Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 21

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B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W

EDITORS

Marie Bao Amy Lau ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Elisha Cohn Natalie Wright EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS

Martha Duffield Philip Kuan STAFF

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.

Karen Abbott Megan Carpenter Amy Casey Kevin Deenihan Michelle Fellows Dustin Friedman Matt Gough Sarah Haufrect Elisa Huang Cynthia Hunter Laura Leung

Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 10 Eshleman Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-4500. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material.

Andrew Denman

Member of CLMP

INTERIOR ART

Cover Art by Andrew Denman: Detail from "The Resurrection of Flight HI" Copyright 2001 by Berkeley Fiction Review

COVER ART

Irina Mikhalevich Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Alonzo Printing, Haward, California Cover art scanned by Linotext, Menlo Park, California ISSN 1087-7053

Rachel Markova Michelle Mecklenbur: Jamie Montefu Nirmala Nataraj Sean Nye Gabriel Peters-Lazaro Jeff Pynes Kelli Schultz Katherine Sear Vlad Shuster


B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W

EDITORS

Marie Bao Amy Lau ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Elisha Cohn Natalie Wright EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS

Martha Duffield Philip Kuan STAFF

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.

Karen Abbott Megan Carpenter Amy Casey Kevin Deenihan Michelle Fellows Dustin Friedman Matt Gough Sarah Haufrect Elisa Huang Cynthia Hunter Laura Leung

Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 10 Eshleman Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-4500. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material.

Andrew Denman

Member of CLMP

INTERIOR ART

Cover Art by Andrew Denman: Detail from "The Resurrection of Flight HI" Copyright 2001 by Berkeley Fiction Review

COVER ART

Irina Mikhalevich Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Alonzo Printing, Haward, California Cover art scanned by Linotext, Menlo Park, California ISSN 1087-7053

Rachel Markova Michelle Mecklenbur: Jamie Montefu Nirmala Nataraj Sean Nye Gabriel Peters-Lazaro Jeff Pynes Kelli Schultz Katherine Sear Vlad Shuster


A D V I S O R S

n 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

A L U M N I

Grace Fujimoto John Rauschenburg Nikki Thompson Elaine W o n g

F O R E W A R D

The mission of Berkeley Fiction Review has always been to publish a wide variety of styles and voices. In Issue 21, we feel that we have been successful in achieving this goal. The stories found in this magazine are a diverse collection, rich in the different narrative techniques employed and the wideranging subject matter explored. From the experimental discourse on love in aArs Humanum" to the traditional contemplation of a father-daughter relationship in "Sundays with Melody," the stories represent an eclectic slice of modern society. We are proud of these pieces and believe that this issue has something to offer for every reader. Thanks to our staff, no manuscript went unread during the selection process. Our empty file cabinet bears testimony to their dedicated efforts. We thank the past and present Berkeley Fiction Review staff for their invaluable help and input. The magazine would never have come to fruit without you. We also would like to thank the innumerable 'writers who shared with us their creative vision and talent. On a different note, we want to pay tribute to one of our contributing authors, Ruthanne Wiley, who unexpectedly passed away. Her story, "Things That Cannot Be," is a piece that is reflective of the solid fiction traditionally found in our magazines. We leave you now to enjoy Issue 21 of Berkeley Fiction Review. ^

-

Marie Bao

^

<&*>

^ Amy Lau


A D V I S O R S

n 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

A L U M N I

Grace Fujimoto John Rauschenburg Nikki Thompson Elaine W o n g

F O R E W A R D

The mission of Berkeley Fiction Review has always been to publish a wide variety of styles and voices. In Issue 21, we feel that we have been successful in achieving this goal. The stories found in this magazine are a diverse collection, rich in the different narrative techniques employed and the wideranging subject matter explored. From the experimental discourse on love in aArs Humanum" to the traditional contemplation of a father-daughter relationship in "Sundays with Melody," the stories represent an eclectic slice of modern society. We are proud of these pieces and believe that this issue has something to offer for every reader. Thanks to our staff, no manuscript went unread during the selection process. Our empty file cabinet bears testimony to their dedicated efforts. We thank the past and present Berkeley Fiction Review staff for their invaluable help and input. The magazine would never have come to fruit without you. We also would like to thank the innumerable 'writers who shared with us their creative vision and talent. On a different note, we want to pay tribute to one of our contributing authors, Ruthanne Wiley, who unexpectedly passed away. Her story, "Things That Cannot Be," is a piece that is reflective of the solid fiction traditionally found in our magazines. We leave you now to enjoy Issue 21 of Berkeley Fiction Review. ^

-

Marie Bao

^

<&*>

^ Amy Lau


C O N T E N T S S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

W i n n e r s o f t h e Berkeley

Fiction

Review's

Fifth A n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest First Place Donna George Storey "Fruit" Berkeley, California Second Place Cecilia Johnson "Pretty" Denver, Colorado Third Place Steve Tomasula u Ars Humanum" South Bend, Indiana Honorable Mention Mary Jeanne Deery "The Cure For Cancer" San Francisco, California Jeanne Lott "The Prettiest Boy In the World" Vista, California

As the Crow Louis Gallo

13

How to Stop Motion Suzy Spraker

25

Playland and the Gladiola Girl Stephen Bercovitch

35

Fruit Donna George Storey First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

45

Things that Cannot Be Ruthanne Wiley

49

Ebb Tremble Rob Yardumian

59

What I Have Alice Bradley

63

Pretty Cecilia Johnson Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

69

Walking Amsterdam Patricia Abbott

73

At the Funeral for the Death of Expectation Gene Ryder

86

Chisel Patricia McEvoy

89


C O N T E N T S S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

W i n n e r s o f t h e Berkeley

Fiction

Review's

Fifth A n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest First Place Donna George Storey "Fruit" Berkeley, California Second Place Cecilia Johnson "Pretty" Denver, Colorado Third Place Steve Tomasula u Ars Humanum" South Bend, Indiana Honorable Mention Mary Jeanne Deery "The Cure For Cancer" San Francisco, California Jeanne Lott "The Prettiest Boy In the World" Vista, California

As the Crow Louis Gallo

13

How to Stop Motion Suzy Spraker

25

Playland and the Gladiola Girl Stephen Bercovitch

35

Fruit Donna George Storey First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

45

Things that Cannot Be Ruthanne Wiley

49

Ebb Tremble Rob Yardumian

59

What I Have Alice Bradley

63

Pretty Cecilia Johnson Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

69

Walking Amsterdam Patricia Abbott

73

At the Funeral for the Death of Expectation Gene Ryder

86

Chisel Patricia McEvoy

89


Alfredo's Timeless Death D. Kastinovich

99

Ars Humanum Steve Tomasula Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

107

The Story of Esther Quinones Joshua C. Kamler

110

Sundays With Melody Elise Juska

119


Alfredo's Timeless Death D. Kastinovich

99

Ars Humanum Steve Tomasula Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

107

The Story of Esther Quinones Joshua C. Kamler

110

Sundays With Melody Elise Juska

119


A s

T H E

C R O W

Louis G a l l o

alsar was not surprised to spot the crow swoop from his roof with one of Pinkie's discarded pacifiers protruding from its beak. He could no longer set out garbage in the alley behind the house without incident. The previous scavengers, a pack of emaciated German shepherds, were bad enough, but the birds ripped plastic bags to shreds and scattered refuse for blocks. Lyra had just last night thrown out some of the baby's now useless equipment, and this crow must have snatched up the mottled pacifier, shot over the house and found itself sinking fast. Cushioned on Balsar's lap as they rocked on the front porch swing, Pinkie stared intently at the crow's booty with dim, angry recognition. Balsar lamented that his daughter's nickname rhymed with binkie, but he had called her Pinkie since the day she was born—to the dismay of everyone—and would not stop now because of unfortunate poetry. She started to sass the crow with an angry ga} ga, ga, but Balsar stroked her back and whispered "It's okay" until she lost interest. "It's okay" always worked. At nine months it had become her habit to grasp a loose segment of skin on Balsar's neck with the thumb and index fingers of her right hand. She would pinch gently for half an hour or so as they sat watching passing cars and blue jays and the occasional airplane. They liked twilight best, especially during full moons, which Balsar always took as an omen. There sat father and daughter, separated by practically half a century, Balsar's neck tweaked by minuscule fingers as the crow labored to stay aloft, weighed down by an infant's binkie. This is the kind of life I now lead, Balsar thought. Even the tree in his front yard, which he gazed upon with fond sadness, made worrisome structural noises because chipmunks 13


A s

T H E

C R O W

Louis G a l l o

alsar was not surprised to spot the crow swoop from his roof with one of Pinkie's discarded pacifiers protruding from its beak. He could no longer set out garbage in the alley behind the house without incident. The previous scavengers, a pack of emaciated German shepherds, were bad enough, but the birds ripped plastic bags to shreds and scattered refuse for blocks. Lyra had just last night thrown out some of the baby's now useless equipment, and this crow must have snatched up the mottled pacifier, shot over the house and found itself sinking fast. Cushioned on Balsar's lap as they rocked on the front porch swing, Pinkie stared intently at the crow's booty with dim, angry recognition. Balsar lamented that his daughter's nickname rhymed with binkie, but he had called her Pinkie since the day she was born—to the dismay of everyone—and would not stop now because of unfortunate poetry. She started to sass the crow with an angry ga} ga, ga, but Balsar stroked her back and whispered "It's okay" until she lost interest. "It's okay" always worked. At nine months it had become her habit to grasp a loose segment of skin on Balsar's neck with the thumb and index fingers of her right hand. She would pinch gently for half an hour or so as they sat watching passing cars and blue jays and the occasional airplane. They liked twilight best, especially during full moons, which Balsar always took as an omen. There sat father and daughter, separated by practically half a century, Balsar's neck tweaked by minuscule fingers as the crow labored to stay aloft, weighed down by an infant's binkie. This is the kind of life I now lead, Balsar thought. Even the tree in his front yard, which he gazed upon with fond sadness, made worrisome structural noises because chipmunks 13


Berkeley Fiction Review had dug caverns beneath its roots. Balsar imagined its vast, intricate network of ganglial arteries floating in the dark, silent emptiness of a sinkhole created by cute rodents. It would not surprise him if the moon turned square. He knew the preposterous had always been in the cards yet suppressed the urge to snicker. Any unwarranted sound at all made Pinkie go rigid with alert, and she would whip her head around to study him. Her eyes were the color of avocados. "I didn't say anything," he defended himself silently. "It's okay." Suddenly fireflies emerged from the grass, lighting up the lawn in graceful, silent jubilation, and Balsar figured he was in a kind of low-key heaven. Pinkie stared intently at the fireflies as she stared at everything—she had the vision of a jeweler—removed her fingers from Balsar's neck and started wiggling them, the way he often wiggled his own to unstiffen ailing cartilage. Whenever she wiggled her fingers something was in trouble, about to be seized, and if a firefly was stupid enough to drift near, she would snatch it in an instant. Not only snatch but possess, as she had seized the dandelion flower Balsar picked for her that morning. Hours later, after errands, unloading soggy bags of topsoil from his Trooper, and plucking stones from the garden bed, he came in for a drink and found Pinkie in her walker clutching the flower, which by then amounted to little more than a soggy yellowish smear. He tried to take it from her but she howled with indignation. "Whose temper?" Lyra had chirped, poking her head into the living room from the foyer where she was pulling furballs out of the entrails of their vacuum cleaner. "Not mine," Balsar sighed, "I only used to be Italian. I've changed ethnic groups. Now I'm Swiss. Actually, my grandfather was from Zurich, so it's real. The older we get the more Swiss we become." "Whose temper?" Lyra repeated. "Bubble's," he said. Bubbie the cat, who sometimes streaked across rooms like a missile, beyond visibility and sound. He knew every micro-inch of the house by smell and could vandalize anything, even treasures locked away in safes and baby-proofed kitchen cabinets. One morning when they got up they found him stranded atop the living room chandelier. It dismayed Balsar that Pinkie's first two words had been "Dada" and "kitty cat" (she pronounced it ki-kak), which put Balsar on a kind of equal footing with Bubbie; worse, she would gaze lovingly into her father's eyes while addressing him as "Ki-kak" and exclaim "Da-da" when Bubbie sauntered into the room. Lyra always laughed, 14

As the Crow but Balsar's sense of humor dwindled when it came to outright degradation. "Maybe Pinkie knows something I can only suspect in my most dreaded imagination," he might retort. "Impossible, Bubbie's a eunuch. You should know, you had his balls cut off." It hurt, mainly because castrating Bubbie had been a joint decision made in grief over the death of Toby, the previous kitty struck dead by a hit and run driver. They tried to protect Bubbie by restricting him to the house but had maimed him in the process. Swollen with regret and guilt, over not only Bubble's lost manhood but his own ignoble defection from Toby (had they merely replaced him with another?), Balsar swore he would mutilate no more animals in what was left of his life. He went out of his way to capture moths and fling them outdoors; he spared even the most ominous looking spiders; ants were welcome guests in his kitchen as long as they did not carry off the dried figs he kept in a candy bowl on the counter. He had seen it happen once when, aroused in the middle of the night by a noise, he had crept down the stairs with his antique Louisville "Slugger" (autographed by Lou Gehrig, no less). He flicked on the kitchen light to behold one of his figs dancing across the counter. For an instant he felt deliriously happy: the laws of physics were being violated before his very eyes! Then he noticed the ants, about ten stalwart creatures under the fig working selflessly for the greater good of the tribe. Go the way of the ant, thou sluggard, he remembered, and on the spot acquired enormous respect for these otherwise unglamorous invaders of his domicile. Of course, he preferred violations of the laws of physics; he longed to behold violations of the laws of physics. He wanted to rise into the air like a feather floating upwards; he wanted to burst into flame without dying; he wanted the air to breathe him for a change. He wanted some magic, maybe a miracle or two. And Pinkie was the closest he came to it. He scrutinized her every feature as she cooed covetously at the fireflies. They were Da-da too. He swiveled her head around with his hand and looked at her ears. One was definitely larger and more flowery than the other. Could not tell about the nose yet—it seemed petite enough and he planted a kiss upon it. The lips were sweet, moist berries. "Do you want me to bite your finger?" he asked. Pinkie met his eyes, then slowly raised the tiny index finger to his mouth. He'bit down on it with urgent tenderness and waited for the guffaw that invariably followed, which gave him a chance to check out the two little front teeth still half embedded in her gums. How he loved those silly, white specks of bone. 15


Berkeley Fiction Review had dug caverns beneath its roots. Balsar imagined its vast, intricate network of ganglial arteries floating in the dark, silent emptiness of a sinkhole created by cute rodents. It would not surprise him if the moon turned square. He knew the preposterous had always been in the cards yet suppressed the urge to snicker. Any unwarranted sound at all made Pinkie go rigid with alert, and she would whip her head around to study him. Her eyes were the color of avocados. "I didn't say anything," he defended himself silently. "It's okay." Suddenly fireflies emerged from the grass, lighting up the lawn in graceful, silent jubilation, and Balsar figured he was in a kind of low-key heaven. Pinkie stared intently at the fireflies as she stared at everything—she had the vision of a jeweler—removed her fingers from Balsar's neck and started wiggling them, the way he often wiggled his own to unstiffen ailing cartilage. Whenever she wiggled her fingers something was in trouble, about to be seized, and if a firefly was stupid enough to drift near, she would snatch it in an instant. Not only snatch but possess, as she had seized the dandelion flower Balsar picked for her that morning. Hours later, after errands, unloading soggy bags of topsoil from his Trooper, and plucking stones from the garden bed, he came in for a drink and found Pinkie in her walker clutching the flower, which by then amounted to little more than a soggy yellowish smear. He tried to take it from her but she howled with indignation. "Whose temper?" Lyra had chirped, poking her head into the living room from the foyer where she was pulling furballs out of the entrails of their vacuum cleaner. "Not mine," Balsar sighed, "I only used to be Italian. I've changed ethnic groups. Now I'm Swiss. Actually, my grandfather was from Zurich, so it's real. The older we get the more Swiss we become." "Whose temper?" Lyra repeated. "Bubble's," he said. Bubbie the cat, who sometimes streaked across rooms like a missile, beyond visibility and sound. He knew every micro-inch of the house by smell and could vandalize anything, even treasures locked away in safes and baby-proofed kitchen cabinets. One morning when they got up they found him stranded atop the living room chandelier. It dismayed Balsar that Pinkie's first two words had been "Dada" and "kitty cat" (she pronounced it ki-kak), which put Balsar on a kind of equal footing with Bubbie; worse, she would gaze lovingly into her father's eyes while addressing him as "Ki-kak" and exclaim "Da-da" when Bubbie sauntered into the room. Lyra always laughed, 14

As the Crow but Balsar's sense of humor dwindled when it came to outright degradation. "Maybe Pinkie knows something I can only suspect in my most dreaded imagination," he might retort. "Impossible, Bubbie's a eunuch. You should know, you had his balls cut off." It hurt, mainly because castrating Bubbie had been a joint decision made in grief over the death of Toby, the previous kitty struck dead by a hit and run driver. They tried to protect Bubbie by restricting him to the house but had maimed him in the process. Swollen with regret and guilt, over not only Bubble's lost manhood but his own ignoble defection from Toby (had they merely replaced him with another?), Balsar swore he would mutilate no more animals in what was left of his life. He went out of his way to capture moths and fling them outdoors; he spared even the most ominous looking spiders; ants were welcome guests in his kitchen as long as they did not carry off the dried figs he kept in a candy bowl on the counter. He had seen it happen once when, aroused in the middle of the night by a noise, he had crept down the stairs with his antique Louisville "Slugger" (autographed by Lou Gehrig, no less). He flicked on the kitchen light to behold one of his figs dancing across the counter. For an instant he felt deliriously happy: the laws of physics were being violated before his very eyes! Then he noticed the ants, about ten stalwart creatures under the fig working selflessly for the greater good of the tribe. Go the way of the ant, thou sluggard, he remembered, and on the spot acquired enormous respect for these otherwise unglamorous invaders of his domicile. Of course, he preferred violations of the laws of physics; he longed to behold violations of the laws of physics. He wanted to rise into the air like a feather floating upwards; he wanted to burst into flame without dying; he wanted the air to breathe him for a change. He wanted some magic, maybe a miracle or two. And Pinkie was the closest he came to it. He scrutinized her every feature as she cooed covetously at the fireflies. They were Da-da too. He swiveled her head around with his hand and looked at her ears. One was definitely larger and more flowery than the other. Could not tell about the nose yet—it seemed petite enough and he planted a kiss upon it. The lips were sweet, moist berries. "Do you want me to bite your finger?" he asked. Pinkie met his eyes, then slowly raised the tiny index finger to his mouth. He'bit down on it with urgent tenderness and waited for the guffaw that invariably followed, which gave him a chance to check out the two little front teeth still half embedded in her gums. How he loved those silly, white specks of bone. 15


As the Crow

Berkeley Fiction Review

"Guess what clogged it?" she asked, staring off into the trees. "Yo no se" he said. "What clogged it?" "The black, dried-up skin of a banana. Who vacuumed up a banana? Only in this house." Balsar laughed, "1 like it. In fact, I'm in love. It sort of fits right in." "You really saw a crow fly off with Claire's binkie?" "Pinkie's binkie," he corrected. "Did you?" "Did you find a banana skin in the vacuum cleaner?" "I think we need a vacation." "I agree. On the other hand, bananas in vacuum cleaners, crows stealing binkies...it's sort of beautiful. Marvelous even. I would like—" "What would you like?" Lyra laughed. "Bad person. I would like—" "What would you like?" "Stop!" he screeched with restraint to avoid terrifying Pinkie. "I would like...to trade places with her. A whole day would be great, but I'd settle for an hour. Imagine. Tasting apples and strawberries and carrots for the first time. Why don't we remember? Looking at cars and crows and planes and fireflies with absolute innocence. Falling asleep whenever you want to in someone's arms. Howling when in misery. We've lost it," "You want to be a baby again? Not me. I wouldn't go through all that pain again if you paid me." "A million dollars." "Nope. I'd consider a billion, but only on Wednesdays." "Hmmmm," Balsar smiled, "and I'd do it for free. In fact, I'd pay. There's the difference, Lyra, you hate life, I love it, however much it sucks." Lyra rocked with a kind of manic intensity, vibrating the foot of her crossed leg, steeping with retorts. "You," she began, "only think you love life. You've romanticized the whole shebang into this Walt Disney cartoon. Deep down, though, you hate life...otherwise you wouldn't have to romanticize. You'd take it as it is. Did you enjoy digging stones out of the garden bed?" "An earthworm crawled up my wrist," he smiled. He stared at the orange drumhead of the moon blazing between the branches of one of the pines—it seemed to settle on a limb and teeter, enjoying itself immensely. Balsar had learned to keep his eye on the moon. He had watched Neil Armstrong step out onto the surface and felt profound nausea. Luckily, we hadn't been back much,

Lyra finally came out and plopped into one of the patriotic rockers Balsar had painted red, white and blue during a rare burst of devotion to his country. "It never stops," Lyra sighed. She meant work—and Balsar agreed. They worked constantly and seemed to get nowhere. The house creaked, dust accumulated by the moment, weeds tripled their ranks overnight, a gaping crack had opened up in the plaster, faucets leaked, and light bulbs burned out almost as soon as Balsar could replace them. They felt themselves streaking toward the future, living day to day provisionally, without time for regrets or pleasure or even simple assessment. Strawberries went soggy in the refrigerator because they never got around to eating them; dusty spiderwebs hung from the ceilings; Pinkie seemed to outgrow clothes before wearing half of them. Already Balsar had stored two full plastic bags in the attic. "We've got to put her in the little machine," Lyra would sigh. Balsar rued the day when Pinkie's fixation on necks would end, as had many similar phases, like her habit of curling up her lip and huffing through her nose like a tiny engine. He had meant to make tape recordings and buy a video camera but could hardly keep up with brushing his teeth. He often tried to coax her to do it again with unabashed mimicry, but it was too late. Did other people sprint through their lives—or had he and Lyra not yet learned the basic techniques of time management? Balsar had no time to consult the experts and find out. And yet moments of almost otherworldly leisure came upon him by default when he sat with his daughter at dusk on the porch swing. He had discovered that to engage the preposterous is to outwit time. If only the preposterous came with money so he and Lyra could quit their jobs, buy some freedom and take the days like clouds take the sky. Floating. That's what he wanted most, to float, not scurry about trying to stay afloat, in that less than sublime sense of the word. He envied his daughter with an almost frantic longing. He too would hold a flower between his fingers until it became a yellowish smear, watch crows fly away with not his pacifier but his brain. He assumed his brain would look like an old, wrinkled cantaloupe. "So the vacuum cleaner's fixed?" he finally asked as Lyra oscillated in the rocker. She gripped the armrests with fingers turned talons, as if the chair was about to soar into space. "That was hours ago," she said. "Yeah, but have we talked since then? We just saw a crow fly by with Pinkie's binkie in its beak."

17

16 A


As the Crow

Berkeley Fiction Review

"Guess what clogged it?" she asked, staring off into the trees. "Yo no se" he said. "What clogged it?" "The black, dried-up skin of a banana. Who vacuumed up a banana? Only in this house." Balsar laughed, "1 like it. In fact, I'm in love. It sort of fits right in." "You really saw a crow fly off with Claire's binkie?" "Pinkie's binkie," he corrected. "Did you?" "Did you find a banana skin in the vacuum cleaner?" "I think we need a vacation." "I agree. On the other hand, bananas in vacuum cleaners, crows stealing binkies...it's sort of beautiful. Marvelous even. I would like—" "What would you like?" Lyra laughed. "Bad person. I would like—" "What would you like?" "Stop!" he screeched with restraint to avoid terrifying Pinkie. "I would like...to trade places with her. A whole day would be great, but I'd settle for an hour. Imagine. Tasting apples and strawberries and carrots for the first time. Why don't we remember? Looking at cars and crows and planes and fireflies with absolute innocence. Falling asleep whenever you want to in someone's arms. Howling when in misery. We've lost it," "You want to be a baby again? Not me. I wouldn't go through all that pain again if you paid me." "A million dollars." "Nope. I'd consider a billion, but only on Wednesdays." "Hmmmm," Balsar smiled, "and I'd do it for free. In fact, I'd pay. There's the difference, Lyra, you hate life, I love it, however much it sucks." Lyra rocked with a kind of manic intensity, vibrating the foot of her crossed leg, steeping with retorts. "You," she began, "only think you love life. You've romanticized the whole shebang into this Walt Disney cartoon. Deep down, though, you hate life...otherwise you wouldn't have to romanticize. You'd take it as it is. Did you enjoy digging stones out of the garden bed?" "An earthworm crawled up my wrist," he smiled. He stared at the orange drumhead of the moon blazing between the branches of one of the pines—it seemed to settle on a limb and teeter, enjoying itself immensely. Balsar had learned to keep his eye on the moon. He had watched Neil Armstrong step out onto the surface and felt profound nausea. Luckily, we hadn't been back much,

Lyra finally came out and plopped into one of the patriotic rockers Balsar had painted red, white and blue during a rare burst of devotion to his country. "It never stops," Lyra sighed. She meant work—and Balsar agreed. They worked constantly and seemed to get nowhere. The house creaked, dust accumulated by the moment, weeds tripled their ranks overnight, a gaping crack had opened up in the plaster, faucets leaked, and light bulbs burned out almost as soon as Balsar could replace them. They felt themselves streaking toward the future, living day to day provisionally, without time for regrets or pleasure or even simple assessment. Strawberries went soggy in the refrigerator because they never got around to eating them; dusty spiderwebs hung from the ceilings; Pinkie seemed to outgrow clothes before wearing half of them. Already Balsar had stored two full plastic bags in the attic. "We've got to put her in the little machine," Lyra would sigh. Balsar rued the day when Pinkie's fixation on necks would end, as had many similar phases, like her habit of curling up her lip and huffing through her nose like a tiny engine. He had meant to make tape recordings and buy a video camera but could hardly keep up with brushing his teeth. He often tried to coax her to do it again with unabashed mimicry, but it was too late. Did other people sprint through their lives—or had he and Lyra not yet learned the basic techniques of time management? Balsar had no time to consult the experts and find out. And yet moments of almost otherworldly leisure came upon him by default when he sat with his daughter at dusk on the porch swing. He had discovered that to engage the preposterous is to outwit time. If only the preposterous came with money so he and Lyra could quit their jobs, buy some freedom and take the days like clouds take the sky. Floating. That's what he wanted most, to float, not scurry about trying to stay afloat, in that less than sublime sense of the word. He envied his daughter with an almost frantic longing. He too would hold a flower between his fingers until it became a yellowish smear, watch crows fly away with not his pacifier but his brain. He assumed his brain would look like an old, wrinkled cantaloupe. "So the vacuum cleaner's fixed?" he finally asked as Lyra oscillated in the rocker. She gripped the armrests with fingers turned talons, as if the chair was about to soar into space. "That was hours ago," she said. "Yeah, but have we talked since then? We just saw a crow fly by with Pinkie's binkie in its beak."

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Berkeley Fiction Review although he fully expected some future team to unearth (unmoon?) a few human skeletons. "The moon dances," he said. Pinkie said "Da-da" as a swarm of bats shot across the yard. "I hear the grass growing. Listen, Lyra, it sounds like Alka-Seltzer. We should go fix those strawberries." "Shhhh, you fix them, old mah, I'm not doing one more thing. And don't let Claire taste them anymore. They're too acidic and she might be allergic." "Yeah," he sighed. He wanted to lick the moon. It's what Pinkie would do if he held her up high enough into the sky. The moon would taste like licorice. If only he could manage to let her lick all the planets as well. Jupiter would taste like turmeric, Saturn like sage, dreary little Pluto like cloves, distant and aloof. And if they got out far enough they would hear the frequencies of each planet's rumble merge into one spectacular musical chord, the solar system singing as it drifted through space like a calliope. "Let's get in the car and take off," Lyra said with an abruptness that both thrilled and terrified Balsar. Pinkie resumed pinching his neck. "You mean like a ride?" he asked. "No, I mean forever. Just take off. To the south, to the end of the continent, to emerald waters and white sand." Balsar felt his heart surge with blood. His heart was a gigantic, pulsating strawberry. "Just get in the car and drive?" Lyra eyed him with youthful,insolent defiance. "Chicken?" "Did you say...chicken?" he asked. "Chicken? Moi> Who took on the entire legal system of New Orleans during the years of our distress?"Who was arrested in a lonely mid-Western state far from home during an antiwar rally? Whose gonads have become legendary throughout the entire Blue Ridge? Yo, chicken?" "I dare us," she smirked. "And what's this yo shit? Are we Hispanic now?" "Yo-di-la-dee-dee," Balsar chuckled. "We're rovers. Pack your bags, woman." "No bags, we go as we are. We disappear like those stupid physics things you're always talking about—" "Virtual particles are not stupid. Consciousness pervades the universe. Everything is intelligent." "—•with just ourselves, wallets and shirts on our backs—and some Pinkie stuff, of course." 18

As the Crow Balsar shook his head, closed his eyes and began to laugh. "So, where's the joke?" Lyra asked. "It's what you've always wanted, right? All those years I had to hear about Belize and Aruba and what was that other one?" "Trinidad? Tobago? Pago Pago? Islands of the mind, coastal reefs of the soul. We'd need money, Lyra. The banks don't open until Monday. We can't just leave like that* He tried to snap his fingers but they merely slid across each other in damp collapse. Of course he remembered Belize, his midnight sieges of despair and panic, his desperation to get out...Lyra's fear. But those days were over, he believed, returning only in haunted, harried moments here and there across the calendar. "How about instead we go sit out on the lawn, lie flat on our backs and let the fireflies swarm us? Pinkie would have a field day." "Like we used to?" Lyra asked meekly. Her voice sounded like a chime. "Sure, why not? Are we old now? Monday, I'll go to the bank and withdraw everything, which should last us about three or four days. Then we can disappear." Lyra stopped her rocking and reached over to grasp his wrist. "You're serious? You'll do it?" The disruption in motion startled Pinkie and she shrieked with alarm. "It's okay, Claire." Lyra soothed. "Mamma and Da-da are right here." "Ki-kak," Balsar corrected. "Mamma and Ki-kak are right here," Lyra said. Lyra spoke so soothingly Balsar felt vicarious comfort, "Ki-kak," Pinkie whispered, removing her fingers from Balsar's neck to clutch his beard with all five. "You know," he said dreamily, "when you think about it—" "Oh no you don't," Lyra waved her hand, "none of that mystical garbage. All I hear are complaints. The roof leaks. We need new doorknobs. The toilet hums—" "—in the key of F major—" "—the fence needs paint. The grass looks scorched. The car sputters. The water pressure has dwindled. Circuits smolder in the walls. What else? Praying mantises have invaded the attic. The tree's about to topple. And all those rocks? Where do all those rocks come from? Can't dig them out fast enough. The floors—" "Okay, enough, I get the picture," Balsar croaked, "but it's all true and you know it, Lyra." 19


Berkeley Fiction Review although he fully expected some future team to unearth (unmoon?) a few human skeletons. "The moon dances," he said. Pinkie said "Da-da" as a swarm of bats shot across the yard. "I hear the grass growing. Listen, Lyra, it sounds like Alka-Seltzer. We should go fix those strawberries." "Shhhh, you fix them, old mah, I'm not doing one more thing. And don't let Claire taste them anymore. They're too acidic and she might be allergic." "Yeah," he sighed. He wanted to lick the moon. It's what Pinkie would do if he held her up high enough into the sky. The moon would taste like licorice. If only he could manage to let her lick all the planets as well. Jupiter would taste like turmeric, Saturn like sage, dreary little Pluto like cloves, distant and aloof. And if they got out far enough they would hear the frequencies of each planet's rumble merge into one spectacular musical chord, the solar system singing as it drifted through space like a calliope. "Let's get in the car and take off," Lyra said with an abruptness that both thrilled and terrified Balsar. Pinkie resumed pinching his neck. "You mean like a ride?" he asked. "No, I mean forever. Just take off. To the south, to the end of the continent, to emerald waters and white sand." Balsar felt his heart surge with blood. His heart was a gigantic, pulsating strawberry. "Just get in the car and drive?" Lyra eyed him with youthful,insolent defiance. "Chicken?" "Did you say...chicken?" he asked. "Chicken? Moi> Who took on the entire legal system of New Orleans during the years of our distress?"Who was arrested in a lonely mid-Western state far from home during an antiwar rally? Whose gonads have become legendary throughout the entire Blue Ridge? Yo, chicken?" "I dare us," she smirked. "And what's this yo shit? Are we Hispanic now?" "Yo-di-la-dee-dee," Balsar chuckled. "We're rovers. Pack your bags, woman." "No bags, we go as we are. We disappear like those stupid physics things you're always talking about—" "Virtual particles are not stupid. Consciousness pervades the universe. Everything is intelligent." "—•with just ourselves, wallets and shirts on our backs—and some Pinkie stuff, of course." 18

As the Crow Balsar shook his head, closed his eyes and began to laugh. "So, where's the joke?" Lyra asked. "It's what you've always wanted, right? All those years I had to hear about Belize and Aruba and what was that other one?" "Trinidad? Tobago? Pago Pago? Islands of the mind, coastal reefs of the soul. We'd need money, Lyra. The banks don't open until Monday. We can't just leave like that* He tried to snap his fingers but they merely slid across each other in damp collapse. Of course he remembered Belize, his midnight sieges of despair and panic, his desperation to get out...Lyra's fear. But those days were over, he believed, returning only in haunted, harried moments here and there across the calendar. "How about instead we go sit out on the lawn, lie flat on our backs and let the fireflies swarm us? Pinkie would have a field day." "Like we used to?" Lyra asked meekly. Her voice sounded like a chime. "Sure, why not? Are we old now? Monday, I'll go to the bank and withdraw everything, which should last us about three or four days. Then we can disappear." Lyra stopped her rocking and reached over to grasp his wrist. "You're serious? You'll do it?" The disruption in motion startled Pinkie and she shrieked with alarm. "It's okay, Claire." Lyra soothed. "Mamma and Da-da are right here." "Ki-kak," Balsar corrected. "Mamma and Ki-kak are right here," Lyra said. Lyra spoke so soothingly Balsar felt vicarious comfort, "Ki-kak," Pinkie whispered, removing her fingers from Balsar's neck to clutch his beard with all five. "You know," he said dreamily, "when you think about it—" "Oh no you don't," Lyra waved her hand, "none of that mystical garbage. All I hear are complaints. The roof leaks. We need new doorknobs. The toilet hums—" "—in the key of F major—" "—the fence needs paint. The grass looks scorched. The car sputters. The water pressure has dwindled. Circuits smolder in the walls. What else? Praying mantises have invaded the attic. The tree's about to topple. And all those rocks? Where do all those rocks come from? Can't dig them out fast enough. The floors—" "Okay, enough, I get the picture," Balsar croaked, "but it's all true and you know it, Lyra." 19


Berkeley Fiction Review "So what's my point, I mean, picture? You said you got the picture." "The Buddhists would find nirvana scrubbing squalid toilet bowls. The Zen of Offal. Awful Zen. Awe-ful Zen. Enough?" "A little more, I could use it." Balsar balanced Pinkie in one arm and held high the didactic index finger of his other hand. "If you can't say anything nice," he lisped and sputtered, "don't say anything at all. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Emulate Socrates and Jesus. A penny saved is a penny yearned, I mean, earned. Nine out of ten dentists recommend Exxon. Uh, uh, need I go on? Are we splitting come Monday or what? Whatever you want, babe." Lyra pressed a finger to her lower lip, pretending to think hard like some desperate contestant on a quiz show. "Hmmmmm," she said, "if all A's equal all B's and C does not equal A, then C does not equal C but could equal B if B didn't equal A or if A and B were E and F, F being greater than E but less than itself, and F resembled C quite shamelessly, not to mention D, which equals zero and does not count—" "Time's up, Lyra." "We'll let Pinkie decide. The question is: does Pinkie adore her home or does she regard it as a dull, shabby, gloomy, woeful hell-hole from which escape is tantamount to, say, jumping off a cliff after chewing a stick of spearmint gum?" "You called her Pinkie," Balsar almost choked with gratitude. "I lapsed." "How can Pinkie not adore her home,. Lyra? She never has to work or pay bills or worry. She has no frames of reference. It's frames of reference that make anti-Buddhists of us all. You see some slimebag lawyer driving his BMW as you sulk in your Yugo. You see Wayne Newton in People lolling in a Jacuzzi and rue your own little porcelain basin. It goes on and on." "Let's get into that grass, old man. The thing is how do we know what she decides? And by the way, Wayne Newton figures in no frame of reference of mine. Speak for yourself. Everything is relative except Wayne Newton." "It will just happen," Balsar said, rising from the swing with Pinkie in his arms. She peeped a cautious Da-da at a U-Haul truck lumbering up the street. "Come on, Lyra, we'll sit cross-legged like a pair of wasted Guatamas." They descended the steps into the front yard and sat beside the row of pines, recently mauled by the most destructive ice storm in history. Suddenly it was spring, but Balsar kept his eyes open for new signs of ice. 20

Lib

, As the Crow The storm had taken almost as much toll on his spirit as it had on the limbs of their trees. He never wanted to look at another piece of ice. Ice had become his symbol for evil. "This is sweet," Lyra said as they settled in the grass, "but we have to lie flat on our backs, like you said...to see the moon." Pinkie could not get enough of the lawn. She sat up and pulled at the grass with animal ferocity, hooting and screeching at every blade she managed to sever from its roots. "Poor grass," Balsar sighed. "She'll be all right?" "I think so," Lyra said. Almost in unison they lay prostrate with their daughter between their bodies. Balsar felt cool, moist grass press against his neck and arms and he almost shivered. But it felt good and the air smelled like a bouquet of herbs. After a while fireflies began to ignite by the hundreds; they were everywhere; they looked like a sky full of new blinking stars. Even Pinkie seemed astonished, dropping her wiggling fingers and not making a sound. In a way, Balsar thought, this is a sacred moment. We can't evade or ignore it. Suddenly the moon broke free of its entanglement in the upper branches of the pines and seemed to hover and throb directly above them. "It's beautiful," Lyra whispered. "Maybe it will drip on us. It looks full of neon juice." Lyra didn't seem to hear him. "I don't know if I can stand it. All the light in darkness. Why haven't we done this for so long? I feel drunk." "We never have time." "We don't need time." Balsar agreed that at such moments time revealed itself as the shrill, bossy metronome it really was, the officious sergeant harassing recruits. But for a moment it had lost its iron momentum. They—he, Lyra, and Pinkie—were violations of the laws of physics. And the fireflies and moon and dark, breathing pines. The grass, stars, and fragrant, cool air. The universe was a violation of the laws of physics, although it had always hoodwinked them, made them think otherwise, kept them leaping through ever stricter hoops. Why had they so easily lost sight? "There's no trouble here," he said softly. Neither Lyra nor Pinkie responded. And suddenly Balsar realized that for Pinkie "ki-kak" and "Da-da" were the beginning, the ungraceful plunge into history and geometry and thermodynamics, the almost legal distinction between the words "moon" and "fireflies," transient little insects that happened to glow in the dark. From "ki-kak" and "Da-da" it 21


