed right. Then someone told me it was stupid to ask, that I should just do. Right in the middle of my telling him of a success. I laughed that off at first, but then I started doing it and I haven't stopped. I never ask anyone. There's no chance that someone will say "no." You at least get something, even if they pull away a second later. That was the guy's argument, anyway. Of course, I can't even remember the guy's name. But his scheme became a habit right away. It bothers me, not asking. I always think I could be just any chump who moved his face in close. To ask means they really mean it when they kiss you. And then you're not just another jerk who threw his face up into hers. With Skinny Legs in the trees, I was just the chump, and I got the idea right away that any chump would do, whether it was a hot summer night or a thick spring one. The only consolation I had was the surety that she never said "yes" to White Hat, either. He just moved in and kept moving. At least I had the decency to know when I wasn't wanted, just allowed. So my big lesson is another cliche: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. I hope that's not too sardonic a conclusion. Maybe I would have been better off sticking to my original story. "I saw this thing—it was so messed up!" The long version of everything isn't fit for my smart-ass friend and it didn't turn out good for Anais Nin either. Truth isn't necessarily stranger than fiction, it's just more difficult to classify. I don't know what she did after I walked away. I imagine she just continued on her way home as if nothing had happened between us. That's the way it went with White Flat, anyway. Except, I didn't go so far as to inconvenience her with a screwing. Maybe she went home thinking that was nice of me. Her beer didn't get too warm before she had a chance to drink it. I walked around the block and re-entered the quiet tree area. Don't worry, I wasn't expecting to find her, and she was long gone by the time I got back. I climbed one of the trees because, I guess, it seemed appropriate. Again, I wasn't expecting something to happen. It would be ridiculous to say that something did. I just climbed and sat for a while, happy that I had left and maybe cursing myself a little for not just going through with it. But I know I did the right thing. 103


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M e r c h a n d i s e

N a n e t t e Lerner

UfkM irst, you have to smile. 1 Ins is not always easy. It sounds . jj^H simple, bur it isn't, especiall) when you don't have ^ • ^ H i anything to smile about. And who does? Look .it the pained eyes of a smiley stewardess one day and you'll know what I mean. Next, you make eye contact. Not easy either, especially when you are deliberately being ignored. People are actually moving faster to get away from you. Finally, it is time to move in for the body block. It's kind of like a football move but you can do it in high heels. You have to thrust out your hip, lean firmly into their personal space so they can smell what you had for lunch practically, and push your product into their faces. "Like to try a spritz of Arabian Nights'?" You have to say it sweetly, batting your baby blues, or in my case, shit-browns. If they're intimidated, they'll go for it. If they're horrified, they'll run screaming or else go looking for your manager, which in my case, is even more horrifying. Her name is Peaches. She swears, with a straight face, this is what her parents named her. I think Peaches named herself that, in an attempt to sound sexy. Only she sounds like a porn star. And God knows she has the clothes. I don't have to tell you she wears too much eye shadow. You already know that by her name. You also know she occasionally wears flowers as hair ornaments, has huge boobs that she enjoys sharing with the 105


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M e r c h a n d i s e

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UfkM irst, you have to smile. 1 Ins is not always easy. It sounds . jj^H simple, bur it isn't, especiall) when you don't have ^ • ^ H i anything to smile about. And who does? Look .it the pained eyes of a smiley stewardess one day and you'll know what I mean. Next, you make eye contact. Not easy either, especially when you are deliberately being ignored. People are actually moving faster to get away from you. Finally, it is time to move in for the body block. It's kind of like a football move but you can do it in high heels. You have to thrust out your hip, lean firmly into their personal space so they can smell what you had for lunch practically, and push your product into their faces. "Like to try a spritz of Arabian Nights'?" You have to say it sweetly, batting your baby blues, or in my case, shit-browns. If they're intimidated, they'll go for it. If they're horrified, they'll run screaming or else go looking for your manager, which in my case, is even more horrifying. Her name is Peaches. She swears, with a straight face, this is what her parents named her. I think Peaches named herself that, in an attempt to sound sexy. Only she sounds like a porn star. And God knows she has the clothes. I don't have to tell you she wears too much eye shadow. You already know that by her name. You also know she occasionally wears flowers as hair ornaments, has huge boobs that she enjoys sharing with the 105


Berkeley Fiction Review world, and a slight Southern drawl that fades in and out of existence. Please don't assume that because she's from the South (or claims to be) that she's a nice person. She's the worst kind of evil, the type that says terrible things in a really sweet way. It's probably because she started in cosmetics. Retail, in general, does not attract the best kinds of people. Mostly, it consists of women who spent so much time in the mall, they decided to make a career of it. Some become accessories experts, weirdoes who pride themselves on knowing over five hundred ways to tie a scarf. Others become lingerie specialists, freaky women who can take one glance at you in a bulky sweatshirt and name your bra size and possibly even your mother's bra size. And still others, the most genetically blessed of the bunch, become make-up people. You know the ones. The ones with cheekbones up to their eyeballs and unnaturally thin brows that give them the look of perennial surprise. I'm pretty sure these people are born without pores. This is why Peaches is bitter; she started out as one of the beautiful make-up people and slowly, as the sun and gravity and Jim Beam took its toll, was shifted into Fragrances. Or as I like to call it, the Bastard Child of Cosmetics. I'd be fucking bitter too, but I'm not quite there yet. Since I started out in Bathroom Accessories, Fragrances is actually considered a step up. The women in Bathroom Accessories are all about a million years old and smell like musty closets. I was literally counting the minutes to get out. You'd think since I'm in the Management Training Program that I'd have a little pull, but I've got no clout. Negative clout, actually. I was very impressed with myself when I first got the position, thinking I'd one day be in charge of say, the Potpourri Department, all four glum employees it consists of. But unfortunately, I've come to realize that the Management Training Program isn't exactly the plum I thought it would be; it's really just a title they give to employees with college degrees so they feel more important than the employees who don't have them. I'm not giving up though; I'm going to stick around until they're forced to promote me. I've spent too many hours hawking toilet seat covers and bathtub scrubbers to give up now. And, truth be told, it's not like I have anything better to do, anyway. 106

How to Move Merchandise You might think scent is a subjective thing, but it's not. Some perfumes just universally stink. And the newest girl always gets the rankest perfume. The way of the world. "I can't pay people to try this shit," Vera complains. She's the newest on the floor and her perfume, Splendor in the Grass, smells so ferocious we've taken to calling it Splendor Smells Like A_ _. I shrug and say between my teeth, "Smile wider." We're not supposed to talk to each other if we're on the floor. "I come home smelling like this shit and my cats won't even come near me." "Peaches likes it." "Yeah, well, Peaches also wears body glitter." "Just between her..." "Careful, now." "I was going to say eyes." "Sure you were." "It could be worse." "I don't think so." "Peaches has been talking about us wearing costumes." "Excuse me?" "She thinks we should dress according to our perfume. You know, like a theme." "Great. So I'd have to dress like a blade of grass?" "Well, maybe just in green." "Oh, that's superb." "How about me? Arabian Nights} I'll wind up dressed like I Dream of Genie." "At least that's sexy." "Maybe if you look like Barbara Eden." Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Lizbeth from Luscious Lady giving us the evil eye. She motions me over, but I pretend not to notice. Her eyebrows move up even higher on her forehead; a nifty trick considering their highly waxed, altered state. Peaches is tabulating my perfume, pouring it into a measuring cup to see how much I've spritzed today. This might be the most humiliating part of my job. 107


Berkeley Fiction Review world, and a slight Southern drawl that fades in and out of existence. Please don't assume that because she's from the South (or claims to be) that she's a nice person. She's the worst kind of evil, the type that says terrible things in a really sweet way. It's probably because she started in cosmetics. Retail, in general, does not attract the best kinds of people. Mostly, it consists of women who spent so much time in the mall, they decided to make a career of it. Some become accessories experts, weirdoes who pride themselves on knowing over five hundred ways to tie a scarf. Others become lingerie specialists, freaky women who can take one glance at you in a bulky sweatshirt and name your bra size and possibly even your mother's bra size. And still others, the most genetically blessed of the bunch, become make-up people. You know the ones. The ones with cheekbones up to their eyeballs and unnaturally thin brows that give them the look of perennial surprise. I'm pretty sure these people are born without pores. This is why Peaches is bitter; she started out as one of the beautiful make-up people and slowly, as the sun and gravity and Jim Beam took its toll, was shifted into Fragrances. Or as I like to call it, the Bastard Child of Cosmetics. I'd be fucking bitter too, but I'm not quite there yet. Since I started out in Bathroom Accessories, Fragrances is actually considered a step up. The women in Bathroom Accessories are all about a million years old and smell like musty closets. I was literally counting the minutes to get out. You'd think since I'm in the Management Training Program that I'd have a little pull, but I've got no clout. Negative clout, actually. I was very impressed with myself when I first got the position, thinking I'd one day be in charge of say, the Potpourri Department, all four glum employees it consists of. But unfortunately, I've come to realize that the Management Training Program isn't exactly the plum I thought it would be; it's really just a title they give to employees with college degrees so they feel more important than the employees who don't have them. I'm not giving up though; I'm going to stick around until they're forced to promote me. I've spent too many hours hawking toilet seat covers and bathtub scrubbers to give up now. And, truth be told, it's not like I have anything better to do, anyway. 106

How to Move Merchandise You might think scent is a subjective thing, but it's not. Some perfumes just universally stink. And the newest girl always gets the rankest perfume. The way of the world. "I can't pay people to try this shit," Vera complains. She's the newest on the floor and her perfume, Splendor in the Grass, smells so ferocious we've taken to calling it Splendor Smells Like A_ _. I shrug and say between my teeth, "Smile wider." We're not supposed to talk to each other if we're on the floor. "I come home smelling like this shit and my cats won't even come near me." "Peaches likes it." "Yeah, well, Peaches also wears body glitter." "Just between her..." "Careful, now." "I was going to say eyes." "Sure you were." "It could be worse." "I don't think so." "Peaches has been talking about us wearing costumes." "Excuse me?" "She thinks we should dress according to our perfume. You know, like a theme." "Great. So I'd have to dress like a blade of grass?" "Well, maybe just in green." "Oh, that's superb." "How about me? Arabian Nights} I'll wind up dressed like I Dream of Genie." "At least that's sexy." "Maybe if you look like Barbara Eden." Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Lizbeth from Luscious Lady giving us the evil eye. She motions me over, but I pretend not to notice. Her eyebrows move up even higher on her forehead; a nifty trick considering their highly waxed, altered state. Peaches is tabulating my perfume, pouring it into a measuring cup to see how much I've spritzed today. This might be the most humiliating part of my job. 107


Berkeley Fiction Review "Just under six ounces," She says, shaking her head. "Woo-hoo!" I say, feigning excitement. "This isn't funny." "It isn't?" "You haven't made quota for weeks now." "Peaches, it's perfume." "You don't seem to take your job seriously." "We can't force it on people." "No, but you can be a little bit more aggressive." "You mean like tackling them?" "No. I don't." Peaches sighs. "This isn't brain surgery." "That's an understatement." Peaches smoothes her overly-processed, straw-like mane. "Arabian Nights was this week's featured fragrance. How am I going to explain to the rep that you only managed to promote five and a half ounces of it?" Well, Peaches, baby, I doubt she'll be using an eye-dropper to figure it out. But I say nothing. "I guess I'll just have to take care of it," she says, sighing. When she thinks I'm not looking, she pops the bottle of perfume into her faux leather bag. Too much thinking is not a good thing. You start to imagine things after a while. And with my job, all I've got is time. I used to think about Peaches. Wondered what her house looked like, exactly how many half-empty bottles of perfume she had in there; if she wore so much of it because she thought it would cover up the smell of liquor that seeped out of her. In Bugs Bunny cartoons, the drunk character would sometimes swallow perfume to cover up the smell of alcohol. I should be so lucky with Peaches. Meanwhile, something's definitely up with the make-up ladies. Lizbeth from Luscious Lady stares constantly, and the other day Patricia and Priscilla from Princess Perfecta were pointing and whispering. No doubt they could see my huge pores from a hundred feet away and were discussing the best ways to camouflage them. I tried talking to the make-up chicks when I first got here, but stopped when I realized they saw me as the "before" picture in Glamour. 108

How to Move Merchandise Vera is talking to me and I only half-listen, keeping one eye on Lizbeth. "Did you know standing on your feet all day gives you varicose veins?" "No. No, I did not." "Yup. That's why you've got to hop from foot to foot, to keep the blood flowing." Vera does a little bunny hop. I give her a half smile, moving away slowly as though she is a mental patient. "It really works," she calls out to me. I'm on break when it happens. I'm in the ladies' lounge, otherwise known as the bathroom, though it really does have a chaise-like thing that I'm spread out on. So I'm lounging. Or trying to, anyway. My eyes are half-closed as I inhale another cigarette, trying to do creative visualization. I am on a raft in the middle of the ocean. The sun is caressing my back, the water gently licking my toes. The salty wind dances through my hair. I don't normally believe in this kind of thing, but I am desperate. I ignore that little voice inside my head reminding me that I am in the fucking ladies' lounge in the fucking largest midscale retail establishment in the world and possibly the universe, and there is absolutely, positively nothing relaxing about it. When suddenly, I get the sense that I am not alone. "Hell-o," a female voice purrs. I wake up with a start, nearly burning myself on my cigarette. Ashes fly. "Oh shit," I cry out. "What are you guys doing?" It's Priscilla and Patricia standing over me, their perfectly defined features contorted into Cheshire Cat grins. They are wearing matching Princess Perfecta rose-colored make-up smocks, and between that and their identically striped blond hair, they're starting to freak me out. "We need to talk to you privately," Patricia says and winks. I am always immediately suspicious of winkers. "Well, someone could walk in any minute." "We took care of that," Priscilla assures me. "We put an 'out of order' sign on the door." "Oh," I say, looking at their smocks, trying to figure out if they are packing heat. "Lizbeth sent us." "From Luscious Lady?" 109


Berkeley Fiction Review "Just under six ounces," She says, shaking her head. "Woo-hoo!" I say, feigning excitement. "This isn't funny." "It isn't?" "You haven't made quota for weeks now." "Peaches, it's perfume." "You don't seem to take your job seriously." "We can't force it on people." "No, but you can be a little bit more aggressive." "You mean like tackling them?" "No. I don't." Peaches sighs. "This isn't brain surgery." "That's an understatement." Peaches smoothes her overly-processed, straw-like mane. "Arabian Nights was this week's featured fragrance. How am I going to explain to the rep that you only managed to promote five and a half ounces of it?" Well, Peaches, baby, I doubt she'll be using an eye-dropper to figure it out. But I say nothing. "I guess I'll just have to take care of it," she says, sighing. When she thinks I'm not looking, she pops the bottle of perfume into her faux leather bag. Too much thinking is not a good thing. You start to imagine things after a while. And with my job, all I've got is time. I used to think about Peaches. Wondered what her house looked like, exactly how many half-empty bottles of perfume she had in there; if she wore so much of it because she thought it would cover up the smell of liquor that seeped out of her. In Bugs Bunny cartoons, the drunk character would sometimes swallow perfume to cover up the smell of alcohol. I should be so lucky with Peaches. Meanwhile, something's definitely up with the make-up ladies. Lizbeth from Luscious Lady stares constantly, and the other day Patricia and Priscilla from Princess Perfecta were pointing and whispering. No doubt they could see my huge pores from a hundred feet away and were discussing the best ways to camouflage them. I tried talking to the make-up chicks when I first got here, but stopped when I realized they saw me as the "before" picture in Glamour. 108

How to Move Merchandise Vera is talking to me and I only half-listen, keeping one eye on Lizbeth. "Did you know standing on your feet all day gives you varicose veins?" "No. No, I did not." "Yup. That's why you've got to hop from foot to foot, to keep the blood flowing." Vera does a little bunny hop. I give her a half smile, moving away slowly as though she is a mental patient. "It really works," she calls out to me. I'm on break when it happens. I'm in the ladies' lounge, otherwise known as the bathroom, though it really does have a chaise-like thing that I'm spread out on. So I'm lounging. Or trying to, anyway. My eyes are half-closed as I inhale another cigarette, trying to do creative visualization. I am on a raft in the middle of the ocean. The sun is caressing my back, the water gently licking my toes. The salty wind dances through my hair. I don't normally believe in this kind of thing, but I am desperate. I ignore that little voice inside my head reminding me that I am in the fucking ladies' lounge in the fucking largest midscale retail establishment in the world and possibly the universe, and there is absolutely, positively nothing relaxing about it. When suddenly, I get the sense that I am not alone. "Hell-o," a female voice purrs. I wake up with a start, nearly burning myself on my cigarette. Ashes fly. "Oh shit," I cry out. "What are you guys doing?" It's Priscilla and Patricia standing over me, their perfectly defined features contorted into Cheshire Cat grins. They are wearing matching Princess Perfecta rose-colored make-up smocks, and between that and their identically striped blond hair, they're starting to freak me out. "We need to talk to you privately," Patricia says and winks. I am always immediately suspicious of winkers. "Well, someone could walk in any minute." "We took care of that," Priscilla assures me. "We put an 'out of order' sign on the door." "Oh," I say, looking at their smocks, trying to figure out if they are packing heat. "Lizbeth sent us." "From Luscious Lady?" 109


Berkeley Fiction Review Priscilla and Patricia look at each other. "Actually, she's not really from Luscious Lady." "And we're not really from Princess Perfecta," Patricia pipes up. This is the part in the movie where the blond Mafia pull off their faces to reveal that they are, in actuality, space aliens. I wait, but it doesn't happen. "We work for the corporate office. Affectionately known as Big Sister." "We mean that in the best way possible," Priscilla says with a big smile. I smile back. "Of course." "We go undercover from time to time to find out what's really happening in our stores. And quite frankly, we've got a situation here... well, it's worse than we originally thought." "What do you mean?" "Peaches," Patricia gives me a toothy grin. "That's the problem." "You guys are here because of Peaches? That seems like an awful lot of trouble..." "It's not just her," Priscilla cuts me off. "She's just part of it." "We're here to purge our company of negativity. Purify. Sanctify. Make this place... well, a better place to work." I raise an eyebrow. Someone obviously drank the company KoolAid. But I decide to see where this is going. "So why not just fire her?" "Well, it's not quite that easy. Peaches has been here a long time and she'd be difficult to terminate. Could wind up with a lawsuit or something. We can't fire someone for being tacky." Patricia sighs. "Unfortunately." "So what do you want me to do about it? She's my boss." "Yes, she is. So you're in the perfect position." "For what?" "To trap her. To expose her for the scheming little witch that she is, goddammit," Priscilla clears her throat. "Excuse me. I didn't mean to curse." "How can I..." "I was hoping you'd ask," Patricia says, pulling something out of her smock pocket. "We want you to wear a wire." "What?!" 110

How to Move Merchandise "And a recorder. It's the only way, really it is." Priscilla folds her arms. "Patricia, help her tape them on." She turns to me. "And you, strip," It itches. My wire that is; it itches and it itches all the time and I figure it would be rude to scratch my belly in the middle of the store. What I've learned thus far from this little experience is, I'd make a really shitty spy. Not that it was ever part of my career plan, but you never know. After life as a perfume spritzer, anything starts to look good, like proctology. It wasn't like they gave me much of a choice. They didn't ask me to do it, so much as expect me to. Though they did throw in some nice treats to sweeten the pot. Like I am definitely, definitely getting promoted after this to manager of something or other and get this, vice president. Vice President! They didn't say of what but I'm sure it will be something that sounds important. And Patricia hinted that they might move me up to Big Sister Headquarters. She says they have an on-staff foot masseuse and the plushest mauve carpeting that you practically sink into. Yes, I've sipped the Kool-Aid and buddy, it's pretty sweet. I have the chance to move up in the world and all I have to do is ruin someone who's a burden to society anyway. A blight on humanity. An evil weevil digging under everyone's skin. So why do I feel so guilty about it? I must say, going underground has made me very popular with the make-up chicks. Apparently, almost all of them are undercover spies working for Big Sister. Chloe from Come Hither. Minerva from Miss Thang. Erika from Elegante. When they see me, they wink or give me the victory sign a la Winston Churchill. I feel like a national hero. I wonder if this means they'll give me free moisturizer. I could have lived off all this undeserved glory for oh, at least a month and I almost did, too, only conversing with Peaches when I had to and basically doing nothing to build the case against her. I'm not sure who I thought I was kidding but apparently the Make-up Mafia was getting impatient. One day as Lizbeth walked past me on the sales floor, she gave me a big smile and put out her wrist for a quick squirt. I leaned in to comply. "Get to it sister," I heard her say between clenched teeth and I 111


Berkeley Fiction Review Priscilla and Patricia look at each other. "Actually, she's not really from Luscious Lady." "And we're not really from Princess Perfecta," Patricia pipes up. This is the part in the movie where the blond Mafia pull off their faces to reveal that they are, in actuality, space aliens. I wait, but it doesn't happen. "We work for the corporate office. Affectionately known as Big Sister." "We mean that in the best way possible," Priscilla says with a big smile. I smile back. "Of course." "We go undercover from time to time to find out what's really happening in our stores. And quite frankly, we've got a situation here... well, it's worse than we originally thought." "What do you mean?" "Peaches," Patricia gives me a toothy grin. "That's the problem." "You guys are here because of Peaches? That seems like an awful lot of trouble..." "It's not just her," Priscilla cuts me off. "She's just part of it." "We're here to purge our company of negativity. Purify. Sanctify. Make this place... well, a better place to work." I raise an eyebrow. Someone obviously drank the company KoolAid. But I decide to see where this is going. "So why not just fire her?" "Well, it's not quite that easy. Peaches has been here a long time and she'd be difficult to terminate. Could wind up with a lawsuit or something. We can't fire someone for being tacky." Patricia sighs. "Unfortunately." "So what do you want me to do about it? She's my boss." "Yes, she is. So you're in the perfect position." "For what?" "To trap her. To expose her for the scheming little witch that she is, goddammit," Priscilla clears her throat. "Excuse me. I didn't mean to curse." "How can I..." "I was hoping you'd ask," Patricia says, pulling something out of her smock pocket. "We want you to wear a wire." "What?!" 110

How to Move Merchandise "And a recorder. It's the only way, really it is." Priscilla folds her arms. "Patricia, help her tape them on." She turns to me. "And you, strip," It itches. My wire that is; it itches and it itches all the time and I figure it would be rude to scratch my belly in the middle of the store. What I've learned thus far from this little experience is, I'd make a really shitty spy. Not that it was ever part of my career plan, but you never know. After life as a perfume spritzer, anything starts to look good, like proctology. It wasn't like they gave me much of a choice. They didn't ask me to do it, so much as expect me to. Though they did throw in some nice treats to sweeten the pot. Like I am definitely, definitely getting promoted after this to manager of something or other and get this, vice president. Vice President! They didn't say of what but I'm sure it will be something that sounds important. And Patricia hinted that they might move me up to Big Sister Headquarters. She says they have an on-staff foot masseuse and the plushest mauve carpeting that you practically sink into. Yes, I've sipped the Kool-Aid and buddy, it's pretty sweet. I have the chance to move up in the world and all I have to do is ruin someone who's a burden to society anyway. A blight on humanity. An evil weevil digging under everyone's skin. So why do I feel so guilty about it? I must say, going underground has made me very popular with the make-up chicks. Apparently, almost all of them are undercover spies working for Big Sister. Chloe from Come Hither. Minerva from Miss Thang. Erika from Elegante. When they see me, they wink or give me the victory sign a la Winston Churchill. I feel like a national hero. I wonder if this means they'll give me free moisturizer. I could have lived off all this undeserved glory for oh, at least a month and I almost did, too, only conversing with Peaches when I had to and basically doing nothing to build the case against her. I'm not sure who I thought I was kidding but apparently the Make-up Mafia was getting impatient. One day as Lizbeth walked past me on the sales floor, she gave me a big smile and put out her wrist for a quick squirt. I leaned in to comply. "Get to it sister," I heard her say between clenched teeth and I 111


Berkeley Fiction Review looked up, startled. But she had already floated by, as though being moved by some mysterious force, an invisible conveyor belt. I studied the floor, not putting anything past Big Sister. And so I did what I had to do. I saw Peaches that same day, lounging against a glass case of what we call the grandma perfumes; White Shoulders, Arpege, anything that comes with an atomizer. From the way she was situated, breasts slightly lopsided, leaning ever-so-slightly towards the bottles, I could tell she was ready to pop one of them down her blouse. Pretty gutsy, even for Peaches. "Hey," I say to her. She ignores me or can't hear; either way she pays me no mind, inching closer to a pinkish, curvy bottle of perfume. "Hey!" I say again, so that I'm shouting practically. "I need your help. I-I want to learn more." She narrows her eyes. "About perfume. Fragrances. How it all works. How to really..." I searched for the words. "Move merchandise." She's listening now. "From the master," I smile. "You really seem to relate to customers. To speak their language." Peaches is picking something from her teeth, searching out stray food with an inquisitive chipped metallic red nail. "Basically..." I take a deep breath. "I want you to teach me. You know, how to be a better perfume spritzer." She finds the piece of spinach she was so diligently looking for and lets it fly off her nail with a flick of her wrist. "Okay," she says. "Maybe we should get a drink?" Know your audience, I always say. Peaches looks so enthralled I'm worried she might try to hug me or something. I take a step back to prevent that. "Five o'clock?" she says. I give her the thumbs up. Almost instantaneously, I felt the glow of the make-up women returning. We're at a bar. And not just any bar. But a bar bar. The kind with a core group of middle-aged men with names like 112

How to Move Merchandise Herb and Al. Guys who make Norm on Cheers look like a lightweight. I am afraid. I ask the bartender what kind of wine he has and he picks up a jug to inspect. It has cobwebs on it. Of course, Peaches is acting like she's sitting in her living room, which she may as well be. Her feet are up, a nifty trick in a leather skirt, and she is drinking something very brown with not much ice. I decide to give up on the wine and say, "I'll take one of those too," since I've always liked the sound of ice striking glass. Obviously, Peaches does also, based on the way she's been downing them. I throw my legs up onto the booth bench, Peaches-style, and try to look like I fit in to this dark, dank, damp-smelling environment. I think my scarf and ascot are a dead giveaway though. But I lean in, thinking about the tape running, running, running underneath my bulky sweater. "So," I say, in a poor attempt to get the ball rolling. "How did you get started in retail?" She rolls her eyes. "Jesus. Is this a fucking interview?" "Uh, no." "Because if that's your idea of conversation, well, you're even lamer than I thought," She knocks back her glass and the liquid disappears. I stick my nose in my own glass, contemplating drinking but a little intimidated by the smell of the stuff. I'm starting to realize why Peaches wears so much damn perfume. "If you really must know, it started as a job to get me through college," she says, lighting a cigarette. "And you liked it so much, you stuck with it." "No. I flunked out." "Oh." "I wanted to be a nurse." "Oh." "But I sucked at fluffing pillows. That's all they really do, anyway." "Right. Of course." ^So, I figured why not? If there's one thing I know, it's make-up." "Sure." "I think it's one of those things you're born with." "What?" 113


Berkeley Fiction Review looked up, startled. But she had already floated by, as though being moved by some mysterious force, an invisible conveyor belt. I studied the floor, not putting anything past Big Sister. And so I did what I had to do. I saw Peaches that same day, lounging against a glass case of what we call the grandma perfumes; White Shoulders, Arpege, anything that comes with an atomizer. From the way she was situated, breasts slightly lopsided, leaning ever-so-slightly towards the bottles, I could tell she was ready to pop one of them down her blouse. Pretty gutsy, even for Peaches. "Hey," I say to her. She ignores me or can't hear; either way she pays me no mind, inching closer to a pinkish, curvy bottle of perfume. "Hey!" I say again, so that I'm shouting practically. "I need your help. I-I want to learn more." She narrows her eyes. "About perfume. Fragrances. How it all works. How to really..." I searched for the words. "Move merchandise." She's listening now. "From the master," I smile. "You really seem to relate to customers. To speak their language." Peaches is picking something from her teeth, searching out stray food with an inquisitive chipped metallic red nail. "Basically..." I take a deep breath. "I want you to teach me. You know, how to be a better perfume spritzer." She finds the piece of spinach she was so diligently looking for and lets it fly off her nail with a flick of her wrist. "Okay," she says. "Maybe we should get a drink?" Know your audience, I always say. Peaches looks so enthralled I'm worried she might try to hug me or something. I take a step back to prevent that. "Five o'clock?" she says. I give her the thumbs up. Almost instantaneously, I felt the glow of the make-up women returning. We're at a bar. And not just any bar. But a bar bar. The kind with a core group of middle-aged men with names like 112