Berkeley Fiction Review "So what's my point, I mean, picture? You said you got the picture." "The Buddhists would find nirvana scrubbing squalid toilet bowls. The Zen of Offal. Awful Zen. Awe-ful Zen. Enough?" "A little more, I could use it." Balsar balanced Pinkie in one arm and held high the didactic index finger of his other hand. "If you can't say anything nice," he lisped and sputtered, "don't say anything at all. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Emulate Socrates and Jesus. A penny saved is a penny yearned, I mean, earned. Nine out of ten dentists recommend Exxon. Uh, uh, need I go on? Are we splitting come Monday or what? Whatever you want, babe." Lyra pressed a finger to her lower lip, pretending to think hard like some desperate contestant on a quiz show. "Hmmmmm," she said, "if all A's equal all B's and C does not equal A, then C does not equal C but could equal B if B didn't equal A or if A and B were E and F, F being greater than E but less than itself, and F resembled C quite shamelessly, not to mention D, which equals zero and does not count—" "Time's up, Lyra." "We'll let Pinkie decide. The question is: does Pinkie adore her home or does she regard it as a dull, shabby, gloomy, woeful hell-hole from which escape is tantamount to, say, jumping off a cliff after chewing a stick of spearmint gum?" "You called her Pinkie," Balsar almost choked with gratitude. "I lapsed." "How can Pinkie not adore her home,. Lyra? She never has to work or pay bills or worry. She has no frames of reference. It's frames of reference that make anti-Buddhists of us all. You see some slimebag lawyer driving his BMW as you sulk in your Yugo. You see Wayne Newton in People lolling in a Jacuzzi and rue your own little porcelain basin. It goes on and on." "Let's get into that grass, old man. The thing is how do we know what she decides? And by the way, Wayne Newton figures in no frame of reference of mine. Speak for yourself. Everything is relative except Wayne Newton." "It will just happen," Balsar said, rising from the swing with Pinkie in his arms. She peeped a cautious Da-da at a U-Haul truck lumbering up the street. "Come on, Lyra, we'll sit cross-legged like a pair of wasted Guatamas." They descended the steps into the front yard and sat beside the row of pines, recently mauled by the most destructive ice storm in history. Suddenly it was spring, but Balsar kept his eyes open for new signs of ice. 20

Lib

, As the Crow The storm had taken almost as much toll on his spirit as it had on the limbs of their trees. He never wanted to look at another piece of ice. Ice had become his symbol for evil. "This is sweet," Lyra said as they settled in the grass, "but we have to lie flat on our backs, like you said...to see the moon." Pinkie could not get enough of the lawn. She sat up and pulled at the grass with animal ferocity, hooting and screeching at every blade she managed to sever from its roots. "Poor grass," Balsar sighed. "She'll be all right?" "I think so," Lyra said. Almost in unison they lay prostrate with their daughter between their bodies. Balsar felt cool, moist grass press against his neck and arms and he almost shivered. But it felt good and the air smelled like a bouquet of herbs. After a while fireflies began to ignite by the hundreds; they were everywhere; they looked like a sky full of new blinking stars. Even Pinkie seemed astonished, dropping her wiggling fingers and not making a sound. In a way, Balsar thought, this is a sacred moment. We can't evade or ignore it. Suddenly the moon broke free of its entanglement in the upper branches of the pines and seemed to hover and throb directly above them. "It's beautiful," Lyra whispered. "Maybe it will drip on us. It looks full of neon juice." Lyra didn't seem to hear him. "I don't know if I can stand it. All the light in darkness. Why haven't we done this for so long? I feel drunk." "We never have time." "We don't need time." Balsar agreed that at such moments time revealed itself as the shrill, bossy metronome it really was, the officious sergeant harassing recruits. But for a moment it had lost its iron momentum. They—he, Lyra, and Pinkie—were violations of the laws of physics. And the fireflies and moon and dark, breathing pines. The grass, stars, and fragrant, cool air. The universe was a violation of the laws of physics, although it had always hoodwinked them, made them think otherwise, kept them leaping through ever stricter hoops. Why had they so easily lost sight? "There's no trouble here," he said softly. Neither Lyra nor Pinkie responded. And suddenly Balsar realized that for Pinkie "ki-kak" and "Da-da" were the beginning, the ungraceful plunge into history and geometry and thermodynamics, the almost legal distinction between the words "moon" and "fireflies," transient little insects that happened to glow in the dark. From "ki-kak" and "Da-da" it 21


Berkeley Fiction Review

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As the Crow

would be all downhill, a nightmarish avalanche, yet the alternative, to .lock her in a dark closet and teach her nothing, was unthinkable. Doom stitches itself not into our genes, which are mute, but our vocabularies. Perhaps Einstein did not speak until he was four years old because he gleaned the secret from the beginning. Actually, Balsar did not know when Einstein began to speak, but it served his purpose to think four, and he realized something else: we can decree anything we want. Fuck the facts. Facts aligned themselves with time, always, and once you slipped out of time, you slipped out of facts. "We're in paradise," he said slowly, "already. We are lying beside the emerald waters on white sand. Silicon." Lyra lay still, and Pinkie had dropped her head onto her mother's stomach, watching. "Lyra?" "We're on the grass in our front yard." Balsar blew a jet of air from his lips. This would be rough—Lyra was in a mood apparently. He started to go on when she said, "They're the same. We don't have to go anywhere." It took a moment to register, but, yes, he began to smile, yes, the same. Grass and sand, two words. Ditch the words and they're the same. He felt the grit on his neck and arms, heard the ocean roar, reached up to touch the moon, which stuck to his fingers like glue. He pressed with force and the moon went out, divested itself of fight. The pines flared in spontaneous illumination. He could see sap and water bubbling through their transparent capillaries. Darkness became the light of day and the fireflies emitted puffs of blackness. Pinkie rose to float with them, and he himself rose, above the roof, to the tops of the trees, then Lyra rose, and the three emitted fluorescent chemicals that made them visible, for it had become night again abruptly, and the moon revolved as they joined hands while hovering in the immense, vibrant dusk. "What does Claire say?" he heard Lyra ask as if from some vast, unnegotiable distance. He rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat. "What? I'm not sure. Ask her. Something happened." He heard Lyra breath heavily, moved his arm against her flesh and felt voltage. The hairs on her arm were alive. Conscious. "Well, Claire, what's the verdict?" Lyra asked. Balsar felt his daughter studying him. He could no longer see her eyes. They were the color of caves. A lone station wagon chugged its way up the hill, its headlights shooting forth two sturdy beams of maniacal

photons. Suddenly, from nowhere, something dropped out of the sky, bounced off Balsar's skull, and ricocheted into Pinkie's lap. "What the hell?" he cried. Pinkie's eager fingers seized the object instantly and she cooed happily. "Toy!" she said. Lyra shot up from the grass. "Toy! She said toy. A new word. Ohhh, I'm so proud of you, little bug," she laughed, scooping Pinkie up for a grand snuggle. "Did you hear? Toy. What is this? Good lord., .the binkie!" "I don't believe it," Balsar gasped, snatching the ruined pacifier from his daughter's fingers—which, of course, inspired a shriek of injustice. "That wretched crow came back to return it. Is it possible?" Pinkie's shrieks crescendoed into wails of misery. "Aww, give it back, Ki-kak, that was mean. Poor little baby. Just don't let her suck it. Who knows where a crow's beak has been." Balsar slipped the pacifier into Pinkie's hand, astounded by the ridiculous, turn of events. At the same time he felt bloated with secret regrets, proud to death of his baby for her new word yet saddened beyond measure. The magic comes in specks, he had to accept, like a golden sequin embedded in a mountain of dark stone. The mountain, packed with words—every pebble, rock, and boulder is a word—fuses together into a great mass of solid reason, the Everest of logic. And it can no longer rise. "Well," he sighed, "what's the verdict? Has Pinkie made our decision?" Lyra raised her eyebrows, "I guess we'll stay here, what do you say?" "Suits me. If she changes her mind, we'll go. Deal?" "Yeah, but right now it's way past her bedtime. Help me up, Tithonus." "You ought to be helping me, you're the young one. I have always counted on the kindness of intimate relatives." Lyra laughed and struggled up on her own. "Not any more—young, I mean. I was once on the brink of youth, it seems, only yesterday." "Yesterday," Balsar hummed the old Beatles tune. "Why didn't they call that song 'Judgment Day'? It works. 'Judgment Day, all my troubles seemed so far away...'" Lyra bent over and hoisted Pinkie into her arms as Balsar arose to a croaking medley of popping joints and sinews. They brushed themselves off and turned toward the house, still tired but charged with new hope and second wind. "Imagine that frigging crow," he said. "Don't say t-o-y," Lyra spelled. "The binkie is probably filthy. Get

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Berkeley Fiction Review

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As the Crow

would be all downhill, a nightmarish avalanche, yet the alternative, to .lock her in a dark closet and teach her nothing, was unthinkable. Doom stitches itself not into our genes, which are mute, but our vocabularies. Perhaps Einstein did not speak until he was four years old because he gleaned the secret from the beginning. Actually, Balsar did not know when Einstein began to speak, but it served his purpose to think four, and he realized something else: we can decree anything we want. Fuck the facts. Facts aligned themselves with time, always, and once you slipped out of time, you slipped out of facts. "We're in paradise," he said slowly, "already. We are lying beside the emerald waters on white sand. Silicon." Lyra lay still, and Pinkie had dropped her head onto her mother's stomach, watching. "Lyra?" "We're on the grass in our front yard." Balsar blew a jet of air from his lips. This would be rough—Lyra was in a mood apparently. He started to go on when she said, "They're the same. We don't have to go anywhere." It took a moment to register, but, yes, he began to smile, yes, the same. Grass and sand, two words. Ditch the words and they're the same. He felt the grit on his neck and arms, heard the ocean roar, reached up to touch the moon, which stuck to his fingers like glue. He pressed with force and the moon went out, divested itself of fight. The pines flared in spontaneous illumination. He could see sap and water bubbling through their transparent capillaries. Darkness became the light of day and the fireflies emitted puffs of blackness. Pinkie rose to float with them, and he himself rose, above the roof, to the tops of the trees, then Lyra rose, and the three emitted fluorescent chemicals that made them visible, for it had become night again abruptly, and the moon revolved as they joined hands while hovering in the immense, vibrant dusk. "What does Claire say?" he heard Lyra ask as if from some vast, unnegotiable distance. He rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat. "What? I'm not sure. Ask her. Something happened." He heard Lyra breath heavily, moved his arm against her flesh and felt voltage. The hairs on her arm were alive. Conscious. "Well, Claire, what's the verdict?" Lyra asked. Balsar felt his daughter studying him. He could no longer see her eyes. They were the color of caves. A lone station wagon chugged its way up the hill, its headlights shooting forth two sturdy beams of maniacal

photons. Suddenly, from nowhere, something dropped out of the sky, bounced off Balsar's skull, and ricocheted into Pinkie's lap. "What the hell?" he cried. Pinkie's eager fingers seized the object instantly and she cooed happily. "Toy!" she said. Lyra shot up from the grass. "Toy! She said toy. A new word. Ohhh, I'm so proud of you, little bug," she laughed, scooping Pinkie up for a grand snuggle. "Did you hear? Toy. What is this? Good lord., .the binkie!" "I don't believe it," Balsar gasped, snatching the ruined pacifier from his daughter's fingers—which, of course, inspired a shriek of injustice. "That wretched crow came back to return it. Is it possible?" Pinkie's shrieks crescendoed into wails of misery. "Aww, give it back, Ki-kak, that was mean. Poor little baby. Just don't let her suck it. Who knows where a crow's beak has been." Balsar slipped the pacifier into Pinkie's hand, astounded by the ridiculous, turn of events. At the same time he felt bloated with secret regrets, proud to death of his baby for her new word yet saddened beyond measure. The magic comes in specks, he had to accept, like a golden sequin embedded in a mountain of dark stone. The mountain, packed with words—every pebble, rock, and boulder is a word—fuses together into a great mass of solid reason, the Everest of logic. And it can no longer rise. "Well," he sighed, "what's the verdict? Has Pinkie made our decision?" Lyra raised her eyebrows, "I guess we'll stay here, what do you say?" "Suits me. If she changes her mind, we'll go. Deal?" "Yeah, but right now it's way past her bedtime. Help me up, Tithonus." "You ought to be helping me, you're the young one. I have always counted on the kindness of intimate relatives." Lyra laughed and struggled up on her own. "Not any more—young, I mean. I was once on the brink of youth, it seems, only yesterday." "Yesterday," Balsar hummed the old Beatles tune. "Why didn't they call that song 'Judgment Day'? It works. 'Judgment Day, all my troubles seemed so far away...'" Lyra bent over and hoisted Pinkie into her arms as Balsar arose to a croaking medley of popping joints and sinews. They brushed themselves off and turned toward the house, still tired but charged with new hope and second wind. "Imagine that frigging crow," he said. "Don't say t-o-y," Lyra spelled. "The binkie is probably filthy. Get

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Berkeley Fiction Review rid of it, ok? She's forgotten about it." "Get rid of? No way. It has a guardian spirit. That binkie is our rabbit's foot. I'm storing it, so we can pray to it when we get a minute." They trudged into the house, but before he closed the door Balsar took a final backward glance at the moon. It was square. He squinted and it returned to normal, getting smaller and brighter as it receded into the sky. "Something is going on," he mumbled, devout with humility and wonder. He believed if he listened carefully he might hear the whir of electrons in their orbits. "Toy!" Pinkie squawked with joy as Lyra carried her up the stairs for a bath, delighted with herself, proud and cocky as Bubbie, who had not and would never say a word. "Oh oh," he heard Lyra sigh, "she remembers. We're in for it." Just then it occurred to Balsar, who felt more alert than ever, that maybe words aren't such hot potatoes after all. Maybe we can learn to spit them out of our beaks like gifts, not weapons. As the crow. And spread our wings while we're at it. "In for it?" he cried, gushing with love. His feet touched no wood as he rushed up the solid, factual stairs, though they groaned passionately with his weight.

24

H o w

T O

S T O P

M O T I O N

Suzy Spraker

came home to find Lisa sitting in bed, her hands wrapped underneath her knees. I had just picked Scotty up from school. Lisa asked about my day. Two of my dishwashers are in jail, my cook quit, and half of my bussers are stoned. I was taking off my tie when she asked me if there was anything else she should know. Restaurant people don't work for the love of the job, I said. My wife then called my name. Carver, she said, so that my eyes pressed shut, Carver, tell me now if there is anything else I need to know about your day. In my own thoughts I admitted to her how Waverlee Woods and I went to room number 4C and did our best to have an affair one Wednesday afternoon a month ago; however, our only accomplishment was cluttering ourselves so exhaustively that we could only recognize who we had become. Nevertheless, I had never missed an opportunity to be there for Waverlee Woods. And one night when the phone rang, long after the restaurant had closed, there I was picking up the receiver as casually as I would have if I didn't Jcnow Waverlee Woods was on the other end. "I'm ready for my laugh," Waverlee had said. I pressed the receiver to my ear, and then, effortlessly, there I was again, looking up at Waverlee Woods standing half naked in the middle of 4C. Even in my recollections, the palm of her hand always stunned me—faced up, shoved out like she had paralyzed air itself. Her voice, sugary, her sniffles, muffled—only fragments of Waverlee Woods. Hands. Waverlee Woods' hands always came first, always first because you had to get past themto reach the woman. Waverlee Woods was 25


Berkeley Fiction Review rid of it, ok? She's forgotten about it." "Get rid of? No way. It has a guardian spirit. That binkie is our rabbit's foot. I'm storing it, so we can pray to it when we get a minute." They trudged into the house, but before he closed the door Balsar took a final backward glance at the moon. It was square. He squinted and it returned to normal, getting smaller and brighter as it receded into the sky. "Something is going on," he mumbled, devout with humility and wonder. He believed if he listened carefully he might hear the whir of electrons in their orbits. "Toy!" Pinkie squawked with joy as Lyra carried her up the stairs for a bath, delighted with herself, proud and cocky as Bubbie, who had not and would never say a word. "Oh oh," he heard Lyra sigh, "she remembers. We're in for it." Just then it occurred to Balsar, who felt more alert than ever, that maybe words aren't such hot potatoes after all. Maybe we can learn to spit them out of our beaks like gifts, not weapons. As the crow. And spread our wings while we're at it. "In for it?" he cried, gushing with love. His feet touched no wood as he rushed up the solid, factual stairs, though they groaned passionately with his weight.

24

H o w

T O

S T O P

M O T I O N

Suzy Spraker

came home to find Lisa sitting in bed, her hands wrapped underneath her knees. I had just picked Scotty up from school. Lisa asked about my day. Two of my dishwashers are in jail, my cook quit, and half of my bussers are stoned. I was taking off my tie when she asked me if there was anything else she should know. Restaurant people don't work for the love of the job, I said. My wife then called my name. Carver, she said, so that my eyes pressed shut, Carver, tell me now if there is anything else I need to know about your day. In my own thoughts I admitted to her how Waverlee Woods and I went to room number 4C and did our best to have an affair one Wednesday afternoon a month ago; however, our only accomplishment was cluttering ourselves so exhaustively that we could only recognize who we had become. Nevertheless, I had never missed an opportunity to be there for Waverlee Woods. And one night when the phone rang, long after the restaurant had closed, there I was picking up the receiver as casually as I would have if I didn't Jcnow Waverlee Woods was on the other end. "I'm ready for my laugh," Waverlee had said. I pressed the receiver to my ear, and then, effortlessly, there I was again, looking up at Waverlee Woods standing half naked in the middle of 4C. Even in my recollections, the palm of her hand always stunned me—faced up, shoved out like she had paralyzed air itself. Her voice, sugary, her sniffles, muffled—only fragments of Waverlee Woods. Hands. Waverlee Woods' hands always came first, always first because you had to get past themto reach the woman. Waverlee Woods was 25


Berkeley Fiction Review a crossing guard at my son's school and had once believed that it took eight hours of special training, received only by city workers, to stop motion. I ran my hand over the base of the phone. I considered just putting the receiver down and pretending the connection could be broken. "Didn't you say, 'Anything for you'?" Waverlee said. And I knew I should have been listening to Waverlee on the line, but there I was, sitting on the edge of the motel bed, back again in 4C. I saw myself as I had been then, sitting and thinking about what to do with Waverlee's belief that I didn't want to make love to her. I had revealed to Waverlee that I desperately'wanted to make love to her; I also revealed to Waverlee what I knew about circumstances and risk as I tried to sneak around her hand—just to touch her. I revealed to Waverlee what I knew about impulses and longevity and comfort as I tried to go under Waverlee's hand, but she met me at every turn and she kept demanding, Tell me it's just an affair. "I know it was only one of those polite things you say," Waverlee said. I smiled and leaned back into my chair. "But how long before we laugh again?" My worst fear should have been that Waverlee Woods had dutifully recorded every conversation we ever had. I could see her with a small black notebook and stubby pencil with no eraser, each page dated and titled with my words transcribed exactly as they had fallen out. And she would pick my words carefully and remind me that I had said things like "sexually attracted," "just for fun," "way too long," and "give you what you want." Then Waverlee would tap the notebook with the pencil eraser and say, Carver, you're not living up to your words. "This was a mistake," Waverlee said. "I'm sorry." Last time, I called Waverlee—three months ago. I had also promised that connections like ours don't break, but Waverlee wouldn't have written that line down. "I have to go," she said. "No you don't." "Oh, yeah," she said. "You're the one with people waiting." "Waverlee," I said. There was no response. She had hung up, but I still wouldn't put the phone down. And then, like now, I replayed how I could have prevented Waverlee's hands from raising that afternoon in 4C. Waverlee had told me that her first day on the job, she was almost squashed between a mini-van and a Suburban because she didn't walk into the street prepared. You've got to 26

How to Stop Motion step off with your hand already out, tjie sign already up, or vehicles will mow through you because, let's face it, who wants to be detained? Motion only stops when it's threatened, Waverlee learned in training. Look at the situation, Waverlee, I had said, sitting on the edge, staring up at her half naked that afternoon in 4C. Who is being threatened? Waverlee and I had been in our usual rhythm only moments before: hands working with her skin, mouth kissing over her breasts, kisses slipping onto her stomach, slips gliding up to her neck, smooth and aimlesssliding on ice. But Waverlee's hands were capable of flipping palm up at any moment, not so much as a gesture of stopping, but a movement that would allow for a moment of clarification and let Waverlee announce, Carver, we're going to finish the job this time. "We're in a seedy motel room," Waverlee had said, "just perfect for having sex." I sheltered her body, keeping it busy so no words could catch up, so her hands wouldn't pop up and make the situation any clearer. "At 1:00." Her hands were rubbing over and against my legs. "On a Wednesday afternoon." The words came soft, playful in my ear; they seemed friendly. "Are you aware of this?" I grabbed her wrists. Waverlee had once slowed down a procession of cars traveling forty-five in a school zone. "I'm half naked." Waverlee. I pulled up behind Waverlee Woods' beat-up, white, rusted-out .Chrysler and kept my engine running. Her apartment light wasn't on, but the TV light flickered against the wall like lightning strikes. I fiddled with the radio stations. Lisa had programmed all the stations on country music. It's about real life, Carver, Lisa had said, no wonder you don't like it. So I stopped on this one song because Waverlee had said I never try anything new. I tried to listen to the song; it was about water and blended with the storming in Waverlee's apartment. The singer sang about the differences between rivers and oceans, and I shivered thinking real life was formless and transparent. I killed the engine. I had called Lisa before leaving the restaurant and couldn't shake the conversation as easily as I had done in the past. "I have to check on a friend," I had said to Lisa. I wrapped the phone cord around my wrist before my hand touched any of the pictures on my office wall. Images of Lisa, Lisa and me, Lisa and Scotty showcased my life without me adding a word. "You don't have to wait up." "I wasn't going to." 27


Berkeley Fiction Review a crossing guard at my son's school and had once believed that it took eight hours of special training, received only by city workers, to stop motion. I ran my hand over the base of the phone. I considered just putting the receiver down and pretending the connection could be broken. "Didn't you say, 'Anything for you'?" Waverlee said. And I knew I should have been listening to Waverlee on the line, but there I was, sitting on the edge of the motel bed, back again in 4C. I saw myself as I had been then, sitting and thinking about what to do with Waverlee's belief that I didn't want to make love to her. I had revealed to Waverlee that I desperately'wanted to make love to her; I also revealed to Waverlee what I knew about circumstances and risk as I tried to sneak around her hand—just to touch her. I revealed to Waverlee what I knew about impulses and longevity and comfort as I tried to go under Waverlee's hand, but she met me at every turn and she kept demanding, Tell me it's just an affair. "I know it was only one of those polite things you say," Waverlee said. I smiled and leaned back into my chair. "But how long before we laugh again?" My worst fear should have been that Waverlee Woods had dutifully recorded every conversation we ever had. I could see her with a small black notebook and stubby pencil with no eraser, each page dated and titled with my words transcribed exactly as they had fallen out. And she would pick my words carefully and remind me that I had said things like "sexually attracted," "just for fun," "way too long," and "give you what you want." Then Waverlee would tap the notebook with the pencil eraser and say, Carver, you're not living up to your words. "This was a mistake," Waverlee said. "I'm sorry." Last time, I called Waverlee—three months ago. I had also promised that connections like ours don't break, but Waverlee wouldn't have written that line down. "I have to go," she said. "No you don't." "Oh, yeah," she said. "You're the one with people waiting." "Waverlee," I said. There was no response. She had hung up, but I still wouldn't put the phone down. And then, like now, I replayed how I could have prevented Waverlee's hands from raising that afternoon in 4C. Waverlee had told me that her first day on the job, she was almost squashed between a mini-van and a Suburban because she didn't walk into the street prepared. You've got to 26

How to Stop Motion step off with your hand already out, tjie sign already up, or vehicles will mow through you because, let's face it, who wants to be detained? Motion only stops when it's threatened, Waverlee learned in training. Look at the situation, Waverlee, I had said, sitting on the edge, staring up at her half naked that afternoon in 4C. Who is being threatened? Waverlee and I had been in our usual rhythm only moments before: hands working with her skin, mouth kissing over her breasts, kisses slipping onto her stomach, slips gliding up to her neck, smooth and aimlesssliding on ice. But Waverlee's hands were capable of flipping palm up at any moment, not so much as a gesture of stopping, but a movement that would allow for a moment of clarification and let Waverlee announce, Carver, we're going to finish the job this time. "We're in a seedy motel room," Waverlee had said, "just perfect for having sex." I sheltered her body, keeping it busy so no words could catch up, so her hands wouldn't pop up and make the situation any clearer. "At 1:00." Her hands were rubbing over and against my legs. "On a Wednesday afternoon." The words came soft, playful in my ear; they seemed friendly. "Are you aware of this?" I grabbed her wrists. Waverlee had once slowed down a procession of cars traveling forty-five in a school zone. "I'm half naked." Waverlee. I pulled up behind Waverlee Woods' beat-up, white, rusted-out .Chrysler and kept my engine running. Her apartment light wasn't on, but the TV light flickered against the wall like lightning strikes. I fiddled with the radio stations. Lisa had programmed all the stations on country music. It's about real life, Carver, Lisa had said, no wonder you don't like it. So I stopped on this one song because Waverlee had said I never try anything new. I tried to listen to the song; it was about water and blended with the storming in Waverlee's apartment. The singer sang about the differences between rivers and oceans, and I shivered thinking real life was formless and transparent. I killed the engine. I had called Lisa before leaving the restaurant and couldn't shake the conversation as easily as I had done in the past. "I have to check on a friend," I had said to Lisa. I wrapped the phone cord around my wrist before my hand touched any of the pictures on my office wall. Images of Lisa, Lisa and me, Lisa and Scotty showcased my life without me adding a word. "You don't have to wait up." "I wasn't going to." 27


Berkeley Fiction Review The picture of the family picnic highlighted me holding Lisa, my arms wrapped around her waist, just as natural as those camera smiles on the count of three. I walked up to the picture to look into Lisa's eyes. "I have to work early tomorrow is what I meant to say." Lisa sighed. Lisa was tired. Lisa was a good mother and a good wife. Lisa was beautiful. And even before Lisa realized she had been wronged, she had made touching her available only through appointment and request. Waverlee said it was what brought men to women, and what separated women from men, but I never asked if she meant the touching or the request. I tried to speak clearly into the phone. "There was an incident." "There's always an incident," Lisa said. I turned off the car radio and put my hands on the steering wheel, not wanting to recall anything else about my conversation with my wife. Another white flash streaked across Waverlee Woods' apartment. Lisa was smart. Lisa was right. There had always been incidents, and it had been a rule of mine to only have incidents only because they happen without warning and are just as easy to make right as to ignore. I strapped my seatbelt on, my car doors were locked, and my key was in the ignition. All I had to do was start the car. But, instead, I looked up at Waverlee's apartment, and I had to roll down the window to breathe. When I told Waverlee about my incident rule she had said, "But you can't make this incident right," as she stood that afternoon, half naked in the middle of 4C, "and that's what's stopping you." She was shaking, holding her hand out to stop me from consoling her. When her hand slipped, I went in and held her so that she wasn't facing me. "Are you saying that I'm more than an incident or easy to ignore?" Waverlee had asked. My hands covered hers, pressing down at my side. My eyes closed so I could imagine gliding over Waverlee's body once again. "I love my son. I love my wife," I repeated to Waverlee. "Answer the question," she had said. Her fingers wiggled but couldn't escape. "This just got away from us," I said. "Because you love me?" Her head ducked. "Because I let it." I was out of my car, now, and busy peeling paint off of Waverlee Wood's Chrysler. I leaned against her car and took out my phone. Waverlee's neighborhood was shut in for the night, except for the kids 28

How to Stop Motion making out in the car down the street and the insomniacs disguised as late-night joggers. "I heard a country song about water," I replied when Waverlee said hello. I could see her outline, neck hugging the phone, body dancing between flashes of white. "Country music has changed my life. I'm selling the restaurant and buying a farm." "It's not about water; you didn't listen to it," Waverlee said. "You should be home." "I don't go back on my promises." "I'll give you one. It'll be a trade for hanging up on you," she said. She moved to the window and I panicked she might see me. I lifted Waverlee's car door handle. It opened and I jumped inside. "I'm trying to let you off, aren't you aware of this?" she said. "You know, people laugh when something unexpected happens," I said. I shoved the phone to my ear, waiting for a smirk or even a cracking of a smile. "Like when someone calls unexpectedly and says country music changed his life. "It's not funny." I stuffed the phone back into my pocket, not even feeling guilty about hanging up on her. Waverlee's car door had opened to me like an old friend, and all my speeches and lectures were words puffed up and set adrift like balloons. Waverlee left things open: apartment doors, windows, cars, purses—you could walk in on Waverlee Woods at any time. "I'm one of those people," was her reply when I told her she should be more careful. I had entered 4C that afternoon without effort, just a simple twist of the knob and there was Waverlee lying on her stomach, reading the newspaper. "The people they write about in the obituaries?" I had asked. I sat in the corner chair, like a kid late to class. "I am an example person. I can walk alone at night, leave money in an unlocked car, drive without my license. When people find out, they like reminding me about the risks involved." Waverlee rolled onto her back, crumpling the paper. "But in the middle of their speeches, they'll stop,and check for their licenses or put their seatbelts on, just to remind themselves." "You're going to get taken one day." "I'm not a daredevil; I've just got a purpose." Waverlee stretched her hands up in the air and started unbuttoning her shirt. She wore the lime green pants and white shirt that I had seen her in every day. The uniform came with an orange vest, a whistle, and white gloves. I was hoping she 29


Berkeley Fiction Review The picture of the family picnic highlighted me holding Lisa, my arms wrapped around her waist, just as natural as those camera smiles on the count of three. I walked up to the picture to look into Lisa's eyes. "I have to work early tomorrow is what I meant to say." Lisa sighed. Lisa was tired. Lisa was a good mother and a good wife. Lisa was beautiful. And even before Lisa realized she had been wronged, she had made touching her available only through appointment and request. Waverlee said it was what brought men to women, and what separated women from men, but I never asked if she meant the touching or the request. I tried to speak clearly into the phone. "There was an incident." "There's always an incident," Lisa said. I turned off the car radio and put my hands on the steering wheel, not wanting to recall anything else about my conversation with my wife. Another white flash streaked across Waverlee Woods' apartment. Lisa was smart. Lisa was right. There had always been incidents, and it had been a rule of mine to only have incidents only because they happen without warning and are just as easy to make right as to ignore. I strapped my seatbelt on, my car doors were locked, and my key was in the ignition. All I had to do was start the car. But, instead, I looked up at Waverlee's apartment, and I had to roll down the window to breathe. When I told Waverlee about my incident rule she had said, "But you can't make this incident right," as she stood that afternoon, half naked in the middle of 4C, "and that's what's stopping you." She was shaking, holding her hand out to stop me from consoling her. When her hand slipped, I went in and held her so that she wasn't facing me. "Are you saying that I'm more than an incident or easy to ignore?" Waverlee had asked. My hands covered hers, pressing down at my side. My eyes closed so I could imagine gliding over Waverlee's body once again. "I love my son. I love my wife," I repeated to Waverlee. "Answer the question," she had said. Her fingers wiggled but couldn't escape. "This just got away from us," I said. "Because you love me?" Her head ducked. "Because I let it." I was out of my car, now, and busy peeling paint off of Waverlee Wood's Chrysler. I leaned against her car and took out my phone. Waverlee's neighborhood was shut in for the night, except for the kids 28

How to Stop Motion making out in the car down the street and the insomniacs disguised as late-night joggers. "I heard a country song about water," I replied when Waverlee said hello. I could see her outline, neck hugging the phone, body dancing between flashes of white. "Country music has changed my life. I'm selling the restaurant and buying a farm." "It's not about water; you didn't listen to it," Waverlee said. "You should be home." "I don't go back on my promises." "I'll give you one. It'll be a trade for hanging up on you," she said. She moved to the window and I panicked she might see me. I lifted Waverlee's car door handle. It opened and I jumped inside. "I'm trying to let you off, aren't you aware of this?" she said. "You know, people laugh when something unexpected happens," I said. I shoved the phone to my ear, waiting for a smirk or even a cracking of a smile. "Like when someone calls unexpectedly and says country music changed his life. "It's not funny." I stuffed the phone back into my pocket, not even feeling guilty about hanging up on her. Waverlee's car door had opened to me like an old friend, and all my speeches and lectures were words puffed up and set adrift like balloons. Waverlee left things open: apartment doors, windows, cars, purses—you could walk in on Waverlee Woods at any time. "I'm one of those people," was her reply when I told her she should be more careful. I had entered 4C that afternoon without effort, just a simple twist of the knob and there was Waverlee lying on her stomach, reading the newspaper. "The people they write about in the obituaries?" I had asked. I sat in the corner chair, like a kid late to class. "I am an example person. I can walk alone at night, leave money in an unlocked car, drive without my license. When people find out, they like reminding me about the risks involved." Waverlee rolled onto her back, crumpling the paper. "But in the middle of their speeches, they'll stop,and check for their licenses or put their seatbelts on, just to remind themselves." "You're going to get taken one day." "I'm not a daredevil; I've just got a purpose." Waverlee stretched her hands up in the air and started unbuttoning her shirt. She wore the lime green pants and white shirt that I had seen her in every day. The uniform came with an orange vest, a whistle, and white gloves. I was hoping she 29


r Berkeley Fiction Review

How to Stop Motion

would wear something different, but she was a crossing guard. "I read there's a shortage of crossing guards in the county," I said. Waverlee sat on her knees and threw her shirt on the floor. I walked to Waverlee but snatched the newspaper next to her before she could pull me to her. Waverlee had been reading the TV listings. "They can't hire anyone to work only fifteen hours a week." "We're a dying breed," Waverlee said. She ran her hands over her breasts, down her green stretch pants and back up again. I kept walking around the bed. "They're leaving for jobs at 7-Eleven and McDonalds," I said. "There's no room for loyalty and ambition," Waverlee said. Waverlee's hands moved in circles over her bra and then rest on her breasts. Waverlee's bra opened in the front. "Barely making minimum wage, no benefits—one nasty motorist who doesn't like how you flick your wrist and you're nothing but an accident," I said. "Listen, I'll spell it out for you," Waverlee said. "We're supposed to meet, have sex, go back to our lives, and on special occasions, like at Christmas or in church, we're supposed to feel guilty." I turned from her and threw the newspaper away. "That's not what happened," I said. "We ate ice cream together." Waverlee unsnapped her bra and let it fall on the bed. She walked over to me and put my hands on her breasts. Her smile was gone. "It's my first affair, Carver. I want to do it right." "We need some perspective on the situation. We could walk away from this as friends," I said. I watched my hands cupping Waverlee's breasts. "We'll laugh together again. I promise." "This could work as an affair," Waverlee said, "if you just put in some effort." "It doesn't make any sense to kiss you again, Waverlee," I said. "I'm sure it doesn't." Waverlee kissed me once and again until I was kissing her back, lost in the fluidity of our movement, anticipating when to break free before Waverlee could wave her hand and signal that it was time to give her more.

We had a routine, meeting at the Friendly's close to the elementary school before Waverlee went on shift. At first it was once a week for an hour, then twice for two hours, but it all came about because I had initiated the meeting. I asked for it. We talked. I had told Waverlee about the restaurant and Scotty, getting older, getting grouchier, getting to the point where I had to give my wife prep time before I touched her. Sending forecasts before I left for work in the morning, like weather blurbs on the radio, Hey Lisa, conditions are favorable that I might want to touch your breasts tonight, so plan ahead. Waverlee, always championing the notion of womanhood, spoke of getting tattoos, getting divorced, getting educated, getting friendly with the extra room in her bed, getting patience. We swapped tales like rivals trying to best each other about getting our share of miracles, religion, good music, bad food, unforgettable sex, unrecoverable disasters-mostly the talk was about getting over. Then one afternoon, Linda the waitress came up to our booth and asked what we would like. I pointed to Waverlee and said I would like to kiss her. Linda peered over her notepad. "I'll be back later." Waverlee closed her menu, already having decided. "That's how someone untrained does it," she said. "Pardon me? Untrained?" "The general public will stop motion with words because they don't know how to enforce the action." "My intention was to..." "Intentions, nothing. You stopped Linda dead in her tracks, which will prevent us from ordering, and delay, for who knows how long, getting our ice cream, because Linda must go back and reprocess, probably by telling a few more waitresses, how she now knows us, sending our whole server and customer relationship out of whack because you had to blurt out your intentions." "You're pretty smart for someone who wears an orange vest." "I'm more than my colors." I turned my menu upside down. "It was what I felt, Waverlee." "Yes it was. Now we have to figure out how to deal with what you feel rather than eating ice cream." "We couldn't do both?" Waverlee raised her eyebrow, pondering the possibilities until Linda approached our table again, eyes glued to her pad and pencil. "Have you two decided yet?"

I was rummaging around the front seat of Waverlee Woods' car. All I had to do was search under the car seat to find her wallet, and I began pulling out the credit cards, CPR certification, driver's license, library card, but I hung onto the Friendly's Restaurant coupon. 30

31

1


r Berkeley Fiction Review

How to Stop Motion

would wear something different, but she was a crossing guard. "I read there's a shortage of crossing guards in the county," I said. Waverlee sat on her knees and threw her shirt on the floor. I walked to Waverlee but snatched the newspaper next to her before she could pull me to her. Waverlee had been reading the TV listings. "They can't hire anyone to work only fifteen hours a week." "We're a dying breed," Waverlee said. She ran her hands over her breasts, down her green stretch pants and back up again. I kept walking around the bed. "They're leaving for jobs at 7-Eleven and McDonalds," I said. "There's no room for loyalty and ambition," Waverlee said. Waverlee's hands moved in circles over her bra and then rest on her breasts. Waverlee's bra opened in the front. "Barely making minimum wage, no benefits—one nasty motorist who doesn't like how you flick your wrist and you're nothing but an accident," I said. "Listen, I'll spell it out for you," Waverlee said. "We're supposed to meet, have sex, go back to our lives, and on special occasions, like at Christmas or in church, we're supposed to feel guilty." I turned from her and threw the newspaper away. "That's not what happened," I said. "We ate ice cream together." Waverlee unsnapped her bra and let it fall on the bed. She walked over to me and put my hands on her breasts. Her smile was gone. "It's my first affair, Carver. I want to do it right." "We need some perspective on the situation. We could walk away from this as friends," I said. I watched my hands cupping Waverlee's breasts. "We'll laugh together again. I promise." "This could work as an affair," Waverlee said, "if you just put in some effort." "It doesn't make any sense to kiss you again, Waverlee," I said. "I'm sure it doesn't." Waverlee kissed me once and again until I was kissing her back, lost in the fluidity of our movement, anticipating when to break free before Waverlee could wave her hand and signal that it was time to give her more.