How to Move Merchandise Herb and Al. Guys who make Norm on Cheers look like a lightweight. I am afraid. I ask the bartender what kind of wine he has and he picks up a jug to inspect. It has cobwebs on it. Of course, Peaches is acting like she's sitting in her living room, which she may as well be. Her feet are up, a nifty trick in a leather skirt, and she is drinking something very brown with not much ice. I decide to give up on the wine and say, "I'll take one of those too," since I've always liked the sound of ice striking glass. Obviously, Peaches does also, based on the way she's been downing them. I throw my legs up onto the booth bench, Peaches-style, and try to look like I fit in to this dark, dank, damp-smelling environment. I think my scarf and ascot are a dead giveaway though. But I lean in, thinking about the tape running, running, running underneath my bulky sweater. "So," I say, in a poor attempt to get the ball rolling. "How did you get started in retail?" She rolls her eyes. "Jesus. Is this a fucking interview?" "Uh, no." "Because if that's your idea of conversation, well, you're even lamer than I thought," She knocks back her glass and the liquid disappears. I stick my nose in my own glass, contemplating drinking but a little intimidated by the smell of the stuff. I'm starting to realize why Peaches wears so much damn perfume. "If you really must know, it started as a job to get me through college," she says, lighting a cigarette. "And you liked it so much, you stuck with it." "No. I flunked out." "Oh." "I wanted to be a nurse." "Oh." "But I sucked at fluffing pillows. That's all they really do, anyway." "Right. Of course." ^So, I figured why not? If there's one thing I know, it's make-up." "Sure." "I think it's one of those things you're born with." "What?" 113


Berkeley Fiction Review "Knowing make-up. It's like being born with red hair or something, you know?" Actually, I have no idea what she's talking about. But I nod. "So, I'm rising through the ranks of cosmetics. Or I was, before all those Barbie dolls invaded. I felt like I was making a difference." "Yeah?" "Yeah. I mean, making someone feel good about themselves, that's what cosmetics is all about. Making an ugly broad feel beautiful. It's the best thing you can do." "Huh." "And then... well, all these Miss America wanna-bes started showing up. Skinny types with all the right curves. You know what I mean. No one wants to have their make-up done by some freakin' beauty queen. These customers are coming to you because they feel ugly. Those women just make you feel uglier." Gulp. Peaches is starting to make sense. "And so I started hiring unattractive make-up women. You know, to make the customers more comfortable. Not like Elephantman ugly, you understand. Nobody wants to have a conversation with anyone too terrible; no one wants to look at them that long. But someone with a hook nose, a little thick around the waist, well, that's okay." I nod, putting my hands up to my stick-out ears. "Management didn't like this, of course. Who the fuck knows why; it was great for business. I just think the make-up companies didn't like seeing all these plain people behind the make-up counters, thought it lowered the image of their product, made the make-up look bad or something. So they pushed me into Fragrance." "Jesus," I say. Who knew Peaches was such a humanitarian? "That's enough shop talk," She finished off her drink in one long gulp. "Let me introduce you to the bartender. He'll let you do a shot off his stomach." I've got to remember to stop taking my breaks in the ladies' lounge. My eyes are closed, visions of Ted from Men's Intimates dancing in my head. Naturally, he is wearing men's intimates and little else as he shakes his moneymaker, doing a little pelvic thrust to test the elasticity 114

How to Move Merchandise of his smoke-gray Calvin Klein's. I'm trying to determine the amount of bulge action in his CK's when I hear that voice, a voice that is definitely not Ted's. "Well, hello again." I open one eye. It's Patricia and Priscilla again, only this time Lizbeth is with them. The combined force of their blondeness is so blinding, I'm forced to squint. I groan. "What do you guys want?" Patricia lets out a stream of high laughter that sounds like she's gasping for air. "We just came by to tell you what a good job you're doing." "Really?" "Oh yes. You and Peaches are building quite a relationship." "Uh, thanks." "And we appreciate the sacrifice you're making. We know it can't be fun." Lizbeth smiles widely and I notice she has a lot of gums. More gums than teeth, actually. "It's okay. It's interesting, actually." "Yes?" "She's a unique person." "I'm sure." Priscilla wrinkles her nose as though she's just smelled rotten eggs. "We just wanted to inform you that the powers that be know what a valuable player you've been in all this and are prepared to reward you." "Oh?" Patricia adjusts her headband. "Handsomely." "Oh." "But first, you've got to uncover the dirt." "Urn. What if there isn't any?" "Find some," Lizbeth says, smiling again but all I can see now is big, pink, fleshy gums; gums everywhere the eye can see. I guess all the make-up in the world can't cover that up. And with that, my three fairy godmothers disappear. I swear I saw fairy dust, although it could have been shimmery eye shadow—it's very "this spring." "You "Tell "You "No,

know what your problem is?" Peaches is slurring. me." give a shit." I don't." 115


Berkeley Fiction Review "Knowing make-up. It's like being born with red hair or something, you know?" Actually, I have no idea what she's talking about. But I nod. "So, I'm rising through the ranks of cosmetics. Or I was, before all those Barbie dolls invaded. I felt like I was making a difference." "Yeah?" "Yeah. I mean, making someone feel good about themselves, that's what cosmetics is all about. Making an ugly broad feel beautiful. It's the best thing you can do." "Huh." "And then... well, all these Miss America wanna-bes started showing up. Skinny types with all the right curves. You know what I mean. No one wants to have their make-up done by some freakin' beauty queen. These customers are coming to you because they feel ugly. Those women just make you feel uglier." Gulp. Peaches is starting to make sense. "And so I started hiring unattractive make-up women. You know, to make the customers more comfortable. Not like Elephantman ugly, you understand. Nobody wants to have a conversation with anyone too terrible; no one wants to look at them that long. But someone with a hook nose, a little thick around the waist, well, that's okay." I nod, putting my hands up to my stick-out ears. "Management didn't like this, of course. Who the fuck knows why; it was great for business. I just think the make-up companies didn't like seeing all these plain people behind the make-up counters, thought it lowered the image of their product, made the make-up look bad or something. So they pushed me into Fragrance." "Jesus," I say. Who knew Peaches was such a humanitarian? "That's enough shop talk," She finished off her drink in one long gulp. "Let me introduce you to the bartender. He'll let you do a shot off his stomach." I've got to remember to stop taking my breaks in the ladies' lounge. My eyes are closed, visions of Ted from Men's Intimates dancing in my head. Naturally, he is wearing men's intimates and little else as he shakes his moneymaker, doing a little pelvic thrust to test the elasticity 114

How to Move Merchandise of his smoke-gray Calvin Klein's. I'm trying to determine the amount of bulge action in his CK's when I hear that voice, a voice that is definitely not Ted's. "Well, hello again." I open one eye. It's Patricia and Priscilla again, only this time Lizbeth is with them. The combined force of their blondeness is so blinding, I'm forced to squint. I groan. "What do you guys want?" Patricia lets out a stream of high laughter that sounds like she's gasping for air. "We just came by to tell you what a good job you're doing." "Really?" "Oh yes. You and Peaches are building quite a relationship." "Uh, thanks." "And we appreciate the sacrifice you're making. We know it can't be fun." Lizbeth smiles widely and I notice she has a lot of gums. More gums than teeth, actually. "It's okay. It's interesting, actually." "Yes?" "She's a unique person." "I'm sure." Priscilla wrinkles her nose as though she's just smelled rotten eggs. "We just wanted to inform you that the powers that be know what a valuable player you've been in all this and are prepared to reward you." "Oh?" Patricia adjusts her headband. "Handsomely." "Oh." "But first, you've got to uncover the dirt." "Urn. What if there isn't any?" "Find some," Lizbeth says, smiling again but all I can see now is big, pink, fleshy gums; gums everywhere the eye can see. I guess all the make-up in the world can't cover that up. And with that, my three fairy godmothers disappear. I swear I saw fairy dust, although it could have been shimmery eye shadow—it's very "this spring." "You "Tell "You "No,

know what your problem is?" Peaches is slurring. me." give a shit." I don't." 115


Berkeley Fiction Review "Yes you do." "How do you know if I give a shit?" "I can tell. Everyone can tell. You're in that fucking management training program." "So?" "So, that means you give a shit." We're back in a bar. But this time, it's my bar, not hers. Not that this is a really great place. It's just the mall's answer to a bar, which means it's an imitation of a real one, with all kinds of random junk hanging on the wall, like trumpets and old-fashioned sleds and jockey uniforms. Yes, that's right, jockey uniforms. And since it is attached to the mall, anyone that works in the stores comes in at one point or another. Everyone has that familiar look, though not enough to say hello. It's a favorite hang-out for the mall cops, since really, what else have they got to do? Make sure no one's stealing any coins from the "make-a-wish" fountain? "That cop's cute," Peaches says, nodding in the direction of the mall cop with red hair. His belly barely fit into the booth. "He's not a real cop." "Sure he is." "He's a mall cop. I bet he doesn't even carry a billy club." "Okay, Miss Snob. And you're a perfume spritzer." Not for long. I lean forward into the booth eagerly. "So Peaches..." "Hmmm?" "You've taught me pretty much everything I know." "More or less." "How to become a more aggressive spritzer." ' "Yep." "How to measure other people's perfume." "Uh-huh." "Even how to steal half-used bottles of perfume." "Steal is such a strong word." "Whatever. Now what I want to know..." I watch as Peaches slurps down her drink without taking a breath. "What I want to know is... what you're going to do next." Her eyes are shiny. "Next?" 116

How to Move Merchandise "Come on. How are you going to overthrow the make-up chicks?" She smiles a little. "You've gotta be up to something. You're not going to let those uptight bitches run the show are you?" "Well... I've got a few ideas," She tries to smooth her blouse but it's a wrinkled mess regardless. I lean in closer, feeling a little sick. "Hi guys!" We are interrupted by our overly chipper waitress, dressed in full mall bar regalia. This means a striped shirt like a French sailor, Mork & Mindy-inspired suspenders and about five hundred buttons clipped on with messages like 'Beam Me Up, Scotty' and Tf It Ain't Bluegrass, It Ain't Music' "Do you know what today is?" Peaches takes one look at her and starts to laugh. "Uh, no," I say. "Wacky Wednesday! Do you know what that means?" "No." "PifiaColadas are half off!" "Fantastic." "And we have wacky bar games!" "Great." "And we have these!" She takes out a New Year's Day horn and toots it in Peaches' face. "Cut that out!" Peaches barks and the waitress retreats, tail between her legs. "As I was saying..." I start in again, but it's no use. The mall cop is at our table now, outstretched arms bearing frothy drinks with umbrellas and plastic alligators. "Ladies," he says. Really, that's all he says and Peaches practically has her panties off. She is glowing, sticking her chest out. "Hi," I say. "We were just talking about work." "That can wait," she purrs, grabbing one of the drinks. "Would you like to join us for the wacky limbo contest?" He gyrates his hips a little. "How low can you go?" Peaches giggles. "Very low." She jumps out of the booth and grabs my arm. "Come on." What the hell. It's Wednesday. Pm wacky. Plus Peaches has my arm in a Kung-Fu Grip. 117


Berkeley Fiction Review "Yes you do." "How do you know if I give a shit?" "I can tell. Everyone can tell. You're in that fucking management training program." "So?" "So, that means you give a shit." We're back in a bar. But this time, it's my bar, not hers. Not that this is a really great place. It's just the mall's answer to a bar, which means it's an imitation of a real one, with all kinds of random junk hanging on the wall, like trumpets and old-fashioned sleds and jockey uniforms. Yes, that's right, jockey uniforms. And since it is attached to the mall, anyone that works in the stores comes in at one point or another. Everyone has that familiar look, though not enough to say hello. It's a favorite hang-out for the mall cops, since really, what else have they got to do? Make sure no one's stealing any coins from the "make-a-wish" fountain? "That cop's cute," Peaches says, nodding in the direction of the mall cop with red hair. His belly barely fit into the booth. "He's not a real cop." "Sure he is." "He's a mall cop. I bet he doesn't even carry a billy club." "Okay, Miss Snob. And you're a perfume spritzer." Not for long. I lean forward into the booth eagerly. "So Peaches..." "Hmmm?" "You've taught me pretty much everything I know." "More or less." "How to become a more aggressive spritzer." ' "Yep." "How to measure other people's perfume." "Uh-huh." "Even how to steal half-used bottles of perfume." "Steal is such a strong word." "Whatever. Now what I want to know..." I watch as Peaches slurps down her drink without taking a breath. "What I want to know is... what you're going to do next." Her eyes are shiny. "Next?" 116

How to Move Merchandise "Come on. How are you going to overthrow the make-up chicks?" She smiles a little. "You've gotta be up to something. You're not going to let those uptight bitches run the show are you?" "Well... I've got a few ideas," She tries to smooth her blouse but it's a wrinkled mess regardless. I lean in closer, feeling a little sick. "Hi guys!" We are interrupted by our overly chipper waitress, dressed in full mall bar regalia. This means a striped shirt like a French sailor, Mork & Mindy-inspired suspenders and about five hundred buttons clipped on with messages like 'Beam Me Up, Scotty' and Tf It Ain't Bluegrass, It Ain't Music' "Do you know what today is?" Peaches takes one look at her and starts to laugh. "Uh, no," I say. "Wacky Wednesday! Do you know what that means?" "No." "PifiaColadas are half off!" "Fantastic." "And we have wacky bar games!" "Great." "And we have these!" She takes out a New Year's Day horn and toots it in Peaches' face. "Cut that out!" Peaches barks and the waitress retreats, tail between her legs. "As I was saying..." I start in again, but it's no use. The mall cop is at our table now, outstretched arms bearing frothy drinks with umbrellas and plastic alligators. "Ladies," he says. Really, that's all he says and Peaches practically has her panties off. She is glowing, sticking her chest out. "Hi," I say. "We were just talking about work." "That can wait," she purrs, grabbing one of the drinks. "Would you like to join us for the wacky limbo contest?" He gyrates his hips a little. "How low can you go?" Peaches giggles. "Very low." She jumps out of the booth and grabs my arm. "Come on." What the hell. It's Wednesday. Pm wacky. Plus Peaches has my arm in a Kung-Fu Grip. 117


Berkeley Fiction Review Never underestimate the grace of a mall cop. It's amazing, really. The big-bellied, red-haired mall cop, or "Fred," as we have come to know him, has managed to twist, contort and wiggle his body to fit into the tiniest of places. The limbo contest originally started with a dozen or so various mall employees, giddy with sugary tropical drinks, awkwardly forcing their bodies to bend backwards underneath a red-and-white-striped bar. Everyone had their own cheering section; the Hallmark woman had a bunch of feisty old ladies who could really yell ("Give 'em hell, Marge!"), the food court contestants came with a crew of gangly, pimply kids who looked suspiciously young to be in a bar, the chick from the candle store had the full support of a bunch of Stevie Nicks-look-alikes who smelled like incense and were surprisingly vocal. But now, it's come down to the mall cop, Peaches and me. Don't ask me how her breasts fit under that stick. But they do, each time sticking up in the air as she arches her back, somehow managing to not even graze the limbo stick at all. "I'm flexible," she says and winks at the cop. Of course, by now his competitive juices have kicked in and he could care less about Peaches. He just wants to win. I, on the other hand, am just having a good time. I am squeezing my way under the limbo stick without even trying—the only advantage to being built like a prepubescent boy. Every time I do, Peaches gives me the high five. "Go Perfume Girl!" Somewhere in the middle of all that, after my fifth or sixth Pifia Colada, I knew I wasn't going to turn her in. Just like that. I knew. Even if it meant an extended stint in Perfume Land. Even if I never got to run my toes through the plush carpeting of Big Sister Headquarters. You can't change who you are; I was less Make-up Mafia, more bar whore. I was having such a good time, I forgot two very important things. Number 1, the Make-up Mafia is everywhere. No one knows how they get there exactly, maybe they have a trap door or something, but suddenly they're just there and you feel their presence. Number 2, I'm bugged. Wires taped all over me like I'm a secret agent. Of course, thanks to all the fruity drinks and the fact that they had lowered the limbo bar frighteningly close to the floor, I completely forget that. 118

How to Move Merchandise When, Peaches can't clear the stick, a hush falls over the crowd. The mall cop just barely makes it, jostling the stick ever so slightly. It is all up to me. And when it comes to Limbo, every inch counts. So I take off my big bulky sweater. The bar stops. Merriment comes to a screeching halt. If this was a commercial, the record would have scratched. "What's that?" Peaches points to my stomach. "She's bugged!" The guy from the Spy Store yells. "She's recording everything!" I cringe, trying to cover my wire with my hands but it's no use. You can see metallic gray industrial tape peeking out everywhere. The mall cop clears his throat. "I'm pretty sure this is some kind of offense," he says but he does nothing, says nothing. Nobody does. I look over to Peaches. She doesn't look at me. The guy from the Spy Store comes over to inspect the equipment. "Hey, this stuff isn't cheap, either. Where'd you get this from anyway?" I don't answer, pulling on my big sweater awkwardly, searching the bar for a friendly face. There are none, unless you count Patricia and Priscilla. They are sipping pink drinks in the back, making notes in oversized mauve binders. Patricia winks. I feel the sour taste of Pina Colada back in my throat. As I leave the bar I can hear the mall cop saying, "Does this mean I win?" So I did get promoted. Even after my cover was blown. Apparently, the Make-up Mafia thought they had enough on Peaches. As it turned out, Peaches had had enough, too. Supposedly, she had been lured away by a rival department store. The mall cop mentioned something about nursing school. The ladies' lounge attendant said she had moved back down South. I felt certain she was in some bar somewhere. And there was always her illustrious career as a limbo dancer. Anyway, back to me. I am not a vice president. Though I feel it is coming any day. I have proven my loyalties, I am a Big Sister girl. And even though I do not eat lunch with Patricia, Priscilla and Lizbeth, I am confident that an invitation is imminent. Especially now that I am a manager. That's right. Five whole people call me boss. I don't think it matters what department, it only matters that I am in charge. 119


Berkeley Fiction Review Never underestimate the grace of a mall cop. It's amazing, really. The big-bellied, red-haired mall cop, or "Fred," as we have come to know him, has managed to twist, contort and wiggle his body to fit into the tiniest of places. The limbo contest originally started with a dozen or so various mall employees, giddy with sugary tropical drinks, awkwardly forcing their bodies to bend backwards underneath a red-and-white-striped bar. Everyone had their own cheering section; the Hallmark woman had a bunch of feisty old ladies who could really yell ("Give 'em hell, Marge!"), the food court contestants came with a crew of gangly, pimply kids who looked suspiciously young to be in a bar, the chick from the candle store had the full support of a bunch of Stevie Nicks-look-alikes who smelled like incense and were surprisingly vocal. But now, it's come down to the mall cop, Peaches and me. Don't ask me how her breasts fit under that stick. But they do, each time sticking up in the air as she arches her back, somehow managing to not even graze the limbo stick at all. "I'm flexible," she says and winks at the cop. Of course, by now his competitive juices have kicked in and he could care less about Peaches. He just wants to win. I, on the other hand, am just having a good time. I am squeezing my way under the limbo stick without even trying—the only advantage to being built like a prepubescent boy. Every time I do, Peaches gives me the high five. "Go Perfume Girl!" Somewhere in the middle of all that, after my fifth or sixth Pifia Colada, I knew I wasn't going to turn her in. Just like that. I knew. Even if it meant an extended stint in Perfume Land. Even if I never got to run my toes through the plush carpeting of Big Sister Headquarters. You can't change who you are; I was less Make-up Mafia, more bar whore. I was having such a good time, I forgot two very important things. Number 1, the Make-up Mafia is everywhere. No one knows how they get there exactly, maybe they have a trap door or something, but suddenly they're just there and you feel their presence. Number 2, I'm bugged. Wires taped all over me like I'm a secret agent. Of course, thanks to all the fruity drinks and the fact that they had lowered the limbo bar frighteningly close to the floor, I completely forget that. 118

How to Move Merchandise When, Peaches can't clear the stick, a hush falls over the crowd. The mall cop just barely makes it, jostling the stick ever so slightly. It is all up to me. And when it comes to Limbo, every inch counts. So I take off my big bulky sweater. The bar stops. Merriment comes to a screeching halt. If this was a commercial, the record would have scratched. "What's that?" Peaches points to my stomach. "She's bugged!" The guy from the Spy Store yells. "She's recording everything!" I cringe, trying to cover my wire with my hands but it's no use. You can see metallic gray industrial tape peeking out everywhere. The mall cop clears his throat. "I'm pretty sure this is some kind of offense," he says but he does nothing, says nothing. Nobody does. I look over to Peaches. She doesn't look at me. The guy from the Spy Store comes over to inspect the equipment. "Hey, this stuff isn't cheap, either. Where'd you get this from anyway?" I don't answer, pulling on my big sweater awkwardly, searching the bar for a friendly face. There are none, unless you count Patricia and Priscilla. They are sipping pink drinks in the back, making notes in oversized mauve binders. Patricia winks. I feel the sour taste of Pina Colada back in my throat. As I leave the bar I can hear the mall cop saying, "Does this mean I win?" So I did get promoted. Even after my cover was blown. Apparently, the Make-up Mafia thought they had enough on Peaches. As it turned out, Peaches had had enough, too. Supposedly, she had been lured away by a rival department store. The mall cop mentioned something about nursing school. The ladies' lounge attendant said she had moved back down South. I felt certain she was in some bar somewhere. And there was always her illustrious career as a limbo dancer. Anyway, back to me. I am not a vice president. Though I feel it is coming any day. I have proven my loyalties, I am a Big Sister girl. And even though I do not eat lunch with Patricia, Priscilla and Lizbeth, I am confident that an invitation is imminent. Especially now that I am a manager. That's right. Five whole people call me boss. I don't think it matters what department, it only matters that I am in charge. 119


Berkeley Fiction Review I love that idea. And you know what, I'm good at it, too. If you don't believe me, ask Vera. Today she is dressed as a bumblebee. It is not a particularly fetching look for her, especially the humongous stinger that is emphasized by her rather generous rear. She waddles up to me miserably. "Got your perfume bottle?" I say, smiling as I do. She holds it up. It is called Springtime in Paris. Hence, her outfit. I am going to win Manager of the Year for that one. "Good," I hold out the measuring cup. "Now pour."

D e l i c i o u s

J u i c e

Jurgen Fauth

y mother was all freaked out when I drank the last of the delicious juice. It was such delicious juice: Florida orange with a splash of tangerine. I couldn't keep myself from drinking it. The juice stood in the refrigerator on the top shelf, the only shelf tall enough to hold its cardboard container. Ahh! Such good juice!' This is why my mother was so angry with me for drinking the last of the juice: she always had a glass of juice ready for the mailman when he came to our house. He was a delightful, happy fellow who went by the name of Mr. Filzlaus. Mr. Filzlaus whistled all the way from the post office through his neighborhood, all the way down to the river. I think it is safe to say that Mr. Filzlaus was the most beloved mailman to ever bring me letters. I have lived in many houses since, and most mailmen were angry, bitter fellows who kept their eyes close to the ground and didn't acknowledge you even when you said, "Hey, hello there Mr. Mailman." But not Mr. Filzlaus. Mr. Filzlaus was a sweet and kind mailman. He dropped your mail off in your box with a delightful "thump" that fit right into whatever melody he was whistling at the time. And if he didn't have any mail for you, he'd still come up to your porch, knock kindly on the windowpane of your front door, and excuse the fact that he didn't have anything new for you. But no matter what Mr. Filzlaus brought, Mom always had a glass of fresh, cold delicious juice for him, Florida orange with a splash of tangerine. 120

121


Berkeley Fiction Review I love that idea. And you know what, I'm good at it, too. If you don't believe me, ask Vera. Today she is dressed as a bumblebee. It is not a particularly fetching look for her, especially the humongous stinger that is emphasized by her rather generous rear. She waddles up to me miserably. "Got your perfume bottle?" I say, smiling as I do. She holds it up. It is called Springtime in Paris. Hence, her outfit. I am going to win Manager of the Year for that one. "Good," I hold out the measuring cup. "Now pour."

D e l i c i o u s

J u i c e

Jurgen Fauth

y mother was all freaked out when I drank the last of the delicious juice. It was such delicious juice: Florida orange with a splash of tangerine. I couldn't keep myself from drinking it. The juice stood in the refrigerator on the top shelf, the only shelf tall enough to hold its cardboard container. Ahh! Such good juice!' This is why my mother was so angry with me for drinking the last of the juice: she always had a glass of juice ready for the mailman when he came to our house. He was a delightful, happy fellow who went by the name of Mr. Filzlaus. Mr. Filzlaus whistled all the way from the post office through his neighborhood, all the way down to the river. I think it is safe to say that Mr. Filzlaus was the most beloved mailman to ever bring me letters. I have lived in many houses since, and most mailmen were angry, bitter fellows who kept their eyes close to the ground and didn't acknowledge you even when you said, "Hey, hello there Mr. Mailman." But not Mr. Filzlaus. Mr. Filzlaus was a sweet and kind mailman. He dropped your mail off in your box with a delightful "thump" that fit right into whatever melody he was whistling at the time. And if he didn't have any mail for you, he'd still come up to your porch, knock kindly on the windowpane of your front door, and excuse the fact that he didn't have anything new for you. But no matter what Mr. Filzlaus brought, Mom always had a glass of fresh, cold delicious juice for him, Florida orange with a splash of tangerine. 120

121


Berkeley Fiction Review It was a quarter-to-twelve when I drank the last of the juice. I had just woken up with an ugly hangover, the kind you get from a long night spent at the bars, drinking vicious martinis and smoking Dunhills, which is precisely what I had done. I was still wearing the stained and sweaty Gap shirt and the Medal of Honor I dimly remembered my friends bestowing on me for trying out all the martini variations the menu had to offer: forty-seven all in all, multiplied with the choices of vodka (five: Smirnoff, Skyy, Absolut, Absolut Curant, and Taaka). I had thrown up into the upstairs bathroom sink and to clean the bitter taste of morning vomit out of your mouth, nothing but fresh delicious juice will do, especially when it's cold. "Just look at you, you delirious slob," Mom screeched. She knew that screeching was precisely what my tortured head could not bear in the throes of a vile martini hangover. She grabbed the empty cardboard carton of juice out of my hand and shook it wildly, like a farmer might shake a chicken. "Mr. Filzlaus will be here any moment, and no juice!" Mr. Filzlaus was always punctual; never did he finish his route later than noon. Our house was the last on his way. He would be here in minutes, that was for sure. You could rely on Mr. Filzlaus. "So what," I said. "Give him some soda." Mom whacked the juice carton over my head. It was empty, of course, and yet the bang hit me with the force of a sledgehammer; not fruity at all (like one might have suspected) but with the heavy massive impact of something made from metal, or dense minerals: it hurt. It sent big gnawing waves of pain through every synapse of my tortured brain, and down through my body, which had been numb up to this moment. What an awakening! I considered vomiting again. "You're making me sick, stop, stop," I wailed. Mom kept hitting me with the carton until it split open and the last drops of juice came flying out, sprinkling my face and my shirt. Not that it mattered much for the shirt; the shirt was stained already with currant and sambuca, malt liquor, Grand Marnier, Batita de Coco, brown rum, Goldschlaeger and of course vodka, although you couldn't really see the vodka stains. There were burn holes on the chest, too, from the Dunhills my numb lips couldn't hold. So fuck me if I'd cry over some juice stains. When the carton burst, it took all the anger right out of Mom. She dropped it and sank down on her knees. It was all very embarrassing, 122

Delicious Juice me with the nasty shirt and Mom on her knees in front of the open refrigerator. She was sobbing miserably. I breathed hard, and I felt a new wave of vomit rising in my throat. That's when we heard his whistling. Through the curtains of our front door windows, I could see Mr. Filzlaus approach our house. His cheerful face was trim and proper, his cheeks glowing with their usual cheerful, healthy blush. Halfway up the way to the house, he stopped to straighten his pristine uniform and cock his hat at a risky angle. What a fucker! He would never know what misery his nonchalant ways could bring to a normal family like ours! He tucked away a blond strand of hair and licked his lips, doubtless in anticipation of a delicious glas's of cool orange juice with a splash of tangerine. He stepped up on our porch. The back of my head started a low hum. Mom must have heard Mr. Filzlaus' light footsteps too, because she buckled over further and fell to the floor altogether, curling up in a fetal position in front of the vegetable bin. To save our family some embarrassment, I tried to close the refrigerator door, but I couldn't without banging it into Mom's head. She wouldn't move, and after clanging it against her skull several times in quick succession, I gave up and let it swing wide open. What did it matter now! Let the whole world see that there was no juice in our fridge! Lay our secrets open to the mailman. Here he was now, rapping his knuckles on the door. Mother moaned. "Do something, please, for the sake of my soul, do something, quick!" "Three letters from your daughter, and bills, coupons and a magazine!" Mr. Filzlaus sang through the door. I could tell the damn leech didn't care a rat's ass about our mail, our bills, our lives, all he wanted was juice, yummy juice. "Fuck off," I yelled. "Just leave the shit in the box like you're supposed to." "Hello? Hello?" Mr. Filzlaus said, in the same singsong voice. He stretched his neck to see inside, but I don't think he could see me, or Mom, who had begun a low catatonic whimper that was accentuated by the gargling sounds of drool and snot. How had this happened? Wasn't it me who had just thrown up in the sink? The juice must have energized me and rejuvenated my senses. My headache was gone, and I felt strong, filled by a sense of direction and power. I opened the door. 123


Berkeley Fiction Review It was a quarter-to-twelve when I drank the last of the juice. I had just woken up with an ugly hangover, the kind you get from a long night spent at the bars, drinking vicious martinis and smoking Dunhills, which is precisely what I had done. I was still wearing the stained and sweaty Gap shirt and the Medal of Honor I dimly remembered my friends bestowing on me for trying out all the martini variations the menu had to offer: forty-seven all in all, multiplied with the choices of vodka (five: Smirnoff, Skyy, Absolut, Absolut Curant, and Taaka). I had thrown up into the upstairs bathroom sink and to clean the bitter taste of morning vomit out of your mouth, nothing but fresh delicious juice will do, especially when it's cold. "Just look at you, you delirious slob," Mom screeched. She knew that screeching was precisely what my tortured head could not bear in the throes of a vile martini hangover. She grabbed the empty cardboard carton of juice out of my hand and shook it wildly, like a farmer might shake a chicken. "Mr. Filzlaus will be here any moment, and no juice!" Mr. Filzlaus was always punctual; never did he finish his route later than noon. Our house was the last on his way. He would be here in minutes, that was for sure. You could rely on Mr. Filzlaus. "So what," I said. "Give him some soda." Mom whacked the juice carton over my head. It was empty, of course, and yet the bang hit me with the force of a sledgehammer; not fruity at all (like one might have suspected) but with the heavy massive impact of something made from metal, or dense minerals: it hurt. It sent big gnawing waves of pain through every synapse of my tortured brain, and down through my body, which had been numb up to this moment. What an awakening! I considered vomiting again. "You're making me sick, stop, stop," I wailed. Mom kept hitting me with the carton until it split open and the last drops of juice came flying out, sprinkling my face and my shirt. Not that it mattered much for the shirt; the shirt was stained already with currant and sambuca, malt liquor, Grand Marnier, Batita de Coco, brown rum, Goldschlaeger and of course vodka, although you couldn't really see the vodka stains. There were burn holes on the chest, too, from the Dunhills my numb lips couldn't hold. So fuck me if I'd cry over some juice stains. When the carton burst, it took all the anger right out of Mom. She dropped it and sank down on her knees. It was all very embarrassing, 122

Delicious Juice me with the nasty shirt and Mom on her knees in front of the open refrigerator. She was sobbing miserably. I breathed hard, and I felt a new wave of vomit rising in my throat. That's when we heard his whistling. Through the curtains of our front door windows, I could see Mr. Filzlaus approach our house. His cheerful face was trim and proper, his cheeks glowing with their usual cheerful, healthy blush. Halfway up the way to the house, he stopped to straighten his pristine uniform and cock his hat at a risky angle. What a fucker! He would never know what misery his nonchalant ways could bring to a normal family like ours! He tucked away a blond strand of hair and licked his lips, doubtless in anticipation of a delicious glas's of cool orange juice with a splash of tangerine. He stepped up on our porch. The back of my head started a low hum. Mom must have heard Mr. Filzlaus' light footsteps too, because she buckled over further and fell to the floor altogether, curling up in a fetal position in front of the vegetable bin. To save our family some embarrassment, I tried to close the refrigerator door, but I couldn't without banging it into Mom's head. She wouldn't move, and after clanging it against her skull several times in quick succession, I gave up and let it swing wide open. What did it matter now! Let the whole world see that there was no juice in our fridge! Lay our secrets open to the mailman. Here he was now, rapping his knuckles on the door. Mother moaned. "Do something, please, for the sake of my soul, do something, quick!" "Three letters from your daughter, and bills, coupons and a magazine!" Mr. Filzlaus sang through the door. I could tell the damn leech didn't care a rat's ass about our mail, our bills, our lives, all he wanted was juice, yummy juice. "Fuck off," I yelled. "Just leave the shit in the box like you're supposed to." "Hello? Hello?" Mr. Filzlaus said, in the same singsong voice. He stretched his neck to see inside, but I don't think he could see me, or Mom, who had begun a low catatonic whimper that was accentuated by the gargling sounds of drool and snot. How had this happened? Wasn't it me who had just thrown up in the sink? The juice must have energized me and rejuvenated my senses. My headache was gone, and I felt strong, filled by a sense of direction and power. I opened the door. 123


Berkeley Fiction Review I rammed my index finger into his chest. "I said fuck off! Yes? Just do your job and leave us alone. We're having a family crisis here. Mom's out on the floor, if you must know. See what you have done with your grins and your cocked hat and your songs? Fuck you, happy man, our lives are not like that. We're not like that. You don't understand what it takes us to pretend. See what you have done to my mother? Screw you! How can you be so cheerful all the time? It disgusts me, and it wears us out. There's no juice for you today, you understand? And there will never be juice for you again. We hate you, happy man, and all that you stand for. Just look at you in your ridiculous uniform. You're still grinning? I want to punch you. How can you be so cheerful? You must be stupid, that's the only explanation I know, because smart people are bitter and sad. Fuck off now, you hear me! Go on and sing and whistle elsewhere. Fuck off, happy Mr. Filzlaus. There will never be juice for you again at this house, do you understand?" I expected him to put up a fight, to give me some baloney about kindness and karma, something about how I'd made the world a little colder and so on. How there wasn't ever, had never been, a requirement to give him delicious juice, how he just tried to cheer people up and that it didn't take a moron to try to be happy, how, in fact, it was much harder to sing and whistle than to wear a grim face and scowl at the world. Damn, I could have made that speech for him, because somehow I wanted to believe all that, wanted there to be people like Mr. Filzlaus in the world to do that job for us. But he didn't say any of that. He simply nodded and retracted his hand with our letters that he had held outstretched all throughout my speech and leaned down to plunk them into our mailbox. "Goodbye," he said, and walked off. I stood there in my smeared stained shirt and nervously fiddled with the Medal of Honor the martinis had earned me until Mr, Filzlaus had disappeared around the block. Inside, Mom was still curled around the refrigerator, and now her breathing made little puffy clouds in the air. Snot had frozen into icicles on her nose, and it took me all day to warm her up. She never bought delicious juice again, with a splash of tangerine or without, and my hangovers got worse and worse, until I had to move out.

124

T h e

R a b b i t s

o f

R o i s s y

Kevin D o l g i n

great many rabbits used to live in the large expanses of dirt next to the runways and taxiways of Charles de Gaulle airport. They don't live there any more. I first noticed the rabbits as I returned to Paris from an interminably boring business trip to London. I had spent a full week in a seminar at Chelsea Harbour during which I hadn't even left the hotel. Since the plane had run out of complementary copies of my favorite newspaper the only reading material I had was the silly white notebook they had given me at the seminar, and it was absolutely out of the question that I read that. I therefore had spent the entire forty-minute flight staring out the window. I was still staring as we landed and just as the main wheels touched the ground, I noticed a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. On closer inspection this proved to be the rear end of a rabbit that was furiously fleeing across the grass bordering the runway. I was thinking that it was strange that a rabbit should decide to live in such an inhospitable place when I noticed that in fact there were several rabbits running away from the plane. This caught my attention. As the plane decelerated I looked closely at the field and saw scores of rabbits, most of them scurrying for their lives. They were making sharp little turns, presumably in order to avoid the airplane should it decide to give chase across the grass. Other rabbits were sitting paralyzed, looking at the plane as if transfixed. Once the plane turned onto the taxiway I saw that this new expanse of 125


Berkeley Fiction Review I rammed my index finger into his chest. "I said fuck off! Yes? Just do your job and leave us alone. We're having a family crisis here. Mom's out on the floor, if you must know. See what you have done with your grins and your cocked hat and your songs? Fuck you, happy man, our lives are not like that. We're not like that. You don't understand what it takes us to pretend. See what you have done to my mother? Screw you! How can you be so cheerful all the time? It disgusts me, and it wears us out. There's no juice for you today, you understand? And there will never be juice for you again. We hate you, happy man, and all that you stand for. Just look at you in your ridiculous uniform. You're still grinning? I want to punch you. How can you be so cheerful? You must be stupid, that's the only explanation I know, because smart people are bitter and sad. Fuck off now, you hear me! Go on and sing and whistle elsewhere. Fuck off, happy Mr. Filzlaus. There will never be juice for you again at this house, do you understand?" I expected him to put up a fight, to give me some baloney about kindness and karma, something about how I'd made the world a little colder and so on. How there wasn't ever, had never been, a requirement to give him delicious juice, how he just tried to cheer people up and that it didn't take a moron to try to be happy, how, in fact, it was much harder to sing and whistle than to wear a grim face and scowl at the world. Damn, I could have made that speech for him, because somehow I wanted to believe all that, wanted there to be people like Mr. Filzlaus in the world to do that job for us. But he didn't say any of that. He simply nodded and retracted his hand with our letters that he had held outstretched all throughout my speech and leaned down to plunk them into our mailbox. "Goodbye," he said, and walked off. I stood there in my smeared stained shirt and nervously fiddled with the Medal of Honor the martinis had earned me until Mr, Filzlaus had disappeared around the block. Inside, Mom was still curled around the refrigerator, and now her breathing made little puffy clouds in the air. Snot had frozen into icicles on her nose, and it took me all day to warm her up. She never bought delicious juice again, with a splash of tangerine or without, and my hangovers got worse and worse, until I had to move out.

124

T h e

R a b b i t s

o f

R o i s s y

Kevin D o l g i n

great many rabbits used to live in the large expanses of dirt next to the runways and taxiways of Charles de Gaulle airport. They don't live there any more. I first noticed the rabbits as I returned to Paris from an interminably boring business trip to London. I had spent a full week in a seminar at Chelsea Harbour during which I hadn't even left the hotel. Since the plane had run out of complementary copies of my favorite newspaper the only reading material I had was the silly white notebook they had given me at the seminar, and it was absolutely out of the question that I read that. I therefore had spent the entire forty-minute flight staring out the window. I was still staring as we landed and just as the main wheels touched the ground, I noticed a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. On closer inspection this proved to be the rear end of a rabbit that was furiously fleeing across the grass bordering the runway. I was thinking that it was strange that a rabbit should decide to live in such an inhospitable place when I noticed that in fact there were several rabbits running away from the plane. This caught my attention. As the plane decelerated I looked closely at the field and saw scores of rabbits, most of them scurrying for their lives. They were making sharp little turns, presumably in order to avoid the airplane should it decide to give chase across the grass. Other rabbits were sitting paralyzed, looking at the plane as if transfixed. Once the plane turned onto the taxiway I saw that this new expanse of 125


Berkeley Fiction Review grass and dirt was littered with rabbits as well. These rabbits seemed less panicked and simply hopped away lazily or just sat there. Lumps of rabbit. By the time the plane had arrived at the concrete apron surrounding the terminal, I had seen hundreds of rabbits in varying degrees of activity. All of them were of the nondescript brown variety that you find in Paris's farther suburbs or hanging by their feet in butcher shops. I more or less forgot about them in the struggle to extract my briefcase from the overhead bin, squeezed as I was by the other passengers. Once I was standing on the moving walkway that takes you to the main terminal, however, images of their white behinds flashing in the sun filled my mind, mercifully distracting me from thoughts of the recently finished seminar. On my next departure for London, three weeks later, I remembered the rabbits and looked for them as we taxied to the runway. I wasn't sure that I would see them; we were using a different runway and perhaps they lived only on one side of the airport. Maybe they would be in their holes since the day was heavily overcast, but as soon as we got on to the taxiway 1 saw them. The grass was littered with rabbits as far as the eye could see. As plentiful as they were, I made a game of trying to pick out each one. The ones that were moving were easy, but the others were more difficult than one might think. They blended in quite well with the dirt and grass. I played my little game until the acceleration of the plane pushed me back into my seat and I closed my eyes to let myself be caressed by the sweet sensation of gravity being defied. From that time on I became increasingly entranced by my rabbits. I went to England at least once a month and soon I found that I could no longer work while the plane was taxiing but would instead spend the time looking for their little brown bodies next to the taxiways. I was never disappointed, there were always legions of rabbits going about their business in the grass, running for their lives, or staring fixedly at the plane. One would have thought that after having lived at the airport for so long they would have learned that there was no reason whatsoever either to run from the planes or to be paralyzed with fear, that in their collective rabbit memory there had never been a single instance of a plane actually going off to chase them, but then I inferred 126

The Rabbits of Roissy that rabbits are relatively stupid creatures. That being said, they were pleasant enough to look at and as the months went by I realized rather sheepishly that I looked forward to seeing my rabbits very much. They had the effect of driving my thoughts away from the stressful, workrelated topics that usually occupied my mind on business trips. In fact, the rabbits somehow seemed to put me in a good mood. Each time I left- France their presence distracted me from my worries, and each time I returned they seemed to welcome me home. I was sure that part of this beneficial effect was somehow due to the fact that no one else seemed to notice the rabbits at all. My fellow travelers almost always had their noses pointed in some other direction when we arrived—at a newspaper or a glass of champagne, at their companions, or quite simply toward the ceiling, but I rarely saw a nose pointing at the window. For a long time I wasn't sure whether they didn't know about the rabbits, or whether everyone in the whole airplane knew about them but just didn't care. When I thought of the second possibility I admittedly felt a bit foolish, but even when I resolved to be serious and mature and not watch for the rabbits I simply couldn't help myself. In time I became firmly convinced of the former hypothesis, that no one else, or at least no one that I had seen, was aware of the rabbits' existence. I was strangely elated by this thought, although 1 don't know why, and it endeared the rabbits to me even more. This went on for some time really. While the number of rabbits in the grass varied with the weather, a few, at least, were always there. Even at night I could see the glare of their tails in the landing lights. In the daylight I became quite adept at picking out the rabbits in the grass, but their sheer number prohibited me from attempting even an informal census. There certainly were a lot of them, of that I was sure. From time to time when I was watching them through the little oblong windows, I thought of trying to count them in a given area and then extrapolating over the entire surface of Charles de Gaulle airport to come up with an estimate of their number, but that would have required research and smacked entirely too much of my job. As such, it seemed to be a contradiction of the whole concept of my rabbits, whatever that might be. What's more, it never really seemed important the next day. The rabbits disappeared sometime between my departure for one of my rare trips to the United States and my return. I had especially 127


Berkeley Fiction Review grass and dirt was littered with rabbits as well. These rabbits seemed less panicked and simply hopped away lazily or just sat there. Lumps of rabbit. By the time the plane had arrived at the concrete apron surrounding the terminal, I had seen hundreds of rabbits in varying degrees of activity. All of them were of the nondescript brown variety that you find in Paris's farther suburbs or hanging by their feet in butcher shops. I more or less forgot about them in the struggle to extract my briefcase from the overhead bin, squeezed as I was by the other passengers. Once I was standing on the moving walkway that takes you to the main terminal, however, images of their white behinds flashing in the sun filled my mind, mercifully distracting me from thoughts of the recently finished seminar. On my next departure for London, three weeks later, I remembered the rabbits and looked for them as we taxied to the runway. I wasn't sure that I would see them; we were using a different runway and perhaps they lived only on one side of the airport. Maybe they would be in their holes since the day was heavily overcast, but as soon as we got on to the taxiway 1 saw them. The grass was littered with rabbits as far as the eye could see. As plentiful as they were, I made a game of trying to pick out each one. The ones that were moving were easy, but the others were more difficult than one might think. They blended in quite well with the dirt and grass. I played my little game until the acceleration of the plane pushed me back into my seat and I closed my eyes to let myself be caressed by the sweet sensation of gravity being defied. From that time on I became increasingly entranced by my rabbits. I went to England at least once a month and soon I found that I could no longer work while the plane was taxiing but would instead spend the time looking for their little brown bodies next to the taxiways. I was never disappointed, there were always legions of rabbits going about their business in the grass, running for their lives, or staring fixedly at the plane. One would have thought that after having lived at the airport for so long they would have learned that there was no reason whatsoever either to run from the planes or to be paralyzed with fear, that in their collective rabbit memory there had never been a single instance of a plane actually going off to chase them, but then I inferred 126

The Rabbits of Roissy that rabbits are relatively stupid creatures. That being said, they were pleasant enough to look at and as the months went by I realized rather sheepishly that I looked forward to seeing my rabbits very much. They had the effect of driving my thoughts away from the stressful, workrelated topics that usually occupied my mind on business trips. In fact, the rabbits somehow seemed to put me in a good mood. Each time I left- France their presence distracted me from my worries, and each time I returned they seemed to welcome me home. I was sure that part of this beneficial effect was somehow due to the fact that no one else seemed to notice the rabbits at all. My fellow travelers almost always had their noses pointed in some other direction when we arrived—at a newspaper or a glass of champagne, at their companions, or quite simply toward the ceiling, but I rarely saw a nose pointing at the window. For a long time I wasn't sure whether they didn't know about the rabbits, or whether everyone in the whole airplane knew about them but just didn't care. When I thought of the second possibility I admittedly felt a bit foolish, but even when I resolved to be serious and mature and not watch for the rabbits I simply couldn't help myself. In time I became firmly convinced of the former hypothesis, that no one else, or at least no one that I had seen, was aware of the rabbits' existence. I was strangely elated by this thought, although 1 don't know why, and it endeared the rabbits to me even more. This went on for some time really. While the number of rabbits in the grass varied with the weather, a few, at least, were always there. Even at night I could see the glare of their tails in the landing lights. In the daylight I became quite adept at picking out the rabbits in the grass, but their sheer number prohibited me from attempting even an informal census. There certainly were a lot of them, of that I was sure. From time to time when I was watching them through the little oblong windows, I thought of trying to count them in a given area and then extrapolating over the entire surface of Charles de Gaulle airport to come up with an estimate of their number, but that would have required research and smacked entirely too much of my job. As such, it seemed to be a contradiction of the whole concept of my rabbits, whatever that might be. What's more, it never really seemed important the next day. The rabbits disappeared sometime between my departure for one of my rare trips to the United States and my return. I had especially 127


Berkeley Fiction Review looked forward to seeing the rabbits this time since my trip had not gone particularly well, but the rabbits weren't there. Not a single one. I immediately knew that something was wrong. Never had there been a complete dearth of rabbits except on one or two stormy nights, and here it was broad daylight (although a bit chilly) and there wasn't a rabbit in sight. I instinctively looked around to see if anyone else was reacting, but of course they were putting papers back into their briefcases and adjusting their watches. It was only then that I realized just how important this whole rabbit thing had become to me. I noticed with a start that I was in the grips of the horrid sensation that I sometimes get before making a big presentation. I tried to tell myself that it was really nothing of inordinate importance, this absence of rabbits, but I somehow couldn't just leave it at that. I thought of asking the steward about them, but he was nowhere to be found. I continued to look for them until we got past the grassy bits and were rolling along on the big concrete apron near the terminal. There were never any rabbits on the concrete. Inside the airport I tried to find some kind of official, but then I realized that I didn't have the slightest idea whom to address. I finally settled on the customs officers sitting on the big metal counters near the "Nothing To Declare" exit. They were smiling at each other. I think they had been telling jokes. "Excuse me, gentlemen," I said, "but do you know anything about the rabbits outside, near the taxiways?" Their smiles faded and they both stared at me. "Rabbits?" Asked the younger of the two. "Yes, there are usually a lot of rabbits in the grass next to the runways." I had a-feeling that they thought I was trying to play some kind of joke on them. They both looked me up and down quite carefully. They seemed reassured by my tie and my briefcase, but eyed me critically all the same. "We don't know anything about rabbits," the younger one said. "Do you have anything to declare?" "No, no," I responded, "it's just that I usually watch the rabbits near the runway when we land, but they seem to have disappeared." 128

The Rabbits of Roissy At this point, another man wearing a suit and an authoritarian air walked over, throwing glances at me and at the two customs officers. "Can I help you?" he asked. It was the younger of the two customs officers who responded in my stead. "He wants to know something about rabbits," he said. "Are you carrying a rabbit?" asked the man in the business suit. "No, no," I responded, "I just wanted to know about the rabbits outside, they seem to have disappeared." The three men looked at each other. The older of the two uniformed officials seemed to shrug his shoulders slightly. The man in the suit turned and glared at me. "May I see your papers please?" he said. I showed him my passport and my national identity-card, which he looked at quite closely, shifting his eyes between it and my face. "I shaved off my mustache six years ago," I ventured. He grunted in response. I had already reached the conclusion that this exchange was not going to help me to learn about my rabbits and I tried to bow out gracefully. "Well," I said, "I guess you don't know anything about the rabbits. Maybe they're just hibernating or something. I won't waste any more of your valuable time." The man in the suit didn't seem to get the hint at all, because he didn't give my papers back. After a minute or two more he said, "Come this way please," and I followed him into a small room with large metal tables, like a veterinarian's operating room. For the following two hours a team of customs officers went through my suitcase, my briefcase, my wallet and my pockets searching for the things that customs officers search for. The little room with metal tables had a glass wall facing the exit from customs and as succeeding planeloads of people left the area, they looked in at me as I was being searched. A few of them stopped briefly to watch and one small child seemed especially fascinated. He almost got left behind by his parents, who were wheeling a trolley full of suitcases out the door when they realized that he wasn't with him. His father came back and pulled him away, giving him a tap on his behind as they hurried out. Eventually the customs people brought in a large angry-looking dog to sniff me and my things and then they finally let me go. No one said anything else about the rabbits. 129


Berkeley Fiction Review looked forward to seeing the rabbits this time since my trip had not gone particularly well, but the rabbits weren't there. Not a single one. I immediately knew that something was wrong. Never had there been a complete dearth of rabbits except on one or two stormy nights, and here it was broad daylight (although a bit chilly) and there wasn't a rabbit in sight. I instinctively looked around to see if anyone else was reacting, but of course they were putting papers back into their briefcases and adjusting their watches. It was only then that I realized just how important this whole rabbit thing had become to me. I noticed with a start that I was in the grips of the horrid sensation that I sometimes get before making a big presentation. I tried to tell myself that it was really nothing of inordinate importance, this absence of rabbits, but I somehow couldn't just leave it at that. I thought of asking the steward about them, but he was nowhere to be found. I continued to look for them until we got past the grassy bits and were rolling along on the big concrete apron near the terminal. There were never any rabbits on the concrete. Inside the airport I tried to find some kind of official, but then I realized that I didn't have the slightest idea whom to address. I finally settled on the customs officers sitting on the big metal counters near the "Nothing To Declare" exit. They were smiling at each other. I think they had been telling jokes. "Excuse me, gentlemen," I said, "but do you know anything about the rabbits outside, near the taxiways?" Their smiles faded and they both stared at me. "Rabbits?" Asked the younger of the two. "Yes, there are usually a lot of rabbits in the grass next to the runways." I had a-feeling that they thought I was trying to play some kind of joke on them. They both looked me up and down quite carefully. They seemed reassured by my tie and my briefcase, but eyed me critically all the same. "We don't know anything about rabbits," the younger one said. "Do you have anything to declare?" "No, no," I responded, "it's just that I usually watch the rabbits near the runway when we land, but they seem to have disappeared." 128

The Rabbits of Roissy At this point, another man wearing a suit and an authoritarian air walked over, throwing glances at me and at the two customs officers. "Can I help you?" he asked. It was the younger of the two customs officers who responded in my stead. "He wants to know something about rabbits," he said. "Are you carrying a rabbit?" asked the man in the business suit. "No, no," I responded, "I just wanted to know about the rabbits outside, they seem to have disappeared." The three men looked at each other. The older of the two uniformed officials seemed to shrug his shoulders slightly. The man in the suit turned and glared at me. "May I see your papers please?" he said. I showed him my passport and my national identity-card, which he looked at quite closely, shifting his eyes between it and my face. "I shaved off my mustache six years ago," I ventured. He grunted in response. I had already reached the conclusion that this exchange was not going to help me to learn about my rabbits and I tried to bow out gracefully. "Well," I said, "I guess you don't know anything about the rabbits. Maybe they're just hibernating or something. I won't waste any more of your valuable time." The man in the suit didn't seem to get the hint at all, because he didn't give my papers back. After a minute or two more he said, "Come this way please," and I followed him into a small room with large metal tables, like a veterinarian's operating room. For the following two hours a team of customs officers went through my suitcase, my briefcase, my wallet and my pockets searching for the things that customs officers search for. The little room with metal tables had a glass wall facing the exit from customs and as succeeding planeloads of people left the area, they looked in at me as I was being searched. A few of them stopped briefly to watch and one small child seemed especially fascinated. He almost got left behind by his parents, who were wheeling a trolley full of suitcases out the door when they realized that he wasn't with him. His father came back and pulled him away, giving him a tap on his behind as they hurried out. Eventually the customs people brought in a large angry-looking dog to sniff me and my things and then they finally let me go. No one said anything else about the rabbits. 129


Berkeley Fiction Review On my way home I decided to be rational about this. I didn't really know anything about rabbit habits, maybe rabbits all breed at the same time and this was some kind of orgy day; they might all have been down in their holes making more rabbits. Maybe it had something to do with the moon. I decided not to think about it, they would be there for my next trip. The rabbits weren't there on my next trip, nor on the following trip. It was strange, nothing else had changed; the big black birds were still there, the grass was still there, the rabbits were gone. Over the next couple of weeks I became increasingly and alarmingly distracted. I found myself thinking about the rabbits in the middle of business meetings, while on the metro, while staring at files and so on. This wasn't like me and it upset me. After all, I had received the Analyst of the Year award for three of the last five years, and it certainly wasn't with this kind of attitude. Nonetheless, as hard as I tried to concentrate, my thoughts kept wandering to rabbits. One morning in the shower, when I discovered that I couldn't properly concentrate on my rest-of-world forecast due to rabbit ruminations, I came to a decision. If I somehow had trouble disciplining myself then perhaps the best thing to do was to exercise my research skills and resolve the situation, which would probably take less time than the time I was wasting worrying about it. When I came to this decision I actually went so far as to bang my fist into my palm with determination, causing soap suds to splatter the shower walls. But then, I had to steel myself—for the very first time I was deliberately going to pursue personal matters while on company time. I fleetingly wondered if this was the feeling that a robber gets when he decides to commit his first crime—and I admit I smiled at the thought. Of course, I knew that I had to be careful about how I went about my research. I thought about it and decided to call the airport itself and talk to the groundskeeper. I assumed that there must be a groundskeeper at the airport because every place that has vast expanses of grass—golf courses, castles, parks, et cetera—has a groundskeeper. So as soon as I got to work that morning I hurriedly said hello to my secretary, scurried into my office and looked in the phone book to find the phone number of the airport. 130

The Rabbits of Roissy From the beginning things went poorly, as the operator couldn't fathom the idea that I wanted to talk to the groundskeeper. He finally gave me a general number for Aeroports de Paris, the organization which is responsible for the three airports in the Paris area. When I called them I got a recording which gave me another number to call in case I wanted to talk to a human being. •The human being with whom I finally spoke took a while to understand what I wanted but finally said that she would transfer me to someone who had something to do with "things outside." While I was waiting, my secretary informed me that my boss wanted to see me and that he wasn't happy. This created a real dilemma—M. de Charenton does not like to be kept waiting—but I knew that if I hung up now I would have to go through the whole series of phone calls a second time, just when I was getting somewhere. It is not an easy thing for me to generate so much initiative and I didn't want to waste it, so I told her that I was on the phone with an important client and that I would hurry things up as best I could and then I waited patiently for five minutes until a second human being began talking. Unfortunately, the person who knew about "things outside" turned out to be the man in charge of the long-term parking lot, but he said that he knew the person I should talk to and put me on hold. While I was listening to a recorded message about the wonders of Aeroports de Paris my secretary showed up on the other side of the glass partition which serves as my office wall and made disparaging grimaces which I guessed had something to do with the impatience of M. de Charenton. I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to the telephone. This bought me a noiseless sigh and a few minutes respite. After the third time around for the Aeroports de Paris recording a curt "Yes?" came out of the telephone and I discovered that I had been transferred to the Air France maintenance department. They didn't know anything at all about rabbits or groundskeepers, but said that I should talk to the man in charge of cutting the grass and that they would transfer me. This seemed to be a stellar idea, I should have asked for the man who cuts the grass in the first place, He would certainly know something about the rabbits. In fact, he may well be the groundskeeper. I ruminated on the appropriateness of this while on hold so I didn't mind the absence of the Aeroports de Paris recording (which had mysteriously disappeared) 131