We had a routine, meeting at the Friendly's close to the elementary school before Waverlee went on shift. At first it was once a week for an hour, then twice for two hours, but it all came about because I had initiated the meeting. I asked for it. We talked. I had told Waverlee about the restaurant and Scotty, getting older, getting grouchier, getting to the point where I had to give my wife prep time before I touched her. Sending forecasts before I left for work in the morning, like weather blurbs on the radio, Hey Lisa, conditions are favorable that I might want to touch your breasts tonight, so plan ahead. Waverlee, always championing the notion of womanhood, spoke of getting tattoos, getting divorced, getting educated, getting friendly with the extra room in her bed, getting patience. We swapped tales like rivals trying to best each other about getting our share of miracles, religion, good music, bad food, unforgettable sex, unrecoverable disasters-mostly the talk was about getting over. Then one afternoon, Linda the waitress came up to our booth and asked what we would like. I pointed to Waverlee and said I would like to kiss her. Linda peered over her notepad. "I'll be back later." Waverlee closed her menu, already having decided. "That's how someone untrained does it," she said. "Pardon me? Untrained?" "The general public will stop motion with words because they don't know how to enforce the action." "My intention was to..." "Intentions, nothing. You stopped Linda dead in her tracks, which will prevent us from ordering, and delay, for who knows how long, getting our ice cream, because Linda must go back and reprocess, probably by telling a few more waitresses, how she now knows us, sending our whole server and customer relationship out of whack because you had to blurt out your intentions." "You're pretty smart for someone who wears an orange vest." "I'm more than my colors." I turned my menu upside down. "It was what I felt, Waverlee." "Yes it was. Now we have to figure out how to deal with what you feel rather than eating ice cream." "We couldn't do both?" Waverlee raised her eyebrow, pondering the possibilities until Linda approached our table again, eyes glued to her pad and pencil. "Have you two decided yet?"

I was rummaging around the front seat of Waverlee Woods' car. All I had to do was search under the car seat to find her wallet, and I began pulling out the credit cards, CPR certification, driver's license, library card, but I hung onto the Friendly's Restaurant coupon. 30

31

1


Berkeley Fiction Review "We're narrowing down the choices," I said. Linda smiled with her lips closed and walked away. Waverlee rested her hand on top of mine; my body warmed. "Listen. We've had a nice run, you've made me chuckle, but I think we've reached our line." "It's not how you feel?" "Carver, when I first said you could apologize for insulting me with ice cream, I didn't actually think that's what you'd do. I thought you'd pick me up and we would decide to head for the motel in the first ten seconds." Waverlee's hand slipped off of mine, gripped the table's edge "But I've liked the ice cream. We don't want to start anything we can't live up to." "Fine, then," I said. "We'll just have ice cream. I mean, hell, there's more than fifty-six flavors, that should keep us busy." But Waverlee smiled, balled up her hands into fists and headed for the exit. Linda approached the table again, collecting the menus. "Will that be all?" she asked. I slammed my hand down on the table so that Linda and the people in the booth behind me jumped. "No." I grabbed Linda by the shoulders and squeezed. "No, I don't think so." I reached Waverlee just as she was holding the door open for a family of four, spun her to me and kissed her. I heard applause from the customers, felt all my questions answered in Waverlee's kiss. When I opened my eyes, Linda was already taking another order. I found pictures of people I didn't know in Waverlee's wallet. I was making them all distant relatives when my cell phone rang. "I'm the river," Waverlee said. "The river?" "In the song. You said you heard it? Rivers and oceans? I have to be your river, so don't you dare try to make me an ocean." "Waverlee," I said, "I'm not good at decoding." I first spotted Waverlee Woods at her post talking to a patrolman. The patrolman was twisting Waverlee's sign from "Stop" to "Slow" as fast as he could. Waverlee got to hold the radar gun in exchange, but hold was all she did with it. The gun remained quiet by her side; all Waverlee needed was to make eye contact with the driver. Her white-gloved hand pushed out and downward, as if grappling with gravity itself, and the car slowed. Waverlee's white thumb shot up in appreciation, congratulating herself and the driver. 32

How to Stop Motion That was when I laughed out loud, so loud, in fact, that it surprised the gathering parents, Waverlee, and me. Waverlee pointed the radar gun directly at me. "Excuse me, sir, is it me you're laughing at?" "No ma'am, just your thumb." "I've got the power of the law on my side." She pointed her white thumb to where the power was busy twirling her sign back and forth. I put my hands up, having been caught. I screamed out an apology, but the oncoming traffic flooded my words—they never crossed the street. "Nobody can handle taking care of two oceans." I heard Waverlee over the phone. And now, like then, I had to say what I knew. "Did you know that in order to laugh, you must distance yourself far away enough not to feel the pain," I said. "Waverlee, honey, it's the key." The day after I insulted Waverlee's thumb I got to the crosswalk early and watched her sit inside her car, putting her hair into a bun. She was having a time, searching for bobby pins on the floor and coming up empty. There weren't any parents yet, so I began to cross the street because I knew I could make it across without anything bad happening because nothing really bad has ever happened before. Waverlee didn't even notice me until I was sitting in the front seat next to her, looking at a bobby pin on the floor. "There," I said. I reached down to grab it just as Waverlee did and our heads clonked together. She looked at me, rubbing her head. "You were sent to destroy me, weren't you?" "I wanted to apologize." "For my head?" "For your thumb," I said. "Yesterday, the comment? But now I have to make up for your head and your thumb." "Ice cream," Waverlee said. And after we had finished arranging things, I began to walk back to my side of the street. Waverlee wanted to stop traffic for me, but I wouldn't let her; I was a grown up, after all. Ice cream was all I was thinking as I reached halfway across the street. Then I saw the faces of the parents who were right on time, exactly where they were supposed to be, holding my spot open, looking at me with wrinkled foreheads. They were wondering where I was coming from. "I'm going to hang up now, I thought I'd warn you," Waverlee said. 33


Berkeley Fiction Review "We're narrowing down the choices," I said. Linda smiled with her lips closed and walked away. Waverlee rested her hand on top of mine; my body warmed. "Listen. We've had a nice run, you've made me chuckle, but I think we've reached our line." "It's not how you feel?" "Carver, when I first said you could apologize for insulting me with ice cream, I didn't actually think that's what you'd do. I thought you'd pick me up and we would decide to head for the motel in the first ten seconds." Waverlee's hand slipped off of mine, gripped the table's edge "But I've liked the ice cream. We don't want to start anything we can't live up to." "Fine, then," I said. "We'll just have ice cream. I mean, hell, there's more than fifty-six flavors, that should keep us busy." But Waverlee smiled, balled up her hands into fists and headed for the exit. Linda approached the table again, collecting the menus. "Will that be all?" she asked. I slammed my hand down on the table so that Linda and the people in the booth behind me jumped. "No." I grabbed Linda by the shoulders and squeezed. "No, I don't think so." I reached Waverlee just as she was holding the door open for a family of four, spun her to me and kissed her. I heard applause from the customers, felt all my questions answered in Waverlee's kiss. When I opened my eyes, Linda was already taking another order. I found pictures of people I didn't know in Waverlee's wallet. I was making them all distant relatives when my cell phone rang. "I'm the river," Waverlee said. "The river?" "In the song. You said you heard it? Rivers and oceans? I have to be your river, so don't you dare try to make me an ocean." "Waverlee," I said, "I'm not good at decoding." I first spotted Waverlee Woods at her post talking to a patrolman. The patrolman was twisting Waverlee's sign from "Stop" to "Slow" as fast as he could. Waverlee got to hold the radar gun in exchange, but hold was all she did with it. The gun remained quiet by her side; all Waverlee needed was to make eye contact with the driver. Her white-gloved hand pushed out and downward, as if grappling with gravity itself, and the car slowed. Waverlee's white thumb shot up in appreciation, congratulating herself and the driver. 32

How to Stop Motion That was when I laughed out loud, so loud, in fact, that it surprised the gathering parents, Waverlee, and me. Waverlee pointed the radar gun directly at me. "Excuse me, sir, is it me you're laughing at?" "No ma'am, just your thumb." "I've got the power of the law on my side." She pointed her white thumb to where the power was busy twirling her sign back and forth. I put my hands up, having been caught. I screamed out an apology, but the oncoming traffic flooded my words—they never crossed the street. "Nobody can handle taking care of two oceans." I heard Waverlee over the phone. And now, like then, I had to say what I knew. "Did you know that in order to laugh, you must distance yourself far away enough not to feel the pain," I said. "Waverlee, honey, it's the key." The day after I insulted Waverlee's thumb I got to the crosswalk early and watched her sit inside her car, putting her hair into a bun. She was having a time, searching for bobby pins on the floor and coming up empty. There weren't any parents yet, so I began to cross the street because I knew I could make it across without anything bad happening because nothing really bad has ever happened before. Waverlee didn't even notice me until I was sitting in the front seat next to her, looking at a bobby pin on the floor. "There," I said. I reached down to grab it just as Waverlee did and our heads clonked together. She looked at me, rubbing her head. "You were sent to destroy me, weren't you?" "I wanted to apologize." "For my head?" "For your thumb," I said. "Yesterday, the comment? But now I have to make up for your head and your thumb." "Ice cream," Waverlee said. And after we had finished arranging things, I began to walk back to my side of the street. Waverlee wanted to stop traffic for me, but I wouldn't let her; I was a grown up, after all. Ice cream was all I was thinking as I reached halfway across the street. Then I saw the faces of the parents who were right on time, exactly where they were supposed to be, holding my spot open, looking at me with wrinkled foreheads. They were wondering where I was coming from. "I'm going to hang up now, I thought I'd warn you," Waverlee said. 33


Berkeley Fiction Review I took my place on the street corner and waited for Waverlee Woods to send my son safely to me, just like all the other parents. "Waverlee." I listened to the dial tone. Waverlee wasn't there. The apartment flashes had ended. Across the street, the couple was still making out in the car. I put back Waverlee's CPR certification card, the library card, and the Friendly's coupon. Then I sat and watched the kids push and pull from one side of the car to the other but never break apart. I took Waverlee's driver's license and put it in my wallet. Timing was always off between Waverlee and me. I knew that the secret to a good laugh was perfect timing.

P L A Y L A N D A N D

TtiE

GLADIOLA

G I R L

Stephen Bercovitch

I too have this archaic nature, and in me it is linked with the gift—not always pleasant—of seeing people and things as they are. I can let myself be deceived from here to Tipperary when I don't want to recognize something, and yet at bottom I know quite well how matters really stand. Carl Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections It was a cold April and the ice that compacted into modest glaciers on the Manhattan sidewalks lingered for weeks. The month was a white month—white sky, white snow. A white envelope appeared to embrace the world. White was a thing, not a color. In that year, as the winter was drawing to a close, I set out on walks in the City, my hands stuck deeply into my pockets, counting my loose change with stiff fingers. I felt the smoothness of the edges of nickels and pennies. Nickels thicker. Dimes tiny but they seemed to come to me; they were easy to find without looking. Quarters, the largest, lent a sense of happiness. The breath I drew was sharp with frigid air as I walked quickly uptown on Eighth Avenue, exhausted and exhaling steam, I turned into Millard's Bar at the corner of Forty-eighth. I sat at a wooden bench in the booth at the rear corner, lit the stub of a scrounged butt, and puffed it with dredged-up contentment. I ordered a beer and while waiting, I stacked the cost in change on the table in neat rows of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. My dimes 34

35


Berkeley Fiction Review I took my place on the street corner and waited for Waverlee Woods to send my son safely to me, just like all the other parents. "Waverlee." I listened to the dial tone. Waverlee wasn't there. The apartment flashes had ended. Across the street, the couple was still making out in the car. I put back Waverlee's CPR certification card, the library card, and the Friendly's coupon. Then I sat and watched the kids push and pull from one side of the car to the other but never break apart. I took Waverlee's driver's license and put it in my wallet. Timing was always off between Waverlee and me. I knew that the secret to a good laugh was perfect timing.

P L A Y L A N D A N D

TtiE

GLADIOLA

G I R L

Stephen Bercovitch

I too have this archaic nature, and in me it is linked with the gift—not always pleasant—of seeing people and things as they are. I can let myself be deceived from here to Tipperary when I don't want to recognize something, and yet at bottom I know quite well how matters really stand. Carl Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections It was a cold April and the ice that compacted into modest glaciers on the Manhattan sidewalks lingered for weeks. The month was a white month—white sky, white snow. A white envelope appeared to embrace the world. White was a thing, not a color. In that year, as the winter was drawing to a close, I set out on walks in the City, my hands stuck deeply into my pockets, counting my loose change with stiff fingers. I felt the smoothness of the edges of nickels and pennies. Nickels thicker. Dimes tiny but they seemed to come to me; they were easy to find without looking. Quarters, the largest, lent a sense of happiness. The breath I drew was sharp with frigid air as I walked quickly uptown on Eighth Avenue, exhausted and exhaling steam, I turned into Millard's Bar at the corner of Forty-eighth. I sat at a wooden bench in the booth at the rear corner, lit the stub of a scrounged butt, and puffed it with dredged-up contentment. I ordered a beer and while waiting, I stacked the cost in change on the table in neat rows of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. My dimes 34

35


Berkeley Fiction Review were the tallest stack, tottering and thin, then quarters, and then nickels. I wanted to forget yesterday and the days before it like a bad dream. I looked up and saw that a girl carrying a bunch of gladiolas had appeared at the front of the bar. Her arms cradled the long-stemmed flowers in a tender embrace, and she spoke to Millard, the owner. They were at too far a distance for me to hear them, but by her gestures she seemed to ask Millard for permission to sell her flowers to the patrons. She and Millard spoke briefly and they both smiled. It seemed as though they knew each other, and I thought that she must have sold flowers here before. I observed the way she cupped the flowers in her arms as if she was going to sing a lullaby to a child. Her movements were a pantomime amidst the bar noise; her free hand in vigorous motion, gesturing to an occupied table and describing a silent, circular trace. Her lips traced a fairy procession of invisible sounds, yet her eyes, even at the distance I saw her from, spoke her utterances clearly. The flower girl moved quickly around the horseshoe of tables, offering her flowers. As she came near, I was nursing a beer. I had prepared a nice tall stack of climes at the edge of the table for a tip. She asked whether I would buy some white gladiolas. I looked at her and said that the flowers looked yellow in the light. I hungered to see her features more distinctly, but she turned away. Then, she nodded yes and looked sad. Then she went to the next table, into the cigarette smoke under the yellow light, as if I had offended her. I finished my beer in the dusk of the corner table. Later I asked Millard where the flower girl had gone, but he told me he didn't recall that she had been there. It was then, because Millard had not remembered her, that I named her for myself, the "Gladiola Girl."

A few months later, I saw the gladiola girl in Millard's with another girl who carried a bunch of long-stemmed red roses. The gladiola girl and her friend came to each table. I supposed that they were friends because they seemed to move in tandem as they walked from table to table and toward the back of the place where I sat. I thought that she may even hav.e been the gladiola girl's sister. As they came closer, I noticed that the friend had wider set eyes and narrower lips than the gladiola girl. I wanted to ask them to sit down with me, but they walked past me and toward the booth in front of mine, where a 36

Playland and the Gladiola Girl young Hispanic man bought a rose for his senorita. A moment of sadness passed through me. For a long time after that day, I forgot about the flower girls. The streets seemed to impose themselves on me. On the avenues of Manhattan, the curbs of the streets defined and seemed to channel the traffic flow. I watched cars bunch into groups at red lights, only to expand like an accordion as one followed another through a fresh, green signal. I chose busy times to travel in the flow of sidewalk crowds—and I imagined myself conveyed along through no will of my own within the torrent of humanity walking along Ninth Avenue toward the Port Authority at rush hour, along Thirty-fourth Street at noon, and on Fifth Avenue at lunchtime. I hid in doorways and the corners between buildings, counting the men who wore hats. Then, I counted the women who wore scarves and the women with children. I counted the mothers with boys and the mothers with baby girls. One evening, I counted fifty-seven men with red ties, one hundred and twenty-five wearing brown shoes, and forty-five women wearing high heels. Sometimes, in the summer, I sat on the ground. I counted twenty-eight cats and seventeen dogs. One hot day, I counted four hundred and twelve ants in one crack of the sidewalk on Forty-ninth between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. I reclined on a sidewalk against a brick building, beside the flashing neon in a grocery window, at night shining blue, then red, then blue. Then a circular strip of incandescent bulbs lit the word "GROCERY" and shined in my face like a backstage make-up mirror of a Broadway show. It happened twelve hundred and ten times, and I stopped counting but the sign continued with an urgency of its own. * * * #* # The next time I saw the gladiola girl, I was sitting on the sidewalk in front of Millard's. She was walking toward Millard's with her bouquet of gladiolas when I looked up at her. It was the first time I had seen her lips out of the dismal yellow light inside the bar. They were fresh and new and moved lightly around her words as she smiled and asked me if I wanted to take a stem from her. It was as if an apparition had spoken from another world. I felt a sense of dislocation—the gladiola girl was standing before me but she was someone else—my own memory of my lost life passed quickly through me. There, she seemed to guard the border between one world and an37


Berkeley Fiction Review were the tallest stack, tottering and thin, then quarters, and then nickels. I wanted to forget yesterday and the days before it like a bad dream. I looked up and saw that a girl carrying a bunch of gladiolas had appeared at the front of the bar. Her arms cradled the long-stemmed flowers in a tender embrace, and she spoke to Millard, the owner. They were at too far a distance for me to hear them, but by her gestures she seemed to ask Millard for permission to sell her flowers to the patrons. She and Millard spoke briefly and they both smiled. It seemed as though they knew each other, and I thought that she must have sold flowers here before. I observed the way she cupped the flowers in her arms as if she was going to sing a lullaby to a child. Her movements were a pantomime amidst the bar noise; her free hand in vigorous motion, gesturing to an occupied table and describing a silent, circular trace. Her lips traced a fairy procession of invisible sounds, yet her eyes, even at the distance I saw her from, spoke her utterances clearly. The flower girl moved quickly around the horseshoe of tables, offering her flowers. As she came near, I was nursing a beer. I had prepared a nice tall stack of climes at the edge of the table for a tip. She asked whether I would buy some white gladiolas. I looked at her and said that the flowers looked yellow in the light. I hungered to see her features more distinctly, but she turned away. Then, she nodded yes and looked sad. Then she went to the next table, into the cigarette smoke under the yellow light, as if I had offended her. I finished my beer in the dusk of the corner table. Later I asked Millard where the flower girl had gone, but he told me he didn't recall that she had been there. It was then, because Millard had not remembered her, that I named her for myself, the "Gladiola Girl."

A few months later, I saw the gladiola girl in Millard's with another girl who carried a bunch of long-stemmed red roses. The gladiola girl and her friend came to each table. I supposed that they were friends because they seemed to move in tandem as they walked from table to table and toward the back of the place where I sat. I thought that she may even hav.e been the gladiola girl's sister. As they came closer, I noticed that the friend had wider set eyes and narrower lips than the gladiola girl. I wanted to ask them to sit down with me, but they walked past me and toward the booth in front of mine, where a 36

Playland and the Gladiola Girl young Hispanic man bought a rose for his senorita. A moment of sadness passed through me. For a long time after that day, I forgot about the flower girls. The streets seemed to impose themselves on me. On the avenues of Manhattan, the curbs of the streets defined and seemed to channel the traffic flow. I watched cars bunch into groups at red lights, only to expand like an accordion as one followed another through a fresh, green signal. I chose busy times to travel in the flow of sidewalk crowds—and I imagined myself conveyed along through no will of my own within the torrent of humanity walking along Ninth Avenue toward the Port Authority at rush hour, along Thirty-fourth Street at noon, and on Fifth Avenue at lunchtime. I hid in doorways and the corners between buildings, counting the men who wore hats. Then, I counted the women who wore scarves and the women with children. I counted the mothers with boys and the mothers with baby girls. One evening, I counted fifty-seven men with red ties, one hundred and twenty-five wearing brown shoes, and forty-five women wearing high heels. Sometimes, in the summer, I sat on the ground. I counted twenty-eight cats and seventeen dogs. One hot day, I counted four hundred and twelve ants in one crack of the sidewalk on Forty-ninth between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. I reclined on a sidewalk against a brick building, beside the flashing neon in a grocery window, at night shining blue, then red, then blue. Then a circular strip of incandescent bulbs lit the word "GROCERY" and shined in my face like a backstage make-up mirror of a Broadway show. It happened twelve hundred and ten times, and I stopped counting but the sign continued with an urgency of its own. * * * #* # The next time I saw the gladiola girl, I was sitting on the sidewalk in front of Millard's. She was walking toward Millard's with her bouquet of gladiolas when I looked up at her. It was the first time I had seen her lips out of the dismal yellow light inside the bar. They were fresh and new and moved lightly around her words as she smiled and asked me if I wanted to take a stem from her. It was as if an apparition had spoken from another world. I felt a sense of dislocation—the gladiola girl was standing before me but she was someone else—my own memory of my lost life passed quickly through me. There, she seemed to guard the border between one world and an37


Berkeley Fiction Review

Playland and the Gladiola Girl

other—between the remembered one and the one before me. The flower stalks looked tender in her small hands. I wanted her to drop them and embrace me in their place. I felt the unrequited love the living feel for the dead. * * * * x- * In another life, hiding my feelings from my fiancee in the bottom of a well, I had said, "I don't have much money." Janice had looked at me with big, wet, brown, yearning raccoon eyes. "The marigolds would look nice in a window box," she said. "It's a sunny window," I said. "Let's get the big yellow ones." I looked at the display of flowers on the sidewalk. A short, brownskinned man holding a rolled packet of dollars was speaking to another patron about a bouquet of daisies that sat in an aluminum bucket. There were bunches of roses—pink, yellow, white—in other aluminum buckets set in a semicircle on the curb. Batches of yellow pampas grass rested against a red brick wall. People passed in a hurry. Cars came close to the curb and turned the corner. "And some of the small orange ones," I said. Janice grinned, happy with what she had found. We returned to our apartment with the marigolds and a small adobe pot. After potting the flowers, we set them on the sill of a window facing South. A year passed after we had bought the marigolds; I had begun to understand a little more about the value and the mystery of dreams. I noted with puzzlement that I did not always remember my dreams. I wanted to see if my dreams related to my thoughts and the events of the day, or to some purer world where only dreams exist. I saw that dreams had a fierce reality, and that reality had dreaminess. Then one day, Janice stood in the window, in front of the thin, white curtains where the marigolds had been. A whisper of light came softly through the curtains. "Pretty," I said. I wanted to touch the curve in the small of her back, to caress her pelvis, grasp her waist, move my palms over her belly and her whole, abundant bosom. Janice turned toward me. She rotated her small shoulders in succession, imparting a round, twisted motion to her torso. Her hands were 38

placed on her thighs-, and her fingers curled to stroke her skin. Her breasts were shadowed by her torso. I remember it exactly. # #***$ A season passed. Then on an icy winter's day, the gladiola girl returned. She found me in Millard's at the farthest rear table. She handed me a single white stem, with two or three buds flowering and open at the top of the long stem and a dozen nascent buds wrapped along the green stem. "Thank you," I said. "I've noticed you here before," she said. I looked into her eyes. I felt lost. My mind seemed to be suctioned away by her attention. But in the sound of her voice, I found something real to hold onto. I felt an instant closeness with her. "That's not unusual," I said, "a lot of people notice me on the sidewalk." "I saw you on the sidewalk too." "You never said anything to me there." "No—no, I didn't," she said. "What's your name?" I asked. "They call me Lupie," she said. "Just Lupie." "You look like a Lupie," I said, astonished at how well the name fit. Her curls shined in brown loops. She wore round, silver earrings. She had light circles under her brown eyes. She was a package of loops. "Is that the name you were born with?" I asked. "No..." she hesitated. "People called me 'Lupie' when I was a little girl and it-just stuck." "Sometimes people get us just right," I said. "Oh...are you a scholar?" she asked. "A street scholar. A scholar of the people who come and go," I said. "I didn't ask your name," she said. "Moe," I told her. "Moe Abbot." "Moe and Lupie," she said, smiling. "It has a ring to it." ***** * As evening fell on the city, the sky became purple overhead and orange to the west over the Hudson. We came to the big sign which in a 39


Berkeley Fiction Review

Playland and the Gladiola Girl

other—between the remembered one and the one before me. The flower stalks looked tender in her small hands. I wanted her to drop them and embrace me in their place. I felt the unrequited love the living feel for the dead. * * * * x- * In another life, hiding my feelings from my fiancee in the bottom of a well, I had said, "I don't have much money." Janice had looked at me with big, wet, brown, yearning raccoon eyes. "The marigolds would look nice in a window box," she said. "It's a sunny window," I said. "Let's get the big yellow ones." I looked at the display of flowers on the sidewalk. A short, brownskinned man holding a rolled packet of dollars was speaking to another patron about a bouquet of daisies that sat in an aluminum bucket. There were bunches of roses—pink, yellow, white—in other aluminum buckets set in a semicircle on the curb. Batches of yellow pampas grass rested against a red brick wall. People passed in a hurry. Cars came close to the curb and turned the corner. "And some of the small orange ones," I said. Janice grinned, happy with what she had found. We returned to our apartment with the marigolds and a small adobe pot. After potting the flowers, we set them on the sill of a window facing South. A year passed after we had bought the marigolds; I had begun to understand a little more about the value and the mystery of dreams. I noted with puzzlement that I did not always remember my dreams. I wanted to see if my dreams related to my thoughts and the events of the day, or to some purer world where only dreams exist. I saw that dreams had a fierce reality, and that reality had dreaminess. Then one day, Janice stood in the window, in front of the thin, white curtains where the marigolds had been. A whisper of light came softly through the curtains. "Pretty," I said. I wanted to touch the curve in the small of her back, to caress her pelvis, grasp her waist, move my palms over her belly and her whole, abundant bosom. Janice turned toward me. She rotated her small shoulders in succession, imparting a round, twisted motion to her torso. Her hands were 38

placed on her thighs-, and her fingers curled to stroke her skin. Her breasts were shadowed by her torso. I remember it exactly. # #***$ A season passed. Then on an icy winter's day, the gladiola girl returned. She found me in Millard's at the farthest rear table. She handed me a single white stem, with two or three buds flowering and open at the top of the long stem and a dozen nascent buds wrapped along the green stem. "Thank you," I said. "I've noticed you here before," she said. I looked into her eyes. I felt lost. My mind seemed to be suctioned away by her attention. But in the sound of her voice, I found something real to hold onto. I felt an instant closeness with her. "That's not unusual," I said, "a lot of people notice me on the sidewalk." "I saw you on the sidewalk too." "You never said anything to me there." "No—no, I didn't," she said. "What's your name?" I asked. "They call me Lupie," she said. "Just Lupie." "You look like a Lupie," I said, astonished at how well the name fit. Her curls shined in brown loops. She wore round, silver earrings. She had light circles under her brown eyes. She was a package of loops. "Is that the name you were born with?" I asked. "No..." she hesitated. "People called me 'Lupie' when I was a little girl and it-just stuck." "Sometimes people get us just right," I said. "Oh...are you a scholar?" she asked. "A street scholar. A scholar of the people who come and go," I said. "I didn't ask your name," she said. "Moe," I told her. "Moe Abbot." "Moe and Lupie," she said, smiling. "It has a ring to it." ***** * As evening fell on the city, the sky became purple overhead and orange to the west over the Hudson. We came to the big sign which in a 39


Playland and the Gladiola Girl

Berkeley Fiction Review thousand small bulbs lit the sidewalk in incandescent light and flashed the name PLAYLAND. We went inside. There, neon drowned the shadows in a blue tint and the noises of video games filled the room with echoing pings and pongs, electronic explosions, and the hum of video cars racing. We stood near the photo booth, marked "FOUR COLOR PHOTOS ONE DOLLAR," and I searched my pocket for quarters. "I hate looking at myself in pictures," she said. "I think you're pretty," I said. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again." She blushed and pulled my arm toward her, urging that we try a video game. "I like the one where the alligators are in the water," she said. We played the game, where a young blond maiden escapes the alligators which chase her through the swamp. She climbs on rotted logs and wades through bogs, swimming away from hungry reptiles. Then we played the spaceship game where a short being with two small tails shoot beads of light at the black spaceships that look like bugs. Something about Lupie reminded me of Janice. She was filled with a sense of fun which belonged to both of us. The memory of Janice gave me a feeling of satisfaction and fullness, although at the time I was having the memory, I was still very much with Lupie. The place where Janice had gone to was empty, but it made me smile. I wanted a private place for my thoughts about Janice, but I didn't want to deceive Lupie. Lupie and I shot beads of light at the video spaceships, and I felt as if I was traveling through the universe with Janice shooting at me from wherever dead people take aim. I didn't care one way or the other if it was real. Janice and me. We were one thing for more than ten years. 'We had filled our twenties with one another. When she got sick with the tumor, it was already too late. It was a sticky mess, they said, in a place deep within her brain. ****** Janice was having dreams that felt real. She said that the tumor must have been pressing on her dream gland. She was regurgitating everything she ate. She had shivers under seven blankets. She wore a woolen scarf wrapped around her chin and over the top of her head that made her face look framed and white like a cameo. 40

Spittle ran down her chin. "I don't know," she said. I put my hand on her forehead. I could feel the heat even before my palm rested on her brow. "We should laugh'at this," I said. "Even if you're dying." "These visions are fabulous," she said. "Unbelievable. I really like them." "Are those your dreams?" I asked. "I'm seeing colors I never saw before." "In your sleep?" "No. Right now." "Try to sleep." I realized that she was trying to overcome her fear. The room smelled of it. The window was open a crack and a wind came through it. A lamp on the table beside Janice's bed burned with a single dim bulb that, through the lampshade, imparted a yellowish tint to her skin. The smell of decomposing vegetation rose from the wilted bunch of flowers that stood in a vase filled with swampy water. "I had thought we would die together," she said. "But now I don't think that." "You always think that. Anybody does. It's scary to think you'll go alone." "It's all over so soon," she said. I walked to the window. I wanted to open it. It stuck in its frame, and I worked it back and forth before raising it. ****** I was telling Lupie about the day Janice died. "I remember it must have been dawn. There was light traffic traveling on the street outside. There was a delivery truck,' and I tried to see what the driver would bring to the little market across the street on Bleeker. I saw schoolchildren and I remember wondering, 'What are they doing out so early in the day?' The air smelled fresh outside, the opposite of the formaldehyde smell of that room. I filled my lungs with it. I put my head outside and beyond the marigolds—bright yellow and orange in the planter on the sill—and I peered up the street. I remember the pattern of fire escapes and the brown and red bricks of many buildings. The complicated shadows. Zigzags. I thought about washing Janice's hair and about giving her a haircut." "Did you?" Lupie asked. 41


Playland and the Gladiola Girl

Berkeley Fiction Review thousand small bulbs lit the sidewalk in incandescent light and flashed the name PLAYLAND. We went inside. There, neon drowned the shadows in a blue tint and the noises of video games filled the room with echoing pings and pongs, electronic explosions, and the hum of video cars racing. We stood near the photo booth, marked "FOUR COLOR PHOTOS ONE DOLLAR," and I searched my pocket for quarters. "I hate looking at myself in pictures," she said. "I think you're pretty," I said. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again." She blushed and pulled my arm toward her, urging that we try a video game. "I like the one where the alligators are in the water," she said. We played the game, where a young blond maiden escapes the alligators which chase her through the swamp. She climbs on rotted logs and wades through bogs, swimming away from hungry reptiles. Then we played the spaceship game where a short being with two small tails shoot beads of light at the black spaceships that look like bugs. Something about Lupie reminded me of Janice. She was filled with a sense of fun which belonged to both of us. The memory of Janice gave me a feeling of satisfaction and fullness, although at the time I was having the memory, I was still very much with Lupie. The place where Janice had gone to was empty, but it made me smile. I wanted a private place for my thoughts about Janice, but I didn't want to deceive Lupie. Lupie and I shot beads of light at the video spaceships, and I felt as if I was traveling through the universe with Janice shooting at me from wherever dead people take aim. I didn't care one way or the other if it was real. Janice and me. We were one thing for more than ten years. 'We had filled our twenties with one another. When she got sick with the tumor, it was already too late. It was a sticky mess, they said, in a place deep within her brain. ****** Janice was having dreams that felt real. She said that the tumor must have been pressing on her dream gland. She was regurgitating everything she ate. She had shivers under seven blankets. She wore a woolen scarf wrapped around her chin and over the top of her head that made her face look framed and white like a cameo. 40

Spittle ran down her chin. "I don't know," she said. I put my hand on her forehead. I could feel the heat even before my palm rested on her brow. "We should laugh'at this," I said. "Even if you're dying." "These visions are fabulous," she said. "Unbelievable. I really like them." "Are those your dreams?" I asked. "I'm seeing colors I never saw before." "In your sleep?" "No. Right now." "Try to sleep." I realized that she was trying to overcome her fear. The room smelled of it. The window was open a crack and a wind came through it. A lamp on the table beside Janice's bed burned with a single dim bulb that, through the lampshade, imparted a yellowish tint to her skin. The smell of decomposing vegetation rose from the wilted bunch of flowers that stood in a vase filled with swampy water. "I had thought we would die together," she said. "But now I don't think that." "You always think that. Anybody does. It's scary to think you'll go alone." "It's all over so soon," she said. I walked to the window. I wanted to open it. It stuck in its frame, and I worked it back and forth before raising it. ****** I was telling Lupie about the day Janice died. "I remember it must have been dawn. There was light traffic traveling on the street outside. There was a delivery truck,' and I tried to see what the driver would bring to the little market across the street on Bleeker. I saw schoolchildren and I remember wondering, 'What are they doing out so early in the day?' The air smelled fresh outside, the opposite of the formaldehyde smell of that room. I filled my lungs with it. I put my head outside and beyond the marigolds—bright yellow and orange in the planter on the sill—and I peered up the street. I remember the pattern of fire escapes and the brown and red bricks of many buildings. The complicated shadows. Zigzags. I thought about washing Janice's hair and about giving her a haircut." "Did you?" Lupie asked. 41


Berkeley Fiction Review

Playland and the Gladiola Girl

"When I looked at her, she wasn't there anymore." "What'dyoudo?" "I was looking for something I wasn't seeing. I saw her waxy skin and felt deceived. I laughed like a baboon." ****** "I'll do it!" Lupie shrieked. "I'll do it but only if we can get the flowers into the picture!" We were at Playland again. She held the gladiolas in front of us, while she sat crosswise on my lap in the small photo booth. I put three quarters into the slot. "Give me another two bits," I said. "Why?" she asked. "Are you huunnnggrrry?" We laughed. She put the fourth quarter into the slot. The machine popped a bright flash. We shifted weight a little bit and it popped again. She put the flowers on her lap, put her cheek next to mine, and the machine flashed brightly a third time. Spots swam in my eyes like tadpoles. The sounds of war were behind us as Playland chimed with the noise of electronic battles. I blinked twice and made the spots move. Then the machine flashed again. I had been wide-eyed, staring at the bulb the very moment that it flashed. I felt my eyes cringe. Shutting my lids in reflex, I listened to the loud noise surrounding me. My eyeballs felt hard as marbles. I blinked. The light flashed. "Did you put in another quarter?" she asked. Again it flashed. The machine seemed to have a mind of its own. "Just look at the flash, and hold your eyes open," I said. She turned on my lap and looked at the bulb. It popped brightly, on cue, without another quarter in the slot. "Now," I said, "do you see the spots? Blink and watch them move around. Do you see what's going on?" She blinked twice. Her face twitched. She turned her head around in space like a blind person as if to capture the moving spots by the motion of her swiveling head. She unspooled her eyes skyward and looked from side to side. "You look ridiculous," I tittered. "Wherever I turn, the spots turn with me," she said. "Close your eyes." She did. 42

"Do your eyeballs feel like hard, white marbles?" "I don't see the spots anymore. At least, not the same blue ones. They're more like...like...little spinning, white galaxies!" I shut my eyes and saw what she saw—two spinning Andromedas that appeared on the inside of my lids. From inside the photo booth I heard the noise of shouting human voices over the din of video battles. Lupie, the gladiola girl, squirmed nervously and blindly on my lap. I felt the flowers rub my face. The world condensed. I was at peace. ****** Who can be sure of anything? I had thought that I was looking at my own death in the corpse of Janice. A profound awareness had struck me in that moment—an awareness of the absurd, the forlorn, the empty quality of human life. I had heard the whisper of an unfathomable secret then, and had experienced the strange sensation that I was sharing the world of the corpse, only to be drawn back into a world of the living. Yet, I still identified with Janice. Two together. And, I had laughed. I had dreams about her after she died. Dreams that we were traveling together on a train where I saw the two rails stretching parallel over an expansive, flat plain. In the far distance, the clouds came near the horizon of the earth and there was a gap of red sky where the setting sun shone brilliantly. I remembered the brilliance of the sun and the way the rails reflected its red light on streaks of wet metal through the prairie grasses. Two lines traveling into the far distance like the two rails of my living— a body and a soul, forever separated, forever parallel. The textures of the dream were somewhere in real life. It was as if the dream was physical; I could close my eyes and recall it at will. Yet, even more brilliant than the whole dream was the enduring chirping of the void—absent of either life or death—behind it, that long, vibrant route of railroad ties between the shining rails. The day I met Lupie, something inside me changed. I went on. My detachment became a freedom. My dreaming became seeing. I ceased feeling that I was waiting at the threshold of an inexplicable space. I saw other forms in my dreams—celestial mansions standing alone and grouped into cities of light, patterns of silk-like strands woven into fantastic shapes. I crossed a line and ceased being Janice's spiritual twin. I stopped thinking about the messy tumor, as if I had excised it from my mind. In the photo booth with Lupie, it had gone further. I had become 43


Berkeley Fiction Review

Playland and the Gladiola Girl

"When I looked at her, she wasn't there anymore." "What'dyoudo?" "I was looking for something I wasn't seeing. I saw her waxy skin and felt deceived. I laughed like a baboon." ****** "I'll do it!" Lupie shrieked. "I'll do it but only if we can get the flowers into the picture!" We were at Playland again. She held the gladiolas in front of us, while she sat crosswise on my lap in the small photo booth. I put three quarters into the slot. "Give me another two bits," I said. "Why?" she asked. "Are you huunnnggrrry?" We laughed. She put the fourth quarter into the slot. The machine popped a bright flash. We shifted weight a little bit and it popped again. She put the flowers on her lap, put her cheek next to mine, and the machine flashed brightly a third time. Spots swam in my eyes like tadpoles. The sounds of war were behind us as Playland chimed with the noise of electronic battles. I blinked twice and made the spots move. Then the machine flashed again. I had been wide-eyed, staring at the bulb the very moment that it flashed. I felt my eyes cringe. Shutting my lids in reflex, I listened to the loud noise surrounding me. My eyeballs felt hard as marbles. I blinked. The light flashed. "Did you put in another quarter?" she asked. Again it flashed. The machine seemed to have a mind of its own. "Just look at the flash, and hold your eyes open," I said. She turned on my lap and looked at the bulb. It popped brightly, on cue, without another quarter in the slot. "Now," I said, "do you see the spots? Blink and watch them move around. Do you see what's going on?" She blinked twice. Her face twitched. She turned her head around in space like a blind person as if to capture the moving spots by the motion of her swiveling head. She unspooled her eyes skyward and looked from side to side. "You look ridiculous," I tittered. "Wherever I turn, the spots turn with me," she said. "Close your eyes." She did. 42

"Do your eyeballs feel like hard, white marbles?" "I don't see the spots anymore. At least, not the same blue ones. They're more like...like...little spinning, white galaxies!" I shut my eyes and saw what she saw—two spinning Andromedas that appeared on the inside of my lids. From inside the photo booth I heard the noise of shouting human voices over the din of video battles. Lupie, the gladiola girl, squirmed nervously and blindly on my lap. I felt the flowers rub my face. The world condensed. I was at peace. ****** Who can be sure of anything? I had thought that I was looking at my own death in the corpse of Janice. A profound awareness had struck me in that moment—an awareness of the absurd, the forlorn, the empty quality of human life. I had heard the whisper of an unfathomable secret then, and had experienced the strange sensation that I was sharing the world of the corpse, only to be drawn back into a world of the living. Yet, I still identified with Janice. Two together. And, I had laughed. I had dreams about her after she died. Dreams that we were traveling together on a train where I saw the two rails stretching parallel over an expansive, flat plain. In the far distance, the clouds came near the horizon of the earth and there was a gap of red sky where the setting sun shone brilliantly. I remembered the brilliance of the sun and the way the rails reflected its red light on streaks of wet metal through the prairie grasses. Two lines traveling into the far distance like the two rails of my living— a body and a soul, forever separated, forever parallel. The textures of the dream were somewhere in real life. It was as if the dream was physical; I could close my eyes and recall it at will. Yet, even more brilliant than the whole dream was the enduring chirping of the void—absent of either life or death—behind it, that long, vibrant route of railroad ties between the shining rails. The day I met Lupie, something inside me changed. I went on. My detachment became a freedom. My dreaming became seeing. I ceased feeling that I was waiting at the threshold of an inexplicable space. I saw other forms in my dreams—celestial mansions standing alone and grouped into cities of light, patterns of silk-like strands woven into fantastic shapes. I crossed a line and ceased being Janice's spiritual twin. I stopped thinking about the messy tumor, as if I had excised it from my mind. In the photo booth with Lupie, it had gone further. I had become 43


Berkeley Fiction Review aware of other forms of life—transparent forms not like those of the world but nonetheless real. At least, observing these forms, I felt they were r e a l even more real than Lupie. I became aware purely of what is—without conception, without ideal—things as they are. And forever after that when I raised my eyes to the roof of the night sky there was something to see.