Berkeley Fiction Review On my way home I decided to be rational about this. I didn't really know anything about rabbit habits, maybe rabbits all breed at the same time and this was some kind of orgy day; they might all have been down in their holes making more rabbits. Maybe it had something to do with the moon. I decided not to think about it, they would be there for my next trip. The rabbits weren't there on my next trip, nor on the following trip. It was strange, nothing else had changed; the big black birds were still there, the grass was still there, the rabbits were gone. Over the next couple of weeks I became increasingly and alarmingly distracted. I found myself thinking about the rabbits in the middle of business meetings, while on the metro, while staring at files and so on. This wasn't like me and it upset me. After all, I had received the Analyst of the Year award for three of the last five years, and it certainly wasn't with this kind of attitude. Nonetheless, as hard as I tried to concentrate, my thoughts kept wandering to rabbits. One morning in the shower, when I discovered that I couldn't properly concentrate on my rest-of-world forecast due to rabbit ruminations, I came to a decision. If I somehow had trouble disciplining myself then perhaps the best thing to do was to exercise my research skills and resolve the situation, which would probably take less time than the time I was wasting worrying about it. When I came to this decision I actually went so far as to bang my fist into my palm with determination, causing soap suds to splatter the shower walls. But then, I had to steel myself—for the very first time I was deliberately going to pursue personal matters while on company time. I fleetingly wondered if this was the feeling that a robber gets when he decides to commit his first crime—and I admit I smiled at the thought. Of course, I knew that I had to be careful about how I went about my research. I thought about it and decided to call the airport itself and talk to the groundskeeper. I assumed that there must be a groundskeeper at the airport because every place that has vast expanses of grass—golf courses, castles, parks, et cetera—has a groundskeeper. So as soon as I got to work that morning I hurriedly said hello to my secretary, scurried into my office and looked in the phone book to find the phone number of the airport. 130

The Rabbits of Roissy From the beginning things went poorly, as the operator couldn't fathom the idea that I wanted to talk to the groundskeeper. He finally gave me a general number for Aeroports de Paris, the organization which is responsible for the three airports in the Paris area. When I called them I got a recording which gave me another number to call in case I wanted to talk to a human being. •The human being with whom I finally spoke took a while to understand what I wanted but finally said that she would transfer me to someone who had something to do with "things outside." While I was waiting, my secretary informed me that my boss wanted to see me and that he wasn't happy. This created a real dilemma—M. de Charenton does not like to be kept waiting—but I knew that if I hung up now I would have to go through the whole series of phone calls a second time, just when I was getting somewhere. It is not an easy thing for me to generate so much initiative and I didn't want to waste it, so I told her that I was on the phone with an important client and that I would hurry things up as best I could and then I waited patiently for five minutes until a second human being began talking. Unfortunately, the person who knew about "things outside" turned out to be the man in charge of the long-term parking lot, but he said that he knew the person I should talk to and put me on hold. While I was listening to a recorded message about the wonders of Aeroports de Paris my secretary showed up on the other side of the glass partition which serves as my office wall and made disparaging grimaces which I guessed had something to do with the impatience of M. de Charenton. I shrugged my shoulders and pointed to the telephone. This bought me a noiseless sigh and a few minutes respite. After the third time around for the Aeroports de Paris recording a curt "Yes?" came out of the telephone and I discovered that I had been transferred to the Air France maintenance department. They didn't know anything at all about rabbits or groundskeepers, but said that I should talk to the man in charge of cutting the grass and that they would transfer me. This seemed to be a stellar idea, I should have asked for the man who cuts the grass in the first place, He would certainly know something about the rabbits. In fact, he may well be the groundskeeper. I ruminated on the appropriateness of this while on hold so I didn't mind the absence of the Aeroports de Paris recording (which had mysteriously disappeared) 131


Berkeley Fiction Review and which had been getting on my nerves anyway. Neither did I notice my secretary who was now gesticulating quite frantically and pointing at her watch. I could hardly contain myself when I heard someone pick up the line—the answer to my question was undoubtedly at hand. I immediately began to explain my story once more when I was interrupted. "Oh, the rabbit man again," said the receptionist who immediately transferred me to the parking lot, which hung up on me just as M. de Charenton burst through the door. M. de Charenton slammed the door behind himself and started to yell at me. For a brief moment I entertained thoughts of asking him about rabbits and I could hardly suppress a giggle at the thought of his reaction, but I managed to restrain myself and look appropriately humbled. I did find it exceedingly difficult, however, to concentrate on what he was saying—it was something about Venezuela and attention to detail. My eyes kept drifting toward the window, through which the sun was shining brightly. M. de Charenton suddenly stopped yelling and the lack of noise got my attention. I looked up at him and noticed that his face was red. I knew that this was not a good sign. "Do you think that you are irreplaceable?" he asked me, suddenly. "No sir, certainly not." "There are thousands of scurrying little analysts out there, you know." "Yes sir," I replied, "there undoubtedly are." "Look at yourself," he continued, "there is nothing special about you. Look all around you," he gestured at the rest of the staff, visible through the glass partition, "Nobody out there is special. I am proud of that fact, nobody around here is special, anyone can be replaced. Do you understand?" "Yes sir, I understand." M. de Charenton glared at me for a couple of seconds more and then spun on his heel and whisked out of my office with a grunt. In fact, he was right. My knees began to quiver slightly under the table as I thought about my flippant attitude. I had gone too far by making him wait just because I was on the phone with the airport. M. de Charenton had a bit of a temperamental character and he was really 132

The Rabbits of Roissy quite keen on everyone having a proper sense of priorities (I might add that I had always been exemplary in this regard). Rabbits undoubtedly did not figure on M. de Charenton's list of important concerns. Even our clients weren't really on that list, only their money was. I shuddered, physically shuddered, when I thought of what his reaction would have been had he known why I really was on the phone. I wavered then, oh yes, I wavered. I was ready to drop the whole silly business when a new thought occurred to me. It seemed that no one had ever even noticed the rabbits let alone worried about them, and if I wasn't going to try to discern their fate, then who would? Perhaps the rabbits simply didn't figure on anyone's list of important concerns. I decided that I did, indeed, owe the rabbits at least a perfunctory investigation. What's more, as I sat in my office, which smelled still of M. de Charenton (who had previously worked in a very prestigious perfume house and was still a loyal consumer of their products), I thought of how I had given eight good years, day in and day out, to the company. A little bit of distraction for the sake of my rabbits seemed fair enough, dammit! (I actually said "dammit" out loud, and I believe that I may well have once more pounded my fist). All that being said, I certainly was going to have to manage things in such a way that I didn't jeopardize my own situation. The only thing for it was to hurry up and find out about the fate of the rabbits as quickly as possible so that I could once again concentrate on my job. Unhappily, by the time I caWed Aeroports de Paris again it was 4:30 and they had all gone home. I spent the rest of the day staring absently at client files and pondering various scenarios regarding the rabbit disappearance. These fell into six broad categories: 1) Acts of God. Maybe it had rained while I was away, flooding all their holes, or maybe there was a small localized earthquake or something. This really seemed very unlikely as I undoubtedly would have heard something about any natural disasters during my absence. 2) Rabbit stupidity. Perhaps the rabbits' irrational fear of the airplanes finally got to them and scared them away definitively in some epidemic of ignorant mass panic. 133


Berkeley Fiction Review and which had been getting on my nerves anyway. Neither did I notice my secretary who was now gesticulating quite frantically and pointing at her watch. I could hardly contain myself when I heard someone pick up the line—the answer to my question was undoubtedly at hand. I immediately began to explain my story once more when I was interrupted. "Oh, the rabbit man again," said the receptionist who immediately transferred me to the parking lot, which hung up on me just as M. de Charenton burst through the door. M. de Charenton slammed the door behind himself and started to yell at me. For a brief moment I entertained thoughts of asking him about rabbits and I could hardly suppress a giggle at the thought of his reaction, but I managed to restrain myself and look appropriately humbled. I did find it exceedingly difficult, however, to concentrate on what he was saying—it was something about Venezuela and attention to detail. My eyes kept drifting toward the window, through which the sun was shining brightly. M. de Charenton suddenly stopped yelling and the lack of noise got my attention. I looked up at him and noticed that his face was red. I knew that this was not a good sign. "Do you think that you are irreplaceable?" he asked me, suddenly. "No sir, certainly not." "There are thousands of scurrying little analysts out there, you know." "Yes sir," I replied, "there undoubtedly are." "Look at yourself," he continued, "there is nothing special about you. Look all around you," he gestured at the rest of the staff, visible through the glass partition, "Nobody out there is special. I am proud of that fact, nobody around here is special, anyone can be replaced. Do you understand?" "Yes sir, I understand." M. de Charenton glared at me for a couple of seconds more and then spun on his heel and whisked out of my office with a grunt. In fact, he was right. My knees began to quiver slightly under the table as I thought about my flippant attitude. I had gone too far by making him wait just because I was on the phone with the airport. M. de Charenton had a bit of a temperamental character and he was really 132

The Rabbits of Roissy quite keen on everyone having a proper sense of priorities (I might add that I had always been exemplary in this regard). Rabbits undoubtedly did not figure on M. de Charenton's list of important concerns. Even our clients weren't really on that list, only their money was. I shuddered, physically shuddered, when I thought of what his reaction would have been had he known why I really was on the phone. I wavered then, oh yes, I wavered. I was ready to drop the whole silly business when a new thought occurred to me. It seemed that no one had ever even noticed the rabbits let alone worried about them, and if I wasn't going to try to discern their fate, then who would? Perhaps the rabbits simply didn't figure on anyone's list of important concerns. I decided that I did, indeed, owe the rabbits at least a perfunctory investigation. What's more, as I sat in my office, which smelled still of M. de Charenton (who had previously worked in a very prestigious perfume house and was still a loyal consumer of their products), I thought of how I had given eight good years, day in and day out, to the company. A little bit of distraction for the sake of my rabbits seemed fair enough, dammit! (I actually said "dammit" out loud, and I believe that I may well have once more pounded my fist). All that being said, I certainly was going to have to manage things in such a way that I didn't jeopardize my own situation. The only thing for it was to hurry up and find out about the fate of the rabbits as quickly as possible so that I could once again concentrate on my job. Unhappily, by the time I caWed Aeroports de Paris again it was 4:30 and they had all gone home. I spent the rest of the day staring absently at client files and pondering various scenarios regarding the rabbit disappearance. These fell into six broad categories: 1) Acts of God. Maybe it had rained while I was away, flooding all their holes, or maybe there was a small localized earthquake or something. This really seemed very unlikely as I undoubtedly would have heard something about any natural disasters during my absence. 2) Rabbit stupidity. Perhaps the rabbits' irrational fear of the airplanes finally got to them and scared them away definitively in some epidemic of ignorant mass panic. 133


Berkeley Fiction Review 3) Predators. Perhaps a large number of dogs or foxes or something got loose on the airport grounds and ate all the rabbits. This, too, seemed highly unlikely. 4) Disease. It was possible that all the rabbits got sick and died. I remembered hearing somewhere that rabbits were prone to plagues of a sort. I think it was in the iilmjean de Florette. 5) Pollution. Jet fumes couldn't be good for rabbits. That being said, they seemed to have prospered for some time while breathing them and it seemed unlikely that they would all have succumbed in the space of two weeks. 6) Human intervention. The most likely solution was that someone either relocated or killed them all. I wrote all this down to better organize my thoughts and my plan of attack. I knew that I had been too haphazard in my methods. The first thing was to try finally to get in touch with the man who cuts the grass. This proved to be an exceedingly difficult task. I spent a great deal of time on the phone during the next couple of weeks and spoke with many interesting people: pilots, mechanics, bus drivers, security guards, janitors, assorted receptionists, et cetera. Nobody was capable of guiding me to this mysterious individual. Many hypothesized that there was no such person, that the grass was just left to fend for itself. As I inevitably ended-up being transferred repeatedly to the same people, I found that they fell into two groups—those who hung up at the sound of my voice and those who seemed glad to hear from me. The former group was by far the larger. No one knew anything about the rabbits, although one member of the ground crew (a woman who told me that she wears big orange earmuffs and guides planes to their parking spots by means of fluorescent sticks) did say that she had noticed them before, but hadn't really paid attention. I continued to call at least once a day. In the meantime, I bought several books about rabbits. They were 134

The Rabbits of Roissy mostly about raising rabbits to eat or wear but they went into varying degrees of detail about how rabbits live. They went into even greater detail about skinning them, which didn't really interest me. I was amazed when I learned to what degree the rumors about rabbits' sexual behavior are true. On the more practical side, the books did allow me to discount the hypothesis of a plague. The predator scenario seemed pretty unlikely as well, as did stupidity—simply because it was unlikely that the rabbits had spontaneously become even more stupid than rabbits are usually wont to be. My colleagues were becoming rather curious about me. I did my best to hide my rabbit books from them and I believe that I was successful in this, but they noticed a change all the same. I must admit that I had a great deal of difficulty getting any work done, what with my ruminations about rabbits and my incessant telephone calls to the airport. I kept on reminding myself that it was essential, now that I had made the decision, to conclude my investigation as rapidly as possible, but this only accentuated my level of visible distraction. Given this, it was really with the best of intentions that my friend Francpis-Xavier came into my office one day to talk to me about motivation. He tapped lightly on my open door and entered with a smile. I noticed that he closed the door carefully behind him before he sat down. "How are things?" he asked. "Fine," I said. "How are things with you?" Franc,ois-Xavier smiled again and blinked his eyes a few times. He had always had a bit of a tic with his eyelids but no one ever said anything to him about it. "Oh, wonderful. Very good. Thank you." He kept on-smiling and blinking at me. I smiled at him and felt the urge to blink as well—this often happened to me when I was talking with Francpis-Xavier and I had always found it distressing. He finally picked up a paperweight and started turning it over in his hands. This, coupled with a flurry of blinks, informed me that he was about to get to the point. "I hope you'll excuse me for asking such a personal question, but, well... has anything happened in your life lately that maybe you haven't told me about?" 135


Berkeley Fiction Review 3) Predators. Perhaps a large number of dogs or foxes or something got loose on the airport grounds and ate all the rabbits. This, too, seemed highly unlikely. 4) Disease. It was possible that all the rabbits got sick and died. I remembered hearing somewhere that rabbits were prone to plagues of a sort. I think it was in the iilmjean de Florette. 5) Pollution. Jet fumes couldn't be good for rabbits. That being said, they seemed to have prospered for some time while breathing them and it seemed unlikely that they would all have succumbed in the space of two weeks. 6) Human intervention. The most likely solution was that someone either relocated or killed them all. I wrote all this down to better organize my thoughts and my plan of attack. I knew that I had been too haphazard in my methods. The first thing was to try finally to get in touch with the man who cuts the grass. This proved to be an exceedingly difficult task. I spent a great deal of time on the phone during the next couple of weeks and spoke with many interesting people: pilots, mechanics, bus drivers, security guards, janitors, assorted receptionists, et cetera. Nobody was capable of guiding me to this mysterious individual. Many hypothesized that there was no such person, that the grass was just left to fend for itself. As I inevitably ended-up being transferred repeatedly to the same people, I found that they fell into two groups—those who hung up at the sound of my voice and those who seemed glad to hear from me. The former group was by far the larger. No one knew anything about the rabbits, although one member of the ground crew (a woman who told me that she wears big orange earmuffs and guides planes to their parking spots by means of fluorescent sticks) did say that she had noticed them before, but hadn't really paid attention. I continued to call at least once a day. In the meantime, I bought several books about rabbits. They were 134

The Rabbits of Roissy mostly about raising rabbits to eat or wear but they went into varying degrees of detail about how rabbits live. They went into even greater detail about skinning them, which didn't really interest me. I was amazed when I learned to what degree the rumors about rabbits' sexual behavior are true. On the more practical side, the books did allow me to discount the hypothesis of a plague. The predator scenario seemed pretty unlikely as well, as did stupidity—simply because it was unlikely that the rabbits had spontaneously become even more stupid than rabbits are usually wont to be. My colleagues were becoming rather curious about me. I did my best to hide my rabbit books from them and I believe that I was successful in this, but they noticed a change all the same. I must admit that I had a great deal of difficulty getting any work done, what with my ruminations about rabbits and my incessant telephone calls to the airport. I kept on reminding myself that it was essential, now that I had made the decision, to conclude my investigation as rapidly as possible, but this only accentuated my level of visible distraction. Given this, it was really with the best of intentions that my friend Francpis-Xavier came into my office one day to talk to me about motivation. He tapped lightly on my open door and entered with a smile. I noticed that he closed the door carefully behind him before he sat down. "How are things?" he asked. "Fine," I said. "How are things with you?" Franc,ois-Xavier smiled again and blinked his eyes a few times. He had always had a bit of a tic with his eyelids but no one ever said anything to him about it. "Oh, wonderful. Very good. Thank you." He kept on-smiling and blinking at me. I smiled at him and felt the urge to blink as well—this often happened to me when I was talking with Francpis-Xavier and I had always found it distressing. He finally picked up a paperweight and started turning it over in his hands. This, coupled with a flurry of blinks, informed me that he was about to get to the point. "I hope you'll excuse me for asking such a personal question, but, well... has anything happened in your life lately that maybe you haven't told me about?" 135


Berkeley Fiction Review "What do you mean?" He fidgeted a bit more. "I don't know, perhaps one of those pleasant little turns in life's road?" I was really quite at a loss with this conversation and was a little worried too. Francpis-Xavier sat motionless and stared at me with one eyebrow raised, evidently waiting for a response. Finally he continued. "Listen, you wouldn't happen to be... in love, would you?" His voice lilted upward at the word love and he leaned just a little closer, looking at me questioningly from behind his fluttering eyelids. I was taken aback. I was about to laugh, but then I realized that given Franc,ois-Xavier's view of life this would be the natural explanation for what he had seen as an unusual increase in my level of distraction. I was about to say no, but I quickly came to the conclusion that a negative response would make my recent behavior seem entirely too bizarre in my co-worker's fluttering eyes. One thing was sure, I certainly couldn't tell him about the rabbits. I had to say something and I found myself saying yes. Francpis-Xavier's face broke into the kind of wide grin that substitutes for a nudge with the elbow (ruled out by the width of the desk between us). He sat far back in his chair and started making t-t-t sounds with his tongue as he nodded his head slowly up and down. "Of this, I was sure," he said. "I must inform you that there have been several hypotheses around the office about the, uh, lack of motivation that you seem to have shown of late—sonte said that you had found another job, others said that someone in your family might have died, others"—here he seemed flustered, his eyelids were a blur of movement—"frankly thought that perhaps the stress and monotony of the job was, well, getting to you." He smiled apologetically. "But I, I have maintained from the very start that you are actually in love.n Francpis-Xavier certainly seemed pleased with himself, chortling in his chair. "Do I know her?" he asked. The words sliding out of his mouth were fairly dripping with conspiracy. "No," I said, "She is a neighbor of mine." "Ah, the friendly neighbor." The thought must have raised some memory in him, he assumed a far-away look and blinked noticeably 136

The Rabbits of Roissy less. I simply waited for his next question. I figured that my reticence could be taken for embarrassment and I preferred to play this by ear. "So, is she blond, brunette, short, tall—what is she like?" I had to think fast. If I made her out to be too wonderful then I'd probably never get rid of him and if I made her out to be perfectly horrid then he'd lose all respect for me. "She has light brown hair, brown eyes, wears glasses, has, uh, kind of normal features, is about average height, not too thin, not too thick." It seemed suspiciously normal, all that. I had to find something distinguishing about my fictional mistress, Francpis-Xavier seemed to be on the point of making a judgment about her. I was about to say that she had eleven toes when I thought of something better. "She's a harpist," I blurted out. Francpis-Xavier seemed somehow upset at this news, which I realized made my paramour too stuffy for his taste. To my almost immediate regret I therefore added, "...in a jazz band." Francpis-Xavier opened his eyes wide between blinks. "She's a harpist?" "Yes." "In a jazz band?" "Yes, a jazz harpist." He looked pretty well confused, and I myself greatly regretted my poor girlfriend's profession. The feeling of having dug a hole for myself tapped unexplored depths of creativity in me as I frantically tried to shovel my way out. "It's an electric harp you see." "That's how I met uh, Alice. She lives on the floor above me and one night she had her amplifier turned up too loud and when I went up to complain, well, we fell in love as soon as she opened the door." The love-at-first-sight angle apparently stirred fresh and tender memories in Francpis-Xavier and moved him away from the harp aspect of the story. This was a definite relief, so I decided to concentrate on that for a while. I tried to emulate the tender look on his own face as I continued. "There was just something about her eyes, those light blue pools of limpid, uh, liquid that stirred something deep within me. Do you know what I mean?" 137


Berkeley Fiction Review "What do you mean?" He fidgeted a bit more. "I don't know, perhaps one of those pleasant little turns in life's road?" I was really quite at a loss with this conversation and was a little worried too. Francpis-Xavier sat motionless and stared at me with one eyebrow raised, evidently waiting for a response. Finally he continued. "Listen, you wouldn't happen to be... in love, would you?" His voice lilted upward at the word love and he leaned just a little closer, looking at me questioningly from behind his fluttering eyelids. I was taken aback. I was about to laugh, but then I realized that given Franc,ois-Xavier's view of life this would be the natural explanation for what he had seen as an unusual increase in my level of distraction. I was about to say no, but I quickly came to the conclusion that a negative response would make my recent behavior seem entirely too bizarre in my co-worker's fluttering eyes. One thing was sure, I certainly couldn't tell him about the rabbits. I had to say something and I found myself saying yes. Francpis-Xavier's face broke into the kind of wide grin that substitutes for a nudge with the elbow (ruled out by the width of the desk between us). He sat far back in his chair and started making t-t-t sounds with his tongue as he nodded his head slowly up and down. "Of this, I was sure," he said. "I must inform you that there have been several hypotheses around the office about the, uh, lack of motivation that you seem to have shown of late—sonte said that you had found another job, others said that someone in your family might have died, others"—here he seemed flustered, his eyelids were a blur of movement—"frankly thought that perhaps the stress and monotony of the job was, well, getting to you." He smiled apologetically. "But I, I have maintained from the very start that you are actually in love.n Francpis-Xavier certainly seemed pleased with himself, chortling in his chair. "Do I know her?" he asked. The words sliding out of his mouth were fairly dripping with conspiracy. "No," I said, "She is a neighbor of mine." "Ah, the friendly neighbor." The thought must have raised some memory in him, he assumed a far-away look and blinked noticeably 136

The Rabbits of Roissy less. I simply waited for his next question. I figured that my reticence could be taken for embarrassment and I preferred to play this by ear. "So, is she blond, brunette, short, tall—what is she like?" I had to think fast. If I made her out to be too wonderful then I'd probably never get rid of him and if I made her out to be perfectly horrid then he'd lose all respect for me. "She has light brown hair, brown eyes, wears glasses, has, uh, kind of normal features, is about average height, not too thin, not too thick." It seemed suspiciously normal, all that. I had to find something distinguishing about my fictional mistress, Francpis-Xavier seemed to be on the point of making a judgment about her. I was about to say that she had eleven toes when I thought of something better. "She's a harpist," I blurted out. Francpis-Xavier seemed somehow upset at this news, which I realized made my paramour too stuffy for his taste. To my almost immediate regret I therefore added, "...in a jazz band." Francpis-Xavier opened his eyes wide between blinks. "She's a harpist?" "Yes." "In a jazz band?" "Yes, a jazz harpist." He looked pretty well confused, and I myself greatly regretted my poor girlfriend's profession. The feeling of having dug a hole for myself tapped unexplored depths of creativity in me as I frantically tried to shovel my way out. "It's an electric harp you see." "That's how I met uh, Alice. She lives on the floor above me and one night she had her amplifier turned up too loud and when I went up to complain, well, we fell in love as soon as she opened the door." The love-at-first-sight angle apparently stirred fresh and tender memories in Francpis-Xavier and moved him away from the harp aspect of the story. This was a definite relief, so I decided to concentrate on that for a while. I tried to emulate the tender look on his own face as I continued. "There was just something about her eyes, those light blue pools of limpid, uh, liquid that stirred something deep within me. Do you know what I mean?" 137


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Berkeley Fiction Review

opinion of you, but I've heard that there have been doubts raised about your sense of priorities." He cringed somewhat at that statement and briefly looked to the side before he continued. "You've set a high standard for yourself—not to mention for the rest of us—and that only makes your current behavior more difficult for them to accept." Francpis-Xavier leaned forward again. "I know, it's really none of my business, but I must implore you to make an effort, and not just for yourself. Once they get into one of those violent moo.ds and they start swinging the scythe then sometimes innocent heads roll as well. If de Charenton really decided to get rid of you he'd have to justify it for economic reasons, and our sales probably will be lower this year anyway, which means that you wouldn't go down alone. It's all very well for you to spend your days lazily dreaming of your lover's delicate attractions," he sighed again, "but you're putting me in danger as well, friend." Francpis-Xavier snorted at me and furrowed his brow. He wasn't blinking any more. He then straightened up a little and his narrow lips spread slightly into a perfunctory smile. "I know how it is, but remember, each organ has its time." It actually amused me that Francpis-Xavier was so far off the mark with regards to my situation but what he said did make practical sense. Furthermore, I certainly didn't want to put him in danger through my inattention. I knew that M. de Charenton was suspicious of daydreamers and people who smile too much, he appreciated seriousness and application and company spirit and I had undoubtedly not sufficiently displayed these characteristics over the last few weeks, even if I had proved them well over the last few years. My course was clear—I had to redouble my efforts to learn what had happened to the rabbits so that I could get back to normal. Unfortunately, this was becoming increasingly difficult, since the receptionists at the airport seemed to have banded together against me and were now threatening to call the police if I persisted in "harassing" them. They thought that I was mentally disturbed and that my insistence about the rabbits and men who cut grass was some kind of cover for more sinister obsessions. There was only one who even talked to me;

"Oh, indeed I do." Francpis-Xavier reached out and touched my hand, mercifully having overlooked the chameleon-like nature of Alice's eyes. "It is one of the most exciting experiences a man can have and I'm truly happy that it has happened to you." We both sat and smiled at each other for a few minutes. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable by the fact that Francpis-Xavier continued to touch my hand, I was worried that my secretary would see this through the glass partition and draw her own conclusions. Francpis-Xavier finally sat back. He shook his head briefly and the distracted look flew off his face like drops of water off a dog. He started blinking again. "Let's be frank with each other," he said. "We all have to strike a delicate balance between the demands of organs that drive us—namely, the stomach, the brain, the heart and the penis. You've always been a little extreme on the brain and stomach side, which is wonderful for your career, but don't suddenly let yourself go to the opposite extreme. Your dick would make a lousy analyst." I nodded appreciatively. "I've been in similar situations, you know," he went on, "and while it is tempting to drift off occasionally into erotic reveries, you simply can't let this interfere with your performance. It just takes a little organization—brain during the workday, heart in the evening, penis at night, stomach all the time. Look," he continued, "the world is probably a better place for its poets, but if you don't want to live under a bridge and eat rotting turnips then it's best to leave the poetry to others." "But I would hardly call myself a poet. I've given many attentive years to the company and I've always applied myself whole-heartedly to my job. It's true that this whole, uh, torrid relationship has distracted me to a certain degree these last few weeks, but that certainly can't overshadow the dedication that I've shown. One way or the other, I'm sure that I'll soon be back to normaL" Francpis-Xavier nodded. "I hope so. Of course, I'm saying this as a favor, but just about everyone has noticed how much less you seem to be applying yourself. I know for a fact that the question has arisen in meetings of the Direction. It's true that up until now they've had only the highest

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Berkeley Fiction Review

opinion of you, but I've heard that there have been doubts raised about your sense of priorities." He cringed somewhat at that statement and briefly looked to the side before he continued. "You've set a high standard for yourself—not to mention for the rest of us—and that only makes your current behavior more difficult for them to accept." Francpis-Xavier leaned forward again. "I know, it's really none of my business, but I must implore you to make an effort, and not just for yourself. Once they get into one of those violent moo.ds and they start swinging the scythe then sometimes innocent heads roll as well. If de Charenton really decided to get rid of you he'd have to justify it for economic reasons, and our sales probably will be lower this year anyway, which means that you wouldn't go down alone. It's all very well for you to spend your days lazily dreaming of your lover's delicate attractions," he sighed again, "but you're putting me in danger as well, friend." Francpis-Xavier snorted at me and furrowed his brow. He wasn't blinking any more. He then straightened up a little and his narrow lips spread slightly into a perfunctory smile. "I know how it is, but remember, each organ has its time." It actually amused me that Francpis-Xavier was so far off the mark with regards to my situation but what he said did make practical sense. Furthermore, I certainly didn't want to put him in danger through my inattention. I knew that M. de Charenton was suspicious of daydreamers and people who smile too much, he appreciated seriousness and application and company spirit and I had undoubtedly not sufficiently displayed these characteristics over the last few weeks, even if I had proved them well over the last few years. My course was clear—I had to redouble my efforts to learn what had happened to the rabbits so that I could get back to normal. Unfortunately, this was becoming increasingly difficult, since the receptionists at the airport seemed to have banded together against me and were now threatening to call the police if I persisted in "harassing" them. They thought that I was mentally disturbed and that my insistence about the rabbits and men who cut grass was some kind of cover for more sinister obsessions. There was only one who even talked to me;

"Oh, indeed I do." Francpis-Xavier reached out and touched my hand, mercifully having overlooked the chameleon-like nature of Alice's eyes. "It is one of the most exciting experiences a man can have and I'm truly happy that it has happened to you." We both sat and smiled at each other for a few minutes. I was growing increasingly uncomfortable by the fact that Francpis-Xavier continued to touch my hand, I was worried that my secretary would see this through the glass partition and draw her own conclusions. Francpis-Xavier finally sat back. He shook his head briefly and the distracted look flew off his face like drops of water off a dog. He started blinking again. "Let's be frank with each other," he said. "We all have to strike a delicate balance between the demands of organs that drive us—namely, the stomach, the brain, the heart and the penis. You've always been a little extreme on the brain and stomach side, which is wonderful for your career, but don't suddenly let yourself go to the opposite extreme. Your dick would make a lousy analyst." I nodded appreciatively. "I've been in similar situations, you know," he went on, "and while it is tempting to drift off occasionally into erotic reveries, you simply can't let this interfere with your performance. It just takes a little organization—brain during the workday, heart in the evening, penis at night, stomach all the time. Look," he continued, "the world is probably a better place for its poets, but if you don't want to live under a bridge and eat rotting turnips then it's best to leave the poetry to others." "But I would hardly call myself a poet. I've given many attentive years to the company and I've always applied myself whole-heartedly to my job. It's true that this whole, uh, torrid relationship has distracted me to a certain degree these last few weeks, but that certainly can't overshadow the dedication that I've shown. One way or the other, I'm sure that I'll soon be back to normaL" Francpis-Xavier nodded. "I hope so. Of course, I'm saying this as a favor, but just about everyone has noticed how much less you seem to be applying yourself. I know for a fact that the question has arisen in meetings of the Direction. It's true that up until now they've had only the highest

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Berkeley Fiction Review she was apparently a student of psychology in her spare time and considered my case interesting. Whenever I spoke with her she would ask me about my relationships with children, with my mother, with stuffed animals and the like, but refused to connect me with anyone else. The only thing for it was to go to the airport. Not among the terminals and the passengers, but out in the fields where the rabbits used to live. I don't know what I expected to find, but at least I could see if there were any furry brown corpses lying around. While I would have liked to have prepared a bit more thoroughly, the situation had gotten out of hand. Clearly, I could only go at night and I set a date two days hence. I then called in sick for the interim and spent the next few days studying. I rented a number of movies about commandos, jewelry thieves and spies, re-read a few of my rabbit books, studied a detailed map of Roissy, and bought a black shirt. When the appointed evening arrived I carefully went over my checklist and made sure that my equipment was complete. I then drove to a spot that I had previously reconnoitered near the perimeter fence of the airport on a little-used road between two little-used towns. There were a number of hotels and other edifices with their associated parking lots that were much closer to the airport, but I wanted to be discrete and to leave no trace. From my parking spot I crept across one of the many cultivated fields that border the airport. I was wearing black shoes (dress shoes actually—this turned out not to have been a good idea but they were the only black shoes I had), black trousers, my new black shirt, a black jacket and a red scarf (hidden inside my black jacket). I had smeared black shoe polish on my face and hands. I carried a flashlight, but tried to guide myself across the field by the light of the quarter moon. It was a field of beets. I had never imagined how difficult it would be to walk across a beetfield at night—it was cut with long furrows and the beet plants crunched under my shoes, covering them with a slippery film so that I probably fell more than I walked. At least the concentration I required to cross the beetfield made me less sensitive to the wild wind and my growing unease. In all, it took me over an hour to get to the fence around the airport. I wasn't sure whether there were any sentries or anything around 140

The Rabbits of Roissy the fence, there always had been in the movies I had seen, so I crouched down and listened to the wind in the beets. Once I was sure that there was no one around I began to survey the situation. I noticed with dismay that there was barbed wire on top of the fence. I had hoped simply to climb over it, but this would obviously be difficult. Nevertheless, my studying had not been in vain, because I had brought a wire-cutter with me for just this eventuality. Unfortunately, I had vastly overestimated the capabilities of this particular wire-cutter when I bought it at the hardware store—it was clearly unable to cut the fence. I stayed crouching there considering my alternatives and was suddenly overwhelmed by the impression of being extremely silly. Between the silliness and an increasing sense of foreboding, I admit that I vacillated during that crisis of faith and almost turned around. If anything, the thought of going back across that wretched beetfield drove me forward. I began to make my way along the perimeter fence, looking for a hole I guess. After a few minutes I realized that whenever I leaned against the fence it pushed in rather considerably, indicating that perhaps it wasn't planted that deeply into the ground between the posts. I got down on my hands and knees and pushed against the bottom of the fence, which moved. It was clear that I could dig my way under. Lacking any real tools I took my keys out of my pocket and held them in such a way that they extended like claws through the spaces between the fingers of my clenched fist. I had seen this trick in one of the movies I had rented. Of course, in the movie the technique was used to fight, but it seemed an awfully useful way to dig as well, so I began to make a shallow hole. I was at first repulsed by how dirty this made me feel but then I remembered that I was, after all, smeared with black shoe polish. All things considered, it didn't take me that long to dig a hole big enough to slip under the fence. I'm not a large man. Once through I wasn't quite sure where to start, I had hoped to conduct my investigations by the light of the moon, but there wasn't much moon to begin with and clouds had started to cover the sky. I didn't dare use my flashlight since I was sure it would be visible from one of the landing planes which could then report me to the groundskeeper that I had never been able to contact who would then possibly come after me with dogs and guns. As I considered this I realized with a start that if I 141


Berkeley Fiction Review she was apparently a student of psychology in her spare time and considered my case interesting. Whenever I spoke with her she would ask me about my relationships with children, with my mother, with stuffed animals and the like, but refused to connect me with anyone else. The only thing for it was to go to the airport. Not among the terminals and the passengers, but out in the fields where the rabbits used to live. I don't know what I expected to find, but at least I could see if there were any furry brown corpses lying around. While I would have liked to have prepared a bit more thoroughly, the situation had gotten out of hand. Clearly, I could only go at night and I set a date two days hence. I then called in sick for the interim and spent the next few days studying. I rented a number of movies about commandos, jewelry thieves and spies, re-read a few of my rabbit books, studied a detailed map of Roissy, and bought a black shirt. When the appointed evening arrived I carefully went over my checklist and made sure that my equipment was complete. I then drove to a spot that I had previously reconnoitered near the perimeter fence of the airport on a little-used road between two little-used towns. There were a number of hotels and other edifices with their associated parking lots that were much closer to the airport, but I wanted to be discrete and to leave no trace. From my parking spot I crept across one of the many cultivated fields that border the airport. I was wearing black shoes (dress shoes actually—this turned out not to have been a good idea but they were the only black shoes I had), black trousers, my new black shirt, a black jacket and a red scarf (hidden inside my black jacket). I had smeared black shoe polish on my face and hands. I carried a flashlight, but tried to guide myself across the field by the light of the quarter moon. It was a field of beets. I had never imagined how difficult it would be to walk across a beetfield at night—it was cut with long furrows and the beet plants crunched under my shoes, covering them with a slippery film so that I probably fell more than I walked. At least the concentration I required to cross the beetfield made me less sensitive to the wild wind and my growing unease. In all, it took me over an hour to get to the fence around the airport. I wasn't sure whether there were any sentries or anything around 140

The Rabbits of Roissy the fence, there always had been in the movies I had seen, so I crouched down and listened to the wind in the beets. Once I was sure that there was no one around I began to survey the situation. I noticed with dismay that there was barbed wire on top of the fence. I had hoped simply to climb over it, but this would obviously be difficult. Nevertheless, my studying had not been in vain, because I had brought a wire-cutter with me for just this eventuality. Unfortunately, I had vastly overestimated the capabilities of this particular wire-cutter when I bought it at the hardware store—it was clearly unable to cut the fence. I stayed crouching there considering my alternatives and was suddenly overwhelmed by the impression of being extremely silly. Between the silliness and an increasing sense of foreboding, I admit that I vacillated during that crisis of faith and almost turned around. If anything, the thought of going back across that wretched beetfield drove me forward. I began to make my way along the perimeter fence, looking for a hole I guess. After a few minutes I realized that whenever I leaned against the fence it pushed in rather considerably, indicating that perhaps it wasn't planted that deeply into the ground between the posts. I got down on my hands and knees and pushed against the bottom of the fence, which moved. It was clear that I could dig my way under. Lacking any real tools I took my keys out of my pocket and held them in such a way that they extended like claws through the spaces between the fingers of my clenched fist. I had seen this trick in one of the movies I had rented. Of course, in the movie the technique was used to fight, but it seemed an awfully useful way to dig as well, so I began to make a shallow hole. I was at first repulsed by how dirty this made me feel but then I remembered that I was, after all, smeared with black shoe polish. All things considered, it didn't take me that long to dig a hole big enough to slip under the fence. I'm not a large man. Once through I wasn't quite sure where to start, I had hoped to conduct my investigations by the light of the moon, but there wasn't much moon to begin with and clouds had started to cover the sky. I didn't dare use my flashlight since I was sure it would be visible from one of the landing planes which could then report me to the groundskeeper that I had never been able to contact who would then possibly come after me with dogs and guns. As I considered this I realized with a start that if I 141


Berkeley Fiction Review were apprehended I would undoubtedly be taken for a terrorist—dressed in black like that—and be shot on sight. This gave me pause. Struck with this newfound fear I pressed myself to the ground and looked at my surroundings. The terminal buildings were perhaps two kilometers away. They were brightly lit but had none of the homey charm that brightly-lit buildings have on dark nights—they looked menacing. Near the terminal, airplanes were parked or were rolling slowly to their places, they seemed like large toys from this distance. Between me and the terminal was a fairy-land of little lights: red, blue, and white, tiny disembodied points of color that seemed to hover inches above the black ground. Directly before me, in front of the fairy lights, was the void. While I couldn't detect any discernible danger, my discomfort was accentuated by the airplanes which landed only one kilometer away. Having never been so close to a landing plane I hadn't imagined how frightening they are, hanging in the sky like monstrous indistinct birds of prey, their lights shining into the calm night and their engines creating a deep throbbing rumble which caused the very ground to vibrate. I overcame my hesitation and began to examine the ground around me for telltale signs of rabbits. The rabbit books I had read informed me of the visual aspect of rabbit spoor (which is what hunters call caca) and I decided to look for that and for rabbit holes themselves. Of course, since I didn't want to use my flashlight this task was a difficult one indeed and I found myself practically with my nose touching the ground, crawling on all fours, trying even to sniff for the scent of caca—or spoor, rather. Unfortunately, the predominant smell was that of kerosene and the visual examination wasn't yielding any information at all. I continued in this way for quite some time. In fact, I had become so engrossed in my investigation that I hadn't noticed how near I had come to the runway. One particularly loud plane caught my attention and as I raised my eyes to look at it I was immediately struck with a paralyzing fear. I had come much too close to a place that was so far beyond my natural habitat that I suddenly lost the ability to function normally. The noise of the plane was truly deafening and I was struck with the illogical certitude that it was trying to get me, to pierce me with its 142

The Rabbits of Roissy steel claws. I suddenly felt as if I were pressed to the ground despite myself, torn between the desire to hide and the strange impetus to run. The former impulse prevailed, and I found myself scratching feebly into the soil in some automatic attempt to burrow my way to safety. I wished to be as low as possible, to find some hiding place under the earth, to rid myself of the screeching doom that bore down upon me. The planes came in an unbroken succession, each one seemed louder than the last. I hid myself, denied myself, cursed myself and swore to an unnamed god that if ever I escaped from this hell I would pay tribute and homage in some undefined way. But no gods answered me, no voice penetrated the thunder of the planes. With my face buried in the grass and my body trembling like a leaf I imagined that I heard words in the wails of the jet engines; strange, otherworldly words that I didn't understand but that I was sure were threats screamed out just at me. I began to imagine that the planes were hovering above me, swooping down at me one by one, grabbing for me, coming closer... And then, just as I seemed to be reaching a climax of terror and incomprehension—it all stopped. I couldn't bring myself to look up. My face had been pressed to the grass for several minutes and I was desperately afraid to move. Nevertheless, the airplanes had clearly stopped landing. I waited in dire apprehension for the sound of a landing plane, but none came. I tried to convince myself that everything was alright, that I could safely get up, that there had never really been reason to be afraid in the first place, but for once, reason didn't seem to hold sway with me. I don't know how long I stayed that way, perhaps it was only minutes or perhaps it was much longer. In the end, it was a morbid and desperate curiosity that provided the final impetus, because a low rumble of a very different kind started transferring itself from the ground through the grass to my clenched face and I wondered what it was. It certainly wasn't a plane, at least. I finally managed to convince myself to raise my head and look at this new thing. It was a very scary thing indeed. It seemed to have two piercing eyes that projected powerful beams of light in my direction and a long snorting nose that thrust out between them. It came slowly across the field, heading directly for me and as it approached, the snuffling grunt became louder. Curiously, I had the impression that 143


Berkeley Fiction Review were apprehended I would undoubtedly be taken for a terrorist—dressed in black like that—and be shot on sight. This gave me pause. Struck with this newfound fear I pressed myself to the ground and looked at my surroundings. The terminal buildings were perhaps two kilometers away. They were brightly lit but had none of the homey charm that brightly-lit buildings have on dark nights—they looked menacing. Near the terminal, airplanes were parked or were rolling slowly to their places, they seemed like large toys from this distance. Between me and the terminal was a fairy-land of little lights: red, blue, and white, tiny disembodied points of color that seemed to hover inches above the black ground. Directly before me, in front of the fairy lights, was the void. While I couldn't detect any discernible danger, my discomfort was accentuated by the airplanes which landed only one kilometer away. Having never been so close to a landing plane I hadn't imagined how frightening they are, hanging in the sky like monstrous indistinct birds of prey, their lights shining into the calm night and their engines creating a deep throbbing rumble which caused the very ground to vibrate. I overcame my hesitation and began to examine the ground around me for telltale signs of rabbits. The rabbit books I had read informed me of the visual aspect of rabbit spoor (which is what hunters call caca) and I decided to look for that and for rabbit holes themselves. Of course, since I didn't want to use my flashlight this task was a difficult one indeed and I found myself practically with my nose touching the ground, crawling on all fours, trying even to sniff for the scent of caca—or spoor, rather. Unfortunately, the predominant smell was that of kerosene and the visual examination wasn't yielding any information at all. I continued in this way for quite some time. In fact, I had become so engrossed in my investigation that I hadn't noticed how near I had come to the runway. One particularly loud plane caught my attention and as I raised my eyes to look at it I was immediately struck with a paralyzing fear. I had come much too close to a place that was so far beyond my natural habitat that I suddenly lost the ability to function normally. The noise of the plane was truly deafening and I was struck with the illogical certitude that it was trying to get me, to pierce me with its 142

The Rabbits of Roissy steel claws. I suddenly felt as if I were pressed to the ground despite myself, torn between the desire to hide and the strange impetus to run. The former impulse prevailed, and I found myself scratching feebly into the soil in some automatic attempt to burrow my way to safety. I wished to be as low as possible, to find some hiding place under the earth, to rid myself of the screeching doom that bore down upon me. The planes came in an unbroken succession, each one seemed louder than the last. I hid myself, denied myself, cursed myself and swore to an unnamed god that if ever I escaped from this hell I would pay tribute and homage in some undefined way. But no gods answered me, no voice penetrated the thunder of the planes. With my face buried in the grass and my body trembling like a leaf I imagined that I heard words in the wails of the jet engines; strange, otherworldly words that I didn't understand but that I was sure were threats screamed out just at me. I began to imagine that the planes were hovering above me, swooping down at me one by one, grabbing for me, coming closer... And then, just as I seemed to be reaching a climax of terror and incomprehension—it all stopped. I couldn't bring myself to look up. My face had been pressed to the grass for several minutes and I was desperately afraid to move. Nevertheless, the airplanes had clearly stopped landing. I waited in dire apprehension for the sound of a landing plane, but none came. I tried to convince myself that everything was alright, that I could safely get up, that there had never really been reason to be afraid in the first place, but for once, reason didn't seem to hold sway with me. I don't know how long I stayed that way, perhaps it was only minutes or perhaps it was much longer. In the end, it was a morbid and desperate curiosity that provided the final impetus, because a low rumble of a very different kind started transferring itself from the ground through the grass to my clenched face and I wondered what it was. It certainly wasn't a plane, at least. I finally managed to convince myself to raise my head and look at this new thing. It was a very scary thing indeed. It seemed to have two piercing eyes that projected powerful beams of light in my direction and a long snorting nose that thrust out between them. It came slowly across the field, heading directly for me and as it approached, the snuffling grunt became louder. Curiously, I had the impression that 143


Berkeley Fiction Review this snuffle was overlaid with strains of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." For a moment I felt as if I were going to pass out. The thing stopped about twenty meters away and the snuffle subsided to a gravelly hum. I was transfixed, mouth agape, lying on the dirt in the glare of the lights and trembling. After a couple of minutes, during which I clearly heard the passage when the wolf eats the duck (dum—dum dum dum dum dum dum dum, dum, dum, dum, dummmm), a voice rang out from the thing. "Who are you?" it asked. For a dreadful moment, I furiously tried to remember exactly who I was. "I don't know," I babbled. Then, through the shredded remains of my mind one thing, at least, came back to me. "I was looking for the rabbits." There was a brief silence. "Rabbits?" asked the voice. "Yes. They've disappeared and I wondered where they had gone." I trembled a bit more violently. "I'm sorry," I added. "Yes, they're gone," the voice said. Curiosity and the strength of my original purpose started pushing through my terror and I looked more closely at the thing in front of me. It was clearly some kind of tractor. The glare of its lights, which were much more powerful than ordinary headlights, hid its operator from me. "Who are you?" I asked, pulling myself up to my knees. "I'm the man who cuts the grass," replied the voice. "We always cut the grass at night, after the planes stop landing. Otherwise we might distract the pilots." I stared a little longer at the machine and then started to giggle. I must confess that it was a somewhat hysterical giggle, of which I am not proud, but the Man Who Cuts the Grass didn't notice. After a second or two my giggle died away. "What happened to the rabbits?" I asked. The voice didn't answer for a few seconds and the cold night air rumbled with the grumble of the tractor's engine and the faint strains of Prokofiev. "It was really quite strange, now that you think about it. I haven't 144

The Rabbits of Roissy really thought about it for some weeks now." "What is it?" I asked, "What happened?" "Well, when it comes down to it, I guess they just kind of finally lost it." "Lost it? Who lost what?" (I was very confused). "The rabbits. The rabbits lost it." "It began a few months ago," the voice continued, "I started to find dead rabbits near the sides of the runways in the lights of my tractor. Some were almost unrecognizable, squashed into helpless tangles, others were little roasted bodies with the fur singed off of them by the jet exhaust. I wondered about it. And then, very soon, the number of rabbit remains increased dramatically while the number of rabbits w h o ran away from my tractor seemed to decrease proportionately. The dead rabbits were always near the runway, and in fact when I turned my tractor lights onto the runways I found that they, too, were dotted with brown smudges that visibly had once been rabbits. Finally, one night some months ago I learned that a couple of the pilots had been commenting on the strange behavior of the rabbits, that the runways had been full of them. Indeed, when I went out I saw that in certain places, on the runways as well as on the taxiways and the apron, there were great splotches of brown goo, which evidently represented large numbers of smooshed and roasted rabbits. That night, while I cut the grass, not a single rabbit was to be found, and come to think of it, I haven't seen one since." I knelt there in the grass. I didn't know what to say. "That's it? Doesn't anybody else know about this?" "What do you mean?" the voice responded, "know about what?" "Why, this... this... phenomenon! You said the pilots had commented on it, what do they say?" "The pilots? They say nothing. They stopped commenting on it once the rabbits stopped acting curiously." "But you said they continued to act this way until they were all dead." "Exactly. And since then they certainly haven't come to the attention of anyone." "But they're dead, man! Doesn't anybody seem to care?" The tractor seemed to grumble with an annoyed air. 145


Berkeley Fiction Review this snuffle was overlaid with strains of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." For a moment I felt as if I were going to pass out. The thing stopped about twenty meters away and the snuffle subsided to a gravelly hum. I was transfixed, mouth agape, lying on the dirt in the glare of the lights and trembling. After a couple of minutes, during which I clearly heard the passage when the wolf eats the duck (dum—dum dum dum dum dum dum dum, dum, dum, dum, dummmm), a voice rang out from the thing. "Who are you?" it asked. For a dreadful moment, I furiously tried to remember exactly who I was. "I don't know," I babbled. Then, through the shredded remains of my mind one thing, at least, came back to me. "I was looking for the rabbits." There was a brief silence. "Rabbits?" asked the voice. "Yes. They've disappeared and I wondered where they had gone." I trembled a bit more violently. "I'm sorry," I added. "Yes, they're gone," the voice said. Curiosity and the strength of my original purpose started pushing through my terror and I looked more closely at the thing in front of me. It was clearly some kind of tractor. The glare of its lights, which were much more powerful than ordinary headlights, hid its operator from me. "Who are you?" I asked, pulling myself up to my knees. "I'm the man who cuts the grass," replied the voice. "We always cut the grass at night, after the planes stop landing. Otherwise we might distract the pilots." I stared a little longer at the machine and then started to giggle. I must confess that it was a somewhat hysterical giggle, of which I am not proud, but the Man Who Cuts the Grass didn't notice. After a second or two my giggle died away. "What happened to the rabbits?" I asked. The voice didn't answer for a few seconds and the cold night air rumbled with the grumble of the tractor's engine and the faint strains of Prokofiev. "It was really quite strange, now that you think about it. I haven't 144

The Rabbits of Roissy really thought about it for some weeks now." "What is it?" I asked, "What happened?" "Well, when it comes down to it, I guess they just kind of finally lost it." "Lost it? Who lost what?" (I was very confused). "The rabbits. The rabbits lost it." "It began a few months ago," the voice continued, "I started to find dead rabbits near the sides of the runways in the lights of my tractor. Some were almost unrecognizable, squashed into helpless tangles, others were little roasted bodies with the fur singed off of them by the jet exhaust. I wondered about it. And then, very soon, the number of rabbit remains increased dramatically while the number of rabbits w h o ran away from my tractor seemed to decrease proportionately. The dead rabbits were always near the runway, and in fact when I turned my tractor lights onto the runways I found that they, too, were dotted with brown smudges that visibly had once been rabbits. Finally, one night some months ago I learned that a couple of the pilots had been commenting on the strange behavior of the rabbits, that the runways had been full of them. Indeed, when I went out I saw that in certain places, on the runways as well as on the taxiways and the apron, there were great splotches of brown goo, which evidently represented large numbers of smooshed and roasted rabbits. That night, while I cut the grass, not a single rabbit was to be found, and come to think of it, I haven't seen one since." I knelt there in the grass. I didn't know what to say. "That's it? Doesn't anybody else know about this?" "What do you mean?" the voice responded, "know about what?" "Why, this... this... phenomenon! You said the pilots had commented on it, what do they say?" "The pilots? They say nothing. They stopped commenting on it once the rabbits stopped acting curiously." "But you said they continued to act this way until they were all dead." "Exactly. And since then they certainly haven't come to the attention of anyone." "But they're dead, man! Doesn't anybody seem to care?" The tractor seemed to grumble with an annoyed air. 145


Berkeley Fiction Review "Don't get excited," said the voice. "Why should anyone possibly care? The damn rabbits are gone, they were only a nuisance anyway." I started to tremble with frustration. "But this is hardly normal rabbit behavior! Out of simple curiosity, let alone a concern for their well-being, hasn't anybody tried to solve this?" "Solve it? It's not a fucking mystery novel. Who cares?" "But..." "Hey," said the voice, with a notably accusatory air, "are you some kind of animal rights nut, or something? We didn't kill them you know." "No," I replied, "no, I was just curious." "Yeah, so you snuck onto the airport grounds at midnight dressed like a fucking terrorist." "No, no, I swear, I never..." "Look, get out now, otherwise I'll call security on you and they'll shoot you or something." I got up, terrified, and began to run back toward the fence. The Man Who Cuts The Grass put his tractor into gear, turned up his stereo, and continued to cut the grass. I hadn't seen his face.

The Rabbits of Roissy runways, trying in their own misguided way to civilize themselves—to fit in, as it were? At the end of the day, the Man Who Cuts the Grass was right, it doesn't really matter, but sometimes (although never while at work, of course) I think to myself that if the rabbits had been able to ask me beforehand then I could have forewarned them of the futility of their attempt. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have been able to warn them at all.

Well, the mystery had been solved, however incomplete the solution turned out to be. All the same, I found it surprisingly difficult to return to a normal state. I finally had the good idea of purchasing two Americanself-help motivational videos via the Internet. One can hardly help but be inspired to greater productivity by American self-help motivational videos, particularly ones from such noted personal-productivity gurus as these. Thanks to them, I was able to re-center my life according to the essentials. After a couple of weeks I apologized to M. de Charenton and I told Francpis-Xavier that I had taken his advice and learned to subordinate my penis to my brain. I also threw out my rabbit books. Aside from a certain lingering predilection for spy movies I have thus been able to terminate this strange interlude with a minimum of scars. I must confess, however, that sometimes (although never while at work, of course) I do wonder what drove the rabbits to do what they did. Was it some kind of hopeless counter-attack? Was it a simple bid for attention? Or were the rabbits, by betraying the grass for the 146

147


Berkeley Fiction Review "Don't get excited," said the voice. "Why should anyone possibly care? The damn rabbits are gone, they were only a nuisance anyway." I started to tremble with frustration. "But this is hardly normal rabbit behavior! Out of simple curiosity, let alone a concern for their well-being, hasn't anybody tried to solve this?" "Solve it? It's not a fucking mystery novel. Who cares?" "But..." "Hey," said the voice, with a notably accusatory air, "are you some kind of animal rights nut, or something? We didn't kill them you know." "No," I replied, "no, I was just curious." "Yeah, so you snuck onto the airport grounds at midnight dressed like a fucking terrorist." "No, no, I swear, I never..." "Look, get out now, otherwise I'll call security on you and they'll shoot you or something." I got up, terrified, and began to run back toward the fence. The Man Who Cuts The Grass put his tractor into gear, turned up his stereo, and continued to cut the grass. I hadn't seen his face.

The Rabbits of Roissy runways, trying in their own misguided way to civilize themselves—to fit in, as it were? At the end of the day, the Man Who Cuts the Grass was right, it doesn't really matter, but sometimes (although never while at work, of course) I think to myself that if the rabbits had been able to ask me beforehand then I could have forewarned them of the futility of their attempt. Then again, maybe I wouldn't have been able to warn them at all.

Well, the mystery had been solved, however incomplete the solution turned out to be. All the same, I found it surprisingly difficult to return to a normal state. I finally had the good idea of purchasing two Americanself-help motivational videos via the Internet. One can hardly help but be inspired to greater productivity by American self-help motivational videos, particularly ones from such noted personal-productivity gurus as these. Thanks to them, I was able to re-center my life according to the essentials. After a couple of weeks I apologized to M. de Charenton and I told Francpis-Xavier that I had taken his advice and learned to subordinate my penis to my brain. I also threw out my rabbit books. Aside from a certain lingering predilection for spy movies I have thus been able to terminate this strange interlude with a minimum of scars. I must confess, however, that sometimes (although never while at work, of course) I do wonder what drove the rabbits to do what they did. Was it some kind of hopeless counter-attack? Was it a simple bid for attention? Or were the rabbits, by betraying the grass for the 146

147


Wife

T h i r d Place Sudden Fiction W i n n e r

W i f e Marina H o p e Wilson

e stand barefoot in the kitchen, too tired to talk anymore. , We have spent the morning here, letting all the words we were afraid of fall from our mouths. The argument is over. I am on one side of the room and you are on the other. Steam rises from the sink and silhouettes your thin frame. Something about the last thing you said, the sharpness of the words, the finality written in the lines around your mouth, something about that last remark has rooted itself in my gut. I reach down and press my palm against my abdomen. It feels like fists, opening and closing inside of me. I think I understand now why I hated the smell of my mother when I was a girl. The smell of blood. Of bitter metal. Of misery. She stretches her hands out to me. "Come here, little one," she says, and as she wraps her arms around me, a warm scent rises from her. I notice her arms are cool and doughy to the touch. Her skin is damp. She lies on the bed, half-conscious, half-wishing she was not. No telling how long she's been lying there in her dirty t-shirt and underwear. She cries so much of the time now, my brother worries about her and doesn't want to leave her alone for too long. She presses me insistently about my weekend. "Did you have a good time? How is Daddy?" And then the last question comes out shaky and careful. "Does he have a girlfriend?" Her eyes are glossy and broken looking. I know she wants me to say no, but I don't lie. "Yes," I tell her in my quietest voice, studying a piece of lint on her sheet so I won't have to look at her. She pulls me to her so my face is 148

close to her chest and I have no choice but to breathe in the odor that lives in her skin, in her clothes, in her hair. Is this the essence of desperation or of loneliness? Or both? She holds me more tightly now and sobs into my neck. Iron. Salt. Is this what women smell like? A ripe perfume that comes from being grown. The smell that comes from between her legs, from that hollow place. This is the smell of loss, of tearless exhaustion, of trying too hard and failing. She is curled up, her stomach carved out from heaving nothing. "Go find out what your brother's up to," she whispers, trying to keep her voice smooth as she pushes me away from her and curls herself up into a tight ball. I worry that I may begin to smell like her and make sure to wash myself carefully. I do not want to be miserable, I tell myself. I do not want to be a woman. I want to smell like me. Like dirt, like stolen lemons, like wild fennel, like dogs and walnut oil"straight from the tree. My own smell. I promise myself I will never be like my mother. Never. I will have my own dreams. I will make my own life. I will have a house on a hill with windows on all sides. I will grow a garden of wisteria and jasmine and iris. I will travel alone to places I have never been before and I will write down my stories. I will never be afraid to look my lover straight in the eye and tell him that he is only one part of my happiness. But today, you tell me that you do not want to live here anymore. That your dreams are too big for this place. You are not looking for a wife, you say. You wash the dishes with your back turned to me. I balance the weight of my shoulders against the wall, fighting the instinct to slide down to the floor. I remember the things I told myself as a girl. I let all of these images stream through my head, all of the things I told myself I would build. But I don't remember this kitchen, the faded linoleum, the still air, or the cold sound of water running over porcelain. And I don't remember saying I ever wanted to be anyone's wife.