First Place Sudden Fiction

Winner

F R U I T

D o n n a G e o r g e Storey

y mother used the special knife to cut melons. It was very „. sharp and I wasn't allowed to touch it. But I was allowed to watch as she guided the long blade through the cantaloupe's golden-netted rind to the cutting board. With a gentle thump, the melon fell open, glistening orange. Then my mother took a soup-spoon, loosened the mass of creamcolored seeds that clung to the cavity, and scooped them into the garbage pail. She used the same spoon to carve out a small crescent of the melon's flesh. Sometimes she made a faint sucking sound as she took the fruit between her lips. I never knew what she was looking at, but it was something she had to squint to see beyond the yellow-flowered curtains at the kitchen window, something that lay beyond the swing set and the pin oak shading our view of the Listons' house. I did know that if those two little vertical lines between her eyebrows deepened, the unfortunate melon was destined for a fruit salad, all but lost in the chorus of green grapes and bananas, perhaps even subject to her ultimate insult: a lavish sprinkling of sugar. Most often, she tilted her head and nodded lightly, lips pursed. That meant a wedge of cantaloupe for dessert, though if I consumed mine dutifully, I might be permitted a store-bought cookie besides. But, once or twice a summer, she would stand there at the sink for the longest time, swaying a little, staring out at that unknown something. And then she would smile. Those were the melons she served on the fancy white plates with the silver rims, a generous quarter pre-sHced along the rind so we had only to 44

45


Berkeley Fiction Review aware of other forms of life—transparent forms not like those of the world but nonetheless real. At least, observing these forms, I felt they were r e a l even more real than Lupie. I became aware purely of what is—without conception, without ideal—things as they are. And forever after that when I raised my eyes to the roof of the night sky there was something to see.

First Place Sudden Fiction

Winner

F R U I T

D o n n a G e o r g e Storey

y mother used the special knife to cut melons. It was very „. sharp and I wasn't allowed to touch it. But I was allowed to watch as she guided the long blade through the cantaloupe's golden-netted rind to the cutting board. With a gentle thump, the melon fell open, glistening orange. Then my mother took a soup-spoon, loosened the mass of creamcolored seeds that clung to the cavity, and scooped them into the garbage pail. She used the same spoon to carve out a small crescent of the melon's flesh. Sometimes she made a faint sucking sound as she took the fruit between her lips. I never knew what she was looking at, but it was something she had to squint to see beyond the yellow-flowered curtains at the kitchen window, something that lay beyond the swing set and the pin oak shading our view of the Listons' house. I did know that if those two little vertical lines between her eyebrows deepened, the unfortunate melon was destined for a fruit salad, all but lost in the chorus of green grapes and bananas, perhaps even subject to her ultimate insult: a lavish sprinkling of sugar. Most often, she tilted her head and nodded lightly, lips pursed. That meant a wedge of cantaloupe for dessert, though if I consumed mine dutifully, I might be permitted a store-bought cookie besides. But, once or twice a summer, she would stand there at the sink for the longest time, swaying a little, staring out at that unknown something. And then she would smile. Those were the melons she served on the fancy white plates with the silver rims, a generous quarter pre-sHced along the rind so we had only to 44

45


Berkeley Fiction Review Fruit cut off chunks with our spoons. I preferred berries on shortcake with a big scoop of ice cream, but I had to admit those melons were sweet. Sweet as candy. "Yes, this is a good one," my father would declare, taking quick bites. His slice was the largest, but he finished first, and my mother would touch her own chin, discreetly, to remind him to wipe the juice from his whiskers. She took the smallest portion for herself, lingering over each tiny sliver of the fruit. On such evenings she sat taller in her chair, a faintly glamorous air about her, as if she had done something. It had to be a trick of the summer evening light, I thought, that she could be sitting right across the table yet seem so far away.

me choose fruit in the supermarket. He likes the way I tap the swelling around the stems of pears with my index finger, or hold a cantaloupe to my nose and inhale, my eyelids fluttering closed. "Then you stand there and think. For a long time," he said. "Sometimes you're looking right at me, but you don't even see me." It's a game we often play after making love. He asks me when I'm going to marry him and I tell him as soon as he gives me a good reason why I'm his ideal woman. Because you have perfect toes, he once said. Because you can translate the menu in French restaurants. Because you hate Tom Cruise even more than I do. Not good enough, I always reply, wrinkling my nose with a show of disdain. But this time I said nothing, I only snuggled closer to him, too surprised to pretend I wasn't serious. I felt unsteady, as if I'd been cut open, as if a secret had been laid bare. Of course, I was touched that he'd noticed, but I wasn't sure I was ready for a confession of my own. Should I tell him that as I stand there in my half-daze, I do see him, but I'm looking for something else: a space not filled by lover Or child or any one thing at all? And should I tell him that sometimes, as he sleeps beside me, I breathe in his scent, mild with a hint of musk and cumin, and I can tell he is good? Good enough. But not everything. <•

By junior high, I had more important things to do than watch my mother commune with melons. And I certainly wouldn't have asked her advice if I hadn't learned from an article on smart dieting for teens that half a cantaloupe had a mere sixty calories. "Here, try this one." My mother handed me a large, greenish cantaloupe. It was cold and heavy in my hand. After a quick glance up and down the produce aisle to make sure none of my friends was passing by, I held the blossom end to my nose and took a deep breath. "Nothing," I said. "Nothing?" I felt a flicker of doubt, but stood my ground. "Nothing." She nodded. "Never take one that's mute." She handed me a smaller one. The rind had a golden tinge. I checked the dark navel for mold, probed it for a slight give, as she had taught me, then sniffed again. It was there—the hint of nectar and tropical flowers—but distant, a little chilly, like a memory. "This one might be good," I murmured. "Hmm, yes. I do think that one's a little shy, but it might be our best bet. It's hard to tell when they keep the fruit so cold. Always try at least four or five, if not more, and then you can be sure you've done your best." Then she smiled at me, her gaze so warm I felt as if I'd suddenly stepped into full sunlight. I didn't want it to matter, that new glimmer of respect in her eyes. But it did. The other day, my lover told me, with the averted eyes and twitching smile of a man confessing sexual perversion, that he enjoys watching 46

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Berkeley Fiction Review Fruit cut off chunks with our spoons. I preferred berries on shortcake with a big scoop of ice cream, but I had to admit those melons were sweet. Sweet as candy. "Yes, this is a good one," my father would declare, taking quick bites. His slice was the largest, but he finished first, and my mother would touch her own chin, discreetly, to remind him to wipe the juice from his whiskers. She took the smallest portion for herself, lingering over each tiny sliver of the fruit. On such evenings she sat taller in her chair, a faintly glamorous air about her, as if she had done something. It had to be a trick of the summer evening light, I thought, that she could be sitting right across the table yet seem so far away.

me choose fruit in the supermarket. He likes the way I tap the swelling around the stems of pears with my index finger, or hold a cantaloupe to my nose and inhale, my eyelids fluttering closed. "Then you stand there and think. For a long time," he said. "Sometimes you're looking right at me, but you don't even see me." It's a game we often play after making love. He asks me when I'm going to marry him and I tell him as soon as he gives me a good reason why I'm his ideal woman. Because you have perfect toes, he once said. Because you can translate the menu in French restaurants. Because you hate Tom Cruise even more than I do. Not good enough, I always reply, wrinkling my nose with a show of disdain. But this time I said nothing, I only snuggled closer to him, too surprised to pretend I wasn't serious. I felt unsteady, as if I'd been cut open, as if a secret had been laid bare. Of course, I was touched that he'd noticed, but I wasn't sure I was ready for a confession of my own. Should I tell him that as I stand there in my half-daze, I do see him, but I'm looking for something else: a space not filled by lover Or child or any one thing at all? And should I tell him that sometimes, as he sleeps beside me, I breathe in his scent, mild with a hint of musk and cumin, and I can tell he is good? Good enough. But not everything. <•

By junior high, I had more important things to do than watch my mother commune with melons. And I certainly wouldn't have asked her advice if I hadn't learned from an article on smart dieting for teens that half a cantaloupe had a mere sixty calories. "Here, try this one." My mother handed me a large, greenish cantaloupe. It was cold and heavy in my hand. After a quick glance up and down the produce aisle to make sure none of my friends was passing by, I held the blossom end to my nose and took a deep breath. "Nothing," I said. "Nothing?" I felt a flicker of doubt, but stood my ground. "Nothing." She nodded. "Never take one that's mute." She handed me a smaller one. The rind had a golden tinge. I checked the dark navel for mold, probed it for a slight give, as she had taught me, then sniffed again. It was there—the hint of nectar and tropical flowers—but distant, a little chilly, like a memory. "This one might be good," I murmured. "Hmm, yes. I do think that one's a little shy, but it might be our best bet. It's hard to tell when they keep the fruit so cold. Always try at least four or five, if not more, and then you can be sure you've done your best." Then she smiled at me, her gaze so warm I felt as if I'd suddenly stepped into full sunlight. I didn't want it to matter, that new glimmer of respect in her eyes. But it did. The other day, my lover told me, with the averted eyes and twitching smile of a man confessing sexual perversion, that he enjoys watching 46

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T H I N G S

T H A T

C A N N O T

B E

Ruthanne Wiley

t is in Edinburgh, at festival time, when the alleys and wynds are choked with music and color, that Margaret first begins to see pieces of her father floating past (sometimes just his head), drifting by like dead leaves (though her father isn't dead at all). But it doesn't frighten her, and it doesn't surprise her either, for she's always known him to be full of tricks. He could make his Adam's apple move under the knot of his tie. That was one of his tricks. He'd wear the necktie with the palm trees on it (the tie his brother brought him from Miami) and the palms would writhe as though sick. He'd do that in church during a solemn moment and all of Margaret's sisters would press their hands to their faces and try not to laugh, but Margaret never thought it was funny. He'd hide behind doors or in closets. When Margaret would walk into the room he'd jump out and grab her by the shoulders. He did it so often that it never frightened her. He could make his thumbs disappear. He'd be cutting wood in the back yard, and then he'd scream and run into the house and Margaret's sisters and her mother, too, would gather round to see if he was all right. Then he'd holler and hold up his hand with his palm away from them and make it look like he'd chopped off his thumb. He did the same tricks over and over, always the same. The others seemed taken in every time, Margaret thought, every time, but not her. They'd laugh and say "Oh Daddy" when it was all over, but Margaret would stand with her arms folded and feel tricked. It is up on the castle crag, in the evening, when she first sees it. Just his head and one arm, connected somehow, hovering like a secret. Margaret has 49


T H I N G S

T H A T

C A N N O T

B E

Ruthanne Wiley

t is in Edinburgh, at festival time, when the alleys and wynds are choked with music and color, that Margaret first begins to see pieces of her father floating past (sometimes just his head), drifting by like dead leaves (though her father isn't dead at all). But it doesn't frighten her, and it doesn't surprise her either, for she's always known him to be full of tricks. He could make his Adam's apple move under the knot of his tie. That was one of his tricks. He'd wear the necktie with the palm trees on it (the tie his brother brought him from Miami) and the palms would writhe as though sick. He'd do that in church during a solemn moment and all of Margaret's sisters would press their hands to their faces and try not to laugh, but Margaret never thought it was funny. He'd hide behind doors or in closets. When Margaret would walk into the room he'd jump out and grab her by the shoulders. He did it so often that it never frightened her. He could make his thumbs disappear. He'd be cutting wood in the back yard, and then he'd scream and run into the house and Margaret's sisters and her mother, too, would gather round to see if he was all right. Then he'd holler and hold up his hand with his palm away from them and make it look like he'd chopped off his thumb. He did the same tricks over and over, always the same. The others seemed taken in every time, Margaret thought, every time, but not her. They'd laugh and say "Oh Daddy" when it was all over, but Margaret would stand with her arms folded and feel tricked. It is up on the castle crag, in the evening, when she first sees it. Just his head and one arm, connected somehow, hovering like a secret. Margaret has 49


Berkeley Fiction Review been in Edinburgh for three days and she feels a sort of inverted deja vu, not as though she remembers it, but as though the city remembers her, has been waiting for her, knows her presence and the sound of her feet meeting the cobbled alleys and the feel of her, the feel of her moving along High Street. Odd, she thinks, odd to be recognized. As she makes her way through the crowds (all pressed together like tied'bundles of sticks) she doesn't see the jugglers in their polka dot frills or the quartet of cellists in kilts or the girl with the monkey and the bubble machine (the bubbles pop like little firecrackers); Margaret doesn't feel the bubbles wet her cheek, doesn't hear the monkey chatter and clap, for all she can see is shadow, shadow everywhere, shadow in color. She sees no castle nor statue nor cathedral, but just the colored shadows like spilt blood on the black stones. The place is swollen with shadow. And she feels that the shadow of the castle (which reaches down the crag with long, velvet fingers) is more real than the thing itself, because it keeps changing. As evening meets night, the castle expands into the shadow of itself and she thinks, it's real now, because you can't rely on it. It is like a cloud to her, something without a defined shape, and she feels that if she touches it her hand will disappear. Shadows are black and gray, she thinks, but not here. Here they are red and blue and orange, here the shadows are real and the things are not. That's when she first sees him. He floats by like the monkey's bubbles. He doesn't look at her but she sees. She thinks he wants to tell her something and wonders what it might be, for in her life, he's told her very little. The festival, she thinks, as her father's head stays close, is filled with things that cannot be, like men walking on stilts (one cannot walk that way all the time), juggling fire between them. They toss the flame like they don't care, like nothing is wrong (one mustn't throw fire, not in real life, she thinks) and the crowd is delighted. They shout and applaud— they are delighted with things that cannot be. Some of their faces are painted in the manner of the ancient tribe of the Picts, the ones who came to Scotland thousands of years ago from somewhere else and the head, her father's head, seems yellow to her, the pale yellow of a far-off firefly, slowly on, slowly off (slowly yellow) and she wonders why if he is following her, he isn't there all the time? Now the stilt-men are catapulting themselves onto chairs. (She can watch the whole thing in the shadows.) They stand on top of the chairs and the crowd rises in one held breath. They are charmed by this, thinks Margaret, they are tricked. Children bite their lips and hide their faces in their mother's necks, but the men complete their stunt with no trouble. 50

Things that Cannot Be Like it is nothing, Margaret thinks. They somersault onto each other's chairs while juggling the fire and wearing the stilts (no one can believe it) and then they land and place a painted gold bucket before them and ask the crowd to please give coins if they liked it. Margaret hates it when they ask for money. It makes her feel tricked. And still her father's head bobs like a buoy next to her. As Margaret hears the coins raining into the bucket (a sound like chains) she wonders, does anyone else see it? Would it be odd to them, in such a place as this, to see my father's head, blinking on and off like a caution light? Or would they clap and throw coins? Then the head becomes still and actually looks at her. Margaret speaks to it. "What is it you want?" The head floats away. Perhaps she should call home to see if he is all right. But what would she say? It seemed there was never anything to say. She'd mentioned to him during their last phone call that her back bothered her. "If you'd eat more red meat your back wouldn't bother you so much," he'd said. "My back bothers me because I hold the violin in a very awkward position for 15 out of every 24 hours." "Mm. Perhaps it's not what you should be doing if it hurts so much." "I didn't say it hurt. I said it bothered me." "What's the difference?" It was Margaret's turn to write the Sibling Newsletter, founded earlier that year by her older sister Janine ("Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all heard from each other more often?"). Margaret had hoped that her working tour of Europe would get her out of writing it. The last version of the newsletter was authored by Janine (and described the glories and failures of her seven-year-old's soccer team, her four-year-old's insistence on dressing "like a boy," and her youngest child's entry into the terrible two's ("Oh, what a time we're having with him!"). It contained "snippets of news" about each sister (there were four of them): Sue had bought a beach house in South Carolina; Carla got a speeding ticket while driving through a cemetery ("What are we, going to do with her?"); Sue's oldest was home from college, working at a radio station. Under Margaret's name was just a question mark and the words "Has anyone actually spoken to her lately?" There were lists of all the upcoming birthdays and anniversaries of everyone in the family and of course, health updates about the older relatives. That was Janine's favorite part, thought Margaret. She 51


Berkeley Fiction Review been in Edinburgh for three days and she feels a sort of inverted deja vu, not as though she remembers it, but as though the city remembers her, has been waiting for her, knows her presence and the sound of her feet meeting the cobbled alleys and the feel of her, the feel of her moving along High Street. Odd, she thinks, odd to be recognized. As she makes her way through the crowds (all pressed together like tied'bundles of sticks) she doesn't see the jugglers in their polka dot frills or the quartet of cellists in kilts or the girl with the monkey and the bubble machine (the bubbles pop like little firecrackers); Margaret doesn't feel the bubbles wet her cheek, doesn't hear the monkey chatter and clap, for all she can see is shadow, shadow everywhere, shadow in color. She sees no castle nor statue nor cathedral, but just the colored shadows like spilt blood on the black stones. The place is swollen with shadow. And she feels that the shadow of the castle (which reaches down the crag with long, velvet fingers) is more real than the thing itself, because it keeps changing. As evening meets night, the castle expands into the shadow of itself and she thinks, it's real now, because you can't rely on it. It is like a cloud to her, something without a defined shape, and she feels that if she touches it her hand will disappear. Shadows are black and gray, she thinks, but not here. Here they are red and blue and orange, here the shadows are real and the things are not. That's when she first sees him. He floats by like the monkey's bubbles. He doesn't look at her but she sees. She thinks he wants to tell her something and wonders what it might be, for in her life, he's told her very little. The festival, she thinks, as her father's head stays close, is filled with things that cannot be, like men walking on stilts (one cannot walk that way all the time), juggling fire between them. They toss the flame like they don't care, like nothing is wrong (one mustn't throw fire, not in real life, she thinks) and the crowd is delighted. They shout and applaud— they are delighted with things that cannot be. Some of their faces are painted in the manner of the ancient tribe of the Picts, the ones who came to Scotland thousands of years ago from somewhere else and the head, her father's head, seems yellow to her, the pale yellow of a far-off firefly, slowly on, slowly off (slowly yellow) and she wonders why if he is following her, he isn't there all the time? Now the stilt-men are catapulting themselves onto chairs. (She can watch the whole thing in the shadows.) They stand on top of the chairs and the crowd rises in one held breath. They are charmed by this, thinks Margaret, they are tricked. Children bite their lips and hide their faces in their mother's necks, but the men complete their stunt with no trouble. 50

Things that Cannot Be Like it is nothing, Margaret thinks. They somersault onto each other's chairs while juggling the fire and wearing the stilts (no one can believe it) and then they land and place a painted gold bucket before them and ask the crowd to please give coins if they liked it. Margaret hates it when they ask for money. It makes her feel tricked. And still her father's head bobs like a buoy next to her. As Margaret hears the coins raining into the bucket (a sound like chains) she wonders, does anyone else see it? Would it be odd to them, in such a place as this, to see my father's head, blinking on and off like a caution light? Or would they clap and throw coins? Then the head becomes still and actually looks at her. Margaret speaks to it. "What is it you want?" The head floats away. Perhaps she should call home to see if he is all right. But what would she say? It seemed there was never anything to say. She'd mentioned to him during their last phone call that her back bothered her. "If you'd eat more red meat your back wouldn't bother you so much," he'd said. "My back bothers me because I hold the violin in a very awkward position for 15 out of every 24 hours." "Mm. Perhaps it's not what you should be doing if it hurts so much." "I didn't say it hurt. I said it bothered me." "What's the difference?" It was Margaret's turn to write the Sibling Newsletter, founded earlier that year by her older sister Janine ("Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all heard from each other more often?"). Margaret had hoped that her working tour of Europe would get her out of writing it. The last version of the newsletter was authored by Janine (and described the glories and failures of her seven-year-old's soccer team, her four-year-old's insistence on dressing "like a boy," and her youngest child's entry into the terrible two's ("Oh, what a time we're having with him!"). It contained "snippets of news" about each sister (there were four of them): Sue had bought a beach house in South Carolina; Carla got a speeding ticket while driving through a cemetery ("What are we, going to do with her?"); Sue's oldest was home from college, working at a radio station. Under Margaret's name was just a question mark and the words "Has anyone actually spoken to her lately?" There were lists of all the upcoming birthdays and anniversaries of everyone in the family and of course, health updates about the older relatives. That was Janine's favorite part, thought Margaret. She 51


Berkeley Fiction Review loved to report sickness. "Cousin Donald's kidney stone finally passed after days of horrid pain. (He has the stone in a clear plastic bag if anyone wants to see it.) Great-Aunt Madeline's arthritis has swelled her knee like a balloon. She can hardly maneuver the stairs, but refuses to leave that old house, though she can hardly care for it since Great-Uncle Andrew's death. She actually claims that Andrew visits her every day. She says he sits right in the front parlor and they have tea and discuss plans for their summer garden. I didn't argue with her, of course. What would be the point? It must be her medication. Daddy doesn't look good to me. He seems tiredand has a steady ache in his hands. But he says he feels well enough, otherwise." Janine ended with a schedule for the rotation of the newsletter's writing. Margaret was awarded August. "But I'll be in Europe." She was calling from a pay phone at the airport. "All the better. You can write it from someplace romantic and tell us your travels. The rest of us haven't been so lucky." "But I'll have to make all those copies." "I'm certain there are copy machines in Europe." "I'll be travelling all the time, rehearsing and performing. I won't be able to do it well." "All it takes is a little imagination and some effort. I've gone to great pains to make this schedule, Margaret. Write it. Copy it. And then take it to the post office. They have those over there too, I would think. It's your turn, Margaret. Everyone else manages to keep in touch." I am a musician, not a writer, Margaret thought. She'd chosen music because it required no'words except beautiful ones like adagio poco, pianissimo, allegretto—lilting words, words that moved. Instead of a whole newsletter, she thought of writing a post card to each one of them: "Tour is fine. Paris unimpressive (ritardando) All stone and stench. Arrived Edinburgh. Lovely place (dolce) All shadow (crescendo) Saw our father's head following me here (cantabile)." The next time she sees it is in her hotel room, the morning after she'd first seen it at the castle. Margaret sits on the bed practicing Schumann and it seeps in from North Umberland Street through the closed window. It is his head and chest this rime. It moves as through water and lands in the opposite corner, treading air. Now the window opens and a lone arm slides in. It pauses at the edge of the glass and then moves toward the head. It stops, dangling near the chest. It

Things that Cannot Be is assembling itself, she thinks. She keeps on playing. A moment later she looks up. The head, chest, and arm are gone. He never did like Schumann, she thinks. Margaret was the one who looked like their mother. None of the others did, except for singular parts. Janine had their mother's neck (a square sort of neck, no curves at all) and Sue's nose was their mother's, but Margaret had her whole face, as though the two had been pressed onto one another somehow. Her mother would brush Margaret's hair each morning and smooth it out with her hands and say Your hair is just like mine, just like mine. When Margaret was little she enjoyed looking like her mother. They wore the same clothes and matched their shoes and hats, but by the time Margaret was ten or so, she'd tired of everyone calling them twins or referring to Margaret as "Little Mother." She wanted her own face. She wanted her own eyes and hair and chin. When their mother died, Janine took hold of Margaret's head in her hands and said "At least we have you, at least we have your, face to remind us." Margaret wanted to rub her face off. I am not dead, she thought. I cannot carry the dead. Whenever her father looked at Margaret, she could tell he was thinking Stop Looking Like Her. No matter what he said that's what he truly meant, she thought. Margaret tried to do her hair differently and to wear clothes that her mother never would. She began wearing her hair short, twisted into a bun; her mother had worn it straight down her back.- She pinched her mouth and pouted almost constantly so her lips wouldn't be so thin and-tiny like her mother's. The others, the sisters, thought tjiis disrespectful. Carla said once that any one of them would have felt blessed to look so like their mother. "Didn't you love her? Don't you care that she's gone?" Margaret wouldn't answer. She'd go into her room and shut the door, to brush her hair and smooth it out with her hands. Her father had told her so'little about anything. When her mother died he never told her what happened. She'd had to get that from a sister. Only once had he ever really told her something. It was something about when he was little. His father had a butcher shop in Baltimore, and when the Depression, hit, he went away, just took off. "He didn't have the stomach for hard times," Margaret's father told her. "But my mother knew what to do. She asked me to show her how to get into the shop. She had nothing to do with it before. She'd never even known where my father kept the key. On the day he left we walked to the shop after dinner. Cuts 53

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Berkeley Fiction Review loved to report sickness. "Cousin Donald's kidney stone finally passed after days of horrid pain. (He has the stone in a clear plastic bag if anyone wants to see it.) Great-Aunt Madeline's arthritis has swelled her knee like a balloon. She can hardly maneuver the stairs, but refuses to leave that old house, though she can hardly care for it since Great-Uncle Andrew's death. She actually claims that Andrew visits her every day. She says he sits right in the front parlor and they have tea and discuss plans for their summer garden. I didn't argue with her, of course. What would be the point? It must be her medication. Daddy doesn't look good to me. He seems tiredand has a steady ache in his hands. But he says he feels well enough, otherwise." Janine ended with a schedule for the rotation of the newsletter's writing. Margaret was awarded August. "But I'll be in Europe." She was calling from a pay phone at the airport. "All the better. You can write it from someplace romantic and tell us your travels. The rest of us haven't been so lucky." "But I'll have to make all those copies." "I'm certain there are copy machines in Europe." "I'll be travelling all the time, rehearsing and performing. I won't be able to do it well." "All it takes is a little imagination and some effort. I've gone to great pains to make this schedule, Margaret. Write it. Copy it. And then take it to the post office. They have those over there too, I would think. It's your turn, Margaret. Everyone else manages to keep in touch." I am a musician, not a writer, Margaret thought. She'd chosen music because it required no'words except beautiful ones like adagio poco, pianissimo, allegretto—lilting words, words that moved. Instead of a whole newsletter, she thought of writing a post card to each one of them: "Tour is fine. Paris unimpressive (ritardando) All stone and stench. Arrived Edinburgh. Lovely place (dolce) All shadow (crescendo) Saw our father's head following me here (cantabile)." The next time she sees it is in her hotel room, the morning after she'd first seen it at the castle. Margaret sits on the bed practicing Schumann and it seeps in from North Umberland Street through the closed window. It is his head and chest this rime. It moves as through water and lands in the opposite corner, treading air. Now the window opens and a lone arm slides in. It pauses at the edge of the glass and then moves toward the head. It stops, dangling near the chest. It

Things that Cannot Be is assembling itself, she thinks. She keeps on playing. A moment later she looks up. The head, chest, and arm are gone. He never did like Schumann, she thinks. Margaret was the one who looked like their mother. None of the others did, except for singular parts. Janine had their mother's neck (a square sort of neck, no curves at all) and Sue's nose was their mother's, but Margaret had her whole face, as though the two had been pressed onto one another somehow. Her mother would brush Margaret's hair each morning and smooth it out with her hands and say Your hair is just like mine, just like mine. When Margaret was little she enjoyed looking like her mother. They wore the same clothes and matched their shoes and hats, but by the time Margaret was ten or so, she'd tired of everyone calling them twins or referring to Margaret as "Little Mother." She wanted her own face. She wanted her own eyes and hair and chin. When their mother died, Janine took hold of Margaret's head in her hands and said "At least we have you, at least we have your, face to remind us." Margaret wanted to rub her face off. I am not dead, she thought. I cannot carry the dead. Whenever her father looked at Margaret, she could tell he was thinking Stop Looking Like Her. No matter what he said that's what he truly meant, she thought. Margaret tried to do her hair differently and to wear clothes that her mother never would. She began wearing her hair short, twisted into a bun; her mother had worn it straight down her back.- She pinched her mouth and pouted almost constantly so her lips wouldn't be so thin and-tiny like her mother's. The others, the sisters, thought tjiis disrespectful. Carla said once that any one of them would have felt blessed to look so like their mother. "Didn't you love her? Don't you care that she's gone?" Margaret wouldn't answer. She'd go into her room and shut the door, to brush her hair and smooth it out with her hands. Her father had told her so'little about anything. When her mother died he never told her what happened. She'd had to get that from a sister. Only once had he ever really told her something. It was something about when he was little. His father had a butcher shop in Baltimore, and when the Depression, hit, he went away, just took off. "He didn't have the stomach for hard times," Margaret's father told her. "But my mother knew what to do. She asked me to show her how to get into the shop. She had nothing to do with it before. She'd never even known where my father kept the key. On the day he left we walked to the shop after dinner. Cuts 53

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Berkeley Fiction Review of meat and whole chickens were still hanging in the window. Notes from angry customers were stuck on the door. I showed her how to get the key. I had to go down on my hands and knees to get it. I had to reach through this slight opening between the door and the floor, I slid my wrist through and felt for the key and found it and gave it to her and she turned that shop into a success. When my father came back he never ran the shop or the family again. It was all her. Without her you wouldn't even be alive. She was the strong one." Margaret is sitting on a bench in the Princes Street Gardens. It is the morning of the fourth day. This time it has no head. But she recognizes his body. It doesn't look transparent (she always imagined such things would) but moves heavily, limply, as though carried in a sack. It circles her once like a tenuous pick pocket and then moves past, disappearing into the large clock made of yellow and blue pansies on the edge of the garden slope. A gang of marionettes with bagpipes dances silently nearby. She wonders if they could see it. Since Margaret's mother died her father always seemed the same. He never seemed happy or angry or confused, but just the same. He would talk to Margaret on the phone and tell her about how wonderful the weather was and then tell her how the lawn mower got stuck near the rose bushes and had partly dug them up (the roses that her mother loved) and his voice was just the same for the wonderful weather as it was for the shredded roses. (That's not right, thought Margaret. The weather is cantahile. The lawn mower is agitato.) It was his best trick, she thought making things the same. The others in the quintet were always trying to get her to play more softly (it was only the second violin part, after all), telling her to blend in. She stuck out too much, they said. Play more the same. They said these things in Salzburg. They said them in Lucerne and Paris too. And no matter how softly she played, even when the phrase was marked forte, it was always too loud. One of them would start tapping his bow on the metal music stand and say "Margaret, Margaret, your part is not important there" and Margaret would nod and wonder why Mozart had done this to her. Here and there the others would point out where her part was more prominent (in their view) and tell her, "Go ahead and play out a bit if you liked." And Margaret hated that even more. She hated it more than when they told her to 54

Things that Cannot Be play softer. It was a trick, she thought; a trick to make me do what they want and at rehearsal in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh while this very thing is happening, while they are tapping their bows and telling her to play softer, the head appears, sagging like a weak helium balloon. This time it looks at her and opens its mOuth to speak (she thinks) and Margaret says, "What is it? What do you want to tell me?" and the cellist looks at her and says, "Nothing. I don't want to tell you anything. Everything is fine." "I wasn't talking to you," says Margaret. That evening Margaret is walking on the Lawn-Market, near Castle Hill. It is raining and the stones are bright black, like polished shoes, lit by the random yellow of the street lamps. Nearby a group of tourists is being led on a Ghost Tour (one of Edinburgh's more tacky attractions, thinks Margaret) and the guide is showing them the very spot under their feet, Mary King's Close, which is the most haunted in Edinburgh. There, hundreds died the Black Death (the largest concentration of deaths in all of Scotland). So many bodies collected that it was a hardship to move them for burial, and so they'd been chopped up, chopped (the guide says it twice for effect, Margaret notes) and left there and covered up with stone. And some who say they can see the dead have gone down through the ancient tunnels and seen things, the guide is saying, heard the cries of babes, seen arms and legs and hands floating in random pain because they cannot rest, they cannot rest until they are whole. Then she says, "Many of you have Scottish ancestry. Many of you call yourselves Americans or Canadians but you'll never shake us. You can't separate from us. You'll always be a Scot. And every true Scot feels a shiver at this place." Margaret doesn't hear the woman's words, for she hears something else. She looks around but doesn't see herfather. It is just his voice, coming up through the stones of Mary King's Close. The rain too seems to be oozing from underneath the stones; the people down there are pushing it up, Margaret thinks. The rain isn't coming from the sky at all, it's a trick, and as she walks she hears the ticking of the clock over St. Giles (peeling seconds like dead skin) and it sounds like her father's voice. She feels a warm slice of air, not really a breeze or a breath, but a slightness below her ear and she thinks it sounds like a word—like "bread" or "red," but she can't quite tell. Go and trick someone else, she thinks. I don't like it. The others like it but not me. 55


Berkeley Fiction Review of meat and whole chickens were still hanging in the window. Notes from angry customers were stuck on the door. I showed her how to get the key. I had to go down on my hands and knees to get it. I had to reach through this slight opening between the door and the floor, I slid my wrist through and felt for the key and found it and gave it to her and she turned that shop into a success. When my father came back he never ran the shop or the family again. It was all her. Without her you wouldn't even be alive. She was the strong one." Margaret is sitting on a bench in the Princes Street Gardens. It is the morning of the fourth day. This time it has no head. But she recognizes his body. It doesn't look transparent (she always imagined such things would) but moves heavily, limply, as though carried in a sack. It circles her once like a tenuous pick pocket and then moves past, disappearing into the large clock made of yellow and blue pansies on the edge of the garden slope. A gang of marionettes with bagpipes dances silently nearby. She wonders if they could see it. Since Margaret's mother died her father always seemed the same. He never seemed happy or angry or confused, but just the same. He would talk to Margaret on the phone and tell her about how wonderful the weather was and then tell her how the lawn mower got stuck near the rose bushes and had partly dug them up (the roses that her mother loved) and his voice was just the same for the wonderful weather as it was for the shredded roses. (That's not right, thought Margaret. The weather is cantahile. The lawn mower is agitato.) It was his best trick, she thought making things the same. The others in the quintet were always trying to get her to play more softly (it was only the second violin part, after all), telling her to blend in. She stuck out too much, they said. Play more the same. They said these things in Salzburg. They said them in Lucerne and Paris too. And no matter how softly she played, even when the phrase was marked forte, it was always too loud. One of them would start tapping his bow on the metal music stand and say "Margaret, Margaret, your part is not important there" and Margaret would nod and wonder why Mozart had done this to her. Here and there the others would point out where her part was more prominent (in their view) and tell her, "Go ahead and play out a bit if you liked." And Margaret hated that even more. She hated it more than when they told her to 54

Things that Cannot Be play softer. It was a trick, she thought; a trick to make me do what they want and at rehearsal in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh while this very thing is happening, while they are tapping their bows and telling her to play softer, the head appears, sagging like a weak helium balloon. This time it looks at her and opens its mOuth to speak (she thinks) and Margaret says, "What is it? What do you want to tell me?" and the cellist looks at her and says, "Nothing. I don't want to tell you anything. Everything is fine." "I wasn't talking to you," says Margaret. That evening Margaret is walking on the Lawn-Market, near Castle Hill. It is raining and the stones are bright black, like polished shoes, lit by the random yellow of the street lamps. Nearby a group of tourists is being led on a Ghost Tour (one of Edinburgh's more tacky attractions, thinks Margaret) and the guide is showing them the very spot under their feet, Mary King's Close, which is the most haunted in Edinburgh. There, hundreds died the Black Death (the largest concentration of deaths in all of Scotland). So many bodies collected that it was a hardship to move them for burial, and so they'd been chopped up, chopped (the guide says it twice for effect, Margaret notes) and left there and covered up with stone. And some who say they can see the dead have gone down through the ancient tunnels and seen things, the guide is saying, heard the cries of babes, seen arms and legs and hands floating in random pain because they cannot rest, they cannot rest until they are whole. Then she says, "Many of you have Scottish ancestry. Many of you call yourselves Americans or Canadians but you'll never shake us. You can't separate from us. You'll always be a Scot. And every true Scot feels a shiver at this place." Margaret doesn't hear the woman's words, for she hears something else. She looks around but doesn't see herfather. It is just his voice, coming up through the stones of Mary King's Close. The rain too seems to be oozing from underneath the stones; the people down there are pushing it up, Margaret thinks. The rain isn't coming from the sky at all, it's a trick, and as she walks she hears the ticking of the clock over St. Giles (peeling seconds like dead skin) and it sounds like her father's voice. She feels a warm slice of air, not really a breeze or a breath, but a slightness below her ear and she thinks it sounds like a word—like "bread" or "red," but she can't quite tell. Go and trick someone else, she thinks. I don't like it. The others like it but not me. 55


Berkeley Fiction Review Margaret was twelve when her mother died. Her father took all the sisters to a Bible camp for two weeks after it happened. It was a month after the funeral and he drove them out into the country to the camp. Margaret remembers a river, some canoes, and a large square building where they ate meals, where her older sister Janine was a waitress. After every meal, the whole group would sing songs about Jesus. Janine seemed to know all the words and even sang some harmonies and Margaret wondered where Janine had learned those words and those harmonies. Who taught them to her? Margaret had never heard the songs before; but the waitresses (juggling dirty plates) and the other campers (who sat in their chairs with their hands folded) would sing hymns like "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul-When at the Cross the Savior Made Me Whole." On the last night of the camp, the counselors made a fire in the meadow and asked the children to pass by the flame and say they accepted Jesus. One cannot be whole until one has Jesus, they said. Margaret watched the others go alone or in pairs past the flame (they did it so expertly, thought Margaret, as though they'd done it before) to be welcomed by someone on the other side. Margaret's face was very hot from sitting near the fire. Almost everyone else had gone over and the counsellors were talking about hell and Margaret felt them looking at her and after a while she went. She walked past the fire and said I accept him and then they all smiled at her. (There were still two others who hadn't moved. One of the counselors, an older one named Aunt Carolyn, took them by the arms and led them away.) Then Aunt Elizabeth (all of the counselors were named Aunt this or Uncle that) came over to Margaret and told her that when Margaret had first arrived at the camp, everyone thought she was stuck up. Everyone was worried. We knew, of course, that you'd just lost your mother, but your mother is happy now. She's with Jesus. You mustn't be' arrogant, Aunt Elizabeth said. It is arrogance to hang on to those who have died. We must rejoice because they have been joined with Jesus. You can't go to heaven if you're arrogant, she said. But now I'm not worried about you anymore, Aunt Elizabeth told her, because now you have Jesus in you. He has made you whole. He has saved you. And now you are changed. You are changed, Margaret, and we welcome you. But Margaret didn't feel changed. She felt the same, except her face wasn't hot anymore. It is the morning of the last evening. Margaret is the first one to breakfast and the proprietor places a small crystal bowl of marmalade 56

Things that Cannot Be and thick toast in front of her. She pours some tea. He asks Margaret where the quintet is going next. "The train is at 11:30 tonight," she says. "It's the sleeper to London." Now he asks her if she'll be going to the fireworks this evening, for festival's end. "No," she says. "I dislike crowds and noise." "In that you're not alone, lass," he says. "The doves, who live in the castle crag, have been known to fall stunned out of the sky at festival's end, when the fireworks are going off. They are blinded by the explosions and crash into the sides of houses and fall. There were three doves, lying as though dead, in the alley behind the hotel last year. "But they wake eventually," he tells Margaret as he gives her a small pitcher of cream for the tea. "They wake and fly back up the crag, lass. Nothing to worry about." Margaret nods; she smiles; but she hasn't heard any of what the man has told her, for she's thinking about her father's ghost. She expects-it to appear—perhaps a hand or leg will come and hang over the tray of strawberry muffins and the proprietor, she thinks, will keep passing pitchers of cream and making toast and never know that a limb is visiting his breakfast table, so carefully set. She wonders if it's there even when she can't see it. Margaret has packed her things and sits in the parlor of the small hotel. The others have gone out to view the fireworks. Nearly a half million people are expected to press themselves onto Princes Street and Charlotte Square and The Mound, below the castle. Margaret sits reading Treasure Island (which she'd found on theshelf in the parlor) and now it is there. Shd sees it just over the top of the page. It is looking directly at her this time. It is the whole body, but only the head is fully present. The rest seems reluctant to attach. She puts the book down. I can't help looking like her. I've tried not to. It doesn't answer. He trembles in the doorway and looks at her, looks at her like a faithful dog who wants to lead her somewhere, and suddenly, he has complete arms and she can see the fingers moving and then he speaks. She thinks she hears him say Follow. And then he floats out the door. She rises, though she hardly knows why. She has never followed him before (she imagines his hand reaching under a door, to find the key) and now they are outside. She looks up and sees the fireworks (like polished candy), sees the half-skull moon, and hears the crowd as one low hum, but he leads her away from that. He leads her down Dundas Street and through the New Town to Fettles Row and Royal Circle, past the gardens of George V Park and up narrow stairs and into a courtyard and 57


Berkeley Fiction Review Margaret was twelve when her mother died. Her father took all the sisters to a Bible camp for two weeks after it happened. It was a month after the funeral and he drove them out into the country to the camp. Margaret remembers a river, some canoes, and a large square building where they ate meals, where her older sister Janine was a waitress. After every meal, the whole group would sing songs about Jesus. Janine seemed to know all the words and even sang some harmonies and Margaret wondered where Janine had learned those words and those harmonies. Who taught them to her? Margaret had never heard the songs before; but the waitresses (juggling dirty plates) and the other campers (who sat in their chairs with their hands folded) would sing hymns like "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul-When at the Cross the Savior Made Me Whole." On the last night of the camp, the counselors made a fire in the meadow and asked the children to pass by the flame and say they accepted Jesus. One cannot be whole until one has Jesus, they said. Margaret watched the others go alone or in pairs past the flame (they did it so expertly, thought Margaret, as though they'd done it before) to be welcomed by someone on the other side. Margaret's face was very hot from sitting near the fire. Almost everyone else had gone over and the counsellors were talking about hell and Margaret felt them looking at her and after a while she went. She walked past the fire and said I accept him and then they all smiled at her. (There were still two others who hadn't moved. One of the counselors, an older one named Aunt Carolyn, took them by the arms and led them away.) Then Aunt Elizabeth (all of the counselors were named Aunt this or Uncle that) came over to Margaret and told her that when Margaret had first arrived at the camp, everyone thought she was stuck up. Everyone was worried. We knew, of course, that you'd just lost your mother, but your mother is happy now. She's with Jesus. You mustn't be' arrogant, Aunt Elizabeth said. It is arrogance to hang on to those who have died. We must rejoice because they have been joined with Jesus. You can't go to heaven if you're arrogant, she said. But now I'm not worried about you anymore, Aunt Elizabeth told her, because now you have Jesus in you. He has made you whole. He has saved you. And now you are changed. You are changed, Margaret, and we welcome you. But Margaret didn't feel changed. She felt the same, except her face wasn't hot anymore. It is the morning of the last evening. Margaret is the first one to breakfast and the proprietor places a small crystal bowl of marmalade 56

Things that Cannot Be and thick toast in front of her. She pours some tea. He asks Margaret where the quintet is going next. "The train is at 11:30 tonight," she says. "It's the sleeper to London." Now he asks her if she'll be going to the fireworks this evening, for festival's end. "No," she says. "I dislike crowds and noise." "In that you're not alone, lass," he says. "The doves, who live in the castle crag, have been known to fall stunned out of the sky at festival's end, when the fireworks are going off. They are blinded by the explosions and crash into the sides of houses and fall. There were three doves, lying as though dead, in the alley behind the hotel last year. "But they wake eventually," he tells Margaret as he gives her a small pitcher of cream for the tea. "They wake and fly back up the crag, lass. Nothing to worry about." Margaret nods; she smiles; but she hasn't heard any of what the man has told her, for she's thinking about her father's ghost. She expects-it to appear—perhaps a hand or leg will come and hang over the tray of strawberry muffins and the proprietor, she thinks, will keep passing pitchers of cream and making toast and never know that a limb is visiting his breakfast table, so carefully set. She wonders if it's there even when she can't see it. Margaret has packed her things and sits in the parlor of the small hotel. The others have gone out to view the fireworks. Nearly a half million people are expected to press themselves onto Princes Street and Charlotte Square and The Mound, below the castle. Margaret sits reading Treasure Island (which she'd found on theshelf in the parlor) and now it is there. Shd sees it just over the top of the page. It is looking directly at her this time. It is the whole body, but only the head is fully present. The rest seems reluctant to attach. She puts the book down. I can't help looking like her. I've tried not to. It doesn't answer. He trembles in the doorway and looks at her, looks at her like a faithful dog who wants to lead her somewhere, and suddenly, he has complete arms and she can see the fingers moving and then he speaks. She thinks she hears him say Follow. And then he floats out the door. She rises, though she hardly knows why. She has never followed him before (she imagines his hand reaching under a door, to find the key) and now they are outside. She looks up and sees the fireworks (like polished candy), sees the half-skull moon, and hears the crowd as one low hum, but he leads her away from that. He leads her down Dundas Street and through the New Town to Fettles Row and Royal Circle, past the gardens of George V Park and up narrow stairs and into a courtyard and 57


Berkeley Fiction Review out the other side, now nearer the firth (like black glass) and she follows by the flashes of lightfrom the sky—white flash then blackness then flash and black again—this is how the way is shown to her. He goes faster now (accelerando) and seems frantic (agitato) and as the fireworks reach their climax (zfermata of light, she thinks, a sustained, sublime flash), the town houses, the firth, her hands, and the air, too, become completely, artificially white (it's not truly day, it's only a trick) and now she sees the ghost—ho longer slowly on, slowly off—but steady, almost human, complete, looking behind to see, Margaret supposes, whether she is still following and now it rises above a cottage by the shore. The flashing ceases, and he disappears. It is hiding, she thinks..He likes to do that. There is a soft noise on the stones behind her. (The sky becomes smoky, exhausted, as though after a battle.) She turns. Something is there, a quiet lump. She moves closer. It's his hand, Margaret thinks. He's lost his hand. It is dark now; her eyes ache white and she cannot really see, but it must be his hand, thinks Margaret. One cannot fly around in fragments and not lose a piece or two, after all. She leans to touch it and it makes a sound. A warble, as though something is caught in its throat (hands don't have throats, do they?) and now she lifts it. The others will be wondering where I am, she thinks. The train is leaving soon. They are looking for me. They are scattering like marbles through the hotel to find me. She strokes the hand and smiles to picture them panicked, wondering where she is. Margaret is never late. Margaret is always where she is supposed to be. She feels the hand twitch, as though wounded. Is he giving it to me? No; he must have dropped it. He couldn't have meant to. He'll be back. He'll come back to find it. One cannot rest until one is whole. I'll keep it for him. And then another thought forms, a thought that excites her and that seems, she thinks, to emanate from the hand itself: I'll hide it. When he comes back he'll ask if I know where it is, ask if I've seen it and I'll pretend I haven't. I will trick him. So this is how it feels, thinks Margaret. It is pleasing (it is almost happiness, she thinks) to hide your father's hand. Exhilaration moves her into the alley. Leaning against the stone foundation she presses the hand to her chest. She detects a timid pulse, a slight rise and fall, feels the hand struggling to be free. Odd, thinks Margaret. Odd that it breathes on its own, unconnected to anything.

58

E B B

T R E M B L E

Rob Yardumian

boy broken by a hurtling train, hurled screaming into muteness and a mind wiped clean of meaning, stares at the wallpaper of his bedroom, waiting for painted bears to speak. Men enter his room—men of science, men of faith, arrayed in costumes of bullet-proof trust—and declare themselves defeated, unfit for the healing. In the presence of the boy, within range of a voice that can't explain and eyes that wait for movement on a wall, the men of science speak of brain shear; the men of faith whisper will of God. The parents—their only son's brain cleaved in two and rattling soundlessly in fluid—crumble wordlessly, the world a hateful place and darkening daily. One morning, as sun burns in through curtains drawn in vain, the parents are sitting with bitter coffee, sipped black in silent blame, when the family dog sounds a joyous alarm. Across the table eyes meet—a vast and terrible pinprick of hope—and then the boy strides in, his gaze down hard on a bowl crackling with his favorite cereal. He greets his mother and father, takes his old chair, and attacks his food with appetite stored and enormous. Eyes beam from battered flesh; stubby legs kick and scramble; a hand dangles for the nuzzling dog. So familiar. The parents—Soothe father asks—sit stunned and tethered, not chancing certain reversal of fortune. The spoon clatters in the empty bowl, the boy whistles for the dog and heads for the backyard with a ball to toss and fetch. • The mother, in a graceful arc, collects the bowl and cradles it in thin, robed arms; the father stares from golden windows at his world, whole again, and tears roll down two sets of cheeks. 59


Berkeley Fiction Review out the other side, now nearer the firth (like black glass) and she follows by the flashes of lightfrom the sky—white flash then blackness then flash and black again—this is how the way is shown to her. He goes faster now (accelerando) and seems frantic (agitato) and as the fireworks reach their climax (zfermata of light, she thinks, a sustained, sublime flash), the town houses, the firth, her hands, and the air, too, become completely, artificially white (it's not truly day, it's only a trick) and now she sees the ghost—ho longer slowly on, slowly off—but steady, almost human, complete, looking behind to see, Margaret supposes, whether she is still following and now it rises above a cottage by the shore. The flashing ceases, and he disappears. It is hiding, she thinks..He likes to do that. There is a soft noise on the stones behind her. (The sky becomes smoky, exhausted, as though after a battle.) She turns. Something is there, a quiet lump. She moves closer. It's his hand, Margaret thinks. He's lost his hand. It is dark now; her eyes ache white and she cannot really see, but it must be his hand, thinks Margaret. One cannot fly around in fragments and not lose a piece or two, after all. She leans to touch it and it makes a sound. A warble, as though something is caught in its throat (hands don't have throats, do they?) and now she lifts it. The others will be wondering where I am, she thinks. The train is leaving soon. They are looking for me. They are scattering like marbles through the hotel to find me. She strokes the hand and smiles to picture them panicked, wondering where she is. Margaret is never late. Margaret is always where she is supposed to be. She feels the hand twitch, as though wounded. Is he giving it to me? No; he must have dropped it. He couldn't have meant to. He'll be back. He'll come back to find it. One cannot rest until one is whole. I'll keep it for him. And then another thought forms, a thought that excites her and that seems, she thinks, to emanate from the hand itself: I'll hide it. When he comes back he'll ask if I know where it is, ask if I've seen it and I'll pretend I haven't. I will trick him. So this is how it feels, thinks Margaret. It is pleasing (it is almost happiness, she thinks) to hide your father's hand. Exhilaration moves her into the alley. Leaning against the stone foundation she presses the hand to her chest. She detects a timid pulse, a slight rise and fall, feels the hand struggling to be free. Odd, thinks Margaret. Odd that it breathes on its own, unconnected to anything.

58

E B B

T R E M B L E

Rob Yardumian

boy broken by a hurtling train, hurled screaming into muteness and a mind wiped clean of meaning, stares at the wallpaper of his bedroom, waiting for painted bears to speak. Men enter his room—men of science, men of faith, arrayed in costumes of bullet-proof trust—and declare themselves defeated, unfit for the healing. In the presence of the boy, within range of a voice that can't explain and eyes that wait for movement on a wall, the men of science speak of brain shear; the men of faith whisper will of God. The parents—their only son's brain cleaved in two and rattling soundlessly in fluid—crumble wordlessly, the world a hateful place and darkening daily. One morning, as sun burns in through curtains drawn in vain, the parents are sitting with bitter coffee, sipped black in silent blame, when the family dog sounds a joyous alarm. Across the table eyes meet—a vast and terrible pinprick of hope—and then the boy strides in, his gaze down hard on a bowl crackling with his favorite cereal. He greets his mother and father, takes his old chair, and attacks his food with appetite stored and enormous. Eyes beam from battered flesh; stubby legs kick and scramble; a hand dangles for the nuzzling dog. So familiar. The parents—Soothe father asks—sit stunned and tethered, not chancing certain reversal of fortune. The spoon clatters in the empty bowl, the boy whistles for the dog and heads for the backyard with a ball to toss and fetch. • The mother, in a graceful arc, collects the bowl and cradles it in thin, robed arms; the father stares from golden windows at his world, whole again, and tears roll down two sets of cheeks. 59


Ebb Tremble

Berkeley Fiction Review

wild hair, tracked down and cornered, speak the name of the one that healed, a name known to no one and then to everyone, a name that burns its way briefly into the minds of a vast nation. It was Ebb Tremble, they say, a man of age and bearded, come in darkness as in dream, with healing hands and hushed, luminous wings. A wire service pick-up and soon waves engulf the town, armies of new folk renting boxy rooms, squatting on the town square. Drawn by invisible networks of need, searching for greater loVe, a simple death, water-walk. Those speaking sermons stake first claim, those selling tshirts take first bite. Sightings become legend; those who've met the man swell in reflected glory. In local living rooms lit-up with sudden celebrity, people of the town regard themselves on television—their shirts, their heads, themselves, unkempt—and are quieted: a little stranger, a little uglier than their mirrors had allowed, with no great claim on the public eye. Pretenders come to seize the moment; a carnival springs up. Children racked with sniffles are miraculously cured. Meanwhile, the gutters fill with litter and glass, and dogyattach in packs, savage in their roamings and bloody around the mouth. On outskirt farms the windfall fruit lays, split open by the sun and rotten, crawling with eyeless creatures, setting up a stink. Still, men with pens prowl, their numbers swelling in the search for Ebb Tremble, but curtains are closing, blinds drawing against them, and their desperation festers. Behind the wheel of a satellite truck, blind with drink, a man blinks his eyes against the bloody sun and misses forever a chance to swerve, to rename his fate, to merely scare the breath from the mother walking her baby through the crosswalk, leaving the line of her kin unbroken. Instead, the carriage, a fragile blue wonder blasted from the mother's grip, sails and skips on spindly legs, heroic in its upright persistence, until it strikes a curb and flips—white wheels turning cartwheels in the coppery light, the far-away scream of tires, the moment of drawn held breath no time to whisper to blink no. Hurling its precious cargo, tumbling to rest battered and mute in the doorway of a busy newsstand, dead. In grief, the mother, no husband known, makes' clear her desire. At nightfall the town and its uninvited congregation, in the glory of Kkeg lights that drown out the moon, sit hushed and suspenseful, stand pensive and hopeful, smoke cigarettes and mutter, in treetops, on rooftops, and ringing the square. The mother—cameras trained and hungry, gorging on every step—carries the baby's cold and broken bo'dy in dignified procession to a stone table cleared for the healing. She lays her burden i 61

****** A wild-haired woman wields garden shears and grunts, hacking and sawing at sweat-stained leather straps. The rusty blade plunges into her calf; blood streams. Sorry, she says, and barely slows her pace. Her breath is sour heat, her arm a piston, her eyes blurry and flecked. With a whistling downward swing she severs the final strap and leather falls free from steel: braces, for thirty years clinging, lashed to legs bent and crooked, relinquish hold, tumble in tangle to the floor. The wild-haired woman stares at the legs stretched out before her. Knobby, she thinks. I have knobby knees. The wild-haired woman walks from her front door to the street, where she stands in furious wonder; a decision made, she turns and walks again, heading west. At the main road, she aims her new feet north. Cars pass, accommodation offered, but she waves them onward. She is walking. The wild-haired woman walks for two hours, laughing and crying, past billboards and barbed wire, play of sun and shadow, damaged woods, abandoned shells, hills of corduroy, cars on blocks, white smoke from chimneys, brown bottles in creekbeds, junkyards castled in scrap iron rusting in the wake of flies, and a solitary deer, which does not turn tail at her approach, but stands to watch her pass with eyes round and brown and unblinking. There is a town rising, and the wild-haired woman enters from the southern edge. She walks quiet streets of manicured lawns, avenues of church and state, to a clearing at the center of town—a statue, a fountain, families—where she finally stops walking and stands, dark and dirty, for everyone: ugly as a stork in shallow water, her skirt lifted waist-high and legs twin stalks of bone, but smiling from a veil of rapture, smiling with a mouth so big it seems to hold all the love in the world. ***** Word spreads and men gather. Days are for hunting—hungry, sniffing with cameras and note pads, pens at the ready. Evening finds them drinking hard, elbows propped and bellies angry on per diem. Cigar smoke and conjecture hover over rows of sweaty hands holding green sweaty bottles, hands of men holding forth on the improbability of miracle in a town like this. Word spreads in the heat and men gather like a summer storm; when paper rustles in the new wind, mystery will drive tongues to fluttering. In bars and barbershops and bridge clubs, whispers leaving lips as rumor pour into ears as fact. Word spreads and a little boy and a woman with 60

L


Ebb Tremble

Berkeley Fiction Review

wild hair, tracked down and cornered, speak the name of the one that healed, a name known to no one and then to everyone, a name that burns its way briefly into the minds of a vast nation. It was Ebb Tremble, they say, a man of age and bearded, come in darkness as in dream, with healing hands and hushed, luminous wings. A wire service pick-up and soon waves engulf the town, armies of new folk renting boxy rooms, squatting on the town square. Drawn by invisible networks of need, searching for greater loVe, a simple death, water-walk. Those speaking sermons stake first claim, those selling tshirts take first bite. Sightings become legend; those who've met the man swell in reflected glory. In local living rooms lit-up with sudden celebrity, people of the town regard themselves on television—their shirts, their heads, themselves, unkempt—and are quieted: a little stranger, a little uglier than their mirrors had allowed, with no great claim on the public eye. Pretenders come to seize the moment; a carnival springs up. Children racked with sniffles are miraculously cured. Meanwhile, the gutters fill with litter and glass, and dogyattach in packs, savage in their roamings and bloody around the mouth. On outskirt farms the windfall fruit lays, split open by the sun and rotten, crawling with eyeless creatures, setting up a stink. Still, men with pens prowl, their numbers swelling in the search for Ebb Tremble, but curtains are closing, blinds drawing against them, and their desperation festers. Behind the wheel of a satellite truck, blind with drink, a man blinks his eyes against the bloody sun and misses forever a chance to swerve, to rename his fate, to merely scare the breath from the mother walking her baby through the crosswalk, leaving the line of her kin unbroken. Instead, the carriage, a fragile blue wonder blasted from the mother's grip, sails and skips on spindly legs, heroic in its upright persistence, until it strikes a curb and flips—white wheels turning cartwheels in the coppery light, the far-away scream of tires, the moment of drawn held breath no time to whisper to blink no. Hurling its precious cargo, tumbling to rest battered and mute in the doorway of a busy newsstand, dead. In grief, the mother, no husband known, makes' clear her desire. At nightfall the town and its uninvited congregation, in the glory of Kkeg lights that drown out the moon, sit hushed and suspenseful, stand pensive and hopeful, smoke cigarettes and mutter, in treetops, on rooftops, and ringing the square. The mother—cameras trained and hungry, gorging on every step—carries the baby's cold and broken bo'dy in dignified procession to a stone table cleared for the healing. She lays her burden i 61

****** A wild-haired woman wields garden shears and grunts, hacking and sawing at sweat-stained leather straps. The rusty blade plunges into her calf; blood streams. Sorry, she says, and barely slows her pace. Her breath is sour heat, her arm a piston, her eyes blurry and flecked. With a whistling downward swing she severs the final strap and leather falls free from steel: braces, for thirty years clinging, lashed to legs bent and crooked, relinquish hold, tumble in tangle to the floor. The wild-haired woman stares at the legs stretched out before her. Knobby, she thinks. I have knobby knees. The wild-haired woman walks from her front door to the street, where she stands in furious wonder; a decision made, she turns and walks again, heading west. At the main road, she aims her new feet north. Cars pass, accommodation offered, but she waves them onward. She is walking. The wild-haired woman walks for two hours, laughing and crying, past billboards and barbed wire, play of sun and shadow, damaged woods, abandoned shells, hills of corduroy, cars on blocks, white smoke from chimneys, brown bottles in creekbeds, junkyards castled in scrap iron rusting in the wake of flies, and a solitary deer, which does not turn tail at her approach, but stands to watch her pass with eyes round and brown and unblinking. There is a town rising, and the wild-haired woman enters from the southern edge. She walks quiet streets of manicured lawns, avenues of church and state, to a clearing at the center of town—a statue, a fountain, families—where she finally stops walking and stands, dark and dirty, for everyone: ugly as a stork in shallow water, her skirt lifted waist-high and legs twin stalks of bone, but smiling from a veil of rapture, smiling with a mouth so big it seems to hold all the love in the world. ***** Word spreads and men gather. Days are for hunting—hungry, sniffing with cameras and note pads, pens at the ready. Evening finds them drinking hard, elbows propped and bellies angry on per diem. Cigar smoke and conjecture hover over rows of sweaty hands holding green sweaty bottles, hands of men holding forth on the improbability of miracle in a town like this. Word spreads in the heat and men gather like a summer storm; when paper rustles in the new wind, mystery will drive tongues to fluttering. In bars and barbershops and bridge clubs, whispers leaving lips as rumor pour into ears as fact. Word spreads and a little boy and a woman with 60

L


Berkeley Fiction Review naked on a favorite blanket, offers nothing herself to the arena—just lowers down tenderly, cross-legged, to wait. The night passes, soon another, and the smell from the tiny innocent seems a mockery, the height of injustice. Believers persist with furious prayer; the curious simply pad away home. Meanwhile cameras lower, floodlights snap off, the moon returns. With drink and desperation—the last rash^chance for renown—the grumbling reaches fever, turns to the will of the mob. There is one to be brought to light: Ebb Tremble, named a savior, named enormous, named the cause of everything. A faction detaches and moves through the darkness, lurching and thirsty, toward the black hills that rise in the distance, blotting out the stars. ****** Amid the rising song of crickets, Ebb Tremble lays the wings to rest, cast off and disarrayed, and sets about to mending one last time. On the scarred wooden flat of an ancient stump, in the haunt of a low-bending canopy of tree branch and pale moonlight, he knits the feathers back into their sacred waterfall, into their brushed quiet, into their final repose. With care and concern he works calmly, whistles softly a remembered symphony, though he feels a quickening to the air: torches gathering in the town below. The feathers are white like blindness, each a nation of peace, pulled asunder in rough flight. His fingers, twigs of meaning, tuck and press in place the feathers, one by one, in line and layered. He is old, unsteady in the dark air aloft and prone to power lines, but he remembers every inch of every treatment ever rendered. So many healed, he thinks, but only the ill are chosen, mended, and ministered in darkness like dream. Only the pure. So many lost: a wife, heart seized up in stroke, a son, drowned at sea. A boy, on a blanket, broken. They are beyond him. His fingers know the truth, can speak it with a simple laying-on, but the dead lie beyond him, in darkness he cannot touch. Boundless. Immortal. Pitched beneath the crickets' steep shriek, the hollow in which he labors fills with the music of the stars overhead. He hears their singing, a faint bright light to crawl into, like the song of bones under the trace of his fingers. Driven from this place, he imagines a new home but cannot fix it in mind: far away, cool in spring, with flowers. The wings must stay behind, he knows; another set will grow to take their place. These, now laid to rest, stitched once again into their seamless symmetry, will stay in this clearing, to be lost and found, bought and sold, cased in glass, murdered over, treasured, shredded, stolen, burned, forgotten. 62

W H A T

I

H A V E

Alice Bradley

delivery truck pulled up to my house. A man in a green uniform rang my doorbell. He wheeled a black filing cabinet into the hallway. "In there," I said, and pointed. He wheeled it into the kitchen. It was bound with duct tape. I cut the tape off the cabinet. I opened it up. ****** The first thing I find is a wrinkled note. They won't give me air, it says. They cut out my lungs. There is a glow-in-the-dark set of rosary beads, strung together with knotted white thread. A gray cocoon of masking tape is wrapped around four of the blue-white pearls. Through the layers, I can see a word, written in her thin series of loops, blue ink on a scrap of lined paper: Solonify. It doesn't mean anything. I looked it up. In a yellow folder, there are three reports from doctors. The pills they prescribed, and what they did to her. They wondered about the scars, but my mother wasn't talking. There are the kinds of things I can see my father holding onto: a long, dark blue dress covered in orange pussy willows, the thin branches breaking against the seam, the buds like bright pills, a photograph of her on the beach, holding me on one hip (thick white scars wind around her legs), a gold heart-shaped pendant. It had been hers, but she wanted to have it engraved with my name, as a present. My father had told me how she took it to the jewelry store herself. She walked the eight blocks to the jeweler's, he said. I think of my mother catching sight 63


Berkeley Fiction Review naked on a favorite blanket, offers nothing herself to the arena—just lowers down tenderly, cross-legged, to wait. The night passes, soon another, and the smell from the tiny innocent seems a mockery, the height of injustice. Believers persist with furious prayer; the curious simply pad away home. Meanwhile cameras lower, floodlights snap off, the moon returns. With drink and desperation—the last rash^chance for renown—the grumbling reaches fever, turns to the will of the mob. There is one to be brought to light: Ebb Tremble, named a savior, named enormous, named the cause of everything. A faction detaches and moves through the darkness, lurching and thirsty, toward the black hills that rise in the distance, blotting out the stars. ****** Amid the rising song of crickets, Ebb Tremble lays the wings to rest, cast off and disarrayed, and sets about to mending one last time. On the scarred wooden flat of an ancient stump, in the haunt of a low-bending canopy of tree branch and pale moonlight, he knits the feathers back into their sacred waterfall, into their brushed quiet, into their final repose. With care and concern he works calmly, whistles softly a remembered symphony, though he feels a quickening to the air: torches gathering in the town below. The feathers are white like blindness, each a nation of peace, pulled asunder in rough flight. His fingers, twigs of meaning, tuck and press in place the feathers, one by one, in line and layered. He is old, unsteady in the dark air aloft and prone to power lines, but he remembers every inch of every treatment ever rendered. So many healed, he thinks, but only the ill are chosen, mended, and ministered in darkness like dream. Only the pure. So many lost: a wife, heart seized up in stroke, a son, drowned at sea. A boy, on a blanket, broken. They are beyond him. His fingers know the truth, can speak it with a simple laying-on, but the dead lie beyond him, in darkness he cannot touch. Boundless. Immortal. Pitched beneath the crickets' steep shriek, the hollow in which he labors fills with the music of the stars overhead. He hears their singing, a faint bright light to crawl into, like the song of bones under the trace of his fingers. Driven from this place, he imagines a new home but cannot fix it in mind: far away, cool in spring, with flowers. The wings must stay behind, he knows; another set will grow to take their place. These, now laid to rest, stitched once again into their seamless symmetry, will stay in this clearing, to be lost and found, bought and sold, cased in glass, murdered over, treasured, shredded, stolen, burned, forgotten. 62

W H A T

I

H A V E

Alice Bradley

delivery truck pulled up to my house. A man in a green uniform rang my doorbell. He wheeled a black filing cabinet into the hallway. "In there," I said, and pointed. He wheeled it into the kitchen. It was bound with duct tape. I cut the tape off the cabinet. I opened it up. ****** The first thing I find is a wrinkled note. They won't give me air, it says. They cut out my lungs. There is a glow-in-the-dark set of rosary beads, strung together with knotted white thread. A gray cocoon of masking tape is wrapped around four of the blue-white pearls. Through the layers, I can see a word, written in her thin series of loops, blue ink on a scrap of lined paper: Solonify. It doesn't mean anything. I looked it up. In a yellow folder, there are three reports from doctors. The pills they prescribed, and what they did to her. They wondered about the scars, but my mother wasn't talking. There are the kinds of things I can see my father holding onto: a long, dark blue dress covered in orange pussy willows, the thin branches breaking against the seam, the buds like bright pills, a photograph of her on the beach, holding me on one hip (thick white scars wind around her legs), a gold heart-shaped pendant. It had been hers, but she wanted to have it engraved with my name, as a present. My father had told me how she took it to the jewelry store herself. She walked the eight blocks to the jeweler's, he said. I think of my mother catching sight 63


What I Have

Berkeley Fiction Review of her white, surprised face in shop windows while making her way through all the people rushing in the opposite direction. By the time she got to the jewelry store, damp creases were pressed into her skirt from where she had clutched at herself, but still, she had made it there. But when she wrote my name for the engraver—making sure to press the pen down slowly, neatly, hiding the meat of her chewed fingertips—she spelled it wrong. The engraver returned with the pendant after a few minutes and showed it to her; she saw what she had done, but didn't say anything. I imagine her hands shaking as she counted out the bills, letting them fall to the counter. When my father came home, he found her crouched in their bedroom closet, digging into the letters on the pendant with a screwdriver. "It's close," she said, and showed him. "It's so close to right." Here also are twenty-six laminated Mass cards, held together with a red rubber band, hidden in the back of the top drawer. The Virgin Mary stands at the top of a hill on the front of each one. On the back are the usual words, "In Loving Memory," a prayer. I want to read it, but I keep staring at Mary, her head bowed, her marble veil. The tears on her ivory face like beads of glass. My third-grade report card is folded up beneath a painted rock I had sent to her when I was in kindergarten. On the top of the report card, in my mother's handwriting: She's going straight to hell. There are more notes she sent, a shoebox filled with them. They are feeding me sand and you pay for it. I wonder if you love me where you are. Everyone here is crazy come get me tomorrow at 6 You tell me who is taking parts of me away In the bottom drawer I find a large manila envelope with my name on it. Inside it are photographs of me and my father, cut into stars and taped together into a necklace, covers of TV Guides and Reader's Digests, layered in red paint, and Polaroids—a thin white ankle, the torn hem of a hospital gown, one closed eye half-covered by gray strands of hair—each with the same comment in wobbly black ink on the white border: ME. ****** Before this, all I had were glimpses of her on the way out. I am outside with my jump rope. The dogwood tree sways over me, 64

dumping petals into my hair. I run inside and follow her voice into the kitchen. The good part of it all, she is saying, is how much weight you lose. You have to come watch me jump rope! I say. She adjusts the phone and considers me. I can watch you from here, she says, and lights another cigarette. I run outside. The rope slaps against the ground, and I start counting, squinting to see her through the glass. The window where she should be reflects where I am. When she was gone, other women took care of me. Mrs. Wright picked me up from school. Mrs. Connelly scratched my back with her long frosted nails while we watched TV in her basement den. Mrs. Piccoli gave me chocolate milk and pizza for breakfast. I was glad when my mother wasn't there. When I climbed into Mrs. Wright's car after school and she told me that I'd be staying with her for a few days, I breathed in her Hly-of-the-valley perfume and smiled. I watched her white pantsuit shift against the white leather seats as she leaned into me and kissed the top of my head, and I thought that everything I wanted was coming true. I would not have to wonder if my mother would be there, if she would wake me up in the middle of the night, waving a hairbrush at me until my father came to take her away. I would not have to let my father hug me too hard, for no reason, at odd times, like in the middle of dinner, or while I was cleaning my room. At Mrs. Wright's, all the rules changed. The next day, we stayed in our nightgowns until noon and ate French toast while Mrs. Wright talked to me like I was an adult, about her life and how different it was from what she thought it would be, and I thought how everything all at once had become so*strange and wonderful, and she put her hand on mine and said, "I know." My father arrived an hour or so later with flowers, for his favorite girls, he said. He told me that I could come home with him if I wanted. And when I shook my head, he said that would be okay, for a while. Eventually I did go back to school. My first day, back a girl I didn't know walked up to me. "Your mother jumped out a window," she said, pointing at me. I knew that my mother had fallen from a roof long ago, so I said, "No, she fell." The girl picked at her knee and stared at me. "Jumped," she said. "Jumped herself dead." Then she screamed and ran away. I thought about this for the rest of the day. It made sense to me that she might be dead, but I wondered how a fall from many years ago could have killed her now. I imagined a piece of glass finding its way inside her 65


What I Have

Berkeley Fiction Review of her white, surprised face in shop windows while making her way through all the people rushing in the opposite direction. By the time she got to the jewelry store, damp creases were pressed into her skirt from where she had clutched at herself, but still, she had made it there. But when she wrote my name for the engraver—making sure to press the pen down slowly, neatly, hiding the meat of her chewed fingertips—she spelled it wrong. The engraver returned with the pendant after a few minutes and showed it to her; she saw what she had done, but didn't say anything. I imagine her hands shaking as she counted out the bills, letting them fall to the counter. When my father came home, he found her crouched in their bedroom closet, digging into the letters on the pendant with a screwdriver. "It's close," she said, and showed him. "It's so close to right." Here also are twenty-six laminated Mass cards, held together with a red rubber band, hidden in the back of the top drawer. The Virgin Mary stands at the top of a hill on the front of each one. On the back are the usual words, "In Loving Memory," a prayer. I want to read it, but I keep staring at Mary, her head bowed, her marble veil. The tears on her ivory face like beads of glass. My third-grade report card is folded up beneath a painted rock I had sent to her when I was in kindergarten. On the top of the report card, in my mother's handwriting: She's going straight to hell. There are more notes she sent, a shoebox filled with them. They are feeding me sand and you pay for it. I wonder if you love me where you are. Everyone here is crazy come get me tomorrow at 6 You tell me who is taking parts of me away In the bottom drawer I find a large manila envelope with my name on it. Inside it are photographs of me and my father, cut into stars and taped together into a necklace, covers of TV Guides and Reader's Digests, layered in red paint, and Polaroids—a thin white ankle, the torn hem of a hospital gown, one closed eye half-covered by gray strands of hair—each with the same comment in wobbly black ink on the white border: ME. ****** Before this, all I had were glimpses of her on the way out. I am outside with my jump rope. The dogwood tree sways over me, 64

dumping petals into my hair. I run inside and follow her voice into the kitchen. The good part of it all, she is saying, is how much weight you lose. You have to come watch me jump rope! I say. She adjusts the phone and considers me. I can watch you from here, she says, and lights another cigarette. I run outside. The rope slaps against the ground, and I start counting, squinting to see her through the glass. The window where she should be reflects where I am. When she was gone, other women took care of me. Mrs. Wright picked me up from school. Mrs. Connelly scratched my back with her long frosted nails while we watched TV in her basement den. Mrs. Piccoli gave me chocolate milk and pizza for breakfast. I was glad when my mother wasn't there. When I climbed into Mrs. Wright's car after school and she told me that I'd be staying with her for a few days, I breathed in her Hly-of-the-valley perfume and smiled. I watched her white pantsuit shift against the white leather seats as she leaned into me and kissed the top of my head, and I thought that everything I wanted was coming true. I would not have to wonder if my mother would be there, if she would wake me up in the middle of the night, waving a hairbrush at me until my father came to take her away. I would not have to let my father hug me too hard, for no reason, at odd times, like in the middle of dinner, or while I was cleaning my room. At Mrs. Wright's, all the rules changed. The next day, we stayed in our nightgowns until noon and ate French toast while Mrs. Wright talked to me like I was an adult, about her life and how different it was from what she thought it would be, and I thought how everything all at once had become so*strange and wonderful, and she put her hand on mine and said, "I know." My father arrived an hour or so later with flowers, for his favorite girls, he said. He told me that I could come home with him if I wanted. And when I shook my head, he said that would be okay, for a while. Eventually I did go back to school. My first day, back a girl I didn't know walked up to me. "Your mother jumped out a window," she said, pointing at me. I knew that my mother had fallen from a roof long ago, so I said, "No, she fell." The girl picked at her knee and stared at me. "Jumped," she said. "Jumped herself dead." Then she screamed and ran away. I thought about this for the rest of the day. It made sense to me that she might be dead, but I wondered how a fall from many years ago could have killed her now. I imagined a piece of glass finding its way inside her 65


Berkeley Fiction Review

What I Have

and traveling around her blood, looking for the heart. I tried out my theory on Mrs. Wright. Could a glass piece stay in you your whole life and work its way into your heart until you're dead? I asked, and before I heard her answer, I knew that it could. When my father came to take me home from Mrs. Wright's, I hid. I heard his voice traveling through the halls, calling out, I should have told you, it's all my fault, I should have let you know. I was in the bathroom, halfway out the window. It was only one floor down, but I couldn't jump. I was staring down at Miss Suzette, the Nicholsons' poodle, running frantic grooves into the acid-green yard, when I heard my father shouting and felt him tugging at my legs. I had been waiting for him to pull me" back in. After she was gone, he talked about wanting me to know her; know her, as if he could invite her over and she would walk in the door and have tea with us. I hid in the coat closet whenever he started to tell me stories. She was so pretty, just like you, he shouted from the other side of the closet door, while I knelt down among the snow shoes and umbrellas, her old coats pressing into my face. ****** It was only a few weeks ago, after so many years, that she turned up in my dreams. I'm having a party; I walk into the bedroom, and there she is, lying on the bed, her face peeking out from under a pile of coats. I am reading a book, and every page is her face, shifted slightly page by page like a flipbook. When I ruffle the pages I see that her mouth is moving, but I can't tell what she is saying. I go to a doctor, but when I get to his office, it's my mother. We thought it would be better if I told you, she says, her stethoscope falling forward as she leans towards me. Before she can say anything, I am awake, my legs churning around the bed as I try to swim back to her. I called my father. I think I want to know about her, I told him. He didn't say anything for a little while. That's a tall order, he said finally. You could tell me about when she was pregnant, I said. He said, I thought you were setting her on fire. She had a fever the whole nine months. All day she paced around the house, wiping her head with a wet washcloth. I'd come home and there she'd be, in the driveway, staring. I had to pry her hands open to keep her from cutting herself with her nails. I held my own palm out and stared at the red crescents I had im66

printed there. Tell me something else, I said. Give me anything important. ****** She was raised in a three-story office building in Queens that her father was paid to watch over, my father told me. Her parents left her alone in the building on most nights; when they were home, they made her bourbon-laced milkshakes to keep her sleepy and well-behaved. Their nights away were unannounced. She would run to the door in time to see the hem of her mother's fur coat, dull and matted in the fluorescent light, pulled from the path of the door as it closed. She listened to the locks as they turned. Late at night, their uneven steps clattered down the sidewalk. They shouted in a language she did not understand. Her room, my father said, had been a supply closet. It had no windows. If it did, she might have leaned against one of them and looked outside; someone might have glanced up and wondered why a little girl would be alone in an office building. There were metal shelves bolted to one wall. (I imagined the large, worn books she never took down—A Professional's Guide to Automobile Mechanics, Miss Farmer's Schoofof Cookery, Her Husband's Secret.) The other rooms were locked. She could only stay in her room or wander the dim, flickering hallways, the fluorescent lights droning. Tall metal filing cabinets creaked and whispered when she knocked past them. At the end of one hall was a small bathroom—a row of gray porcelain urinals iced with dust—and a dark flight of stairs that ended at a door. The door to the roof was always locked, but now she runs up the stairs anyway; she likes to run. She is fifteen. She pushes on the door. She almost falls to her knees as the door to the roof slams open, the cold air, traffic noises, and lights of the other buildings right in front of her like a heavy curtain swinging down. She laughs out loud and runs across the roof, waving her arms against the wind. There is no one on the street three stories down, but she leans over the edge and calls out anyway. She yells hello, trying out voices she thinks sound funny. She is almost unable to hold herself up from laughing so hard, giddy from this unexpected gift of darkness and air; her tears blur the pavement and the black parked cars. She belts out "Some Enchanted Evening," her favorite song, and as she sings, she runs across the roof in circles, across a crowded room, watching the lit windows blur together into bands of white and yellow. She is thinking that she has found some67