149


Wife

T h i r d Place Sudden Fiction W i n n e r

W i f e Marina H o p e Wilson

e stand barefoot in the kitchen, too tired to talk anymore. , We have spent the morning here, letting all the words we were afraid of fall from our mouths. The argument is over. I am on one side of the room and you are on the other. Steam rises from the sink and silhouettes your thin frame. Something about the last thing you said, the sharpness of the words, the finality written in the lines around your mouth, something about that last remark has rooted itself in my gut. I reach down and press my palm against my abdomen. It feels like fists, opening and closing inside of me. I think I understand now why I hated the smell of my mother when I was a girl. The smell of blood. Of bitter metal. Of misery. She stretches her hands out to me. "Come here, little one," she says, and as she wraps her arms around me, a warm scent rises from her. I notice her arms are cool and doughy to the touch. Her skin is damp. She lies on the bed, half-conscious, half-wishing she was not. No telling how long she's been lying there in her dirty t-shirt and underwear. She cries so much of the time now, my brother worries about her and doesn't want to leave her alone for too long. She presses me insistently about my weekend. "Did you have a good time? How is Daddy?" And then the last question comes out shaky and careful. "Does he have a girlfriend?" Her eyes are glossy and broken looking. I know she wants me to say no, but I don't lie. "Yes," I tell her in my quietest voice, studying a piece of lint on her sheet so I won't have to look at her. She pulls me to her so my face is 148

close to her chest and I have no choice but to breathe in the odor that lives in her skin, in her clothes, in her hair. Is this the essence of desperation or of loneliness? Or both? She holds me more tightly now and sobs into my neck. Iron. Salt. Is this what women smell like? A ripe perfume that comes from being grown. The smell that comes from between her legs, from that hollow place. This is the smell of loss, of tearless exhaustion, of trying too hard and failing. She is curled up, her stomach carved out from heaving nothing. "Go find out what your brother's up to," she whispers, trying to keep her voice smooth as she pushes me away from her and curls herself up into a tight ball. I worry that I may begin to smell like her and make sure to wash myself carefully. I do not want to be miserable, I tell myself. I do not want to be a woman. I want to smell like me. Like dirt, like stolen lemons, like wild fennel, like dogs and walnut oil"straight from the tree. My own smell. I promise myself I will never be like my mother. Never. I will have my own dreams. I will make my own life. I will have a house on a hill with windows on all sides. I will grow a garden of wisteria and jasmine and iris. I will travel alone to places I have never been before and I will write down my stories. I will never be afraid to look my lover straight in the eye and tell him that he is only one part of my happiness. But today, you tell me that you do not want to live here anymore. That your dreams are too big for this place. You are not looking for a wife, you say. You wash the dishes with your back turned to me. I balance the weight of my shoulders against the wall, fighting the instinct to slide down to the floor. I remember the things I told myself as a girl. I let all of these images stream through my head, all of the things I told myself I would build. But I don't remember this kitchen, the faded linoleum, the still air, or the cold sound of water running over porcelain. And I don't remember saying I ever wanted to be anyone's wife.

149


r

P l a i n

S p e a k i n g

Sue Allison

y mother named me Plain. She named my sister Happiness. My brother was God; the next, a girl, was Why Weren't You A Boy?, and the last, also a girl, born when my mother was spent, Mistake, We were five. Five is a good number with a mother like ours. We formed internal alliances. Why Weren't You a Boy? and Mistake was one; God and I another. Happiness, being oldest and so naturally superior, was on her own, above us all. Each of us, except Happiness, who was content with her name, dreamed of having a different name. Why Weren't You A Boy? actually changed hers. She just altered it, really, but by doing so, changed its meaning entirely. When she was out of the house and on her own, meeting people who had not known her when she was small, she called herself, simply, Boy. God did not change his name. He took more drastic measures. He made himself so reprehensible to my mother, she changed it for him. She called him Disappointing. He was shamed by this. And as he more and more refused to return my mother's calls, he became not only More and More Disappointing to my mother but also, Disappointing to Himself, He was living alone by then. You can't help but take your name to heart, whether you've given it to yourself or not. To name your sorrows is to know them. To know them is to have dominion over them. What's your name? is the first question we ask each other. By your name I will know you. God died at a young age. I still debate 150

Plain Speaking within myself about whether this was a blessing or not. For him, I mean. What it meant to my mother, none of us will ever know. None of us, except Happiness, are mothers. Happiness had two children, Wonder, overtaken in a surprising upset three years later by Joy. Wonder is an ambiguous name. It goes in and out of fashion. It is out, now. Wonder started as another word for Miracle, but it became: I Wonder Why?, I Wonder What Will Become of You?, I Wonder Why You Can't Be More Like Your Sister Who Never Complains And Who Does Her Homework Without Being Told And Who Is Always Cheerful Around the House? Joy inherited a terminal disease to which she is always expected by her parents to succumb any day, but to which she gives only perfunctory regard. Joy is her second name. Her first name was Terror. It is still her silent name. It is the name her parents call her in the privacy of their bedroom. My favorite family story involves Mistake. We always thought her name was a mistake, but none more than she. At about the age of three or four, she became enamored of the story of her naming and we told it to her often. She had come home from the hospital nameless. You name her, our mother said, and after five days of considerable discussion and maybe some help from our father, we came to a decision. None of us bore a family name, a name that was more than a whim of my mother's, so we named our youngest sister Virginia, after the state where my father was born and about which he had many happy stories. Her middle name would be Lewis, our father's mother's maiden name. We would call her Ginny, Ginny Lew, a chirpy and happy name for her chirpy happy years. Virginia Lewis was a distinguished name, we thought, for when she was grown. My mother hated it. She vetoed it. But Mistake took her revenge. When she was still only three or four, she took to telling people her name was Virginia. One day, in the summer, at the lake, she wandered from my mother's side. Found by a lifeguard and asked her name, she said it was Virginia. My mother came up. It is always my mother who tells this story. No it's not, my mother said, and told the lifeguard my sister's name. My sister looked at the lifeguard and again said her name was Virginia, her name was Virginia Lewis. The lifeguard did not want to let my sister go to this woman who did not know her name, but in 151


r

P l a i n

S p e a k i n g

Sue Allison

y mother named me Plain. She named my sister Happiness. My brother was God; the next, a girl, was Why Weren't You A Boy?, and the last, also a girl, born when my mother was spent, Mistake, We were five. Five is a good number with a mother like ours. We formed internal alliances. Why Weren't You a Boy? and Mistake was one; God and I another. Happiness, being oldest and so naturally superior, was on her own, above us all. Each of us, except Happiness, who was content with her name, dreamed of having a different name. Why Weren't You A Boy? actually changed hers. She just altered it, really, but by doing so, changed its meaning entirely. When she was out of the house and on her own, meeting people who had not known her when she was small, she called herself, simply, Boy. God did not change his name. He took more drastic measures. He made himself so reprehensible to my mother, she changed it for him. She called him Disappointing. He was shamed by this. And as he more and more refused to return my mother's calls, he became not only More and More Disappointing to my mother but also, Disappointing to Himself, He was living alone by then. You can't help but take your name to heart, whether you've given it to yourself or not. To name your sorrows is to know them. To know them is to have dominion over them. What's your name? is the first question we ask each other. By your name I will know you. God died at a young age. I still debate 150

Plain Speaking within myself about whether this was a blessing or not. For him, I mean. What it meant to my mother, none of us will ever know. None of us, except Happiness, are mothers. Happiness had two children, Wonder, overtaken in a surprising upset three years later by Joy. Wonder is an ambiguous name. It goes in and out of fashion. It is out, now. Wonder started as another word for Miracle, but it became: I Wonder Why?, I Wonder What Will Become of You?, I Wonder Why You Can't Be More Like Your Sister Who Never Complains And Who Does Her Homework Without Being Told And Who Is Always Cheerful Around the House? Joy inherited a terminal disease to which she is always expected by her parents to succumb any day, but to which she gives only perfunctory regard. Joy is her second name. Her first name was Terror. It is still her silent name. It is the name her parents call her in the privacy of their bedroom. My favorite family story involves Mistake. We always thought her name was a mistake, but none more than she. At about the age of three or four, she became enamored of the story of her naming and we told it to her often. She had come home from the hospital nameless. You name her, our mother said, and after five days of considerable discussion and maybe some help from our father, we came to a decision. None of us bore a family name, a name that was more than a whim of my mother's, so we named our youngest sister Virginia, after the state where my father was born and about which he had many happy stories. Her middle name would be Lewis, our father's mother's maiden name. We would call her Ginny, Ginny Lew, a chirpy and happy name for her chirpy happy years. Virginia Lewis was a distinguished name, we thought, for when she was grown. My mother hated it. She vetoed it. But Mistake took her revenge. When she was still only three or four, she took to telling people her name was Virginia. One day, in the summer, at the lake, she wandered from my mother's side. Found by a lifeguard and asked her name, she said it was Virginia. My mother came up. It is always my mother who tells this story. No it's not, my mother said, and told the lifeguard my sister's name. My sister looked at the lifeguard and again said her name was Virginia, her name was Virginia Lewis. The lifeguard did not want to let my sister go to this woman who did not know her name, but in 151


Berkeley Fiction Review the end, of course, she did. By the time Mistake started kindergarten, we had given her a nickname, by which she still goes. I was never so defiant. I never changed my name, though I never liked it. I never liked it after my mother told me the story of my naming. She was going to call me Phoebe, she said, after her favorite grandmother, but reconsidered. In the likely event I would be a plain girl, she didn't want me to have a name that would inspire ridicule by its unusualness, that would give anyone reason to tease me, that would attract attention. Ever since then, I have wished my name were Phoebe. Light. The Pure Shining One. Goddess of the Moon. And I always wonder, if Phoebe had been my name, what I Might Have Been. And I wonder my mother did not know the phoebe is a common bird, a small bird, a bird of grayish-brown plumage and just a slightly crested head, who eats flies, and who spends its days calling its name.

C o u n t i n g

t o

T e n

Jennifer Carr

y name is Franchesca Miranda Gross. My mom said she had to give me good first names cause my Daddy gave me such a bad last one. I begged her again and again to let me have the same last name as her—McKenzie—but she won't budge. She said I owe something to that father of mine, giving life to someone's a big deal. And besides, she said once, it would make her feel old. Since my mom decided to move to Florida with Brett the Boyfriend, I've been getting in trouble for stealing things. Not like a million dollars or anything. I don't even know where you'd find a million dollars, except a bank, and I sure doubt if Ludlow Bank's got any more than ten cents. There's nothing in Ludlow. Sure as hell don't have a restaurant that could give my mom work through the winter. We got two restaurants and one of them's a fast food place. My mom says she would not be caught dead working there. She said that's not waitressing at all. The other day I stole a blue mink shawl that Sara Fisher had around her neck. Me and Jimmy Sanchez were pulling worms off the pavement when Sara plopped on the edge of the merry-go-round and kicked out her feet just as some boys started spinning it. She had pink sneakers with pink laces. Every time I stood by her in line at lunch, she'd put her hand on the side of her tray so I couldn't get mine to touch. "Jimmy," I said, "that blue thing on Sara is mine." Jimmy peeled up a worm and slapped it onto the little pile we had going. "Chessy, I don't think you should cause no more trouble today."

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Berkeley Fiction Review the end, of course, she did. By the time Mistake started kindergarten, we had given her a nickname, by which she still goes. I was never so defiant. I never changed my name, though I never liked it. I never liked it after my mother told me the story of my naming. She was going to call me Phoebe, she said, after her favorite grandmother, but reconsidered. In the likely event I would be a plain girl, she didn't want me to have a name that would inspire ridicule by its unusualness, that would give anyone reason to tease me, that would attract attention. Ever since then, I have wished my name were Phoebe. Light. The Pure Shining One. Goddess of the Moon. And I always wonder, if Phoebe had been my name, what I Might Have Been. And I wonder my mother did not know the phoebe is a common bird, a small bird, a bird of grayish-brown plumage and just a slightly crested head, who eats flies, and who spends its days calling its name.

C o u n t i n g

t o

T e n

Jennifer Carr

y name is Franchesca Miranda Gross. My mom said she had to give me good first names cause my Daddy gave me such a bad last one. I begged her again and again to let me have the same last name as her—McKenzie—but she won't budge. She said I owe something to that father of mine, giving life to someone's a big deal. And besides, she said once, it would make her feel old. Since my mom decided to move to Florida with Brett the Boyfriend, I've been getting in trouble for stealing things. Not like a million dollars or anything. I don't even know where you'd find a million dollars, except a bank, and I sure doubt if Ludlow Bank's got any more than ten cents. There's nothing in Ludlow. Sure as hell don't have a restaurant that could give my mom work through the winter. We got two restaurants and one of them's a fast food place. My mom says she would not be caught dead working there. She said that's not waitressing at all. The other day I stole a blue mink shawl that Sara Fisher had around her neck. Me and Jimmy Sanchez were pulling worms off the pavement when Sara plopped on the edge of the merry-go-round and kicked out her feet just as some boys started spinning it. She had pink sneakers with pink laces. Every time I stood by her in line at lunch, she'd put her hand on the side of her tray so I couldn't get mine to touch. "Jimmy," I said, "that blue thing on Sara is mine." Jimmy peeled up a worm and slapped it onto the little pile we had going. "Chessy, I don't think you should cause no more trouble today."

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Berkeley Fiction Review Jimmy was my best friend. He had black hair with a tail in the back and glasses that looked like the ones I'd seen in pictures of my Grandpa. Sometimes, when I begged him, he taught me words in Spanish so I could walk over to people and make fun of them, but they never knew what I said. Sometimes I just pretended to talk Spanish, and everyone thought I could, because Jimmy Sanchez was my only friend. We'd known each other since we were little, because his dad was a cook where my mom was a waitress, and we'd always play marbles in the back of the restaurant with the big net bag of onions. Jimmy started picking harder at a worm, scraping instead of peeling it off the blacktop. The thing split right into gooey halves. Jimmy let out a loud sigh, like how his father sighs when a new waitress forgets the right way to call in an order. "Why don't you keep working," he grumbled, then looked around the sidewalk and pointed at a fat worm. But I wanted that shawl. And as I'd heard Mom say to Grandma last night, sometimes I just have to think about me. So I jumped up and sprinted to the merry-go-round. Sara saw me coming and she swung her legs up onto the board. Then she turned her head. Each time the ride whipped by me, she turned her head again. It made me more mad. I reached for an empty bar to get it to stop, and the spinning thing jerked my arm, sending me to the ground. I could hear the boys laughing. There was a sting in my knee, and blood, and dirt and little stones sticking to it. I heard Sara laugh too. I jumped up and grabbed the merry-go-round again before the boys could give it another shove. Sara jumped off and started running to Mrs. Parker, the playground monitor. I caught her and she started screaming and pushing at my face, but I was on top of her and didn't need to see that fur I was grabbing for. It felt just like rabbit. Just like the good luck rabbit's foot that Jimmy gave me for my birthday last year. As soon as I felt that fur, I knew it should be mine. Then there were the footsteps like horse hooves all around me, and Mrs. Parker yanked me up by my arms. She had a mean face that was fat around her mouth and short curly hair my mom always called a poodle perm. Her face was red as a truck, and she shook my shoulders and yelled, "Franchesca Gross!" I could tell she wanted to spin me around and spank me, but my mom got her in trouble the last time she 154

Counting to Ten did that. She shook me again, so there was no guessing what she wanted to do to me. "You go straight to the principal!" She glanced down at my knee. The blood smeared down my leg. "You go straight to the nurse, and then to the principal!" I yanked my shoulder back from her, and stared up into those mean, mean eyes. "Screw you!" I yelled. "I'm going straight to the principal!" That got her. There was no way she could argue with that. The other playground monitor was shushing Sara, hugging her, and kids were crowded all around. Mrs. Parker yelled for Jimmy Sanchez, and he didn't come at first, then some third grader pushed him into our circle. All the teachers knew that Jimmy was the only one I'd walk with. If they sent me with someone else, that was just asking for more trouble. Jimmy and I walked to Mrs. Levitt's office. Miss Sue, her secretary, nodded as I let myself in, and Jimmy took his spot on the couch. Mrs. Levitt's window overlooked the front yard of the school, with all the trees and grass. She was eating her lunch when I came in. She stopped in mid-bite to look at me. "I don't even want to know," she said. She sighed, then got her handkerchief out of her purse. Sometimes when she wanted me to be good she let me hold this because I loved it so much. It had lace edges and a blue-stitched "F" in the corner, for her name, which she finally told me was Frieda, though I always pretended it was for Franchesca. She said we were unique people because most girls don't have names that start with "F." She put a slice of her orange on the handkerchief and passed it to me. She was the kind of woman my mom hated. She wore a suit "like a man," my mom would say, even though she had a skirt with it, and had perfectly curled short brown hair, and thick glasses and no makeup. The handkerchief was the one fancy thing about her. Mom said that too many women in this world were trying to be men and that's why everything was getting so screwed up. Mrs. Levitt wrapped up the rest of her sandwich. "You can't keep doing this," she said. "I know." I let my heels thump against the chair. "How many more times before you call my mom?" 155


Berkeley Fiction Review Jimmy was my best friend. He had black hair with a tail in the back and glasses that looked like the ones I'd seen in pictures of my Grandpa. Sometimes, when I begged him, he taught me words in Spanish so I could walk over to people and make fun of them, but they never knew what I said. Sometimes I just pretended to talk Spanish, and everyone thought I could, because Jimmy Sanchez was my only friend. We'd known each other since we were little, because his dad was a cook where my mom was a waitress, and we'd always play marbles in the back of the restaurant with the big net bag of onions. Jimmy started picking harder at a worm, scraping instead of peeling it off the blacktop. The thing split right into gooey halves. Jimmy let out a loud sigh, like how his father sighs when a new waitress forgets the right way to call in an order. "Why don't you keep working," he grumbled, then looked around the sidewalk and pointed at a fat worm. But I wanted that shawl. And as I'd heard Mom say to Grandma last night, sometimes I just have to think about me. So I jumped up and sprinted to the merry-go-round. Sara saw me coming and she swung her legs up onto the board. Then she turned her head. Each time the ride whipped by me, she turned her head again. It made me more mad. I reached for an empty bar to get it to stop, and the spinning thing jerked my arm, sending me to the ground. I could hear the boys laughing. There was a sting in my knee, and blood, and dirt and little stones sticking to it. I heard Sara laugh too. I jumped up and grabbed the merry-go-round again before the boys could give it another shove. Sara jumped off and started running to Mrs. Parker, the playground monitor. I caught her and she started screaming and pushing at my face, but I was on top of her and didn't need to see that fur I was grabbing for. It felt just like rabbit. Just like the good luck rabbit's foot that Jimmy gave me for my birthday last year. As soon as I felt that fur, I knew it should be mine. Then there were the footsteps like horse hooves all around me, and Mrs. Parker yanked me up by my arms. She had a mean face that was fat around her mouth and short curly hair my mom always called a poodle perm. Her face was red as a truck, and she shook my shoulders and yelled, "Franchesca Gross!" I could tell she wanted to spin me around and spank me, but my mom got her in trouble the last time she 154

Counting to Ten did that. She shook me again, so there was no guessing what she wanted to do to me. "You go straight to the principal!" She glanced down at my knee. The blood smeared down my leg. "You go straight to the nurse, and then to the principal!" I yanked my shoulder back from her, and stared up into those mean, mean eyes. "Screw you!" I yelled. "I'm going straight to the principal!" That got her. There was no way she could argue with that. The other playground monitor was shushing Sara, hugging her, and kids were crowded all around. Mrs. Parker yelled for Jimmy Sanchez, and he didn't come at first, then some third grader pushed him into our circle. All the teachers knew that Jimmy was the only one I'd walk with. If they sent me with someone else, that was just asking for more trouble. Jimmy and I walked to Mrs. Levitt's office. Miss Sue, her secretary, nodded as I let myself in, and Jimmy took his spot on the couch. Mrs. Levitt's window overlooked the front yard of the school, with all the trees and grass. She was eating her lunch when I came in. She stopped in mid-bite to look at me. "I don't even want to know," she said. She sighed, then got her handkerchief out of her purse. Sometimes when she wanted me to be good she let me hold this because I loved it so much. It had lace edges and a blue-stitched "F" in the corner, for her name, which she finally told me was Frieda, though I always pretended it was for Franchesca. She said we were unique people because most girls don't have names that start with "F." She put a slice of her orange on the handkerchief and passed it to me. She was the kind of woman my mom hated. She wore a suit "like a man," my mom would say, even though she had a skirt with it, and had perfectly curled short brown hair, and thick glasses and no makeup. The handkerchief was the one fancy thing about her. Mom said that too many women in this world were trying to be men and that's why everything was getting so screwed up. Mrs. Levitt wrapped up the rest of her sandwich. "You can't keep doing this," she said. "I know." I let my heels thump against the chair. "How many more times before you call my mom?" 155


Berkeley Fiction Review "Is she still going to Florida with her boyfriend?" "There's no good restaurants here in the winter. She can't make any money." "When is she leaving?" "Two weeks." "OK," she said. "Let's give her a call now." I heard my mom's heels clacking down the hall about as soon as she came in the front school door. She was the only woman in this town who wore heels wherever she went. She even had a special low pair she wore to work. She said men appreciated it when a woman dressed the way God intended. They left her good tips. She entered the room in a whirl of perfume and red dress and long black hair. "Hello Mrs. Levitt," she said coolly. She turned to me. "Oh, honey, look at you." She sat down next to me and pulled me into a hug. I started counting. I had this feeling that, when she hugged me, if I could count to ten, then something would happen. I got to three. Mrs. Levitt cleared her throat like she was really mad at me. "Franchesca had another fight today. Something needs to be done about this. It's causing a major nuisance for the children and the faculty." Mom sighed, then started tapping her long red nails on the arm of the chair. They matched the lipstick on her pouty lips. It was like, whenever she was in the principal's office, she suddenly remembered she was an adult, and no one could tell her what to do. I used to like this about Mom, but lately I just want her to shut up and listen. "Well, at home, Chessy is an angel. I'm not sure what's going on here." Mom never got too mad at me for getting in trouble. She told me that you've got to be a fighter to make it in this world. She wasn't thrilled about getting called into school, but she said it showed that I had spark, that I'd always stand up for myself, that I could make it on my own. "Miss McKenzie, this is getting very serious." Mrs. Levitt was the one person in the world who called Mom that. Everyone else called her Hips, or Sweetheart, or Charlotte, which was her name. "If this happens one more time this month, I'm going to have to suspend her. Eight is far too young for that." I knew being suspended was bad, but then I'd have days with Mom again, by ourselves. No Brett the Boyfriend. 156

Counting to Ten Mrs. Levitt sighed. "Charlotte," she said, "is there something going on at home that maybe we should know about, something we could help you with?" Now she'd done it. Nothing upset Mom more than people nosing in her business. Especially principal-type people. Mom stuck out her chin. "Absolutely nothing. Our home is absolutely fine." Mom didn't mention Brett, or that Grandma said she couldn't believe Mom was just leaving like this, leaving a young one to take care of. Mrs. Levitt asked if I could wait outside. This was new. I sat on the couch where'Jimmy had been sitting, and Mrs. Levitt shut the door behind me. I was hoping now she'd slap Mom in the face, the way women did in old movies when they needed to get someone's attention. But I could tell that didn't happen. I couldn't hear much, except Florida, and not your business, and then quieter words with my name. While I was waiting, I had this idea that my dad might show up to rescue me. That maybe he'd show up like he did the last time, on his motorcycle, blaring into our driveway. That happened when I was six. That night he drank coffee after coffee while he sat teary eyed at our kitchen table holding Mom's hand, telling her over and over again that he loved her and wanted to make things right, while Grandma kept washing the same counter, and I sat at the top of the stairs. I tried to sneak down, but when Grandma heard a squeak, she'd turn and glare, waving her dishcloth at me until I went back up. "You got to believe me," he said. "You're the only hope I got." Finally, Mom told him that if he came back seven nights in a row, then maybe, just maybe, she'd think about it. Then he really started to cry, and he thanked her while she patted his hand. Then he got back on that big loud motorcycle and left. Mom sat quiet at the kitchen table and Grandma didn't shush me away when I came down the stairs, just sighed and hung the towel over the faucet. "That should take care of that," she said. When he didn't come back the next night, I asked Mom where he was. We were watching Wheel of Fortune on TV, and Mom kept shouting out answers while she painted my toenails bright pink to match hers, like I'd asked her to. 157


Berkeley Fiction Review "Is she still going to Florida with her boyfriend?" "There's no good restaurants here in the winter. She can't make any money." "When is she leaving?" "Two weeks." "OK," she said. "Let's give her a call now." I heard my mom's heels clacking down the hall about as soon as she came in the front school door. She was the only woman in this town who wore heels wherever she went. She even had a special low pair she wore to work. She said men appreciated it when a woman dressed the way God intended. They left her good tips. She entered the room in a whirl of perfume and red dress and long black hair. "Hello Mrs. Levitt," she said coolly. She turned to me. "Oh, honey, look at you." She sat down next to me and pulled me into a hug. I started counting. I had this feeling that, when she hugged me, if I could count to ten, then something would happen. I got to three. Mrs. Levitt cleared her throat like she was really mad at me. "Franchesca had another fight today. Something needs to be done about this. It's causing a major nuisance for the children and the faculty." Mom sighed, then started tapping her long red nails on the arm of the chair. They matched the lipstick on her pouty lips. It was like, whenever she was in the principal's office, she suddenly remembered she was an adult, and no one could tell her what to do. I used to like this about Mom, but lately I just want her to shut up and listen. "Well, at home, Chessy is an angel. I'm not sure what's going on here." Mom never got too mad at me for getting in trouble. She told me that you've got to be a fighter to make it in this world. She wasn't thrilled about getting called into school, but she said it showed that I had spark, that I'd always stand up for myself, that I could make it on my own. "Miss McKenzie, this is getting very serious." Mrs. Levitt was the one person in the world who called Mom that. Everyone else called her Hips, or Sweetheart, or Charlotte, which was her name. "If this happens one more time this month, I'm going to have to suspend her. Eight is far too young for that." I knew being suspended was bad, but then I'd have days with Mom again, by ourselves. No Brett the Boyfriend. 156

Counting to Ten Mrs. Levitt sighed. "Charlotte," she said, "is there something going on at home that maybe we should know about, something we could help you with?" Now she'd done it. Nothing upset Mom more than people nosing in her business. Especially principal-type people. Mom stuck out her chin. "Absolutely nothing. Our home is absolutely fine." Mom didn't mention Brett, or that Grandma said she couldn't believe Mom was just leaving like this, leaving a young one to take care of. Mrs. Levitt asked if I could wait outside. This was new. I sat on the couch where'Jimmy had been sitting, and Mrs. Levitt shut the door behind me. I was hoping now she'd slap Mom in the face, the way women did in old movies when they needed to get someone's attention. But I could tell that didn't happen. I couldn't hear much, except Florida, and not your business, and then quieter words with my name. While I was waiting, I had this idea that my dad might show up to rescue me. That maybe he'd show up like he did the last time, on his motorcycle, blaring into our driveway. That happened when I was six. That night he drank coffee after coffee while he sat teary eyed at our kitchen table holding Mom's hand, telling her over and over again that he loved her and wanted to make things right, while Grandma kept washing the same counter, and I sat at the top of the stairs. I tried to sneak down, but when Grandma heard a squeak, she'd turn and glare, waving her dishcloth at me until I went back up. "You got to believe me," he said. "You're the only hope I got." Finally, Mom told him that if he came back seven nights in a row, then maybe, just maybe, she'd think about it. Then he really started to cry, and he thanked her while she patted his hand. Then he got back on that big loud motorcycle and left. Mom sat quiet at the kitchen table and Grandma didn't shush me away when I came down the stairs, just sighed and hung the towel over the faucet. "That should take care of that," she said. When he didn't come back the next night, I asked Mom where he was. We were watching Wheel of Fortune on TV, and Mom kept shouting out answers while she painted my toenails bright pink to match hers, like I'd asked her to. 157


Berkeley Fiction Review "There's a certain type of man who's on the bottle," she said. Back then I thought she meant a baby's bottle, but she explained she meant booze. "Once in a while they stop for a minute and want to change their life. It's best to just sit there and listen. But don't hold your breath waiting." She screwed the little paintbrush into the jar, then leaned over me, waving her hand like a fan over my toes. "I think he's coming back," I said. On the TV, everybody moaned when the wheel stopped at bankrupt. I tried to ignore it. "I think he meant it." Mom straightened her back and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling while she sighed. "Chessy, I have not seen one red dime from that man ever since I had you. And maybe when I see one, then I'll change my mind. But until then, you just remember what I said: don't count on it." That night I took out my jar of pennies—I knew I had a dime in there somewhere. After I found one, I sat on my bed and used Mom's fiery red nail polish that I'd snuck out of the bathroom cabinet to paint both sides. The next day at school, I kept sliding my hand into my pocket to make sure it was still there. It seemed like a promise. Mom worked the lunch shift that day, so she was home when I got off the bus. I sprinted in the front door, just like I'd planned. "Mom," I yelled. "Mom!" Mom came into the kitchen from the living room. She had taken off her shoes, but she still had on her black skirt and white shirt. "What?" she said. She seemed mad. Her hair was kind of clumped, like she'd been taking a nap. I took in a breath. I was little then. I thought it would work. "Look!" I forced myself to have a really big smile while I squirmed for the dime in my jean pocket. "Dad came to see me at school today, and look what he gave me!" It wasn't perfect, it had some spots where the silver shined through. I held it to her. "He said for you to call him tonight." She wasn't saying anything, so I kept talking. "That he wants us to have a house of our own, and he wants me to be his little kid, and he's going to teach me to ride his motorcycle and a bike, and you won't have to work so much..." I couldn't tell if she believed me or if she was furious. I held out the dime again. "Take it. Take it! Call him. Call Dad!" 158

Counting to Ten This time she snatched the dime out of my hand so quick it hurt. Then she walked over to the garbage, stepped on the lever to lift the top, and threw the dime in with such force it made a clunk like a baseball at the bottom. She turned and laid back down on the couch, and turned the TV up loud. Then she grabbed the washcloth from the table, laid back, and put it over her eyes. While I sat on the bench outside Mrs. Levitt's office, I had the feeling that today would be different. I prayed and prayed it would be different. Every time I heard a noise outside the big school window, I thought for sure it was my dad, on his big black motorcycle, coming to take me away. Then let Mom stay in there and fight with Mrs. Levitt about how it was okay to leave. Let her see how good she'd feel when she came out and I was already gone. I waited. They stayed in there a while. My dad didn't come. When they called me back in, something had changed. Mrs. Levitt did not smile like she would have if she had talked my mom into staying, or at least taking me with her. But my mom was smiling, and she sat in her chair like a cat, all proud and fluffed up. Like she had won. "Franchesca Gross, this is the last time I'll have you in my office, and this, young lady, is the last time I'll call your mother because of your behavior." Mrs. Levitt paused. She never talked to me like this. I wanted to cry. "Do you understand?" I nodded. I couldn't look at her, or Mom. I pushed my chin to my neck as hard as I could to keep from looking at them, to keep from crying. "You are to go back to your classroom, and stop this behavior immediately." I could feel Mom getting edgy, shifting her legs while this other woman told me what to do. Plus, I was being yelled at, and Mom didn't believe in that. She reached over and touched my arm. "Chessy, what am I going to do with you?" I looked right at her. I couldn't stop crying. "Take me with you." Everything was really quiet just then, except for me sniffling. Mrs. Levitt handed me her handkerchief, but I balled it up and threw it at 159


Berkeley Fiction Review "There's a certain type of man who's on the bottle," she said. Back then I thought she meant a baby's bottle, but she explained she meant booze. "Once in a while they stop for a minute and want to change their life. It's best to just sit there and listen. But don't hold your breath waiting." She screwed the little paintbrush into the jar, then leaned over me, waving her hand like a fan over my toes. "I think he's coming back," I said. On the TV, everybody moaned when the wheel stopped at bankrupt. I tried to ignore it. "I think he meant it." Mom straightened her back and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling while she sighed. "Chessy, I have not seen one red dime from that man ever since I had you. And maybe when I see one, then I'll change my mind. But until then, you just remember what I said: don't count on it." That night I took out my jar of pennies—I knew I had a dime in there somewhere. After I found one, I sat on my bed and used Mom's fiery red nail polish that I'd snuck out of the bathroom cabinet to paint both sides. The next day at school, I kept sliding my hand into my pocket to make sure it was still there. It seemed like a promise. Mom worked the lunch shift that day, so she was home when I got off the bus. I sprinted in the front door, just like I'd planned. "Mom," I yelled. "Mom!" Mom came into the kitchen from the living room. She had taken off her shoes, but she still had on her black skirt and white shirt. "What?" she said. She seemed mad. Her hair was kind of clumped, like she'd been taking a nap. I took in a breath. I was little then. I thought it would work. "Look!" I forced myself to have a really big smile while I squirmed for the dime in my jean pocket. "Dad came to see me at school today, and look what he gave me!" It wasn't perfect, it had some spots where the silver shined through. I held it to her. "He said for you to call him tonight." She wasn't saying anything, so I kept talking. "That he wants us to have a house of our own, and he wants me to be his little kid, and he's going to teach me to ride his motorcycle and a bike, and you won't have to work so much..." I couldn't tell if she believed me or if she was furious. I held out the dime again. "Take it. Take it! Call him. Call Dad!" 158

Counting to Ten This time she snatched the dime out of my hand so quick it hurt. Then she walked over to the garbage, stepped on the lever to lift the top, and threw the dime in with such force it made a clunk like a baseball at the bottom. She turned and laid back down on the couch, and turned the TV up loud. Then she grabbed the washcloth from the table, laid back, and put it over her eyes. While I sat on the bench outside Mrs. Levitt's office, I had the feeling that today would be different. I prayed and prayed it would be different. Every time I heard a noise outside the big school window, I thought for sure it was my dad, on his big black motorcycle, coming to take me away. Then let Mom stay in there and fight with Mrs. Levitt about how it was okay to leave. Let her see how good she'd feel when she came out and I was already gone. I waited. They stayed in there a while. My dad didn't come. When they called me back in, something had changed. Mrs. Levitt did not smile like she would have if she had talked my mom into staying, or at least taking me with her. But my mom was smiling, and she sat in her chair like a cat, all proud and fluffed up. Like she had won. "Franchesca Gross, this is the last time I'll have you in my office, and this, young lady, is the last time I'll call your mother because of your behavior." Mrs. Levitt paused. She never talked to me like this. I wanted to cry. "Do you understand?" I nodded. I couldn't look at her, or Mom. I pushed my chin to my neck as hard as I could to keep from looking at them, to keep from crying. "You are to go back to your classroom, and stop this behavior immediately." I could feel Mom getting edgy, shifting her legs while this other woman told me what to do. Plus, I was being yelled at, and Mom didn't believe in that. She reached over and touched my arm. "Chessy, what am I going to do with you?" I looked right at her. I couldn't stop crying. "Take me with you." Everything was really quiet just then, except for me sniffling. Mrs. Levitt handed me her handkerchief, but I balled it up and threw it at 159


Berkeley Fiction Review her. Mom wouldn't look at me. I knew I wasn't supposed to talk about her business. I felt like I had just broke something big. "Tell you what," Mrs. Levitt said finally. "I'm not going to suspend Franchesca. But take the rest of the afternoon off. Go home with your Mom." Mom nodded her head, as if I hadn't said what I'd just said, like we'd just been talking about me getting out of school all along. Then she stood up and we left, me walking behind her, trying to keep up. When we got out to the truck, we both just got in and didn't say a word. Then instead of heading toward home, Mom turned the truck to town. I didn't know what this meant. But I leaned my head back against the seat, closed my eyes, and pretended we were going somewhere, just her and me. When the truck turned off the main road and started bumping along, I opened my eyes. We were heading to the old quarry. Sometimes we had picnics back there. Mom said hanging out there reminded her of the old days, when she was a teenager, and all she had to do in this world was hang around with her friends. She jerked the truck to a stop and grabbed at her heels, pulling them off and throwing them in the back. Then she started running for the edge. I jumped out of the cab and ran behind her. I didn't know what she was going to do. I didn't want her to run. When she got to the edge, she stopped,' like she wasn't sure what she'd been running for. Then she looked down on the ground for something, picked up a rock, and chucked it. She looked like a movie, standing there in her red dress, her dark hair all long and tangled now. I could hear a faint "clink," but didn't see where it landed. She threw another, then another, then she just crumpled down on the ground like I'd never seen her before. She started to cry. I knelt down next to her and tried to hug her. "Mom," I said, "Stop!" The way she was scared me. The way she just sat there on the ground in her good dress, the way she cried and held herself like I wasn't even there. I sat down behind her and tried to focus on the rocks, the millions and millions of rocks, and wondered why they needed a place like this, this quarry. Why there had to be a 160

Counting to Ten place like this where Mom went and remembered every single person in her life except me. Finally Mom reached for me and tugged me into her arms. I couldn't help myself. I started to count. I thought my heart would melt right through my shirt. I got to eight. Then she patted me on the back. "Chessy, you got to understand, it is not the least bit easy being a mom. I'm always trying to do what's right, you've got to trust that, you've got to believe me." Her makeup was all runny and black by her eyes. "And when I say I have to go to Florida, I need to go to Florida. I don't know why right now, I can't explain it, but that's what I need. "You don't know this feeling, cause you're a kid, but sometimes I feel like the whole world's crushing against me, and I've got to make some sort of change before I die from it all. I am not happy with my life, Chessy," she said, "just not happy." I knew she meant me. "Fine then, go," I said. I never felt like that before, like some little fairy was picking my heart to pieces, leaving me with blood. "It's not that I don't love you," she said. "I said fine. Go." "Chessy I want to make you proud of me, I want us to have a good life. But it can't happen here in this town. There's too many memories here for me. I just think that if I can set us up someplace else, someplace where there's a better job for me, and a better school, and in Florida it's,warm all year long, and the people are nicer, you'd really like it there. You will really like it. I promise." "When can I come?" She thought for a second. "How about we say, two, three months max. By Christmas. We'll get it all set up so that you have your own bedroom, maybe we'll get you a dog—" "Do we have to live with Brett?" She didn't answer. "I don't want to live with Brett, Mom. Why can't it just be you and me?" Mom sighed. "I'm telling you the plan, honey. I'm trying to work with you. You have to work with me too." Working with Mom always meant not arguing with her when she told me what to do. "I don't want to stay here with Grandma," I said. 161


Berkeley Fiction Review her. Mom wouldn't look at me. I knew I wasn't supposed to talk about her business. I felt like I had just broke something big. "Tell you what," Mrs. Levitt said finally. "I'm not going to suspend Franchesca. But take the rest of the afternoon off. Go home with your Mom." Mom nodded her head, as if I hadn't said what I'd just said, like we'd just been talking about me getting out of school all along. Then she stood up and we left, me walking behind her, trying to keep up. When we got out to the truck, we both just got in and didn't say a word. Then instead of heading toward home, Mom turned the truck to town. I didn't know what this meant. But I leaned my head back against the seat, closed my eyes, and pretended we were going somewhere, just her and me. When the truck turned off the main road and started bumping along, I opened my eyes. We were heading to the old quarry. Sometimes we had picnics back there. Mom said hanging out there reminded her of the old days, when she was a teenager, and all she had to do in this world was hang around with her friends. She jerked the truck to a stop and grabbed at her heels, pulling them off and throwing them in the back. Then she started running for the edge. I jumped out of the cab and ran behind her. I didn't know what she was going to do. I didn't want her to run. When she got to the edge, she stopped,' like she wasn't sure what she'd been running for. Then she looked down on the ground for something, picked up a rock, and chucked it. She looked like a movie, standing there in her red dress, her dark hair all long and tangled now. I could hear a faint "clink," but didn't see where it landed. She threw another, then another, then she just crumpled down on the ground like I'd never seen her before. She started to cry. I knelt down next to her and tried to hug her. "Mom," I said, "Stop!" The way she was scared me. The way she just sat there on the ground in her good dress, the way she cried and held herself like I wasn't even there. I sat down behind her and tried to focus on the rocks, the millions and millions of rocks, and wondered why they needed a place like this, this quarry. Why there had to be a 160

Counting to Ten place like this where Mom went and remembered every single person in her life except me. Finally Mom reached for me and tugged me into her arms. I couldn't help myself. I started to count. I thought my heart would melt right through my shirt. I got to eight. Then she patted me on the back. "Chessy, you got to understand, it is not the least bit easy being a mom. I'm always trying to do what's right, you've got to trust that, you've got to believe me." Her makeup was all runny and black by her eyes. "And when I say I have to go to Florida, I need to go to Florida. I don't know why right now, I can't explain it, but that's what I need. "You don't know this feeling, cause you're a kid, but sometimes I feel like the whole world's crushing against me, and I've got to make some sort of change before I die from it all. I am not happy with my life, Chessy," she said, "just not happy." I knew she meant me. "Fine then, go," I said. I never felt like that before, like some little fairy was picking my heart to pieces, leaving me with blood. "It's not that I don't love you," she said. "I said fine. Go." "Chessy I want to make you proud of me, I want us to have a good life. But it can't happen here in this town. There's too many memories here for me. I just think that if I can set us up someplace else, someplace where there's a better job for me, and a better school, and in Florida it's,warm all year long, and the people are nicer, you'd really like it there. You will really like it. I promise." "When can I come?" She thought for a second. "How about we say, two, three months max. By Christmas. We'll get it all set up so that you have your own bedroom, maybe we'll get you a dog—" "Do we have to live with Brett?" She didn't answer. "I don't want to live with Brett, Mom. Why can't it just be you and me?" Mom sighed. "I'm telling you the plan, honey. I'm trying to work with you. You have to work with me too." Working with Mom always meant not arguing with her when she told me what to do. "I don't want to stay here with Grandma," I said. 161


Berkeley Fiction Review "Oh stop," she said. "You're being whiney. It's only for a couple of months." "Promise?" I said. I had this feeling that if she left, that would be it. I'd be stuck here with Grandma and Jimmy Sanchez and Mrs. Levitt forever, and some other kid would get to have my mom. It wasn't fair. "I promise," she said, then stood up and brushed off her dress. "I think if you give me a couple of months with Brett, he'll be ready to be a dad in no time." I didn't want Brett as my dad, but I had a feeling if I said that, then Mom would say, fine then, you don't want me as a mom either. I followed her back to the truck. As we drove home, Mom turned on the radio and started singing along. She smiled at me, then gave me a play punch on my shoulder so I'd start singing too. I did.

The day Mom left, Sara Fisher called me a bastard. She whispered it to me when we were getting in line to walk to lunch. "It's true," she said. "My mom said so. It's even in the dictionary." I turned away from her so she wouldn't see me cry, but then I was facing the wrong end of the line. All those kids looking at me. "And now you're an orphan too!" she said. "My mom said at dinner we should ask for God's pity on you, but I don't think you deserve any." I felt her breath on my shoulder. "You're mean, Franchesca Gross. You're mean and gross and that's why your mom moved away from you!" She started laughing. Someone in the back of the line laughed too, that Sara Fisher could make Chessy cry. I just closed my eyes as Sara Fisher's voice hit me: gross gross gross gross. She kept saying it. I didn't care. It didn't matter anymore who could make me cry. Suddenly it stopped, and there was a thud behind me. I turned to see Jimmy Sanchez on top of Sara, pounding her chest, screaming in Spanish. Mrs. Jebson grabbed him by the collar and yanked him off, then ordered both of us to the principal. When we walked out the door, everyone laughed until Mrs. Jebson yelled at them to stop. I closed my eyes and held Jimmy's hand. I let him steer me through the halls. 162

Counting to Ten When we got down to Mrs. Levitt's office, Jimmy guided me to a chair. "Chessy," Mrs. Levitt said, "open your eyes." I didn't. I didn't care anymore. I didn't shake my head no or open my eyes. "You can't keep on getting in fights," Mrs. Levitt said. "I know you're upset, but come talk to me instead." "Mrs. Levitt," Jimmy said. "I'm the one who got in the fight." It was quiet for a minute. Then Mrs. Levitt said, "What?" "They were calling Chessy a bastard and an orphan and they made her cry." It was quiet again. Then I heard the jingle of keys and felt Mrs. Levitt's hands on mine. Trying to get me to stand up. I let her pick me up, even though I knew I was too big. Her suit scratched my cheek, but I let it. Mrs. Levitt told Miss Sue she'd be back later, then we started down the hall. I could hear Jimmy's sneaks right next to us. Then we were outside. In a minute, I was being put in the back seat of a car, being buckled in. It's no use taking me home now, I thought. She's already gone. That morning, Mom had woken me up to kiss me good-bye. She seemed happier than I'd ever seen her. She was wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, and cut-off jean shorts that were tight on her, and white high-heeled sandals. She was using her sunglasses like a bandana to hold back her hair, which was long and black and wavy, like a fashion model's. "Chessy, I'm off!" she said. Brett was out in the driveway beeping his horn. I wished with all my might that one more beep, and the car would explode on him. And that he'd die. "Now, you be good for Grandma, and no chocolate before dinner." She was acting like it was just any other day. "If Grandma gets one of her headaches, you just go to the restaurant with Jimmy. Mr. Baker said that would be okay once in awhile." She came over and kissed me on the forehead, brushed back my hair, then kissed me again. I knew she was leaving little prints on my face, like little snow angels. She walked back and stood in the doorway. "Do your homework and brush your teeth." Like she could just tell me everything a mom should, and then she'd be off the hook. "I'm sick," I said. "Mom, my stomach hurts." It really did hurt. 163


Berkeley Fiction Review "Oh stop," she said. "You're being whiney. It's only for a couple of months." "Promise?" I said. I had this feeling that if she left, that would be it. I'd be stuck here with Grandma and Jimmy Sanchez and Mrs. Levitt forever, and some other kid would get to have my mom. It wasn't fair. "I promise," she said, then stood up and brushed off her dress. "I think if you give me a couple of months with Brett, he'll be ready to be a dad in no time." I didn't want Brett as my dad, but I had a feeling if I said that, then Mom would say, fine then, you don't want me as a mom either. I followed her back to the truck. As we drove home, Mom turned on the radio and started singing along. She smiled at me, then gave me a play punch on my shoulder so I'd start singing too. I did.

The day Mom left, Sara Fisher called me a bastard. She whispered it to me when we were getting in line to walk to lunch. "It's true," she said. "My mom said so. It's even in the dictionary." I turned away from her so she wouldn't see me cry, but then I was facing the wrong end of the line. All those kids looking at me. "And now you're an orphan too!" she said. "My mom said at dinner we should ask for God's pity on you, but I don't think you deserve any." I felt her breath on my shoulder. "You're mean, Franchesca Gross. You're mean and gross and that's why your mom moved away from you!" She started laughing. Someone in the back of the line laughed too, that Sara Fisher could make Chessy cry. I just closed my eyes as Sara Fisher's voice hit me: gross gross gross gross. She kept saying it. I didn't care. It didn't matter anymore who could make me cry. Suddenly it stopped, and there was a thud behind me. I turned to see Jimmy Sanchez on top of Sara, pounding her chest, screaming in Spanish. Mrs. Jebson grabbed him by the collar and yanked him off, then ordered both of us to the principal. When we walked out the door, everyone laughed until Mrs. Jebson yelled at them to stop. I closed my eyes and held Jimmy's hand. I let him steer me through the halls. 162

Counting to Ten When we got down to Mrs. Levitt's office, Jimmy guided me to a chair. "Chessy," Mrs. Levitt said, "open your eyes." I didn't. I didn't care anymore. I didn't shake my head no or open my eyes. "You can't keep on getting in fights," Mrs. Levitt said. "I know you're upset, but come talk to me instead." "Mrs. Levitt," Jimmy said. "I'm the one who got in the fight." It was quiet for a minute. Then Mrs. Levitt said, "What?" "They were calling Chessy a bastard and an orphan and they made her cry." It was quiet again. Then I heard the jingle of keys and felt Mrs. Levitt's hands on mine. Trying to get me to stand up. I let her pick me up, even though I knew I was too big. Her suit scratched my cheek, but I let it. Mrs. Levitt told Miss Sue she'd be back later, then we started down the hall. I could hear Jimmy's sneaks right next to us. Then we were outside. In a minute, I was being put in the back seat of a car, being buckled in. It's no use taking me home now, I thought. She's already gone. That morning, Mom had woken me up to kiss me good-bye. She seemed happier than I'd ever seen her. She was wearing a white v-neck t-shirt, and cut-off jean shorts that were tight on her, and white high-heeled sandals. She was using her sunglasses like a bandana to hold back her hair, which was long and black and wavy, like a fashion model's. "Chessy, I'm off!" she said. Brett was out in the driveway beeping his horn. I wished with all my might that one more beep, and the car would explode on him. And that he'd die. "Now, you be good for Grandma, and no chocolate before dinner." She was acting like it was just any other day. "If Grandma gets one of her headaches, you just go to the restaurant with Jimmy. Mr. Baker said that would be okay once in awhile." She came over and kissed me on the forehead, brushed back my hair, then kissed me again. I knew she was leaving little prints on my face, like little snow angels. She walked back and stood in the doorway. "Do your homework and brush your teeth." Like she could just tell me everything a mom should, and then she'd be off the hook. "I'm sick," I said. "Mom, my stomach hurts." It really did hurt. 163


Berkeley Fiction Review

Counting to Ten

"Don't go," I begged, "don't leave me!" Mom gave me a look. "Don't resort to guilt, Franchesca." She paused. "Don't be selfish." That hurt in my stomach was making me mad, mean. "You're selfish!" I screamed. "Selfish, selfish, selfish?' I screamed and screamed until I heard the door slam and the car squeal out of the driveway. Grandma came into the room then. Her wrinkled eyes were red like she'd been crying. She sat down on my bed and tried to hug me, which she didn't do much. I bit her shoulder, not real hard, but until she let me go. When she left, I reached under my pillow and got out the lipstick I'd taken from Mom's purse. I popped off the silver lid, and the lipstick was bright red and carved out in the middle like a wave. I turned the bottom slowly and pushed it up. It was half-gone. I put a dab on my cheek. That didn't make me feel anything. I put a dab right under my nose, and for a minute it smelled like a kiss.

For the heck of it I started to count. I got to ten seven times before Jimmy came back. Right then I wished very hard that it was Mom who was hugging me, not Mrs. Levitt. I wished that I could change everything so I'd feel glad to be here with Jimmy and Mrs. Levitt, that I could be happy even though my mom was gone. I wished as hard as I could. When I opened my eyes again, Mrs. Levitt and Jimmy were sitting at the picnic table eating french fries. That's exactly what I'd thought they'd be doing, and this made me feel good. Mrs. Levitt had put her fancy handkerchief on the table in front of me, folded so the bright blue F showed. When I looked up at her, she patted my hand. "You keep it," she said. "The more I think about it, that 'F' must really stand for Franchesca after all." Jimmy nodded his head. I couldn't remember any time my mom had given me something that was hers, something that she loved. Something inside me hurt. I'd never been sad like this before. Before, I was always sad because my mom was going away, but now I wanted to cry because no one had ever been so nice to me. "Thank you," I said. It was the first time I ever really meant it. She smiled and patted my back. I threw my arms around her. After a while I stopped hugging her, but she kept her arm around me. I put the handkerchief in my back pocket so the lace wouldn't get wrinkled. After we finished the french fries, she said we had to get back to school in time for our buses. I waited till they started getting ready to leave, zipping up jackets and putting the napkins in a pile, then I took the lipstick tube out of my front pocket. I waited until Mrs. Levitt went to throw out our tray, then I quickly placed the tube on the bench. If she saw me, she'd know what it was, and she'd tell me to keep it. But I knew I didn't want it anymore.

While I sat in the back seat of Mrs. Levitt's car, she drove and talked to Jimmy about dumb things, about what were his favorite things his daddy cooked for him, and Jimmy answered equally dumb, saying cheese sandwich, curly fries, chocolate milk, all the things we got for free every time we got babysat at the restaurant. Pretty soon Mrs. Levitt started telling Jimmy about things her daddy used to cook for her, like fancy hamburgers, with ketchup and mustard cooked right in. She said she loved her daddy more than anything, and she was real glad Jimmy had such a good one. Then she must have remembered about me, because she stopped talking about it. The car finally slowed and pulled in somewhere. "Chessy, open your eyes now." I could tell she was looking at me. "We're at the zoo!" She waited for a minute, then opened up her door and told Jimmy to get out and stay close. She carried me in, sat me down on a picnic table. Jimmy was quiet, but I knew he wanted to see stuff. He'd never been. Mrs. Levitt put her arm around my shoulder, then gave Jimmy money to get us some fries. When he was gone, she pulled me tighter. "Chessy, if you're not going to open your eyes, at least talk to me!" She squeezed me, like that miglit work. "I can't fix your mom," she said. "God knows I wish I could." 164

165

1


Berkeley Fiction Review

Counting to Ten

"Don't go," I begged, "don't leave me!" Mom gave me a look. "Don't resort to guilt, Franchesca." She paused. "Don't be selfish." That hurt in my stomach was making me mad, mean. "You're selfish!" I screamed. "Selfish, selfish, selfish?' I screamed and screamed until I heard the door slam and the car squeal out of the driveway. Grandma came into the room then. Her wrinkled eyes were red like she'd been crying. She sat down on my bed and tried to hug me, which she didn't do much. I bit her shoulder, not real hard, but until she let me go. When she left, I reached under my pillow and got out the lipstick I'd taken from Mom's purse. I popped off the silver lid, and the lipstick was bright red and carved out in the middle like a wave. I turned the bottom slowly and pushed it up. It was half-gone. I put a dab on my cheek. That didn't make me feel anything. I put a dab right under my nose, and for a minute it smelled like a kiss.

For the heck of it I started to count. I got to ten seven times before Jimmy came back. Right then I wished very hard that it was Mom who was hugging me, not Mrs. Levitt. I wished that I could change everything so I'd feel glad to be here with Jimmy and Mrs. Levitt, that I could be happy even though my mom was gone. I wished as hard as I could. When I opened my eyes again, Mrs. Levitt and Jimmy were sitting at the picnic table eating french fries. That's exactly what I'd thought they'd be doing, and this made me feel good. Mrs. Levitt had put her fancy handkerchief on the table in front of me, folded so the bright blue F showed. When I looked up at her, she patted my hand. "You keep it," she said. "The more I think about it, that 'F' must really stand for Franchesca after all." Jimmy nodded his head. I couldn't remember any time my mom had given me something that was hers, something that she loved. Something inside me hurt. I'd never been sad like this before. Before, I was always sad because my mom was going away, but now I wanted to cry because no one had ever been so nice to me. "Thank you," I said. It was the first time I ever really meant it. She smiled and patted my back. I threw my arms around her. After a while I stopped hugging her, but she kept her arm around me. I put the handkerchief in my back pocket so the lace wouldn't get wrinkled. After we finished the french fries, she said we had to get back to school in time for our buses. I waited till they started getting ready to leave, zipping up jackets and putting the napkins in a pile, then I took the lipstick tube out of my front pocket. I waited until Mrs. Levitt went to throw out our tray, then I quickly placed the tube on the bench. If she saw me, she'd know what it was, and she'd tell me to keep it. But I knew I didn't want it anymore.