Berkeley Fiction Review

What I Have

and traveling around her blood, looking for the heart. I tried out my theory on Mrs. Wright. Could a glass piece stay in you your whole life and work its way into your heart until you're dead? I asked, and before I heard her answer, I knew that it could. When my father came to take me home from Mrs. Wright's, I hid. I heard his voice traveling through the halls, calling out, I should have told you, it's all my fault, I should have let you know. I was in the bathroom, halfway out the window. It was only one floor down, but I couldn't jump. I was staring down at Miss Suzette, the Nicholsons' poodle, running frantic grooves into the acid-green yard, when I heard my father shouting and felt him tugging at my legs. I had been waiting for him to pull me" back in. After she was gone, he talked about wanting me to know her; know her, as if he could invite her over and she would walk in the door and have tea with us. I hid in the coat closet whenever he started to tell me stories. She was so pretty, just like you, he shouted from the other side of the closet door, while I knelt down among the snow shoes and umbrellas, her old coats pressing into my face. ****** It was only a few weeks ago, after so many years, that she turned up in my dreams. I'm having a party; I walk into the bedroom, and there she is, lying on the bed, her face peeking out from under a pile of coats. I am reading a book, and every page is her face, shifted slightly page by page like a flipbook. When I ruffle the pages I see that her mouth is moving, but I can't tell what she is saying. I go to a doctor, but when I get to his office, it's my mother. We thought it would be better if I told you, she says, her stethoscope falling forward as she leans towards me. Before she can say anything, I am awake, my legs churning around the bed as I try to swim back to her. I called my father. I think I want to know about her, I told him. He didn't say anything for a little while. That's a tall order, he said finally. You could tell me about when she was pregnant, I said. He said, I thought you were setting her on fire. She had a fever the whole nine months. All day she paced around the house, wiping her head with a wet washcloth. I'd come home and there she'd be, in the driveway, staring. I had to pry her hands open to keep her from cutting herself with her nails. I held my own palm out and stared at the red crescents I had im66

printed there. Tell me something else, I said. Give me anything important. ****** She was raised in a three-story office building in Queens that her father was paid to watch over, my father told me. Her parents left her alone in the building on most nights; when they were home, they made her bourbon-laced milkshakes to keep her sleepy and well-behaved. Their nights away were unannounced. She would run to the door in time to see the hem of her mother's fur coat, dull and matted in the fluorescent light, pulled from the path of the door as it closed. She listened to the locks as they turned. Late at night, their uneven steps clattered down the sidewalk. They shouted in a language she did not understand. Her room, my father said, had been a supply closet. It had no windows. If it did, she might have leaned against one of them and looked outside; someone might have glanced up and wondered why a little girl would be alone in an office building. There were metal shelves bolted to one wall. (I imagined the large, worn books she never took down—A Professional's Guide to Automobile Mechanics, Miss Farmer's Schoofof Cookery, Her Husband's Secret.) The other rooms were locked. She could only stay in her room or wander the dim, flickering hallways, the fluorescent lights droning. Tall metal filing cabinets creaked and whispered when she knocked past them. At the end of one hall was a small bathroom—a row of gray porcelain urinals iced with dust—and a dark flight of stairs that ended at a door. The door to the roof was always locked, but now she runs up the stairs anyway; she likes to run. She is fifteen. She pushes on the door. She almost falls to her knees as the door to the roof slams open, the cold air, traffic noises, and lights of the other buildings right in front of her like a heavy curtain swinging down. She laughs out loud and runs across the roof, waving her arms against the wind. There is no one on the street three stories down, but she leans over the edge and calls out anyway. She yells hello, trying out voices she thinks sound funny. She is almost unable to hold herself up from laughing so hard, giddy from this unexpected gift of darkness and air; her tears blur the pavement and the black parked cars. She belts out "Some Enchanted Evening," her favorite song, and as she sings, she runs across the roof in circles, across a crowded room, watching the lit windows blur together into bands of white and yellow. She is thinking that she has found some67


Berkeley Fiction Review thing her parents will never know about, that this will be the one thing that is hers alone. The skylight, the one she is about to step on, is covered in black paint. It leads to a room she has never seen before. It's a garage, the main reason her father agreed to watch over the building: he fixes cars on the side. Right now the room is empty, except for two long, metal counters that her father discovered elsewhere in the building and is planning to use for his tools. They have been placed in the middle of the empty room, directly beneath the skylight. And somehow you'll know, she sings, and the glass lets go as her right foot lands on it. She slips through the skylight. She is amazed; she thinks of the wind above her on the roof; she wonders if she has fallen into another world, where some dark and fluttering animal will fold her into its wings and take her away, into the black corners of this strange room. Her legs are not yet bent at impossible angles, her skin is not yet torn open in flaps. She hasn't looked down, she hasn't seen the shining metal counters beneath her, the sharp edge she will land on before bouncing back on to the table and sliding to the concrete floor. She doesn't know yet what she has lost, that when she lands it will be right into the same life she' fell out of, and that for the next twenty years, she will not stop falling.

Second Place Sudden Fiction

Winner

P R E T T Y

Cecilia J o h n s o n

he first time I took off Ginny's clothes, I was afraid to do it, to see how her body would be. Mostly she used one of those motorized wheel chairs, the kind with a control handle that zips back and forth . Back in her dorm room, she walked the five feet from the bed to the bathroom with her arms stuck out for balance, her legs stiffly jumping forward, like a doll with no knees. She flipped up the lid on the toilet and collapsed. "Take off my shirt now," she said with her head twisted to the side, her hair falling in her mouth. I heard the faint splash of urine hit the water as I pulled the sweatshirt over her head. Chicken wings, I thought, looking at her naked arms, contorted and bent upwards at the elbows. Her breasts were large. She wore a white lace bra with underwire and a red bow over the front clasp. I wondered if my hands were cold as I fiddled with the plastic. "How long have you been going out with your boyfriend?." she asked. I pictured Keith back in my room, tangled up in the covers, sleeping with his socks on. He would sleep until I finished helping Ginny. Then we'd eat Velveeta omelets in the dining hall and watch pro-wrestling, fool around, maybe take a shower. Ginny's bra came loose, her breasts falling onto her chest. In my hand the fabric of the bra felt expensive, elegant. The white cups sparkled under the lace. I folded the bra into a neat square. "A couple months," I answered. She raised herself up a little on the toilet so I could pull off her pants and underwear. "Toilet paper," she said.

****** One week after I spoke to my father, a delivery truck arrived at my house. A man in a dark green uniform wheeled a black filing cabinet into my kitchen. It was wrapped in duct tape. I tipped the deliveryman and cut the tape off the cabinet. I looked at what I had.

69

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Berkeley Fiction Review thing her parents will never know about, that this will be the one thing that is hers alone. The skylight, the one she is about to step on, is covered in black paint. It leads to a room she has never seen before. It's a garage, the main reason her father agreed to watch over the building: he fixes cars on the side. Right now the room is empty, except for two long, metal counters that her father discovered elsewhere in the building and is planning to use for his tools. They have been placed in the middle of the empty room, directly beneath the skylight. And somehow you'll know, she sings, and the glass lets go as her right foot lands on it. She slips through the skylight. She is amazed; she thinks of the wind above her on the roof; she wonders if she has fallen into another world, where some dark and fluttering animal will fold her into its wings and take her away, into the black corners of this strange room. Her legs are not yet bent at impossible angles, her skin is not yet torn open in flaps. She hasn't looked down, she hasn't seen the shining metal counters beneath her, the sharp edge she will land on before bouncing back on to the table and sliding to the concrete floor. She doesn't know yet what she has lost, that when she lands it will be right into the same life she' fell out of, and that for the next twenty years, she will not stop falling.

Second Place Sudden Fiction

Winner

P R E T T Y

Cecilia J o h n s o n

he first time I took off Ginny's clothes, I was afraid to do it, to see how her body would be. Mostly she used one of those motorized wheel chairs, the kind with a control handle that zips back and forth . Back in her dorm room, she walked the five feet from the bed to the bathroom with her arms stuck out for balance, her legs stiffly jumping forward, like a doll with no knees. She flipped up the lid on the toilet and collapsed. "Take off my shirt now," she said with her head twisted to the side, her hair falling in her mouth. I heard the faint splash of urine hit the water as I pulled the sweatshirt over her head. Chicken wings, I thought, looking at her naked arms, contorted and bent upwards at the elbows. Her breasts were large. She wore a white lace bra with underwire and a red bow over the front clasp. I wondered if my hands were cold as I fiddled with the plastic. "How long have you been going out with your boyfriend?." she asked. I pictured Keith back in my room, tangled up in the covers, sleeping with his socks on. He would sleep until I finished helping Ginny. Then we'd eat Velveeta omelets in the dining hall and watch pro-wrestling, fool around, maybe take a shower. Ginny's bra came loose, her breasts falling onto her chest. In my hand the fabric of the bra felt expensive, elegant. The white cups sparkled under the lace. I folded the bra into a neat square. "A couple months," I answered. She raised herself up a little on the toilet so I could pull off her pants and underwear. "Toilet paper," she said.

****** One week after I spoke to my father, a delivery truck arrived at my house. A man in a dark green uniform wheeled a black filing cabinet into my kitchen. It was wrapped in duct tape. I tipped the deliveryman and cut the tape off the cabinet. I looked at what I had.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "That enough?" I handed her a lump, trying to remember how much I usually used. She held the paper between two shaking fingers and wiped from back to front. "Turn the water on now. Hot." I started the bath and tested it with my fingers, wondering just how hot "hot" was. Once I helped her into the water, she handed me a scratchy sponge. "Use the soap to lather it up. And make the water hot." I turned the cold water all the way off and watched Ginny's skin redden. She sat with her legs bent crookedly and her torso twisted to one side. Somehow she looked almost normal. Even with her hands stuck in mid air, she looked like she could be a regular girl. The first night I stayed over at Keith's, he didn't want to take his shirt off. My hands kept creeping up his stomach, but he stopped me every time. He rolled over to the wall and told me this story about how he used to be a fat kid and then in high school he lost all this weight. But after he lost forty pounds, his chest stayed big. Big like a girl's. So he spent the summer before senior year recovering from a breast removal operation, a double mastectomy. Keith rolled away from the wall, and I unbuttoned his shirt. Two scars cut across his chest, one through the center of each nipple. His flesh sank inward at each slice. His nipples looked like circles with the middles taken out. I told him it didn't bother me, that his chest wasn't ugly. "Too hot?" The water bit my wrist as I lathered up the sponge. "Perfect," she said. "Now turn it off or we'll overflow." I began to rub the soap gingerly onto her arms, not wanting to scratch her. "Harder," she said, her hair dragging the water. I scrubbed harder, buffing her arms to a bright red. "Do you have sex with your boyfriend?" she asked, her voice muffled and wet. I looked at Ginny's matching panties and bra folded neatly on the toilet and thought of Keith. "I know what it's like to have breasts," he said once while standing in the shower. His nipples buckled over, collapsed under their own skin. "You think I'm ugly," he said. I took off my own clothes and hugged him under the water. "No, I don't." Ginny twisted her head and looked me in the eye. "Do you have sex with your boyfriend?" I scrubbed at the bottom of her foot and whispered, "Yes." 70

Pretty For a couple minutes we sat and listened to the water drip from the faucet. I pictured Keith, lying on his back with his scars to the ceiling, his puckered nipples sliced and aching. It disgusted me. I dressed Ginny in matching pink silk underwear and a Gap turtleneck and jeans. I curled her hair, put on her make-up, and gave her a can of Diet Coke with a straw. "Did I do alright?" I asked, holding up a mirror so she could see. Ginny shifted in her chair, pushed her hair away from her face with the back of her hand. "Do you think I'm pretty?" she asked. Her clenched face looked lopsided, painted on. Keith was waiting for me with a warm spot underneath the covers. I slipped in beside him. He fumbled with my jeans and shirt. "No," I said, squeezing him around the shoulders. "I just want to lie next to you for a minute." I lay there all afternoon, with my arms around Keith, and I couldn't take off my clothes.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "That enough?" I handed her a lump, trying to remember how much I usually used. She held the paper between two shaking fingers and wiped from back to front. "Turn the water on now. Hot." I started the bath and tested it with my fingers, wondering just how hot "hot" was. Once I helped her into the water, she handed me a scratchy sponge. "Use the soap to lather it up. And make the water hot." I turned the cold water all the way off and watched Ginny's skin redden. She sat with her legs bent crookedly and her torso twisted to one side. Somehow she looked almost normal. Even with her hands stuck in mid air, she looked like she could be a regular girl. The first night I stayed over at Keith's, he didn't want to take his shirt off. My hands kept creeping up his stomach, but he stopped me every time. He rolled over to the wall and told me this story about how he used to be a fat kid and then in high school he lost all this weight. But after he lost forty pounds, his chest stayed big. Big like a girl's. So he spent the summer before senior year recovering from a breast removal operation, a double mastectomy. Keith rolled away from the wall, and I unbuttoned his shirt. Two scars cut across his chest, one through the center of each nipple. His flesh sank inward at each slice. His nipples looked like circles with the middles taken out. I told him it didn't bother me, that his chest wasn't ugly. "Too hot?" The water bit my wrist as I lathered up the sponge. "Perfect," she said. "Now turn it off or we'll overflow." I began to rub the soap gingerly onto her arms, not wanting to scratch her. "Harder," she said, her hair dragging the water. I scrubbed harder, buffing her arms to a bright red. "Do you have sex with your boyfriend?" she asked, her voice muffled and wet. I looked at Ginny's matching panties and bra folded neatly on the toilet and thought of Keith. "I know what it's like to have breasts," he said once while standing in the shower. His nipples buckled over, collapsed under their own skin. "You think I'm ugly," he said. I took off my own clothes and hugged him under the water. "No, I don't." Ginny twisted her head and looked me in the eye. "Do you have sex with your boyfriend?" I scrubbed at the bottom of her foot and whispered, "Yes." 70

Pretty For a couple minutes we sat and listened to the water drip from the faucet. I pictured Keith, lying on his back with his scars to the ceiling, his puckered nipples sliced and aching. It disgusted me. I dressed Ginny in matching pink silk underwear and a Gap turtleneck and jeans. I curled her hair, put on her make-up, and gave her a can of Diet Coke with a straw. "Did I do alright?" I asked, holding up a mirror so she could see. Ginny shifted in her chair, pushed her hair away from her face with the back of her hand. "Do you think I'm pretty?" she asked. Her clenched face looked lopsided, painted on. Keith was waiting for me with a warm spot underneath the covers. I slipped in beside him. He fumbled with my jeans and shirt. "No," I said, squeezing him around the shoulders. "I just want to lie next to you for a minute." I lay there all afternoon, with my arms around Keith, and I couldn't take off my clothes.

71


W A L K I N G

A M S T E R D A M

Patricia A b b o t t

e was waiting for his luggage at a KLM carousel at Schiphol Airport when he spotted her through the wall-sized window. Dressed in the somber seal-gray coat he had given her for Christmas, it was only the crimson in the scarf at her throat that caught his eye. With great effort, he beat back his initial impulse to smile as foolishly as a gangly adolescent. The deep lines of a familiar frown settled in place. They had decided before he left for Nice five days ago that it was silly for her to meet his plane. He outlined the reasons against it; she nodded her acceptance. But here she was after all. She did look lovely standing there amidst the stolid Dutch pea-soupers, each of them outfitted in bulky winter dress, starkly contrasting with Anna's elegance. Almost involuntarily, his hand rose in a greeting. The intricate knot in her scarf was very European, he noticed approvingly. She placed one gloved hand up to the window in response and smiled. "The delicacy of his wife's movement encapsulated everything he loved about her, and in that instant, everyone else waiting at the glass faded to a mere background. Moments later, he pulled his bags off the carousel, walking quickly through the "Nothing to Declare" gate to greet her. She turned up her face for his kiss and they bumped noses. He wondered whether other married couples missed each other's lips as frequently as they did. "I thought we decided you were going to wait at home." A half-smile took some of the sting out of his words. "When I woke up to find it sunny, I couldn't resist coming. Look Duncan, nothing's gone wrong despite your eternal fussing." She took his arm affectionately. "Did you miss me at all?"

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W A L K I N G

A M S T E R D A M

Patricia A b b o t t

e was waiting for his luggage at a KLM carousel at Schiphol Airport when he spotted her through the wall-sized window. Dressed in the somber seal-gray coat he had given her for Christmas, it was only the crimson in the scarf at her throat that caught his eye. With great effort, he beat back his initial impulse to smile as foolishly as a gangly adolescent. The deep lines of a familiar frown settled in place. They had decided before he left for Nice five days ago that it was silly for her to meet his plane. He outlined the reasons against it; she nodded her acceptance. But here she was after all. She did look lovely standing there amidst the stolid Dutch pea-soupers, each of them outfitted in bulky winter dress, starkly contrasting with Anna's elegance. Almost involuntarily, his hand rose in a greeting. The intricate knot in her scarf was very European, he noticed approvingly. She placed one gloved hand up to the window in response and smiled. "The delicacy of his wife's movement encapsulated everything he loved about her, and in that instant, everyone else waiting at the glass faded to a mere background. Moments later, he pulled his bags off the carousel, walking quickly through the "Nothing to Declare" gate to greet her. She turned up her face for his kiss and they bumped noses. He wondered whether other married couples missed each other's lips as frequently as they did. "I thought we decided you were going to wait at home." A half-smile took some of the sting out of his words. "When I woke up to find it sunny, I couldn't resist coming. Look Duncan, nothing's gone wrong despite your eternal fussing." She took his arm affectionately. "Did you miss me at all?"

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Berkeley Fiction Review She made a face. Only a beautiful woman could afford such a grimace, and he did love her so. How had they fallen into this miserable routine, anyway? "Of course, I missed you, Anna," he said, relenting completely. "I've thought of nothing else the whole trip home." He wondered if it was possible she didn't know such things. Was he that opaque? "Until today we had nothing but misty rain," she said", ignoring his overt compliment. "Was it nice in Nice? Oh, of course it was! Why is it we're destined to live in rainy places?" Oblivious to the weather, Duncan smiled absently and, continuing their discussion of such prosaic matters, they made their way to the taxi stand. Twenty minutes later, he followed Anna up the steep, spiral staircase leading to their flat on Nieuwe Doelenstraat. The recently refitted 17th century building had an elevator that only climbed to the third story. There, the building narrowed considerably and the uppermost tenants, the Parsons' on one side and an Argentinean attache on the other, had a private staircase for the final flight. Anna waited patiently at the door while he searched for his key. She didn't notice that he had to pile his suitcase and attache between his legs, shifting his carry-on from shoulder to shoulder to look for it. Certainly she carried a house key in her purse. Then why did such tasks fall to him? If she came to Schiphol to help him, why didn't she? Anna smiled agreeably, finding nothing unusual in his frantic scramble. She was too thin, he noticed, and a pulse beat anxiously beneath the nearly transparent skin of her forehead. For a few seconds, his heart took up its feverish pace. Willing it to slow, he put the key into the lock. He wondered if she had eaten anything more than rabbit food since he left, and whether her present quiescence was pharmaceutically induced. Inside, the rooms were brightly lit by the infrequent northern sun. He put his luggage down, sighing with pleasure at being home. Although the Parsons' had only been in Amsterdam six months, Anna, with her usual flair, managed to make it seem both homey and elegant. Once in his study, he sank heavily into the large desk chair. Reluctantly, he took a look at his email and phone messages. It had been only a few hours since he reviewed both in Nice but already there were new problems to deal with. Leaving them for later, he went in to lunch. Mrs. Jongkind had laid out their meal by the window overlooking the Amstel River. Since their arrival, he had weaned the housekeeper away from most of the classic Dutch fare, although pea soup still turned up with an alarming regularity. Secretly, he had grown fond of it. Today 74

Walking Amsterdam she had prepared a light beef broth and broiled swordfish with a white asparagus salad. He finished the broth, set the bowl aside, and grated some fresh nutmeg over his asparagus. "Anna, your broth's growing cold. What have you been up to? Did you go to the book chat at Waterstones?" "No. It was some fellow talking about climbing Everest. They're having some novelist next week. Margaret Atwood, I think. Maybe you'll be able to go with me." "Fiction writers are fine to read, but they don't make very interesting speakers. They haven't done anything really, have they? They sit in their dreary little rooms imagining themselves elsewhere." "How do you know their rooms are dreary?" "I just know," he told her teasingly. "Anyway, with fiction writers, the audience questions all tend to be about the mechanics of writing." Preparing to amuse his wife, Duncan affected a woman's voice, "Where do you work, Ms. Atwood? Do you use a word processor? Do you set yourself a daily quota of pages? Is the story based on your own experiences? Who gives a fuck about those things?" The last question was delivered in his voice. Listening intently, a hint of amusement on her face, Anna shivered involuntarily at the expletive, and dropped her spoon. "I hate that word," she reminded him. "Sorry, love. Been around the boys at the office too much. Did you keep your appointment on Friday?" he asked her softly. The asparagus was overcooked and he pushed the plate aside. "Yes, I kept it." "And you're still happy with—what's his name—Dr. Leyden?" "He seems nice." She shrugged noncommittally. "Well, I'm not so sure that 'nice' constitutes a recommendation for a - " He stopped mid-sentence as Mrs. Jongkind came in to clear. Anna had trained the woman'to take away her usually untouched dish when she removed Duncan's plate. He would have liked to change this arrangement, but he was loath to discuss personal matters with servants. His disinclination was especially troublesome since Mrs. Jongkind had been hired, albeit unbeknownst to her, to keep an eye on Anna. Anorexia was not the primary manifestation of Anna's problem. It was just a worrisome sidebar. "So what have you been doing then?" he asked. "Did you go shopping with Beatrix?" Beatrix was the wife of a colleague. 75


Berkeley Fiction Review She made a face. Only a beautiful woman could afford such a grimace, and he did love her so. How had they fallen into this miserable routine, anyway? "Of course, I missed you, Anna," he said, relenting completely. "I've thought of nothing else the whole trip home." He wondered if it was possible she didn't know such things. Was he that opaque? "Until today we had nothing but misty rain," she said", ignoring his overt compliment. "Was it nice in Nice? Oh, of course it was! Why is it we're destined to live in rainy places?" Oblivious to the weather, Duncan smiled absently and, continuing their discussion of such prosaic matters, they made their way to the taxi stand. Twenty minutes later, he followed Anna up the steep, spiral staircase leading to their flat on Nieuwe Doelenstraat. The recently refitted 17th century building had an elevator that only climbed to the third story. There, the building narrowed considerably and the uppermost tenants, the Parsons' on one side and an Argentinean attache on the other, had a private staircase for the final flight. Anna waited patiently at the door while he searched for his key. She didn't notice that he had to pile his suitcase and attache between his legs, shifting his carry-on from shoulder to shoulder to look for it. Certainly she carried a house key in her purse. Then why did such tasks fall to him? If she came to Schiphol to help him, why didn't she? Anna smiled agreeably, finding nothing unusual in his frantic scramble. She was too thin, he noticed, and a pulse beat anxiously beneath the nearly transparent skin of her forehead. For a few seconds, his heart took up its feverish pace. Willing it to slow, he put the key into the lock. He wondered if she had eaten anything more than rabbit food since he left, and whether her present quiescence was pharmaceutically induced. Inside, the rooms were brightly lit by the infrequent northern sun. He put his luggage down, sighing with pleasure at being home. Although the Parsons' had only been in Amsterdam six months, Anna, with her usual flair, managed to make it seem both homey and elegant. Once in his study, he sank heavily into the large desk chair. Reluctantly, he took a look at his email and phone messages. It had been only a few hours since he reviewed both in Nice but already there were new problems to deal with. Leaving them for later, he went in to lunch. Mrs. Jongkind had laid out their meal by the window overlooking the Amstel River. Since their arrival, he had weaned the housekeeper away from most of the classic Dutch fare, although pea soup still turned up with an alarming regularity. Secretly, he had grown fond of it. Today 74

Walking Amsterdam she had prepared a light beef broth and broiled swordfish with a white asparagus salad. He finished the broth, set the bowl aside, and grated some fresh nutmeg over his asparagus. "Anna, your broth's growing cold. What have you been up to? Did you go to the book chat at Waterstones?" "No. It was some fellow talking about climbing Everest. They're having some novelist next week. Margaret Atwood, I think. Maybe you'll be able to go with me." "Fiction writers are fine to read, but they don't make very interesting speakers. They haven't done anything really, have they? They sit in their dreary little rooms imagining themselves elsewhere." "How do you know their rooms are dreary?" "I just know," he told her teasingly. "Anyway, with fiction writers, the audience questions all tend to be about the mechanics of writing." Preparing to amuse his wife, Duncan affected a woman's voice, "Where do you work, Ms. Atwood? Do you use a word processor? Do you set yourself a daily quota of pages? Is the story based on your own experiences? Who gives a fuck about those things?" The last question was delivered in his voice. Listening intently, a hint of amusement on her face, Anna shivered involuntarily at the expletive, and dropped her spoon. "I hate that word," she reminded him. "Sorry, love. Been around the boys at the office too much. Did you keep your appointment on Friday?" he asked her softly. The asparagus was overcooked and he pushed the plate aside. "Yes, I kept it." "And you're still happy with—what's his name—Dr. Leyden?" "He seems nice." She shrugged noncommittally. "Well, I'm not so sure that 'nice' constitutes a recommendation for a - " He stopped mid-sentence as Mrs. Jongkind came in to clear. Anna had trained the woman'to take away her usually untouched dish when she removed Duncan's plate. He would have liked to change this arrangement, but he was loath to discuss personal matters with servants. His disinclination was especially troublesome since Mrs. Jongkind had been hired, albeit unbeknownst to her, to keep an eye on Anna. Anorexia was not the primary manifestation of Anna's problem. It was just a worrisome sidebar. "So what have you been doing then?" he asked. "Did you go shopping with Beatrix?" Beatrix was the wife of a colleague. 75


Berkeley Fiction Review "No, she was going to Utrecht and I didn't want to be gone all day. I hate that shopping center. It's obscenely large. Mother can send us anything we want from Bloomingdales for much less than what we pay at De Bijenkorf. She knows what I like better than I do." "Anna, I've told you not to mind the cost! I hope you didn't criticize the Hoog Catherine to Beatrix. The Dutch are very proud of it, even if it's exactly like the American malls they laugh at." After considering the enigmatic Dutch for a minute, Duncan continued. "Anyway, you need something to do. If you won't shop, and won't find a hobby, what are you going to do all day? We're going to be here for at least two more years. You must find something..." Her large gray eyes looked uncompromisingly earnest. "I don't mind being on my own. I like going to museums, and walking and reading. I write Mother every other day and my sister once a week. Then there's my needlepoint." "Harriet Winters is over from York. Why not tag along with her?" "Tag along, Duncan! That's exactly what I do. How you embarrass me! Asking your colleagues' wives to entertain me!" She had twisted her linen napkin into a tight knot. "I'm better off by myself, doing things in my own way and in my own time." "We both know the trouble you can get in—" he began. Anna stood up, threw the knotted napkin on the table, and ran out of the room. Resisting the inclination to follow her, Duncan sighed, pushing his spoon into the dish of pudding. It was butterscotch and Mrs. Jongkind had kindly allowed a skin to form, just the way he liked it. He wondered how his mother had contrived the burnt sugar taste of his childhood. It was in London that the trouble arose. Before that, in Philadelphia, where they lived for three years, everything seemed fine although their departure for London came at a bad time. Anna was recovering from a miscarriage suffered in her fourth month of pregnancy. Each of her three pregnancies ended in the fourth month. This time, the doctor ordered bed rest as soon as her condition was certain, drugging her with all the medications in his arsenal. Anna obeyed his instructions to the letter, even going so far as to use a bedpan. Still, they awoke one morning to find the sheets awash in red. After a brief stay in the hospital, Anna seemed to recover. She was excited about the move to England and flew over with Duncan a month or two later to choose a flat. There was no reason to believe they couldn't try to have a child again. It would be their fourth try in less than six years 76

Walking A msterdam but new procedures and medicines came onto the medical scene every day. Certainly, there was still time for them. Anna was not yet thirty, Duncan barely forty. The flat in London, near Hyde Park, was nicer than anything available in dowdy Philadelphia. Anna made a few friends among the office wives and began to go out. Often Duncan came home to find her in the rear garden, chatting with, or rather listening to the gregarious Esme, their neighbor, who was taking a two-year leave from her job as a solicitor to care for little Miranda. Once or twice, Anna looked after Miranda when the Osbornes had to be away in the daytime. Then, one day, coming up the tube steps at Marble Arch, he spotted Anna pushing Miranda's carriage toward Speaker's Corner. Dashing back down the steps, then madly through the subway beneath the street, he caught up with her near the park's entrance. "Giving Esme a break?" he asked, exchanging a kiss. Anna, looking flustered by his question, continued walking along, humming a little. "Isn't it time for Miranda's nap?" he asked, glancing at his watch. "She's usually asleep in the back garden about now." And, in fact, Miranda was fast asleep. Anna stopped suddenly, bent over the carriage, and carefully examined the sleeping infant. "Why don't we start for home?" Duncan suggested, disturbed by the dreamy look on Anna's face. He propelled the carriage around but within moments, his hurried gait woke Miranda. When she didn't find her mother close at hand, she began to shriek. The baby's cries threw Anna into complete bewilderment and she started to sob, too. For a tense minute, Duncan stood on the Oxford Street, holding the baby in one arm, his sobbing wife in the other. Noontime shoppers swarmed around them, many looking at Duncan accusingly. Finally, in crab-like fashion, they made their way back to their flat where Esme came flying out the door. Seeing Miranda safe, she burst into tears herself. When it had been sorted out, it was agreed by Duncan and the Osbornes that Anna needed professional help. She was still vague about what her intentions had been. She had experienced an irresistible urge, the three decided, brought on by the recent tragedy. No one mentioned contacting the police, although Duncan was certain Thomas Osborne had considered it. He wondered whether they would have been so forgiving if he had not insisted on immediate psychiatric help. He doubted a strong case could be made against Anna. Her walk 77


Berkeley Fiction Review "No, she was going to Utrecht and I didn't want to be gone all day. I hate that shopping center. It's obscenely large. Mother can send us anything we want from Bloomingdales for much less than what we pay at De Bijenkorf. She knows what I like better than I do." "Anna, I've told you not to mind the cost! I hope you didn't criticize the Hoog Catherine to Beatrix. The Dutch are very proud of it, even if it's exactly like the American malls they laugh at." After considering the enigmatic Dutch for a minute, Duncan continued. "Anyway, you need something to do. If you won't shop, and won't find a hobby, what are you going to do all day? We're going to be here for at least two more years. You must find something..." Her large gray eyes looked uncompromisingly earnest. "I don't mind being on my own. I like going to museums, and walking and reading. I write Mother every other day and my sister once a week. Then there's my needlepoint." "Harriet Winters is over from York. Why not tag along with her?" "Tag along, Duncan! That's exactly what I do. How you embarrass me! Asking your colleagues' wives to entertain me!" She had twisted her linen napkin into a tight knot. "I'm better off by myself, doing things in my own way and in my own time." "We both know the trouble you can get in—" he began. Anna stood up, threw the knotted napkin on the table, and ran out of the room. Resisting the inclination to follow her, Duncan sighed, pushing his spoon into the dish of pudding. It was butterscotch and Mrs. Jongkind had kindly allowed a skin to form, just the way he liked it. He wondered how his mother had contrived the burnt sugar taste of his childhood. It was in London that the trouble arose. Before that, in Philadelphia, where they lived for three years, everything seemed fine although their departure for London came at a bad time. Anna was recovering from a miscarriage suffered in her fourth month of pregnancy. Each of her three pregnancies ended in the fourth month. This time, the doctor ordered bed rest as soon as her condition was certain, drugging her with all the medications in his arsenal. Anna obeyed his instructions to the letter, even going so far as to use a bedpan. Still, they awoke one morning to find the sheets awash in red. After a brief stay in the hospital, Anna seemed to recover. She was excited about the move to England and flew over with Duncan a month or two later to choose a flat. There was no reason to believe they couldn't try to have a child again. It would be their fourth try in less than six years 76

Walking A msterdam but new procedures and medicines came onto the medical scene every day. Certainly, there was still time for them. Anna was not yet thirty, Duncan barely forty. The flat in London, near Hyde Park, was nicer than anything available in dowdy Philadelphia. Anna made a few friends among the office wives and began to go out. Often Duncan came home to find her in the rear garden, chatting with, or rather listening to the gregarious Esme, their neighbor, who was taking a two-year leave from her job as a solicitor to care for little Miranda. Once or twice, Anna looked after Miranda when the Osbornes had to be away in the daytime. Then, one day, coming up the tube steps at Marble Arch, he spotted Anna pushing Miranda's carriage toward Speaker's Corner. Dashing back down the steps, then madly through the subway beneath the street, he caught up with her near the park's entrance. "Giving Esme a break?" he asked, exchanging a kiss. Anna, looking flustered by his question, continued walking along, humming a little. "Isn't it time for Miranda's nap?" he asked, glancing at his watch. "She's usually asleep in the back garden about now." And, in fact, Miranda was fast asleep. Anna stopped suddenly, bent over the carriage, and carefully examined the sleeping infant. "Why don't we start for home?" Duncan suggested, disturbed by the dreamy look on Anna's face. He propelled the carriage around but within moments, his hurried gait woke Miranda. When she didn't find her mother close at hand, she began to shriek. The baby's cries threw Anna into complete bewilderment and she started to sob, too. For a tense minute, Duncan stood on the Oxford Street, holding the baby in one arm, his sobbing wife in the other. Noontime shoppers swarmed around them, many looking at Duncan accusingly. Finally, in crab-like fashion, they made their way back to their flat where Esme came flying out the door. Seeing Miranda safe, she burst into tears herself. When it had been sorted out, it was agreed by Duncan and the Osbornes that Anna needed professional help. She was still vague about what her intentions had been. She had experienced an irresistible urge, the three decided, brought on by the recent tragedy. No one mentioned contacting the police, although Duncan was certain Thomas Osborne had considered it. He wondered whether they would have been so forgiving if he had not insisted on immediate psychiatric help. He doubted a strong case could be made against Anna. Her walk 77


Berkeley Fiction Review toward the park with Miranda was too innocuous to prosecute. He was very grateful to the Osbornes for their generosity toward Anna, but soon all four were anxious to be rid of each other. Duncan put in a request for an early transfer and a few months later his firm sent him to Amsterdam. He was too valuable an employee to lose. Although the word "baby" hadn't been mentioned in nearly a year now, it was clear to him that they both blamed their growing estrangement on their inability to bear a child. She hadn't made a single friend in their six months here and her supposed activities—the walks, the museums, and the needlepoint—were either figments of her imagination or outright lies. She hadn't written her mother in two months; he had a phone message on his machine to prove it. He wondered if she had been to Dr. Leyden lately. According to her calendar, she had her usual appointment on Tuesday, and he arranged to be away from the office just long enough to see if she kept it. He was waiting down the street when she left the flat on Tuesday. A block or two from the flat, she turned off down the Herengracht, the most lovely of the canal streets. This was something Duncan had only been told, since he had spent very little time exploring Amsterdam. He had never been inside De Bijenkorf, the department store, for instance. He had attended just one concert at the Concertgebouw in January and finally made it to the Van Gogh museum only last month. His only trip to the Red Light district was at a client's insistence. Anna turned again, heading down a narrow street. It was easy to keep her in sight without being spotted, despite the bustle of the midday shoppers who blocked his view from time to time. Quite simply, she dominated any scene in which she found herself, Duncan realized, not for the first time. Anna didn't know this, of course. Her mother had raised her too well. She made her way through the throngs of workers, many of whom seemed to eat on their feet, dropping by bakeries, herring stands, or pancake houses for a quick lunch. Soon Anna disappeared into a cafe where he watched through the window as she found herself a table, pulled out a book, and began to read. Obviously, she was not hurrying off to the doctor's. He went back to his office and put out some fires before considering his domestic situation. The next evening, his key was in the lock when he heard Anna call from the living room. He found her sitting across from an-unfamiliar young Asian woman. It took just a moment for him to realize the woman was dressed in a peculiar fashion. He couldn't help but notice the short, 78

Walking Amsterdam tight skirt, the blouse stopping well short of her navel, the ridiculously high platform shoes. And she wore too much makeup. Her eyes were ringed with kohl. Her cheeks unnaturally pink. She looked predatory, he thought. "Duncan, this is Hue Due Do," Anna said. "We've become friends on my afternoon walks." They eyed each other warily. Where in hell had Anna been walking? "What's this all about?" His eyes were still on Hue. "Hue has two young sons," Anna began nervously. "She works very hard to support them. They're very healthy boys. I've met them twice and been impressed with how healthy they are." Duncan was nonplussed by Anna's emphasis on health, but he didn't comment. Hue, for her part, seemed rapt with interest in his face. "I think you know where Hue works, Duncan." Anna was almost whispering. "What's that to us?" "Hue doesn't want to continue to...to continue working on Oudezijds Voorburgwal." Although Anna struggled with the unfamiliar Dutch name, all three understood which street she meant. "Her boys are nearly school age now. She wants a better life for them. She's a very good mother and intended to become a cook when she came to Amsterdam. She studied at a culinary school in Hanoi." "Do you want me to give her money?" Hue giggled at this suggestion and Anna threw her a sharp look. "Duncan, I'm going to send Hue away now so we can talk. Will you give her two hundred guilders please? I promised her that for coming here." "Is that her standard price?" But he reached for his wallet. It was money well spent if it got Ms. Due Do out of his house. It depressed him to see her standing in front of his Karel Appel painting. She was far more vivid than the slashing reds and blues of the COBRA artist. Hue took the proffered notes and Anna saw her to the door, putting a hand on the woman's cheek as she closed it. The gesture suggested an intimacy that shocked him. "Would you like a drink, Duncan?" Anna walked to the liquor cabinet and poured him a Dewars without waiting for his response. He took it silently, sinking into a chair. She poured a glass of tomato juice and joined him, choosing the small, embroidered footstool near his knees. "Hue is willing to carry a baby for us, Duncan. She's done it once before—for a Dutch couple. I've seen pictures of that child and met her own two boys. All three are healthy, sturdy children. Her deliveries were textbook. I'd like to make arrangements for her to do the same for us. It's 79


Berkeley Fiction Review toward the park with Miranda was too innocuous to prosecute. He was very grateful to the Osbornes for their generosity toward Anna, but soon all four were anxious to be rid of each other. Duncan put in a request for an early transfer and a few months later his firm sent him to Amsterdam. He was too valuable an employee to lose. Although the word "baby" hadn't been mentioned in nearly a year now, it was clear to him that they both blamed their growing estrangement on their inability to bear a child. She hadn't made a single friend in their six months here and her supposed activities—the walks, the museums, and the needlepoint—were either figments of her imagination or outright lies. She hadn't written her mother in two months; he had a phone message on his machine to prove it. He wondered if she had been to Dr. Leyden lately. According to her calendar, she had her usual appointment on Tuesday, and he arranged to be away from the office just long enough to see if she kept it. He was waiting down the street when she left the flat on Tuesday. A block or two from the flat, she turned off down the Herengracht, the most lovely of the canal streets. This was something Duncan had only been told, since he had spent very little time exploring Amsterdam. He had never been inside De Bijenkorf, the department store, for instance. He had attended just one concert at the Concertgebouw in January and finally made it to the Van Gogh museum only last month. His only trip to the Red Light district was at a client's insistence. Anna turned again, heading down a narrow street. It was easy to keep her in sight without being spotted, despite the bustle of the midday shoppers who blocked his view from time to time. Quite simply, she dominated any scene in which she found herself, Duncan realized, not for the first time. Anna didn't know this, of course. Her mother had raised her too well. She made her way through the throngs of workers, many of whom seemed to eat on their feet, dropping by bakeries, herring stands, or pancake houses for a quick lunch. Soon Anna disappeared into a cafe where he watched through the window as she found herself a table, pulled out a book, and began to read. Obviously, she was not hurrying off to the doctor's. He went back to his office and put out some fires before considering his domestic situation. The next evening, his key was in the lock when he heard Anna call from the living room. He found her sitting across from an-unfamiliar young Asian woman. It took just a moment for him to realize the woman was dressed in a peculiar fashion. He couldn't help but notice the short, 78

Walking Amsterdam tight skirt, the blouse stopping well short of her navel, the ridiculously high platform shoes. And she wore too much makeup. Her eyes were ringed with kohl. Her cheeks unnaturally pink. She looked predatory, he thought. "Duncan, this is Hue Due Do," Anna said. "We've become friends on my afternoon walks." They eyed each other warily. Where in hell had Anna been walking? "What's this all about?" His eyes were still on Hue. "Hue has two young sons," Anna began nervously. "She works very hard to support them. They're very healthy boys. I've met them twice and been impressed with how healthy they are." Duncan was nonplussed by Anna's emphasis on health, but he didn't comment. Hue, for her part, seemed rapt with interest in his face. "I think you know where Hue works, Duncan." Anna was almost whispering. "What's that to us?" "Hue doesn't want to continue to...to continue working on Oudezijds Voorburgwal." Although Anna struggled with the unfamiliar Dutch name, all three understood which street she meant. "Her boys are nearly school age now. She wants a better life for them. She's a very good mother and intended to become a cook when she came to Amsterdam. She studied at a culinary school in Hanoi." "Do you want me to give her money?" Hue giggled at this suggestion and Anna threw her a sharp look. "Duncan, I'm going to send Hue away now so we can talk. Will you give her two hundred guilders please? I promised her that for coming here." "Is that her standard price?" But he reached for his wallet. It was money well spent if it got Ms. Due Do out of his house. It depressed him to see her standing in front of his Karel Appel painting. She was far more vivid than the slashing reds and blues of the COBRA artist. Hue took the proffered notes and Anna saw her to the door, putting a hand on the woman's cheek as she closed it. The gesture suggested an intimacy that shocked him. "Would you like a drink, Duncan?" Anna walked to the liquor cabinet and poured him a Dewars without waiting for his response. He took it silently, sinking into a chair. She poured a glass of tomato juice and joined him, choosing the small, embroidered footstool near his knees. "Hue is willing to carry a baby for us, Duncan. She's done it once before—for a Dutch couple. I've seen pictures of that child and met her own two boys. All three are healthy, sturdy children. Her deliveries were textbook. I'd like to make arrangements for her to do the same for us. It's 79


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done all the time now, you know. They'll remove my eggs, fertilize them with your sperm, and implant them in Hue." His stomach convulsed. "You've got to be out of your mind, Anna. Do you really think I'd allow a street whore to carry my child?" His throat was parched and he gulped down the scotch. "I will never be able to carry a child to term. It's the thing I want most in the world and I will only be able to have a baby if I make an arrangement like this. It will be our child in every important respect, Duncan. Hue's just the vessel." "A polluted vessel! Do you really imagine you can pour something pure into a dirty jar, store it there for nearly a year and not find it changed?" The image filled him with horror. "If it comes to this sort of arrangement, we can do better than that prostitute. We can find someone...else. Anyway, why the rush? Why haven't you been seeing your doctor, Anna? I know you didn't meet your appointment yesterday." He swallowed the scotch down and started to rise. She got up, and taking his glass, made him another. "I canceled when he disapproved of my plan. I couldn't get him to understand that I—" "There, you see!" he interrupted triumphantly. "No sensible person would support you in such a thing." Anna walked over to the console table behind the sofa and pulled an envelope out of the drawer. "Look, Duncan, these are Hue's sons, Hung and Tuyen. They're adorable, aren't they?" He smiled noncommittally, not really taking it in. "Not that our child would be Asian, of course," she went on, "but it shows you Hue delivers healthy babies. They both weighed over seven pounds at birth, which is large for a Vietnamese child." "You forget they're probably only half Vietnamese. The other half could be anything at all, Anna. Swedish, even." She held another photo out to him. This third child bore no resemblance to its surrogate mother, of course. It was one of those nondescript Polaroid photos taken soon after birth. The child had a mass of dark hair and that was about all he could tell. It looked vaguely Asian, but all babies do. Even when their mothers are not Vietnamese prostitutes. ****** In Duncan Parsons' firm, he was often called upon to explain things to people who didn't want to listen. He dismissed secretaries who couldn't 80

grasp the complex .technologies which showed up overnight. He pushed through early retirements for personnel who fell asleep at seven p.m. meetings and fired employees out carousing too late to make the ones at seven a.m. This was not his only task, nor even his primary one, and few people in the firm could identify him as the one who performed such chores. He didn't relish or even speak about this aspect of his job. But if called upon, he did what was necessary for the firm. Consequently, it was not all that difficult for Duncan to arrive at a plan in this new circumstance. It was entirely possible that at some future date, he and Anna would be forced to turn to a surrogate, but that would be a woman he found himself, someone entirely different from Hue. He made one more attempt to persuade Anna of Hue's unsuitability and met with failure. "The reason I'm so keen on doing it here is so we can return to the U.S. with a baby," Anna told him. "No one will imagine I didn't carry and deliver our child. We won't have to answer any questions about it since no one will ever suspect. And Hue will be out of our lives. She'll have enough money to leave Amsterdam and head in another direction entirely. Can't you admit it makes sense?" "You say she's done this before." "For a Dutch family. I have their name somewhere." She began to fumble in her purse. "What happened to the money they paid her?" he asked, ignoring the proffered business card. "Why is she back on the streets after her big score?" "I knew you'd ask me that." Anna put the card away and sat down. "She was younger then and spent the money rather nobly. She brought her mother over. That cost some money, mostly in bribes. Then her younger brother came the next year." "So they could experience the good life too?" "Then her brother got into trouble. He developed a habit, gambled her money away." "And this is the woman you want to trust with our child?" His voice rose despite his best efforts to temper it. "She's thirty-two now. It won't happen again. She has two boys to think of." On one level, Anna had made a better plan than he would have expected. She had shown initiative and intelligence. She looked into Hue's background, raised certain issues with the woman. Briefly, he considered going ahead with it. There were people who could check Hue out, and he 81


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done all the time now, you know. They'll remove my eggs, fertilize them with your sperm, and implant them in Hue." His stomach convulsed. "You've got to be out of your mind, Anna. Do you really think I'd allow a street whore to carry my child?" His throat was parched and he gulped down the scotch. "I will never be able to carry a child to term. It's the thing I want most in the world and I will only be able to have a baby if I make an arrangement like this. It will be our child in every important respect, Duncan. Hue's just the vessel." "A polluted vessel! Do you really imagine you can pour something pure into a dirty jar, store it there for nearly a year and not find it changed?" The image filled him with horror. "If it comes to this sort of arrangement, we can do better than that prostitute. We can find someone...else. Anyway, why the rush? Why haven't you been seeing your doctor, Anna? I know you didn't meet your appointment yesterday." He swallowed the scotch down and started to rise. She got up, and taking his glass, made him another. "I canceled when he disapproved of my plan. I couldn't get him to understand that I—" "There, you see!" he interrupted triumphantly. "No sensible person would support you in such a thing." Anna walked over to the console table behind the sofa and pulled an envelope out of the drawer. "Look, Duncan, these are Hue's sons, Hung and Tuyen. They're adorable, aren't they?" He smiled noncommittally, not really taking it in. "Not that our child would be Asian, of course," she went on, "but it shows you Hue delivers healthy babies. They both weighed over seven pounds at birth, which is large for a Vietnamese child." "You forget they're probably only half Vietnamese. The other half could be anything at all, Anna. Swedish, even." She held another photo out to him. This third child bore no resemblance to its surrogate mother, of course. It was one of those nondescript Polaroid photos taken soon after birth. The child had a mass of dark hair and that was about all he could tell. It looked vaguely Asian, but all babies do. Even when their mothers are not Vietnamese prostitutes. ****** In Duncan Parsons' firm, he was often called upon to explain things to people who didn't want to listen. He dismissed secretaries who couldn't 80

grasp the complex .technologies which showed up overnight. He pushed through early retirements for personnel who fell asleep at seven p.m. meetings and fired employees out carousing too late to make the ones at seven a.m. This was not his only task, nor even his primary one, and few people in the firm could identify him as the one who performed such chores. He didn't relish or even speak about this aspect of his job. But if called upon, he did what was necessary for the firm. Consequently, it was not all that difficult for Duncan to arrive at a plan in this new circumstance. It was entirely possible that at some future date, he and Anna would be forced to turn to a surrogate, but that would be a woman he found himself, someone entirely different from Hue. He made one more attempt to persuade Anna of Hue's unsuitability and met with failure. "The reason I'm so keen on doing it here is so we can return to the U.S. with a baby," Anna told him. "No one will imagine I didn't carry and deliver our child. We won't have to answer any questions about it since no one will ever suspect. And Hue will be out of our lives. She'll have enough money to leave Amsterdam and head in another direction entirely. Can't you admit it makes sense?" "You say she's done this before." "For a Dutch family. I have their name somewhere." She began to fumble in her purse. "What happened to the money they paid her?" he asked, ignoring the proffered business card. "Why is she back on the streets after her big score?" "I knew you'd ask me that." Anna put the card away and sat down. "She was younger then and spent the money rather nobly. She brought her mother over. That cost some money, mostly in bribes. Then her younger brother came the next year." "So they could experience the good life too?" "Then her brother got into trouble. He developed a habit, gambled her money away." "And this is the woman you want to trust with our child?" His voice rose despite his best efforts to temper it. "She's thirty-two now. It won't happen again. She has two boys to think of." On one level, Anna had made a better plan than he would have expected. She had shown initiative and intelligence. She looked into Hue's background, raised certain issues with the woman. Briefly, he considered going ahead with it. There were people who could check Hue out, and he 81


Berkeley Fiction Review could certainly hire someone to supervise the pregnancy, although he couldn't bear to look at her himself. But in the end, Anna failed to realize that a street whore could never be trusted. A woman who permitted such degradation was not a fit "vessel," as Anna put it, for his child. He would like to oblige his wife, but it was impossible. If he once saw Hue's stomach swell, he'd never be able to be a father to his child. He preferred no child to one grown in Hue's belly like a hothouse tomato. No, there would be no Hue in their future. Anna would have to understand that. Give a person like Hue any power over your life and you were finished. It was not difficult to find a number for the Due Do household. One look at last month's phone bill revealed an often-repeated local telephone number and he dialed it a day or two later. "Dag," she said in a soft voice ill suited to the harsh Dutch hello. "This is Duncan Parsons. Is this Hue? " "Yes," she finally said. After a halting and strained conversation, they agreed to meet the next evening. He didn't think to take a map. Hue had given him her address and a brief explanation of where her flat was located. Between her faulty grasp of English and his inadequate knowledge of the geography of Amsterdam, he wasn't on firm footing. His one excursion to the Red Light District had been at daytime when the streets were filled with gawking tourists more amused than titillated by the sights. It had a certain festival atmosphere at noon that was vaguely repulsive to him, but he was not frightened by it. It had seemed like some colossal joke. But it was after seven on this evening and quite dark. Everyone but the most deliberate "shoppers" had moved on to the theaters, concert halls, and restaurants. Within a few minutes, he was on a street lit by a pulsating pinkish light, and the same shop windows that advertised baked goods, hardware supplies, and antiques just a few blocks away, here, lit by strings of gaudy neon lights, pitched women in all states of dress and undress. Many of them wore fishnet stockings, high heels, and little else. They pressed their gyrating bodies up against the glass, their lips leaving large red O's on the window. This was what he had expected to see here, and he was mildly aroused, despite himself. When he paused for a second too long at one window, a young man, dressed entirely in leather and sporting a shaven head decorated with a field of silver studs sunk into his scalp—painful, no doubt—sprung out of the door and grabbed his arm. Duncan shook him off, but not before the pimp grabbed teasingly at his erection. 82

Walking A msterdam "You know you want it," the young man said in perfect English, nodding toward the window. "She will do things you haven't thought of. Things your wife won't do for you." He laughed at Duncan's surprise when a spray of misty water splattered the shop window and the woman writhed against the steamy glass. He picked up his pace. Now, the creatures encased in the shop windows wore even more bizarre costumes and were tied down, handcuffed, or held back by some seemingly brutal means. Although he knew it was just for show, he felt sickened. Many of the women were Asian or African and he wondered just how free their choice to do this had been. How had Hue come to this life? Some of the larger "women" were probably transvestites, he imagined. There was something here for every taste, every fetish. The street activity grew more loathsome, too, as he passed the House of Pain and the Hanky Panky Tattooing Museum. The air was close with the smell of pot and he felt half-high. A gang of college kids tumbled out the door of a disco. The pulsating music, an indiscriminate European techno pop, flooded out behind them, then stopped suddenly as the large, black door swung shut. One of the girls, looking no more than sixteen, leaned over suddenly and vomited on the cobblestone street. This set off a round of laughter and a rash of vomiting sounds from her companions. Pale but undefeated, she wobbled after them in her huge platform shoes, her short suede skirt revealing thighs no larger than her calves. Her chest, covered in a leather halter despite a temperature in the forties, was almost concave. Looking up, Duncan saw that the sign above the large black door warned in English, as well as French and Dutch "Stria Leather Dress Code." Unable to catch up with her friends, who had already turned a corner, the girl whirled around to ask him "Est-ce bien la route de La Disco de Kopenhagenf He recognized the language as French but little more and shrugged. She reached down, removed her shoes, and ran barefoot down the street. He stood for a moment, watching her disappear. He rang Hue's bell on Prinsenhofstraat at eight. Prinsenhofstraat was rather subdued, located as it was a little outside the district. Hue's face appeared at a second floor window. She rang the buzzer to let him In and he climbed the narrow staircase. Her English wasn't good enough for subtleties, so he would have to be very straightforward. Obviously, she put her efforts into learning Dutch although certainly many of her customers were English-speaking. She probably knew some French as well, 83


Berkeley Fiction Review could certainly hire someone to supervise the pregnancy, although he couldn't bear to look at her himself. But in the end, Anna failed to realize that a street whore could never be trusted. A woman who permitted such degradation was not a fit "vessel," as Anna put it, for his child. He would like to oblige his wife, but it was impossible. If he once saw Hue's stomach swell, he'd never be able to be a father to his child. He preferred no child to one grown in Hue's belly like a hothouse tomato. No, there would be no Hue in their future. Anna would have to understand that. Give a person like Hue any power over your life and you were finished. It was not difficult to find a number for the Due Do household. One look at last month's phone bill revealed an often-repeated local telephone number and he dialed it a day or two later. "Dag," she said in a soft voice ill suited to the harsh Dutch hello. "This is Duncan Parsons. Is this Hue? " "Yes," she finally said. After a halting and strained conversation, they agreed to meet the next evening. He didn't think to take a map. Hue had given him her address and a brief explanation of where her flat was located. Between her faulty grasp of English and his inadequate knowledge of the geography of Amsterdam, he wasn't on firm footing. His one excursion to the Red Light District had been at daytime when the streets were filled with gawking tourists more amused than titillated by the sights. It had a certain festival atmosphere at noon that was vaguely repulsive to him, but he was not frightened by it. It had seemed like some colossal joke. But it was after seven on this evening and quite dark. Everyone but the most deliberate "shoppers" had moved on to the theaters, concert halls, and restaurants. Within a few minutes, he was on a street lit by a pulsating pinkish light, and the same shop windows that advertised baked goods, hardware supplies, and antiques just a few blocks away, here, lit by strings of gaudy neon lights, pitched women in all states of dress and undress. Many of them wore fishnet stockings, high heels, and little else. They pressed their gyrating bodies up against the glass, their lips leaving large red O's on the window. This was what he had expected to see here, and he was mildly aroused, despite himself. When he paused for a second too long at one window, a young man, dressed entirely in leather and sporting a shaven head decorated with a field of silver studs sunk into his scalp—painful, no doubt—sprung out of the door and grabbed his arm. Duncan shook him off, but not before the pimp grabbed teasingly at his erection. 82

Walking A msterdam "You know you want it," the young man said in perfect English, nodding toward the window. "She will do things you haven't thought of. Things your wife won't do for you." He laughed at Duncan's surprise when a spray of misty water splattered the shop window and the woman writhed against the steamy glass. He picked up his pace. Now, the creatures encased in the shop windows wore even more bizarre costumes and were tied down, handcuffed, or held back by some seemingly brutal means. Although he knew it was just for show, he felt sickened. Many of the women were Asian or African and he wondered just how free their choice to do this had been. How had Hue come to this life? Some of the larger "women" were probably transvestites, he imagined. There was something here for every taste, every fetish. The street activity grew more loathsome, too, as he passed the House of Pain and the Hanky Panky Tattooing Museum. The air was close with the smell of pot and he felt half-high. A gang of college kids tumbled out the door of a disco. The pulsating music, an indiscriminate European techno pop, flooded out behind them, then stopped suddenly as the large, black door swung shut. One of the girls, looking no more than sixteen, leaned over suddenly and vomited on the cobblestone street. This set off a round of laughter and a rash of vomiting sounds from her companions. Pale but undefeated, she wobbled after them in her huge platform shoes, her short suede skirt revealing thighs no larger than her calves. Her chest, covered in a leather halter despite a temperature in the forties, was almost concave. Looking up, Duncan saw that the sign above the large black door warned in English, as well as French and Dutch "Stria Leather Dress Code." Unable to catch up with her friends, who had already turned a corner, the girl whirled around to ask him "Est-ce bien la route de La Disco de Kopenhagenf He recognized the language as French but little more and shrugged. She reached down, removed her shoes, and ran barefoot down the street. He stood for a moment, watching her disappear. He rang Hue's bell on Prinsenhofstraat at eight. Prinsenhofstraat was rather subdued, located as it was a little outside the district. Hue's face appeared at a second floor window. She rang the buzzer to let him In and he climbed the narrow staircase. Her English wasn't good enough for subtleties, so he would have to be very straightforward. Obviously, she put her efforts into learning Dutch although certainly many of her customers were English-speaking. She probably knew some French as well, 83


Berkeley Fiction Review making her far more multi-lingual than he was. The thriving Western economies were filling Amsterdam hotels. Several business clients of late had had to book rooms in neighboring towns. The Dutch tolerance for the foibles of human nature served tourism well. Hue stood at the door in what he thought of as a defensive position. One hip jutted out, as did her chin. Her hands gripped opposite elbows. Her stance was familiar to him, of course. He saw it often enough at the firm. "Mr. Parsons?" she said in a barely audible voice. Here on her own turf, she looked less rapacious. Dressed in jeans and a white pullover, she seemed younger, less sure of herself. Gone was the elaborate hairstyle of two days ago and, in its place, a simple ponytail. She wore no makeup and her feet were bare. As he was considering his next move, one of her sons ran into the room. Hue scooped him up and the child squirmed, giggling in her arms. He said something to her in Vietnamese and, shrugging, she set him back down. It was only then that the boy noticed Duncan and, despite his age of surely no more than four, he gave Duncan a wary look and shouted something at him. He struck a martial arts pose and kicked the air. Duncan, usually completely puzzled by the behavior of children, reacted instinctually and pretended at fear. He crouched, covering his head with his arms. The boy collapsed in laughter on the floor. Hue said something to the boy and he ran out of the room, returning a minute later with a fat cookie. Flopping down in front of the television, he was immediately absorbed in a cartoon. Hue turned to him, apologizing in a soft voice. "Usually my mother here with him." "I think you have made an arrangement with my wife?" he asked her. Hue stood motionless, her wariness increasing. "She want baby very bad," Hue told him. "I do that one time already. She show you pictures?" He nodded. "She say you pay me a., .a fee, is that right word?" He nodded again. Hue continued. "After baby, we go somewhere else." She nodded at her son. "To another country. Hung start school this year. Tuyen next year. Time to go. " "I can't pay you a fee to have a child for Anna and me." Hue didn't look surprised. She shrugged as if it were much what she expected. "You tell Anna this?" "No," he said. "She's not well. I have to find a way to tell her without making her sick." 84

Walking A msterdam Hue nodded knowingly. "You pay me, I tell her. I tell her I not do it. Yes?" Duncan considered this for a minute. He could come up with a story for Hue to tell Anna. Perhaps, Hue could say she was already pregnant, or that she had a venereal disease of some kind. She was not unintelligent and could probably pull it off. But could he trust her not to strike some new bargain with Anna? "No, I'll tell her myself," he said. "I'd like to pay you something anyway. For your troubles, Hue." He reached in his pocket and removed an envelope. "You'll see that it's quite a large amount of money." He had given her half the amount Anna promised for her services as a surrogate. Hue stood there counting the guilder notes. When she had finished, she looked up at him. "What you want me to do?" "I want you to take your boys and leave Amsterdam. I want you to never see my wife again. I want you to go right now or in the next day at least. Can you do that?" he asked putting a hand out for the money. "I can do it," Hue said, putting the envelope behind her back. "We be gone torhorrow. You never see me again." "If I do see you again, I will take my money back. There are other things I can do, too," he told her. "Far worse things than just taking back my money." He looked down at the floor where the boy sat lost in his cartoons and took a half-step toward him. Hue swooped down. White-faced with anger or fear, she lifted the boy up in one swift movement. The cookie flew out of his hand and his flying legs knocked over the photograph that sat on the television. Surprised at his mother's rough handling, Hung burst into tears. Duncan backed away. "Mr. Parsons," Hue called out to him, nearly shouting to be heard over the tears of her son. "I glad I not have your baby. I don't want you inside of me." "Me, too, Hue," Duncan said, starting down the stairs. It was settled then. Now would come the harder part. He could still hear the boy's cries when he reached the street. He never imagined a boy of four could cry so loudly. Perhaps Tuyen had joined his older brother. Perhaps it was all three of them crying now.

85


Berkeley Fiction Review making her far more multi-lingual than he was. The thriving Western economies were filling Amsterdam hotels. Several business clients of late had had to book rooms in neighboring towns. The Dutch tolerance for the foibles of human nature served tourism well. Hue stood at the door in what he thought of as a defensive position. One hip jutted out, as did her chin. Her hands gripped opposite elbows. Her stance was familiar to him, of course. He saw it often enough at the firm. "Mr. Parsons?" she said in a barely audible voice. Here on her own turf, she looked less rapacious. Dressed in jeans and a white pullover, she seemed younger, less sure of herself. Gone was the elaborate hairstyle of two days ago and, in its place, a simple ponytail. She wore no makeup and her feet were bare. As he was considering his next move, one of her sons ran into the room. Hue scooped him up and the child squirmed, giggling in her arms. He said something to her in Vietnamese and, shrugging, she set him back down. It was only then that the boy noticed Duncan and, despite his age of surely no more than four, he gave Duncan a wary look and shouted something at him. He struck a martial arts pose and kicked the air. Duncan, usually completely puzzled by the behavior of children, reacted instinctually and pretended at fear. He crouched, covering his head with his arms. The boy collapsed in laughter on the floor. Hue said something to the boy and he ran out of the room, returning a minute later with a fat cookie. Flopping down in front of the television, he was immediately absorbed in a cartoon. Hue turned to him, apologizing in a soft voice. "Usually my mother here with him." "I think you have made an arrangement with my wife?" he asked her. Hue stood motionless, her wariness increasing. "She want baby very bad," Hue told him. "I do that one time already. She show you pictures?" He nodded. "She say you pay me a., .a fee, is that right word?" He nodded again. Hue continued. "After baby, we go somewhere else." She nodded at her son. "To another country. Hung start school this year. Tuyen next year. Time to go. " "I can't pay you a fee to have a child for Anna and me." Hue didn't look surprised. She shrugged as if it were much what she expected. "You tell Anna this?" "No," he said. "She's not well. I have to find a way to tell her without making her sick." 84

Walking A msterdam Hue nodded knowingly. "You pay me, I tell her. I tell her I not do it. Yes?" Duncan considered this for a minute. He could come up with a story for Hue to tell Anna. Perhaps, Hue could say she was already pregnant, or that she had a venereal disease of some kind. She was not unintelligent and could probably pull it off. But could he trust her not to strike some new bargain with Anna? "No, I'll tell her myself," he said. "I'd like to pay you something anyway. For your troubles, Hue." He reached in his pocket and removed an envelope. "You'll see that it's quite a large amount of money." He had given her half the amount Anna promised for her services as a surrogate. Hue stood there counting the guilder notes. When she had finished, she looked up at him. "What you want me to do?" "I want you to take your boys and leave Amsterdam. I want you to never see my wife again. I want you to go right now or in the next day at least. Can you do that?" he asked putting a hand out for the money. "I can do it," Hue said, putting the envelope behind her back. "We be gone torhorrow. You never see me again." "If I do see you again, I will take my money back. There are other things I can do, too," he told her. "Far worse things than just taking back my money." He looked down at the floor where the boy sat lost in his cartoons and took a half-step toward him. Hue swooped down. White-faced with anger or fear, she lifted the boy up in one swift movement. The cookie flew out of his hand and his flying legs knocked over the photograph that sat on the television. Surprised at his mother's rough handling, Hung burst into tears. Duncan backed away. "Mr. Parsons," Hue called out to him, nearly shouting to be heard over the tears of her son. "I glad I not have your baby. I don't want you inside of me." "Me, too, Hue," Duncan said, starting down the stairs. It was settled then. Now would come the harder part. He could still hear the boy's cries when he reached the street. He never imagined a boy of four could cry so loudly. Perhaps Tuyen had joined his older brother. Perhaps it was all three of them crying now.

85


At the Funeral for the Death ofExpectation

A T

T H E

D E A T H

F U N E R A L O F

F O R

T H E

E X P E C T A T I O N

Gene Ryder

he unexpected happened: the Zealots choked on the third syllable of Hallelujah; the Summer Atheists walked around with signs that read "God Is An Ant Farm;" the Jehovah's Witnesses—having finally discovered the sensuality of water—made a wicked-looking water slide they called The Rapture over on a nearby hill, and began plans for an expanded water park called Jehovah's Wetness. Even the Sufferists— who suffered little themselves but who appropriated other people's suffering and then held gala charity banquets—quit talking about the art of suffering, after which the perfect burden of the world toppled at last from the backs of peasants, whose cracked and bleeding feet no longer left trails of abject misery for the jackals to follow. Off to the side of the cemetery, in a tent beneath a sign that read, "Lower Back Problems Healed by Orphans," a child sat drawing squiggly circles in the dirt that looked like the lost language of sand worms, and no one yanked him up by his arm and brushed him off and said, "Don't do that." Instead, they said, "There are 400,000 types of beetle in the world," or "I'm glad you're having fun," or "You've discovered the lost language of sand worms—thank you". And when the Medievalists came marching through with their insistent blaring horns, flailing away on their swinettes, pulling behind them' lime kilns in full fire, belching great quantities of green smoke in preparation for the enormous amount of lime that the death of expectation would require, they were unable to summon a single person to chaos, physical anarchy, or even to taste one pleasant poison. No one wanted to rule the world anymore, and no one expected to either. Everyone decided that the vast universe inside one human body was

enough, although the Ammonites (primitive Luddites) kept with their belief that cells should never have divided in the first place. Now that no one expected anything, everything looked...bountiful. The reason for this was simple—the soul now had a slope to it. Where before it was rather flat and inhabited by the inevitable band of squatting gypsies, now, with its new slope—about a four/twelve pitch—it was impervious to the rotting dreams of despots and the terrible weight that expectation carried. And, of course, the buildup of snow. In attendance at the funeral were also many Troubadours, who came back down in droves from the snowy mountains, where they'd been hiding for years in disillusionment. The religion of imaginary numbers, long driven underground, resurfaced as well. What's more, the entire human race embraced the motion of plovers dipping down to drink at a river's edge as the international symbol of gratitude, the definition of faith changed from a brick-like substance hardened in the soul furnaces of Jerusalem to just something you felt once in a while that felt good. And the universal language of ethics became something called plaiku, an off shoot of haiku, where three lines of five, seven and five syllables was replaced by a simple compound sentence, common decency, and a handshake. At the funeral, not one single statue of the Virgin Mary wept orangeflavored Tang from its eyelids or stole the hope from a paraplegic's eyes when it didn't weep. The only remaining terrorist in the land, Methiolade the Terrible, was never seen anywhere near a weapon again. The ghost of Ghengis Kahn apologized. So did the ghost of General Custer, however insincerely, and although he was allowed to reincarnate after that, his body—upon reaching the same banks of Sand Creek upon which he'd slaughtered so many—was swarmed by flies until several species of the 400,000 beetles—the scrubbers—came along, and when they were finished, there was nothing left but that famous hair of his, which decomposed into white alkali and was later scavenged by the gypsies and sold as the antidote to arrogance. Nothing happened, nothing needed to, then nothing became something, and something mattered again. The intense orgasms of Eastern fan maidens were studied and deemed well within the grasp of even shy people. And what had the secret been? More belly in the lips. Peaches. Draw silk over your toes three times a day. Name all squirrels in your general vicinity. Avoid the wrath of angry bees. Rub river mud on someone's naked thighs. Dream like a dog. Spanish. Near the end of the funeral, it was agreed that the long journey of man's rise through the world be summed up in two words—"goat trail;" 87

86


At the Funeral for the Death ofExpectation

A T

T H E

D E A T H

F U N E R A L O F

F O R

T H E

E X P E C T A T I O N

Gene Ryder

he unexpected happened: the Zealots choked on the third syllable of Hallelujah; the Summer Atheists walked around with signs that read "God Is An Ant Farm;" the Jehovah's Witnesses—having finally discovered the sensuality of water—made a wicked-looking water slide they called The Rapture over on a nearby hill, and began plans for an expanded water park called Jehovah's Wetness. Even the Sufferists— who suffered little themselves but who appropriated other people's suffering and then held gala charity banquets—quit talking about the art of suffering, after which the perfect burden of the world toppled at last from the backs of peasants, whose cracked and bleeding feet no longer left trails of abject misery for the jackals to follow. Off to the side of the cemetery, in a tent beneath a sign that read, "Lower Back Problems Healed by Orphans," a child sat drawing squiggly circles in the dirt that looked like the lost language of sand worms, and no one yanked him up by his arm and brushed him off and said, "Don't do that." Instead, they said, "There are 400,000 types of beetle in the world," or "I'm glad you're having fun," or "You've discovered the lost language of sand worms—thank you". And when the Medievalists came marching through with their insistent blaring horns, flailing away on their swinettes, pulling behind them' lime kilns in full fire, belching great quantities of green smoke in preparation for the enormous amount of lime that the death of expectation would require, they were unable to summon a single person to chaos, physical anarchy, or even to taste one pleasant poison. No one wanted to rule the world anymore, and no one expected to either. Everyone decided that the vast universe inside one human body was

enough, although the Ammonites (primitive Luddites) kept with their belief that cells should never have divided in the first place. Now that no one expected anything, everything looked...bountiful. The reason for this was simple—the soul now had a slope to it. Where before it was rather flat and inhabited by the inevitable band of squatting gypsies, now, with its new slope—about a four/twelve pitch—it was impervious to the rotting dreams of despots and the terrible weight that expectation carried. And, of course, the buildup of snow. In attendance at the funeral were also many Troubadours, who came back down in droves from the snowy mountains, where they'd been hiding for years in disillusionment. The religion of imaginary numbers, long driven underground, resurfaced as well. What's more, the entire human race embraced the motion of plovers dipping down to drink at a river's edge as the international symbol of gratitude, the definition of faith changed from a brick-like substance hardened in the soul furnaces of Jerusalem to just something you felt once in a while that felt good. And the universal language of ethics became something called plaiku, an off shoot of haiku, where three lines of five, seven and five syllables was replaced by a simple compound sentence, common decency, and a handshake. At the funeral, not one single statue of the Virgin Mary wept orangeflavored Tang from its eyelids or stole the hope from a paraplegic's eyes when it didn't weep. The only remaining terrorist in the land, Methiolade the Terrible, was never seen anywhere near a weapon again. The ghost of Ghengis Kahn apologized. So did the ghost of General Custer, however insincerely, and although he was allowed to reincarnate after that, his body—upon reaching the same banks of Sand Creek upon which he'd slaughtered so many—was swarmed by flies until several species of the 400,000 beetles—the scrubbers—came along, and when they were finished, there was nothing left but that famous hair of his, which decomposed into white alkali and was later scavenged by the gypsies and sold as the antidote to arrogance. Nothing happened, nothing needed to, then nothing became something, and something mattered again. The intense orgasms of Eastern fan maidens were studied and deemed well within the grasp of even shy people. And what had the secret been? More belly in the lips. Peaches. Draw silk over your toes three times a day. Name all squirrels in your general vicinity. Avoid the wrath of angry bees. Rub river mud on someone's naked thighs. Dream like a dog. Spanish. Near the end of the funeral, it was agreed that the long journey of man's rise through the world be summed up in two words—"goat trail;" 87

86


Berkeley Fiction Review that what the scripture really meant by "be fruitful and multiply" was "do your ciphering in an apple tree" and N O T "go out and have a zillion kids." It was also decided that Wendell Berry be asked to draw up a list of Ten Commendments, and that a hand hewn wooden sign with crude lettering be hung on the door of every government building in the land reading, "aLL ElveS WeLCome". And then everybody went home, although a few stayed to hear one particularly talented medievalist play a strange,- beautiful, and haunting solo version of the "Star Spangled Banner" on the swinette. Even the Absurdists smiled.

C H I S E L

Patricia M c E v o y

he had turned him into a wolf; the kind found in fairy tales: large-toothed, blessed with speech, almost human. The kind that preys on red-hooded innocents, who skip through the wooded pages of a child's book on the way to Grandmother's, goodies in hand. He could almost see his own breath in the cold forest air of his imagination as he peered at her from behind mental foliage, marveling to himself, "What big eyes I have!" She was nothing to look at. He supposed it just, that after bedding women of mythic beauty and staggering proportions for his entire life, his heart should be rent in two by someone whose physical appearance could only be described as resoundingly unremarkable. And rent it was, the old ticker, which had seen him through a lifetime of loves completely unscathed. He could almost hear the tearing of ventricles and displaced fluids gurgling uselessly in alien territory. He could taste the mayhem of his ripped-up guts. And yet, he could only gaze helplessly upon the ordinary visage of his beloved in complete and utter surrender; suddenly small and red-hooded himself, one toe scuffing the ground. This wasn't supposed to happen. As with all of the others before her, he had dismissed her immediately upon their meeting beyond noting the obvious: she was intelligent like the rest; her references were, as expected, outstanding; she wore a lot 89


Berkeley Fiction Review that what the scripture really meant by "be fruitful and multiply" was "do your ciphering in an apple tree" and N O T "go out and have a zillion kids." It was also decided that Wendell Berry be asked to draw up a list of Ten Commendments, and that a hand hewn wooden sign with crude lettering be hung on the door of every government building in the land reading, "aLL ElveS WeLCome". And then everybody went home, although a few stayed to hear one particularly talented medievalist play a strange,- beautiful, and haunting solo version of the "Star Spangled Banner" on the swinette. Even the Absurdists smiled.