While I sat in the back seat of Mrs. Levitt's car, she drove and talked to Jimmy about dumb things, about what were his favorite things his daddy cooked for him, and Jimmy answered equally dumb, saying cheese sandwich, curly fries, chocolate milk, all the things we got for free every time we got babysat at the restaurant. Pretty soon Mrs. Levitt started telling Jimmy about things her daddy used to cook for her, like fancy hamburgers, with ketchup and mustard cooked right in. She said she loved her daddy more than anything, and she was real glad Jimmy had such a good one. Then she must have remembered about me, because she stopped talking about it. The car finally slowed and pulled in somewhere. "Chessy, open your eyes now." I could tell she was looking at me. "We're at the zoo!" She waited for a minute, then opened up her door and told Jimmy to get out and stay close. She carried me in, sat me down on a picnic table. Jimmy was quiet, but I knew he wanted to see stuff. He'd never been. Mrs. Levitt put her arm around my shoulder, then gave Jimmy money to get us some fries. When he was gone, she pulled me tighter. "Chessy, if you're not going to open your eyes, at least talk to me!" She squeezed me, like that miglit work. "I can't fix your mom," she said. "God knows I wish I could." 164

165

1


C o n t r i b u t o r ' s

N o t e s

AUTHORS

Sue Allison is a graduate of McGill University and Vermont College. She is the Washington, D.C. correspondent for Life Magazine. She has had work published in the Harvard Review, Sundog, and Fourth Genre. Faynessa Armand has taught elementary school in South Central Los Angeles for several years but has always written or wanted to write. She has been published in the Santa Barbara Review, The Belletrist Review, A Place to Enter, and most recently A Community of Voices. Ms. Armand was the 1996 winner of the Fiction Prize at the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference. She continues to teach and write. Sandy Asirvatham is a freelance magazine writer living in Baltimore, whose regular gigs include profiling novelists for Poets &Writers and reviewing fiction for Time Out New York. Her biweekly opinion column on various cultural and political topics appears in Baltimore Citypaper (www.citypaper.com). "Sheath" is her first published piece of fiction. Jenny Belin is a native of Los Angeles, and currently lives in New York where she works as a writer and illustrator. She graduated from Skidmore College, where she was the recipient of the Frances Steloff Award for Poetry. Her illustrations have been published in such magazines as the New Yorker, Live, and National Forum, and the Phi Kappa Phi journal in an issue devoted to The Sundance Film Festival. Jason Bellipanni, 27, lives in his native town of Boulder, Colorado with his wife Barbara and is working on a novellength project and, less frequently, on a collection of essays. "Dust" was included in his graduate thesis, a collection of short stories entitled From a Pond of Slippery Devils, which recently won the 1999 Jovanovich Award for best graduate creative thesis from the University of Colorado.


C o n t r i b u t o r ' s

N o t e s

AUTHORS

Sue Allison is a graduate of McGill University and Vermont College. She is the Washington, D.C. correspondent for Life Magazine. She has had work published in the Harvard Review, Sundog, and Fourth Genre. Faynessa Armand has taught elementary school in South Central Los Angeles for several years but has always written or wanted to write. She has been published in the Santa Barbara Review, The Belletrist Review, A Place to Enter, and most recently A Community of Voices. Ms. Armand was the 1996 winner of the Fiction Prize at the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference. She continues to teach and write. Sandy Asirvatham is a freelance magazine writer living in Baltimore, whose regular gigs include profiling novelists for Poets &Writers and reviewing fiction for Time Out New York. Her biweekly opinion column on various cultural and political topics appears in Baltimore Citypaper (www.citypaper.com). "Sheath" is her first published piece of fiction. Jenny Belin is a native of Los Angeles, and currently lives in New York where she works as a writer and illustrator. She graduated from Skidmore College, where she was the recipient of the Frances Steloff Award for Poetry. Her illustrations have been published in such magazines as the New Yorker, Live, and National Forum, and the Phi Kappa Phi journal in an issue devoted to The Sundance Film Festival. Jason Bellipanni, 27, lives in his native town of Boulder, Colorado with his wife Barbara and is working on a novellength project and, less frequently, on a collection of essays. "Dust" was included in his graduate thesis, a collection of short stories entitled From a Pond of Slippery Devils, which recently won the 1999 Jovanovich Award for best graduate creative thesis from the University of Colorado.


Amina Memory Cain recently received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is her first published story. The motion she has made more than any other is walking.

John Stinson lives in Baltimore and attends Johns Hopkins University. His fiction has appeared in the Chicago Review and Fuel magazine. His plays have been performed at Actors Theatre of Louisville and are published by Samuel French.

Jennifer Carr is a fiction writer who lives in upstate New York. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly, The Nebraska Review, and Columbia. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Greg Strong received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona. He now lives in Boston where he teaches creative writing and works as an engineer.

Kevin Dolgin is originally from New York, but has lived in France for the past fourteen years. He is both a businessman and a musician, as well as a writer of fiction. He has been published in Zoetrope All Story Extra.

Susie Stulz is a writer for business. She does prep interviews with Leonard Lopate on the New York Radio Show and New York Company. She lives in Manhattan.

Jiirgen Fauth is from Wiesbaden, Germany, and received his Ph.D. from the Center for Writers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. His work has appeared in Enterzone, Potatoeaters Quarterly, and the Chiron Review. Jiirgen is associate fiction editor for the Mississippi Review and lives in New Orleans.

Philip Wexler lives and works in Bethesda, Maryland, writes mostly poetry, and ventures infrequently into the world of fiction.

Michael Hollister attended Stanford, lives in Oregon and has worked as a sketch artist, intelligence agent, and professor. He has published fiction in periodicals including Paris Transcontinental, The Gettysburg Review, North Atlantic Review, and Mississippi Review. Jeanne Leiby is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. Her stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the following publications: Sundog, Seattle Review, Poetry Motel, Greensboro Review, New Orleans Review, and Indiana Review among others. Nanette Lerner writes by day for a New York advertising agency. By night, she writes for herself. She has previously published in North Dakota Quarterly and is currently finishing her first collection of short stories, Mall Cops. Lois Lorimer's stories have appeared in Vermont Ink and in Vermont Voices III, an anthology. She lives, and writes, in Woodstock, Vermont. Julie Odell lives in Philadelphia where she works as an adult literacy administrator and teaches English at Community College of Philadelphia. She holds an M.A. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Marina Hope Wilson received her B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996, where she taught poetry workshops to urban youth. She grew up in Sonoma County and currently lives and works in Oakland. "Wife" is her first published story. ARTISTS Zachary Harris studied painting at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the New York Studio School, and Bard College where he graduated with a B.A. in Liberal Arts. Since then, he has painted in France and been a member of the Byrdclisse Arts Colony in Woodstock, New York. He is currently at work on large, abstract paintings in his upstate New York studio. Lia Lackey is a Bay Area native and graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently living and working in the East Bay and plans to return to academia with graduate studies in Photography and Graphic Arts. Young Suh is currently attending the University of California at Berkeley majoring in art and minoring in business. Her favorite mediums include printmaking, photography, and painting.


Amina Memory Cain recently received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This is her first published story. The motion she has made more than any other is walking.

John Stinson lives in Baltimore and attends Johns Hopkins University. His fiction has appeared in the Chicago Review and Fuel magazine. His plays have been performed at Actors Theatre of Louisville and are published by Samuel French.

Jennifer Carr is a fiction writer who lives in upstate New York. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly, The Nebraska Review, and Columbia. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Greg Strong received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona. He now lives in Boston where he teaches creative writing and works as an engineer.

Kevin Dolgin is originally from New York, but has lived in France for the past fourteen years. He is both a businessman and a musician, as well as a writer of fiction. He has been published in Zoetrope All Story Extra.

Susie Stulz is a writer for business. She does prep interviews with Leonard Lopate on the New York Radio Show and New York Company. She lives in Manhattan.

Jiirgen Fauth is from Wiesbaden, Germany, and received his Ph.D. from the Center for Writers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. His work has appeared in Enterzone, Potatoeaters Quarterly, and the Chiron Review. Jiirgen is associate fiction editor for the Mississippi Review and lives in New Orleans.

Philip Wexler lives and works in Bethesda, Maryland, writes mostly poetry, and ventures infrequently into the world of fiction.

Michael Hollister attended Stanford, lives in Oregon and has worked as a sketch artist, intelligence agent, and professor. He has published fiction in periodicals including Paris Transcontinental, The Gettysburg Review, North Atlantic Review, and Mississippi Review. Jeanne Leiby is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. Her stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the following publications: Sundog, Seattle Review, Poetry Motel, Greensboro Review, New Orleans Review, and Indiana Review among others. Nanette Lerner writes by day for a New York advertising agency. By night, she writes for herself. She has previously published in North Dakota Quarterly and is currently finishing her first collection of short stories, Mall Cops. Lois Lorimer's stories have appeared in Vermont Ink and in Vermont Voices III, an anthology. She lives, and writes, in Woodstock, Vermont. Julie Odell lives in Philadelphia where she works as an adult literacy administrator and teaches English at Community College of Philadelphia. She holds an M.A. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Marina Hope Wilson received her B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1996, where she taught poetry workshops to urban youth. She grew up in Sonoma County and currently lives and works in Oakland. "Wife" is her first published story. ARTISTS Zachary Harris studied painting at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the New York Studio School, and Bard College where he graduated with a B.A. in Liberal Arts. Since then, he has painted in France and been a member of the Byrdclisse Arts Colony in Woodstock, New York. He is currently at work on large, abstract paintings in his upstate New York studio. Lia Lackey is a Bay Area native and graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently living and working in the East Bay and plans to return to academia with graduate studies in Photography and Graphic Arts. Young Suh is currently attending the University of California at Berkeley majoring in art and minoring in business. Her favorite mediums include printmaking, photography, and painting.


Berkeley Fiction Review's Fifth

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Berkeley Fiction Review's Fifth

A n n u a l

C A L

S T U D E N T

G E N E R A L

Sudden

Fiction

-

Contest

B O O K

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* $6 entry fee + $4 for each additional entry * Make check or money order payable to BFR Sudden Fix * 1000 words or less "* Typed, double-spaced * Include a brief cover letter St SASE for list of winners *Submissions will not be returned

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Poetry • Fiction

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reviews:

"Quannly Wen ii among a select few literary mapuines consisicnily publishing work of interest tii us" Charlei Scribner's Sons

Ai Agha Shahid Ali David Baker Christopher Buckley Fred Ghappell Alan Cheuse H. E. Francis Patricia Coedicke Albert Goldbarth T. R. Hummer

Rodney Jones Allison Joseph Philip Levine Larry Levis William Matthews Beauvais McCaddon Lynne McMahon Antonya Nelson Lucia Perillo Jan Ramjerdi

Maurya Simon Sherod Santos Gary Soto Nance \&n Winckel Gordon Weaver Charles H.Webb Bruce Weigl David Wojahn Robert Wrigley Paul Zimmer

* Pushcart Prize: 1996, 1998 * Bat American Short Stories: 1996 * * Best American Poetry: 1997 * New Stories of the South: 1997 * Sponsors

of (t biennial

1 year (2 issues) $12.00 2 years (4 issues) $21.00 Single issues $7.50 Quarterly West 317 Olpin Union University of Utah Salt Lake City UT 84112

novella competition

since 1982,

M o u n t a i n s

R e v i e w

, Julia Alvarez ' * ™Phillip] opateMarvin Bell Carol Muske • : .'.' Robert Blv Marv Oliver Hayticn Carriiih ' Grace Pale)' • . . . • Mark Doty .Molly Peacock • : ' Stephen Dunn 1 Robert PiiiSkv ; •• Lynn Emanuel M a t Lynne Sharon Schwartz NlOzakc Shange • Carol Emsh wilier Alix Kates Shulman . ; Alice Fulton t i t i f f b Gary Soto -. • ••••-• . Albert Goldbarth • Joy Harjo Elizabeth Spires Michael Harper * i ' pavid St* John Yusei Koimmyakua Ruth Stone 0 L Max trie Kumirt B & » i James Tate. m Ann Laulerbiich g a L - — * •. Derek Walcotr '' ' ' "' Heather McMttgh • Charles Wright f - f e 2 : f t | , * '- «**J-«i ,"-•'.

' NeilShcpani • '" '• Editor ' .' - ' •'." ' •. Tony Whedon, .

poetry

fiction

photography

essavs

reviews

"GMR is solid, handsome, comprehensive."

- Literary Atagaz'Ht' Review ''GMK... haS a strong record of quality work,L.mimy exciting new voices." • •'•.., .;.-'• — Library Journal "GMIt possesses character, .vision and cnergy...The production is beautiful and the space crisp and dear." ' / :,-.-\ - Magazine Rack "One Of the most beautifully done literary magazines, GMH spins an aura of . * creative energy, artful diversity, and thematic unity throughout its presentation," ..'""-"•• > -. .- - flotitc PlanetNew? fSMR's tOtlt anniversary issue is a "jam-packed treasure-troVe for poetry . devolees...a spell-binding project that will entice the knowledgeable and enthrall . the novice.''.. . • .7 ; , - Small Magazine Review 'Best American Poetry'*-1997

Pushcart Prize - 1998

' SS.SO/vumwt issue $}4/ane-year subscription $2I/rwo-year subscription • Make out check or money order to GMR and send to: Green Mountains Review, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT 05656


G r e e n Q

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a

r

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|

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l

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J

restive I

Poetry • Fiction

M

&

s

t

reviews:

"Quannly Wen ii among a select few literary mapuines consisicnily publishing work of interest tii us" Charlei Scribner's Sons

Ai Agha Shahid Ali David Baker Christopher Buckley Fred Ghappell Alan Cheuse H. E. Francis Patricia Coedicke Albert Goldbarth T. R. Hummer

Rodney Jones Allison Joseph Philip Levine Larry Levis William Matthews Beauvais McCaddon Lynne McMahon Antonya Nelson Lucia Perillo Jan Ramjerdi

Maurya Simon Sherod Santos Gary Soto Nance \&n Winckel Gordon Weaver Charles H.Webb Bruce Weigl David Wojahn Robert Wrigley Paul Zimmer

* Pushcart Prize: 1996, 1998 * Bat American Short Stories: 1996 * * Best American Poetry: 1997 * New Stories of the South: 1997 * Sponsors

of (t biennial

1 year (2 issues) $12.00 2 years (4 issues) $21.00 Single issues $7.50 Quarterly West 317 Olpin Union University of Utah Salt Lake City UT 84112

novella competition

since 1982,

M o u n t a i n s

R e v i e w

, Julia Alvarez ' * ™Phillip] opateMarvin Bell Carol Muske • : .'.' Robert Blv Marv Oliver Hayticn Carriiih ' Grace Pale)' • . . . • Mark Doty .Molly Peacock • : ' Stephen Dunn 1 Robert PiiiSkv ; •• Lynn Emanuel M a t Lynne Sharon Schwartz NlOzakc Shange • Carol Emsh wilier Alix Kates Shulman . ; Alice Fulton t i t i f f b Gary Soto -. • ••••-• . Albert Goldbarth • Joy Harjo Elizabeth Spires Michael Harper * i ' pavid St* John Yusei Koimmyakua Ruth Stone 0 L Max trie Kumirt B & » i James Tate. m Ann Laulerbiich g a L - — * •. Derek Walcotr '' ' ' "' Heather McMttgh • Charles Wright f - f e 2 : f t | , * '- «**J-«i ,"-•'.

' NeilShcpani • '" '• Editor ' .' - ' •'." ' •. Tony Whedon, .

poetry

fiction

photography

essavs

reviews

"GMR is solid, handsome, comprehensive."

- Literary Atagaz'Ht' Review ''GMK... haS a strong record of quality work,L.mimy exciting new voices." • •'•.., .;.-'• — Library Journal "GMIt possesses character, .vision and cnergy...The production is beautiful and the space crisp and dear." ' / :,-.-\ - Magazine Rack "One Of the most beautifully done literary magazines, GMH spins an aura of . * creative energy, artful diversity, and thematic unity throughout its presentation," ..'""-"•• > -. .- - flotitc PlanetNew? fSMR's tOtlt anniversary issue is a "jam-packed treasure-troVe for poetry . devolees...a spell-binding project that will entice the knowledgeable and enthrall . the novice.''.. . • .7 ; , - Small Magazine Review 'Best American Poetry'*-1997

Pushcart Prize - 1998

' SS.SO/vumwt issue $}4/ane-year subscription $2I/rwo-year subscription • Make out check or money order to GMR and send to: Green Mountains Review, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT 05656


P r o u d l y o u r B a c k I s s u e s Berkeley Fiction Review

f o r

Issue # 1 7 featuring Alvaro Mutis $7.50

Issue # 1 8 featuring DeWitt Henry $7.50

s t a n d a r d s

t h e i n

l o w e r i n g

f i r s t

7 5

t i m e

y e a r s .

Issue # 1 9 featuring G. Davies Jandrey $8.50 In the summer of 1999, Time Magazine accused The Virginia Quarterly Review of lowering ita standards for the first time in 75 years.

Name: Address:

Send to: B e r k e l e y F i c t i o n Review, c/o E s h l e m a n L i b r a r y , 2 0 1 H e l l e r L o u n g e , U n i v e r s i t y of C a l i f o r n i a Berkeley, C A 9 4 7 2 0 ( M a k e checks payable to Berkeley Fiction Review)

WHAT D i r , | ^ ^ ^ ^ S w p . DO?

We ran a previously unpublished I^SfeB story hy William Faulkner, which had been rejected by Harpers and f3§llill The Atlantic Monthly back in 1948, before Faulkner was famous. You'd beforgivenfor wondering what took us so long, bur if you subscribe now for two years (just $25), we'll promise never to do it again. Really. As a sign of our commitment, we'll send you a FREE BOOK, We Write for Our Own Time, a collection of essays (a «9.95 value) from our long and onlyrecentlycheckered past. So you'll get two years of great writing-fiction, poetry, essays on art, politics, history, and sports—plus a free book. ^ • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • . • • • • • • ^ Allforonly $25. TRUST os. !«*«» .,„ , I SUBSCRIBE TODAY: Call 804.92.4.3I24or ate the toupoa, www.virginia.edu/vqr

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THE VIRGINIA!™ QUARTERLY REVIEW J ^ ^ ^ . u ^ ^ ^

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A MAI-TONALJOURNA i AL NDO»DIUTRHAII; SCUSSION**• a ?.0.^ax^Qaiii,C^t\0a^^i\t,YwsinU^i.na±-Ai3.\ &-^-rnjg


P r o u d l y o u r B a c k I s s u e s Berkeley Fiction Review

f o r

Issue # 1 7 featuring Alvaro Mutis $7.50

Issue # 1 8 featuring DeWitt Henry $7.50

s t a n d a r d s

t h e i n

l o w e r i n g

f i r s t

7 5

t i m e

y e a r s .

Issue # 1 9 featuring G. Davies Jandrey $8.50 In the summer of 1999, Time Magazine accused The Virginia Quarterly Review of lowering ita standards for the first time in 75 years.

Name: Address:

Send to: B e r k e l e y F i c t i o n Review, c/o E s h l e m a n L i b r a r y , 2 0 1 H e l l e r L o u n g e , U n i v e r s i t y of C a l i f o r n i a Berkeley, C A 9 4 7 2 0 ( M a k e checks payable to Berkeley Fiction Review)

WHAT D i r , | ^ ^ ^ ^ S w p . DO?

We ran a previously unpublished I^SfeB story hy William Faulkner, which had been rejected by Harpers and f3§llill The Atlantic Monthly back in 1948, before Faulkner was famous. You'd beforgivenfor wondering what took us so long, bur if you subscribe now for two years (just $25), we'll promise never to do it again. Really. As a sign of our commitment, we'll send you a FREE BOOK, We Write for Our Own Time, a collection of essays (a «9.95 value) from our long and onlyrecentlycheckered past. So you'll get two years of great writing-fiction, poetry, essays on art, politics, history, and sports—plus a free book. ^ • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • . • • • • • • ^ Allforonly $25. TRUST os. !«*«» .,„ , I SUBSCRIBE TODAY: Call 804.92.4.3I24or ate the toupoa, www.virginia.edu/vqr

u*rjv.«o«""«D I

THE VIRGINIA!™ QUARTERLY REVIEW J ^ ^ ^ . u ^ ^ ^

j

A MAI-TONALJOURNA i AL NDO»DIUTRHAII; SCUSSION**• a ?.0.^ax^Qaiii,C^t\0a^^i\t,YwsinU^i.na±-Ai3.\ &-^-rnjg


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A v a i l a b l e a t y o u r local b o o k s t o r e o r d i r e c t

if y o u ' v e m i s s e d t h e Southwest Review i n t h e past f e w years, you've also missed: Alice Adams Stanistaw Baranczak John Barth Marvin Bell Quentin Bell David Bromwich Roseflen Brown Hortense Callsher Amy Clampiti Andrei Codrescu Annie Dillard Mlllicent Dillon Tom DisGh Michael Dorris Rite Dove Margaret Drabble Alice Fulton Angelica Gamett William Qass DanaGfoia Albert Goldbarth Debora Greger Eamon Grennan Allan Gurganus Rachel Hadas Shelby Hearon Rolando Htnojosa Edward Hirsch John Hollander Michael Holroyd Garrett Kaoru Hongo Gafway Kinnell Mary Kinzie David Leavitt Wendy Lesser William Logan Alison Lurie David Lehman J. D. MoClatchy James Merrill Iris Murdoch Nigel Nicolson Joyce Carol Gates Grace Paley Molly Peacock Robert Pinsky Reynolds Price Adrienne Rich Mary Jo Salter Jim Shepard Lee Smith Elizabeth Spires Helen Vendler David Wagoner William Weaver Theodore Weiss Edmund White Charles Wright D o n ' t m i s s it, or t h e m , a n y longer.

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Subscription (two issues) — $12.50 Sample Issue — $7.50 ppd S A S E for Guidelines

Please enter my subscription to the Southwest Review • 1 year $24.00 {4 issues) • 2 years $42.00 • 3 years $65.00 Beginning with Q current issue Q next issue Q other Name. Address (with zip). City , .Zip. .State, Q Payment enclosed G Bill me G MasterCard QV1SA Card # . Exp. date , (Note; Please add $$ per year tor each subscription outside tho U.&) Home phone_ Southwest Review, Southern Methodist University, PO Box 750374, Dallas TX 7527S-0374 (214) 768-1037


A perfect subscribing

day

for...

and submitting

to

short fiction

A v a i l a b l e a t y o u r local b o o k s t o r e o r d i r e c t

if y o u ' v e m i s s e d t h e Southwest Review i n t h e past f e w years, you've also missed: Alice Adams Stanistaw Baranczak John Barth Marvin Bell Quentin Bell David Bromwich Roseflen Brown Hortense Callsher Amy Clampiti Andrei Codrescu Annie Dillard Mlllicent Dillon Tom DisGh Michael Dorris Rite Dove Margaret Drabble Alice Fulton Angelica Gamett William Qass DanaGfoia Albert Goldbarth Debora Greger Eamon Grennan Allan Gurganus Rachel Hadas Shelby Hearon Rolando Htnojosa Edward Hirsch John Hollander Michael Holroyd Garrett Kaoru Hongo Gafway Kinnell Mary Kinzie David Leavitt Wendy Lesser William Logan Alison Lurie David Lehman J. D. MoClatchy James Merrill Iris Murdoch Nigel Nicolson Joyce Carol Gates Grace Paley Molly Peacock Robert Pinsky Reynolds Price Adrienne Rich Mary Jo Salter Jim Shepard Lee Smith Elizabeth Spires Helen Vendler David Wagoner William Weaver Theodore Weiss Edmund White Charles Wright D o n ' t m i s s it, or t h e m , a n y longer.

P.O. Box 3 8 1 3 3 2

Subscribe now.

Cambridge, MA 02238-1332

Subscription (two issues) — $12.50 Sample Issue — $7.50 ppd S A S E for Guidelines

Please enter my subscription to the Southwest Review • 1 year $24.00 {4 issues) • 2 years $42.00 • 3 years $65.00 Beginning with Q current issue Q next issue Q other Name. Address (with zip). City , .Zip. .State, Q Payment enclosed G Bill me G MasterCard QV1SA Card # . Exp. date , (Note; Please add $$ per year tor each subscription outside tho U.&) Home phone_ Southwest Review, Southern Methodist University, PO Box 750374, Dallas TX 7527S-0374 (214) 768-1037


"Among the best small magazines being published—even the graphics are first rate." Ann Beattie "It's terrific." Max Apple "Elegant, warm, thoughtful— with a weight to it and a simplicity." Joseph McEIroy "One of the most exciting, imaginative, energetic, and important literary magazines in the country." Joe David Bellamy "Mississippi Review has become a vital and significant publication, as good as any, and right here in the south, right there in Mississippi." David Madden "Wonderful and amazing, on an instant footing with TriQuarterly and Fiction . . . MR introduces into the region some much needed leadership."

"Among the truly sustaining literary publications in the country today." John Hawkes "It is a great pleasure to read MR; the handsome format and sophisticated editing earn the magazine a place of honor on my shelf." Mark Mirsky "Mississippi Review is probably one of the best magazines in the country." Charles Simlc "Mississippi Review is one of the journals that I have come to treasure every year." Bill Henderson "You sure do put out the prettiest mag in sight"

N e w

E n g l a n d

MIDDLEBURY

R e v i e w SKRIKS

From its founding in 1978, NER has continued to publish poetry and prose of the highest quality. Year after year, it has kept its readers in touch with the imaginative adventures of many of the world's most celebrated authors, while maintaining its commitment to presenting the work of provocative emerging writers. Recent and forthcoming issues feature writings by William Pritchard, Ellen Cooney, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Agha Shahid Alt, Carl Phillips, Lynne McMahon, Ha Jin, Debra Spark, W. S. Di Piero, Joann Robin, Steve Almond, and Alfred Corn—to name just a few. In future issues of NER you'll find memorable and unpredictable writing of all kinds, in all genres. You'l! want to keep in touch. $23 individuals, S40 institutions / $7 single issue price To order, write to:

Gordon Lish "MR is one of the most remarkable and indispensable literary journals of our time." Raymond Carver

New England Review attn: Orders Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 05753

JeWitt Henry m i s s i s s i p p i r e v i e w box 5144 hattiasburg ms 39406 601-266-4321

Visit us on the Web at vvww.niiddlcbury.edu/-ncrcview

Look to NER for the challenges your taste requires


"Among the best small magazines being published—even the graphics are first rate." Ann Beattie "It's terrific." Max Apple "Elegant, warm, thoughtful— with a weight to it and a simplicity." Joseph McEIroy "One of the most exciting, imaginative, energetic, and important literary magazines in the country." Joe David Bellamy "Mississippi Review has become a vital and significant publication, as good as any, and right here in the south, right there in Mississippi." David Madden "Wonderful and amazing, on an instant footing with TriQuarterly and Fiction . . . MR introduces into the region some much needed leadership."

"Among the truly sustaining literary publications in the country today." John Hawkes "It is a great pleasure to read MR; the handsome format and sophisticated editing earn the magazine a place of honor on my shelf." Mark Mirsky "Mississippi Review is probably one of the best magazines in the country." Charles Simlc "Mississippi Review is one of the journals that I have come to treasure every year." Bill Henderson "You sure do put out the prettiest mag in sight"

N e w

E n g l a n d

MIDDLEBURY

R e v i e w SKRIKS

From its founding in 1978, NER has continued to publish poetry and prose of the highest quality. Year after year, it has kept its readers in touch with the imaginative adventures of many of the world's most celebrated authors, while maintaining its commitment to presenting the work of provocative emerging writers. Recent and forthcoming issues feature writings by William Pritchard, Ellen Cooney, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Agha Shahid Alt, Carl Phillips, Lynne McMahon, Ha Jin, Debra Spark, W. S. Di Piero, Joann Robin, Steve Almond, and Alfred Corn—to name just a few. In future issues of NER you'll find memorable and unpredictable writing of all kinds, in all genres. You'l! want to keep in touch. $23 individuals, S40 institutions / $7 single issue price To order, write to:

Gordon Lish "MR is one of the most remarkable and indispensable literary journals of our time." Raymond Carver

New England Review attn: Orders Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 05753

JeWitt Henry m i s s i s s i p p i r e v i e w box 5144 hattiasburg ms 39406 601-266-4321

Visit us on the Web at vvww.niiddlcbury.edu/-ncrcview

Look to NER for the challenges your taste requires


2000 AJl^n Ginsberg, P o e t r y

A w a r d s

Honoring Allen Ginsberg's to American Sponsored

Contribution Lite^ture by

T h e P o e t r y C e n t e r at P a s s a i c C o u n t y Ocrfriinujjity C o l l e g e First Prize: $1000 S e c o n d P r f i e ; $2Q0 T h i r d P r i z e ; $100 S e n d SASJE f o r c o n t e s t r u l e s t o : Maria M a z # r f t i Gillan, Pirector, Poetry Center Passaic County Community College O n e College Boulevard, Paterson, NJ 07505-1179 or access "wet) page wwwpccc.cc.nj .us/poetry For further information (973) 684-6^55


2000 AJl^n Ginsberg, P o e t r y

A w a r d s

Honoring Allen Ginsberg's to American Sponsored

Contribution Lite^ture by

T h e P o e t r y C e n t e r at P a s s a i c C o u n t y Ocrfriinujjity C o l l e g e First Prize: $1000 S e c o n d P r f i e ; $2Q0 T h i r d P r i z e ; $100 S e n d SASJE f o r c o n t e s t r u l e s t o : Maria M a z # r f t i Gillan, Pirector, Poetry Center Passaic County Community College O n e College Boulevard, Paterson, NJ 07505-1179 or access "wet) page wwwpccc.cc.nj .us/poetry For further information (973) 684-6^55




fiction by: Sue Allison 'Jaynessa Armand Sandy Asirvatham jenny (Belin Jason 'Bellipanni Amino'MemoryCain Jennifer Can 'Kevin 'Dolgin Jiirgen 'Jautft Michael Hollister Jeanne Leiby 9(anette Lemer Lois Lorimer Julie Odell John Stinson Cjreg Strong Susie Stulz ' Philip 'Wetfer Marina'Hope'Wilson Cover Art by: Zachary 'Harris Illustrations by: Lia Lackey young Suh