C H I S E L

Patricia M c E v o y

he had turned him into a wolf; the kind found in fairy tales: large-toothed, blessed with speech, almost human. The kind that preys on red-hooded innocents, who skip through the wooded pages of a child's book on the way to Grandmother's, goodies in hand. He could almost see his own breath in the cold forest air of his imagination as he peered at her from behind mental foliage, marveling to himself, "What big eyes I have!" She was nothing to look at. He supposed it just, that after bedding women of mythic beauty and staggering proportions for his entire life, his heart should be rent in two by someone whose physical appearance could only be described as resoundingly unremarkable. And rent it was, the old ticker, which had seen him through a lifetime of loves completely unscathed. He could almost hear the tearing of ventricles and displaced fluids gurgling uselessly in alien territory. He could taste the mayhem of his ripped-up guts. And yet, he could only gaze helplessly upon the ordinary visage of his beloved in complete and utter surrender; suddenly small and red-hooded himself, one toe scuffing the ground. This wasn't supposed to happen. As with all of the others before her, he had dismissed her immediately upon their meeting beyond noting the obvious: she was intelligent like the rest; her references were, as expected, outstanding; she wore a lot 89


Berkeley Fiction Review of plaid. And as with the others, he began the seduction process by ignoring her completely beyond professional courtesy. This had never failed to capture the interest of the brilliant and the beautiful alike, bpred as they were by constant accolade and attention. After this first small victory, he would allow them to discover him in offhand remarks made to others, small vulnerabilities revealed/ and harmless trysts involving office supplies. Only later, when they soughjt,more of the same would he dose them with his cocktail of intense, intermittent interest, a melancholy and brooding withdrawal. He had read somewhere that chickens will peck a switch without ceasing if food is released on a random basis. He was nothing if not random. And they were hooked on the uncharted ebb and flow-of his tide. Simple. He found it so. As simple as chicken psychology and worms on fishhooks, roulette tables and bells rung to make dogs salivate. But the real challenge was still at hand. More permanent success was rooted in his discovery that each girl, no matter how staggeringly successful or beautiful had at least one area of fathomless insecurity, one gnawing fear, one voracious and unmet desire. Affirm her reality or her fantasy; see her as she wanted to be seen, or protect her from her greatest fear, and she were his for the taking, forever. Some were more difficult to capture than others, to be sure, but this only made his inevitable triumph the sweeter. Conversely, he was often struck by the ease with which some of his most desirable candidates succumbed, requiring almost nothing from him apart from aloofness before handing over their very selves. He coveted small but profound victories: The newly engaged Ms. D sharing with him her fiancee's aggravating tendencies. Ms. S, the selfproclaimed feminist, her cheeks flushed, giggling like a schoolgirl at his sexual banter. Uptight Ms. R using his comb. (Ms. R who probably would not share a comb with her mother). Conservative Ms. M completely changing her style of dress after he made his fashion preferences known. Ms. C's pleased look when he boldly ate off of her plate at lunchtime. (Ms. C who would not share her lunch with her starving father). He seduced them intellectually, subtly, individually. He took "What's your sign?" to incredible new heights. 90

Chisel And they all dreamed about him, these attractive, intelligent, accomplished, and usually spoken-for young women. He could tell by their flushed faces, their tongue-tied stammering, the puzzled looks that he received from boyfriends and colleagues. But he did nothing untoward; the girls remained unmolested. The beauty of it was that in the end, they all wished they had been. Even better, they could hide nothing from their Confidant and Mentor. He understood them. He affirmed their professional and personal dreams. They came to work energized and full of adrenaline; they worked for him like they did for no one else. Productivity rose, accolades abounded, all flourished. This was the first stage of The Creation: The Crush. Everyone loved it. The second stage, The Obsession, followed closely on its tail. It was distinguishable from its predecessor only by its intensity; excitement turned feverish. It was heralded mostly by hang-ups at his home number. It was a dangerous time, when mental instability and other such small hindrances could cause problems. Occasionally, he would run into a wild card, a girl who actually tried to solidify their emotional union. This situation called for many references "to his wife, her usefulness unparalleled at times like this. And it was all part of The Grand Scheme. The young woman would detach, rueful but glad that she had the fortitude to resist him, that he was a gentleman. And she loved him all the more. These pieces were the highlights of his gallery, proving his artistry. The third and most profound stage came soon afterwards. During The Transformation they became a blend of his gestures, expressions, and tastes filtered through their idiosyncratic means of selfexpression. He saw himself in a turn of the head, in a bold laugh, in a color scheme. But more subtly, they became his expectations for them. Life changes were made: Ms. T suddenly breaking it off with her boyfriend of four years, Ms. S taking up the guitar. He could influence their futures with a cock of an eyebrow. The more capricious his whim, the more they sought to embrace it. And the greater his accomplishment. And he loved them, as a sculptor loves the form he dredges from stone. 91


Berkeley Fiction Review of plaid. And as with the others, he began the seduction process by ignoring her completely beyond professional courtesy. This had never failed to capture the interest of the brilliant and the beautiful alike, bpred as they were by constant accolade and attention. After this first small victory, he would allow them to discover him in offhand remarks made to others, small vulnerabilities revealed/ and harmless trysts involving office supplies. Only later, when they soughjt,more of the same would he dose them with his cocktail of intense, intermittent interest, a melancholy and brooding withdrawal. He had read somewhere that chickens will peck a switch without ceasing if food is released on a random basis. He was nothing if not random. And they were hooked on the uncharted ebb and flow-of his tide. Simple. He found it so. As simple as chicken psychology and worms on fishhooks, roulette tables and bells rung to make dogs salivate. But the real challenge was still at hand. More permanent success was rooted in his discovery that each girl, no matter how staggeringly successful or beautiful had at least one area of fathomless insecurity, one gnawing fear, one voracious and unmet desire. Affirm her reality or her fantasy; see her as she wanted to be seen, or protect her from her greatest fear, and she were his for the taking, forever. Some were more difficult to capture than others, to be sure, but this only made his inevitable triumph the sweeter. Conversely, he was often struck by the ease with which some of his most desirable candidates succumbed, requiring almost nothing from him apart from aloofness before handing over their very selves. He coveted small but profound victories: The newly engaged Ms. D sharing with him her fiancee's aggravating tendencies. Ms. S, the selfproclaimed feminist, her cheeks flushed, giggling like a schoolgirl at his sexual banter. Uptight Ms. R using his comb. (Ms. R who probably would not share a comb with her mother). Conservative Ms. M completely changing her style of dress after he made his fashion preferences known. Ms. C's pleased look when he boldly ate off of her plate at lunchtime. (Ms. C who would not share her lunch with her starving father). He seduced them intellectually, subtly, individually. He took "What's your sign?" to incredible new heights. 90

Chisel And they all dreamed about him, these attractive, intelligent, accomplished, and usually spoken-for young women. He could tell by their flushed faces, their tongue-tied stammering, the puzzled looks that he received from boyfriends and colleagues. But he did nothing untoward; the girls remained unmolested. The beauty of it was that in the end, they all wished they had been. Even better, they could hide nothing from their Confidant and Mentor. He understood them. He affirmed their professional and personal dreams. They came to work energized and full of adrenaline; they worked for him like they did for no one else. Productivity rose, accolades abounded, all flourished. This was the first stage of The Creation: The Crush. Everyone loved it. The second stage, The Obsession, followed closely on its tail. It was distinguishable from its predecessor only by its intensity; excitement turned feverish. It was heralded mostly by hang-ups at his home number. It was a dangerous time, when mental instability and other such small hindrances could cause problems. Occasionally, he would run into a wild card, a girl who actually tried to solidify their emotional union. This situation called for many references "to his wife, her usefulness unparalleled at times like this. And it was all part of The Grand Scheme. The young woman would detach, rueful but glad that she had the fortitude to resist him, that he was a gentleman. And she loved him all the more. These pieces were the highlights of his gallery, proving his artistry. The third and most profound stage came soon afterwards. During The Transformation they became a blend of his gestures, expressions, and tastes filtered through their idiosyncratic means of selfexpression. He saw himself in a turn of the head, in a bold laugh, in a color scheme. But more subtly, they became his expectations for them. Life changes were made: Ms. T suddenly breaking it off with her boyfriend of four years, Ms. S taking up the guitar. He could influence their futures with a cock of an eyebrow. The more capricious his whim, the more they sought to embrace it. And the greater his accomplishment. And he loved them, as a sculptor loves the form he dredges from stone. 91


Berkeley Fiction Review The formula was as elegant as a geometric proof, as lovely as a Renaissance Madonna. He was an artist, a Maker. He had come to recognize a certain gesture that he made when he was through with his masterpiece: he would stand in front of them speculatively with his hand on his jaw, an invisible chisel at rest in his other, clenched hand. And then it was time to move on to newer, greener pastures while still maintaining a comfortable repartee with all of his previous creations. And he managed this again and again with the finesse of a juggler handling chainsaws and flaming batons. He had begun The Process on his new victim with little thought, confident of her rapt attention as he wove his spell. He could do this in his sleep. He was slightly taken aback to realize that she seemed-completely uninterested in his ignoring her. In fact, she was indubitably bored in his presence and made no effort to conceal it. At the same time, she was sickeningly professional. In the next weeks, dropping subtle hints about his faltering marriage within her earshot brought no discernible response and various rendezvous around staples and filing cabinets seemed exercises in futility. Troubled, he thought deeply about these encounters afterward. He finally allowed himself to be distracted by Ms. D's vigorous stroking of his ego, but found it hard to concentrate. He decided that he was game for the challenge—things had been a bit dull lately anyway. Nature kindly provided some excellent props in the form of rain and wind which never failed to bring to mind thoughts of lonely moors and castles and other such fodder for romantic sensibilities. He allowed her to catch him musingly quoting The Poet while gazing through the deluged gray of his office window. This Verse presented in such an off-hand way never failed to capture the hard-to-gets, especially those dynamos who had met their white knights on steeds and bested them in the joust. These tricky vixens were terrified that they were better men than they would ever meet, that no man could give them anything they did not have in spades. At the same time, they were perishing for their sacrificed softness and searching for it unawares in another. He stopped suddenly in his musings when he heard her behind him. Per the plan he intended to look a bit bashful and to leave the room suddenly. But the noise he heard behind him was not part of the Script. She had begun to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. With what appeared to be joyous abandon. It was not a pretty sound or sight, as she was nearly 92

Chisel apoplectic, her face crimson. He could hear her through the streaming panes of cold glass as she left the office and clumped off through monsoon-like gales to her car, her unfashionable work shoes filling with water and making unattractive squishing sounds. He watched the spot where her car had been for a long time after she had driven away. An unnamed longing filled him after his natural distaste for her fashion choices subsided. He realized soon afterwards that he found her beautiful; it was baffling, but her features and limbs had coalesced into something lovely. As he had never disagreed with his television set about the acceptable physical dimensions for a woman, he found this a rather perverse turn-on. This was intoxicating—he hadn't felt like this since his youth, bored as he was by constant accolades and attention. His newfound zeal for life won him several awards at work and a significant increase in salary. She was his best employee, his favorite person. He would have chosen her to join him on a desert island, to be his partner in" Parcheesi, to ride shotgun on a trip to Wyoming. Drinking bad beer, attending the opera, grouting tiles—he could think of no activity that would not become sublime with her in tow. He would have paraded her proudly amongst supermodels. He wanted her, he coveted her*, though for exactly what purpose he knew not. He wanted her children, he wanted her to be his child; he wanted her to stroke his brow and hum a lullaby. Sometimes during meetings, he fantasized that they resembled one another. He asked her out under the pretense of a group get-together. She said no. He became angry. To get her back, he paid a lot of attention to another, prettier employee. She laughed. He lent her things, forcibly. She returned them, unused. He demeaned her abilities so that he could "help" her improve. She looked at him quizzically and went on doing a fantastic job without his aid. When he heard rumors about a possible boyfriend he became unhinged with jealousy, compared himself to this imaginary rival all night, and came to work looking like death. He insisted on doing her favors. She refused them. He had tantrums. She laughed. He ignored her. She laughed. He abused his power over her. She shouted at him and made him apologize in a groveling manner. And so his madness progressed. At the same time his IQ seemed to be dropping; his memory was clearly impaired and he seemed not to be able to answer the very simplest questions put to him. 93


Berkeley Fiction Review The formula was as elegant as a geometric proof, as lovely as a Renaissance Madonna. He was an artist, a Maker. He had come to recognize a certain gesture that he made when he was through with his masterpiece: he would stand in front of them speculatively with his hand on his jaw, an invisible chisel at rest in his other, clenched hand. And then it was time to move on to newer, greener pastures while still maintaining a comfortable repartee with all of his previous creations. And he managed this again and again with the finesse of a juggler handling chainsaws and flaming batons. He had begun The Process on his new victim with little thought, confident of her rapt attention as he wove his spell. He could do this in his sleep. He was slightly taken aback to realize that she seemed-completely uninterested in his ignoring her. In fact, she was indubitably bored in his presence and made no effort to conceal it. At the same time, she was sickeningly professional. In the next weeks, dropping subtle hints about his faltering marriage within her earshot brought no discernible response and various rendezvous around staples and filing cabinets seemed exercises in futility. Troubled, he thought deeply about these encounters afterward. He finally allowed himself to be distracted by Ms. D's vigorous stroking of his ego, but found it hard to concentrate. He decided that he was game for the challenge—things had been a bit dull lately anyway. Nature kindly provided some excellent props in the form of rain and wind which never failed to bring to mind thoughts of lonely moors and castles and other such fodder for romantic sensibilities. He allowed her to catch him musingly quoting The Poet while gazing through the deluged gray of his office window. This Verse presented in such an off-hand way never failed to capture the hard-to-gets, especially those dynamos who had met their white knights on steeds and bested them in the joust. These tricky vixens were terrified that they were better men than they would ever meet, that no man could give them anything they did not have in spades. At the same time, they were perishing for their sacrificed softness and searching for it unawares in another. He stopped suddenly in his musings when he heard her behind him. Per the plan he intended to look a bit bashful and to leave the room suddenly. But the noise he heard behind him was not part of the Script. She had begun to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. With what appeared to be joyous abandon. It was not a pretty sound or sight, as she was nearly 92

Chisel apoplectic, her face crimson. He could hear her through the streaming panes of cold glass as she left the office and clumped off through monsoon-like gales to her car, her unfashionable work shoes filling with water and making unattractive squishing sounds. He watched the spot where her car had been for a long time after she had driven away. An unnamed longing filled him after his natural distaste for her fashion choices subsided. He realized soon afterwards that he found her beautiful; it was baffling, but her features and limbs had coalesced into something lovely. As he had never disagreed with his television set about the acceptable physical dimensions for a woman, he found this a rather perverse turn-on. This was intoxicating—he hadn't felt like this since his youth, bored as he was by constant accolades and attention. His newfound zeal for life won him several awards at work and a significant increase in salary. She was his best employee, his favorite person. He would have chosen her to join him on a desert island, to be his partner in" Parcheesi, to ride shotgun on a trip to Wyoming. Drinking bad beer, attending the opera, grouting tiles—he could think of no activity that would not become sublime with her in tow. He would have paraded her proudly amongst supermodels. He wanted her, he coveted her*, though for exactly what purpose he knew not. He wanted her children, he wanted her to be his child; he wanted her to stroke his brow and hum a lullaby. Sometimes during meetings, he fantasized that they resembled one another. He asked her out under the pretense of a group get-together. She said no. He became angry. To get her back, he paid a lot of attention to another, prettier employee. She laughed. He lent her things, forcibly. She returned them, unused. He demeaned her abilities so that he could "help" her improve. She looked at him quizzically and went on doing a fantastic job without his aid. When he heard rumors about a possible boyfriend he became unhinged with jealousy, compared himself to this imaginary rival all night, and came to work looking like death. He insisted on doing her favors. She refused them. He had tantrums. She laughed. He ignored her. She laughed. He abused his power over her. She shouted at him and made him apologize in a groveling manner. And so his madness progressed. At the same time his IQ seemed to be dropping; his memory was clearly impaired and he seemed not to be able to answer the very simplest questions put to him. 93


Chisel

Berkeley Fiction Review He only vaguely noted his growing affinity to plaid. How would he win her if he did not know her Need? She seemed invulnerable to the usual: Fear of growing old, Need for constant attention, Need for a father figure, fear of a father figure, Need to be perfect combined with Fear of being worthless, Need to save him, Need to destroy him and/or herself...none seemed to apply. One day, while doodling their intertwined initials, when she returned his call. Dropping the phone in a panic, he experienced a sudden epiphany. He had discovered the problem. It was so obvious he had missed this redwood forest for a single, fragile sapling. She was Good. It made her beautiful. It made her hate him as he was decidedly Ungood if not Really Bad, and it made her his. He had found her Achilles heel and the means by which he would conquer. Goodness. It was a concept with which he had only passing familiarity as it had always seemed to require a great deal of effort and girls despised it in men despite their lamentations to the contrary. He had always associated it vaguely with pallid saints and bath soaps and things pastel. But she was good like cowboys and superheroes, like the swelling of chords at the end of a cinematic drama. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could never win her in the usual way; he too must become good. This would require some diligent study. His first resource was, of course, comic books. He read voraciously. He particularly examined the issues whose heroes sported boots and capes, alternately fantasizing about her wearing them and chastising himself for his perversity (good people didn't think this way, did they?). He moved from Green Lantern to The Super Friends to Captain Nemo to Paw on the Ponderosa. From the Tin Man to Captain Kirk. He would become one of them. He practiced his new image everywhere he could. He felt most foolish when standing in front of a mirror, but knew some private drills were necessary for smooth public performance. He would have to start small. He became professional. As he had always maintained this facade in 94

order to keep his inappropriate personal relationships intact, he expected little reaction. At first there was nothing; his Girls looked puzzled and assumed he was having a bad day. As the permanency of his new behavior set in, a subtle hell broke loose. Like jilted lovers they wreaked their vengeance upon him in their own unique and idiosyncratic ways. Ms. G fell into a deep depression, stopped attending closely to her attire, and looked at him with great melancholy when he discussed only work-related issues. Ms. R refused to hand him a pen during a meeting. Ms. S, his most timely and efficient employee, angrily "forgot" to produce any work whatsoever. One day he found his tires slashed and suspected the demure Ms. C. But they were not important. It was Her that he sought to impress. It was Her reactions that mattered. Had she noticed? He thought maybe. Perhaps not. He would change his tactic a bit. Step Two: He would become Very Nice. This was tricky as it entailed a complete revamping of his personality, causing civil strife within. He could feel it burbling as his Ego, always at the forefront of each and every one of his actions, always the captain of his craft, resisted these new changes. It insisted that he give up this foolhardy endeavor- it was getting embarrassing, after all. He wasn't even taking care of the two of them. Their hair looked a mess, their clothes were disheveled, and he was becoming a milquetoast—wet and sodden, barely a man. It took great effort, and required going over his complete life's exploits with women in order to soothe them both. However, in the end they were again convinced of their manliness and were able to see this attempt as further sustenance for Ego. Only a man secure and strong in his masculinity could take such a risk, and by the way, this was simply a challenge only differing in intensity from his usual conquests. She was his Matterhorn, his Everest. That was all. So Very Nice commenced. He gave his secretary flowers, timing the gift perfectly with his beloved's arrival in the office. His secretary first laughed then looked profoundly fearful and suspicious. While he was at lunch she went through 95


Chisel

Berkeley Fiction Review He only vaguely noted his growing affinity to plaid. How would he win her if he did not know her Need? She seemed invulnerable to the usual: Fear of growing old, Need for constant attention, Need for a father figure, fear of a father figure, Need to be perfect combined with Fear of being worthless, Need to save him, Need to destroy him and/or herself...none seemed to apply. One day, while doodling their intertwined initials, when she returned his call. Dropping the phone in a panic, he experienced a sudden epiphany. He had discovered the problem. It was so obvious he had missed this redwood forest for a single, fragile sapling. She was Good. It made her beautiful. It made her hate him as he was decidedly Ungood if not Really Bad, and it made her his. He had found her Achilles heel and the means by which he would conquer. Goodness. It was a concept with which he had only passing familiarity as it had always seemed to require a great deal of effort and girls despised it in men despite their lamentations to the contrary. He had always associated it vaguely with pallid saints and bath soaps and things pastel. But she was good like cowboys and superheroes, like the swelling of chords at the end of a cinematic drama. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he could never win her in the usual way; he too must become good. This would require some diligent study. His first resource was, of course, comic books. He read voraciously. He particularly examined the issues whose heroes sported boots and capes, alternately fantasizing about her wearing them and chastising himself for his perversity (good people didn't think this way, did they?). He moved from Green Lantern to The Super Friends to Captain Nemo to Paw on the Ponderosa. From the Tin Man to Captain Kirk. He would become one of them. He practiced his new image everywhere he could. He felt most foolish when standing in front of a mirror, but knew some private drills were necessary for smooth public performance. He would have to start small. He became professional. As he had always maintained this facade in 94

order to keep his inappropriate personal relationships intact, he expected little reaction. At first there was nothing; his Girls looked puzzled and assumed he was having a bad day. As the permanency of his new behavior set in, a subtle hell broke loose. Like jilted lovers they wreaked their vengeance upon him in their own unique and idiosyncratic ways. Ms. G fell into a deep depression, stopped attending closely to her attire, and looked at him with great melancholy when he discussed only work-related issues. Ms. R refused to hand him a pen during a meeting. Ms. S, his most timely and efficient employee, angrily "forgot" to produce any work whatsoever. One day he found his tires slashed and suspected the demure Ms. C. But they were not important. It was Her that he sought to impress. It was Her reactions that mattered. Had she noticed? He thought maybe. Perhaps not. He would change his tactic a bit. Step Two: He would become Very Nice. This was tricky as it entailed a complete revamping of his personality, causing civil strife within. He could feel it burbling as his Ego, always at the forefront of each and every one of his actions, always the captain of his craft, resisted these new changes. It insisted that he give up this foolhardy endeavor- it was getting embarrassing, after all. He wasn't even taking care of the two of them. Their hair looked a mess, their clothes were disheveled, and he was becoming a milquetoast—wet and sodden, barely a man. It took great effort, and required going over his complete life's exploits with women in order to soothe them both. However, in the end they were again convinced of their manliness and were able to see this attempt as further sustenance for Ego. Only a man secure and strong in his masculinity could take such a risk, and by the way, this was simply a challenge only differing in intensity from his usual conquests. She was his Matterhorn, his Everest. That was all. So Very Nice commenced. He gave his secretary flowers, timing the gift perfectly with his beloved's arrival in the office. His secretary first laughed then looked profoundly fearful and suspicious. While he was at lunch she went through 95


Berkeley Fiction Review his desk and papers presumably looking for her dismissal notice. She smiled at this. Progress? Mocking? "Has she not noticed?" Ego shrieked. "Has she not noticed not only our Professionalism but our Very Nice behavior as well? We could get any girl in this office. She's not even attractive; let's go talk to Ms. S". He acquiesced, to the delight of both Ego and the previously lovelorn Ms. S. However, he found himself unsatisfied. He decided that he could not consult Ego much further in this endeavor and found himself disregarding his advice. Time to go it alone. He noticed that without this translator his communication with all females seemed somewhat askew and the Girls punished him mercilessly without the slightest subtlety. At a meeting, her raised eyebrow in response to his artfully orchestrated and selfless suggestion made his heart canter madly in his chest. A most embarrassing death it would be, but worth it. This was encouragement, he was almost certain, not derision. Time for Magnanimous. He spoke sadly (and loudly) of the poor and unfortunate. He left donation checks to various charities everywhere. He spoke fondly of small animals. He arranged, at great expense, the daring rescue of a puppy before her eyes. He pretended to read spiritual books during his lunch break. Nothing. His mind whirled, speaking to him in clumps of action words. Redouble efforts. Research further. The Cinema was his last hope. After many long hours in darkened theaters watching ladies and gentlemen cavort and warble in shades of gray, he emerged, triumphant, hair askew. He had found the answer. And she would forever be his piece de la resistance. It was raining. He arrived in the office soaking wet and suffused with the romance of the lonely moor and its inevitable, tragic love. And he threw back his hood and told her. The Truth, that is, for he had realized that this was his greatest weapon.

Chisel lary. For the'meaning of love had changed from the fluid exchange touted by the magazines he kept in dark places to something found in an O. Henry story. He knew the Magi's gift. He was doomed and saved; he could love no other but knew his love to be her poison. Still in transformation from beast to man, he could love her truly only from afar. He could hear the superheroes cheering and the swelling of chords at the end of a cinematic drama. And he knew triumph. For she was his; the formula was irrefutable according to the movie gods. She was the archetypal Good Woman who had changed him into a Good Man and their very Goodness prevented their union. They were paradox and unfulfilled desire and nobility, the stuff of undying romance. Their separation would be more charged than most marriages. This unfulfilled love would mock every suitor who darkened her door. This Possibility Never Experienced would cause her to find all future lovers wanting, especially on the tepid Saturdays of middle age when lawnmowers and squint lines and constipation made one dream of a never-taken journey to the African veldt. Ego, who had been ill for some time, its demands querulous and oldmannish, revived and did a pratfall, a sort of death scene for effect. They managed a tear as nature so kindly supplied a beam of light through the gray of the clouds to make it sparkle. A glimmer also struck their smile, their strong, white teeth. "I understand." She said. Her faced suffused with emotion, she got up slowly and turned to leave. Captain Nemo fought off the sea monster; the Good Witch remade the world in Technicolor; Cindarella's feet were ensconced in glass. "Beautiful." She said suddenly. She managed a faint smile which glinted in the dimness. She had paused at the door, one hand on her jaw, her other hand clenched, as if around an invisible chisel. Red-hooded, he stared at the wolf as she turned and padded slowly down the hall. And he knew without a doubt that he was lost forever with no hope of ever reaching Grandmother's uneaten.

He admitted his original sin: his desire only to gobble her up. He described his metamorphosis which had heralded itself in a new vocabu96

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Berkeley Fiction Review his desk and papers presumably looking for her dismissal notice. She smiled at this. Progress? Mocking? "Has she not noticed?" Ego shrieked. "Has she not noticed not only our Professionalism but our Very Nice behavior as well? We could get any girl in this office. She's not even attractive; let's go talk to Ms. S". He acquiesced, to the delight of both Ego and the previously lovelorn Ms. S. However, he found himself unsatisfied. He decided that he could not consult Ego much further in this endeavor and found himself disregarding his advice. Time to go it alone. He noticed that without this translator his communication with all females seemed somewhat askew and the Girls punished him mercilessly without the slightest subtlety. At a meeting, her raised eyebrow in response to his artfully orchestrated and selfless suggestion made his heart canter madly in his chest. A most embarrassing death it would be, but worth it. This was encouragement, he was almost certain, not derision. Time for Magnanimous. He spoke sadly (and loudly) of the poor and unfortunate. He left donation checks to various charities everywhere. He spoke fondly of small animals. He arranged, at great expense, the daring rescue of a puppy before her eyes. He pretended to read spiritual books during his lunch break. Nothing. His mind whirled, speaking to him in clumps of action words. Redouble efforts. Research further. The Cinema was his last hope. After many long hours in darkened theaters watching ladies and gentlemen cavort and warble in shades of gray, he emerged, triumphant, hair askew. He had found the answer. And she would forever be his piece de la resistance. It was raining. He arrived in the office soaking wet and suffused with the romance of the lonely moor and its inevitable, tragic love. And he threw back his hood and told her. The Truth, that is, for he had realized that this was his greatest weapon.

Chisel lary. For the'meaning of love had changed from the fluid exchange touted by the magazines he kept in dark places to something found in an O. Henry story. He knew the Magi's gift. He was doomed and saved; he could love no other but knew his love to be her poison. Still in transformation from beast to man, he could love her truly only from afar. He could hear the superheroes cheering and the swelling of chords at the end of a cinematic drama. And he knew triumph. For she was his; the formula was irrefutable according to the movie gods. She was the archetypal Good Woman who had changed him into a Good Man and their very Goodness prevented their union. They were paradox and unfulfilled desire and nobility, the stuff of undying romance. Their separation would be more charged than most marriages. This unfulfilled love would mock every suitor who darkened her door. This Possibility Never Experienced would cause her to find all future lovers wanting, especially on the tepid Saturdays of middle age when lawnmowers and squint lines and constipation made one dream of a never-taken journey to the African veldt. Ego, who had been ill for some time, its demands querulous and oldmannish, revived and did a pratfall, a sort of death scene for effect. They managed a tear as nature so kindly supplied a beam of light through the gray of the clouds to make it sparkle. A glimmer also struck their smile, their strong, white teeth. "I understand." She said. Her faced suffused with emotion, she got up slowly and turned to leave. Captain Nemo fought off the sea monster; the Good Witch remade the world in Technicolor; Cindarella's feet were ensconced in glass. "Beautiful." She said suddenly. She managed a faint smile which glinted in the dimness. She had paused at the door, one hand on her jaw, her other hand clenched, as if around an invisible chisel. Red-hooded, he stared at the wolf as she turned and padded slowly down the hall. And he knew without a doubt that he was lost forever with no hope of ever reaching Grandmother's uneaten.

He admitted his original sin: his desire only to gobble her up. He described his metamorphosis which had heralded itself in a new vocabu96

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lfredo Bettencourt spoke about his impending death for so long that everyone living in the village of Quebrado do Caminho was swept up in the excitement and expectation, which grew with each passing day, week, and month. After some time, people forgot exactly what he was dying of but that only added to the impressive weight and magnitude of his death, until nothing else mattered, as if time had stopped and events in the village had come to a standstill, awaiting the resolution of Alfredo's imminent death. Quebrado, as it was called, lay neither here nor there—at the bottom of a secluded rift, between the town of Santa Luzia and Santo Antonio, on the island of Pico, in the Azores. It was a forgotten place, too small to be remembered by anyone who had stumbled upon it. The village had been abandoned long ago after a severe earthquake destroyed many of the buildings. At that time, most people simply moved further up the mountain and built a new village, leaving the ruins of the old one behind. Some wished to remain in their familiar homes, where their families had always lived. So these few determined souls rebuilt what they could and remained in Quebrado, cut off from all the other towns and villages. It was the kind of place one could only find by accident, but it happened so rarely, that the villagers thought of themselves and Quebrado do Caminho as the entire world. Every time Alfredo walked into the cafes, his neighbors rushed to buy him drinks as they would for any good friend who, in a day or two, was going off on a long journey. He couldn't pass someone's house without being called inside for a meal or a drink of Angelica or Aguardente. If he didn't appear for a day or two, people would come by to check with 99


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lfredo Bettencourt spoke about his impending death for so long that everyone living in the village of Quebrado do Caminho was swept up in the excitement and expectation, which grew with each passing day, week, and month. After some time, people forgot exactly what he was dying of but that only added to the impressive weight and magnitude of his death, until nothing else mattered, as if time had stopped and events in the village had come to a standstill, awaiting the resolution of Alfredo's imminent death. Quebrado, as it was called, lay neither here nor there—at the bottom of a secluded rift, between the town of Santa Luzia and Santo Antonio, on the island of Pico, in the Azores. It was a forgotten place, too small to be remembered by anyone who had stumbled upon it. The village had been abandoned long ago after a severe earthquake destroyed many of the buildings. At that time, most people simply moved further up the mountain and built a new village, leaving the ruins of the old one behind. Some wished to remain in their familiar homes, where their families had always lived. So these few determined souls rebuilt what they could and remained in Quebrado, cut off from all the other towns and villages. It was the kind of place one could only find by accident, but it happened so rarely, that the villagers thought of themselves and Quebrado do Caminho as the entire world. Every time Alfredo walked into the cafes, his neighbors rushed to buy him drinks as they would for any good friend who, in a day or two, was going off on a long journey. He couldn't pass someone's house without being called inside for a meal or a drink of Angelica or Aguardente. If he didn't appear for a day or two, people would come by to check with 99


Berkeley Fiction Review his friends and neighbors. "Is it time?" They asked. "Has he gone?" "No, not yet," the others answered. "He still lives.". "Thank God!" Everyone in the village had long ago decided how they would respond when the moment finally arrived. They knew precisely what they would do and the things they would say. They even had the funeral planned out. The only problem was that Alfredo frequently changed his mind about how his death should be conducted. Just when the villagers knew they were to bury him beside his mother and father in the small local cemetery, he suddenly decided that he should be buried instead on Corvo, where his grandfather was born; then he insisted on being buried up the steep slopes of Pico and, later, that he should be buried at sea. Still, he was dying, and such caprices must be tolerated, no matter how inconvenient and bothersome they might be for the living. One day he met his old friend, Jose Vicente, along the road. "Good day, Alfredo," Jose said. "How are you these days?" "Not bad for a dead man." "You're giving Old Man Death quite a chase, no?" "It's best not to rush this sort of thing," Alfredo said. "No, I guess not," Jose said. "It seems that death, too, knows the word amanha." "Yes, so it does," Alfredo said, laughing. The two men leaned against a tree and each rolled a cigarette. Jose offered Alfredo a light. "But you still look pretty good," Jose said. "Especially given your, well, your condition." "I'm beginning to think death suits me, Jose. Perhaps I can die better than I lived." "You think maybe he has forgotten about you?" "I don't know what to think," Alfredo said. "I've had very little experience with dying." "Well, how do you feel? Does it feel like death is very close?" "If I were to judge for myself, I would say that chances are I am quite close to death. I'm old; my bones have grown weary. Yes, I should think that any time now, perhaps tonight, death will come fetch me, and I shall Jose Vicente crossed himself several times. "May you rest in peace, my friend." "Thank you, Jose. I must go now." 100

r Alfredo's Timeless Death "Take care, then, Alfredo. Until soon." "If God should will it," Alfredo said. "Good day, Jose." Alfredo walked away. "Why tell a dying man to take care? What does a dead man have to worry about? Catching a cold? Might I trip and break my neck?" He laughed to himself and began walking back to the village. He didn't see the cart loaded down with hay until it had run him over. He got up'and dusted himself off. "Ha, ha! Be careful, Alfredo. Better watch out, you might get killed. It's a joke, no?" Alfredo looked himself over, and shouted after the cart, "Hey, did you see? I wasn't killed!" In the early morning, he went down to the quay, as if inspecting which boat might take him for his final journey. He jumped into the water to see if he would drown, but it didn't work; no matter how long he stayed under. "I knew it," he shouted. "Someone is trying to cheat me out of my own death." In the middle of the night, Alfredo could be seen walking through the streets or along the road out of town, heedless of carts, wagons, or horses that might run him over, because once a man believes he is impervious to death he feels it incumbent upon himself to defy again and again that fate from which he has escaped, as if flaunting his miraculous luck. "Is this right?" Maria Teresa asked. "Why, all of a sudden, is he carrying on so much, everywhere at once? Why isn't he at home in bed where a dying man should be?" "He thinks he can hide," Joao Roberto said. "He's'trying to find a place where death hasn't yet been." "There is no such place," Miguel declared. "He should settle down and die already," Maria Teresa said. The children of the village were greatly impressed with Alfredo's death, which by this time had become legend, and they anxiously awaited the moment'. They regarded him as a hero, the likes of whom had not been seen'for many, many years. They believed the event would transform the village, indeed, the entire island. They were sure that miracles would occur on a scale never before seen, although they never explained exactly what they thought would happen. Instead, they said, "You'll see" and watched the skies, eager to find any sign or portent of the miracles certain to c6me. Even when their parents began dying off, the children, who remained 101


Berkeley Fiction Review his friends and neighbors. "Is it time?" They asked. "Has he gone?" "No, not yet," the others answered. "He still lives.". "Thank God!" Everyone in the village had long ago decided how they would respond when the moment finally arrived. They knew precisely what they would do and the things they would say. They even had the funeral planned out. The only problem was that Alfredo frequently changed his mind about how his death should be conducted. Just when the villagers knew they were to bury him beside his mother and father in the small local cemetery, he suddenly decided that he should be buried instead on Corvo, where his grandfather was born; then he insisted on being buried up the steep slopes of Pico and, later, that he should be buried at sea. Still, he was dying, and such caprices must be tolerated, no matter how inconvenient and bothersome they might be for the living. One day he met his old friend, Jose Vicente, along the road. "Good day, Alfredo," Jose said. "How are you these days?" "Not bad for a dead man." "You're giving Old Man Death quite a chase, no?" "It's best not to rush this sort of thing," Alfredo said. "No, I guess not," Jose said. "It seems that death, too, knows the word amanha." "Yes, so it does," Alfredo said, laughing. The two men leaned against a tree and each rolled a cigarette. Jose offered Alfredo a light. "But you still look pretty good," Jose said. "Especially given your, well, your condition." "I'm beginning to think death suits me, Jose. Perhaps I can die better than I lived." "You think maybe he has forgotten about you?" "I don't know what to think," Alfredo said. "I've had very little experience with dying." "Well, how do you feel? Does it feel like death is very close?" "If I were to judge for myself, I would say that chances are I am quite close to death. I'm old; my bones have grown weary. Yes, I should think that any time now, perhaps tonight, death will come fetch me, and I shall Jose Vicente crossed himself several times. "May you rest in peace, my friend." "Thank you, Jose. I must go now." 100

r Alfredo's Timeless Death "Take care, then, Alfredo. Until soon." "If God should will it," Alfredo said. "Good day, Jose." Alfredo walked away. "Why tell a dying man to take care? What does a dead man have to worry about? Catching a cold? Might I trip and break my neck?" He laughed to himself and began walking back to the village. He didn't see the cart loaded down with hay until it had run him over. He got up'and dusted himself off. "Ha, ha! Be careful, Alfredo. Better watch out, you might get killed. It's a joke, no?" Alfredo looked himself over, and shouted after the cart, "Hey, did you see? I wasn't killed!" In the early morning, he went down to the quay, as if inspecting which boat might take him for his final journey. He jumped into the water to see if he would drown, but it didn't work; no matter how long he stayed under. "I knew it," he shouted. "Someone is trying to cheat me out of my own death." In the middle of the night, Alfredo could be seen walking through the streets or along the road out of town, heedless of carts, wagons, or horses that might run him over, because once a man believes he is impervious to death he feels it incumbent upon himself to defy again and again that fate from which he has escaped, as if flaunting his miraculous luck. "Is this right?" Maria Teresa asked. "Why, all of a sudden, is he carrying on so much, everywhere at once? Why isn't he at home in bed where a dying man should be?" "He thinks he can hide," Joao Roberto said. "He's'trying to find a place where death hasn't yet been." "There is no such place," Miguel declared. "He should settle down and die already," Maria Teresa said. The children of the village were greatly impressed with Alfredo's death, which by this time had become legend, and they anxiously awaited the moment'. They regarded him as a hero, the likes of whom had not been seen'for many, many years. They believed the event would transform the village, indeed, the entire island. They were sure that miracles would occur on a scale never before seen, although they never explained exactly what they thought would happen. Instead, they said, "You'll see" and watched the skies, eager to find any sign or portent of the miracles certain to c6me. Even when their parents began dying off, the children, who remained 101


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shore, up the steep slopes of the mountain toward the caldeira, which bellowed volcanic smoke. The children came home infrequently and spoke mysteriously about things that frightened the old people. They said that Alfredo had taught them to talk with the animals, stay under water for days at a time, and converse with the dead. After a few years, many of the people who had known Alfredo were dead, but his name had by no means been forgotten. It was on one cold, windless night that his old friend Jose Vicente saw Alfredo walk out of the water and come toward him. "Alfredo," Jose said with a heavy sigh. "Still not dead, I see." "Good evening, Jose. I'm happy to see you are alive as well." "Everybody is dying, old man. Me and a few others. We are all that's left. Why aren't you dead yet?" Alfredo shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps it's still not my time." "Hell, we will all be dead before you are." "Who knows what God intends for any of us. Until next time." The next day, Jose Vicente told those villagers who were still alive about his talk with Alfredo. "I told you it was a bad thing," said Maria. "He's taken the children. What have we got left but a dead village?" "Be still, woman," Miguel said. "It's beyond our comprehension. Some things weren't meant for us to understand." "But who will fish and tend the cows?" Almerindo asked. "Or make the wine?" Manuel wanted to know. "We should talk to Padre Silveira," Maria Isabel said. They went to see the Padre and explained the situation, of which he already knew many of the particulars, and begged him to do something. "I'm not sure what I can do," he said. "Can't you declare him dead?" Maria Teresa said. "He should He down and be quiet like all' good dead people." "But I need a body, proof that he is deceased:" The Padre was clearly afraid of embroiling himself in something that he saw as beyond the scope of his experience, uncertain as to whether this had to do with God and heaven or was only some sinister ploy of the Devil. "What's more," he said. "I need to know the moment of death, or at least how long he has been dead." This thoroughly confused everybody, because no one could agree on when Alfredo had passed away. Since he had continued to live after losing his shadow and resisted death in drowning, falling, being run over

children, knew that it was somehow preparatory and necessary to the greater death to come. Alfredo often found a group of them waiting for him by the docks or in front of the market. "Mariazinha," he would say, patting the child's head. "Miguel, don't be afraid of anything. You listen to your uncle Alfredo. Don't let anyone tell you different." He would hand them some berries gathered on one of his walks. One day, his neighbor Maria Isabel found Alfredo two or three kilometers from the village. He was walking along the road in the wrong direction. She had been out to tend to her husband's cows and was surprised to find Alfredo there. He didn't see her until she shouted at him: "Alfredo! What are you doing?" He stared at her. His face was without expression. "Are you asleep?" "No," he said. "I don't think so." "What is wrong?" "Nothing." "Well, what are you doing, then?" "Looking." "You lose something?" "See there," he said, pointing at the ground beside his feet. "I have no shadow." "Oh, sweet Mother of God. You are a dead man!" Maria rolled her eyes toward heaven and ran away, leaving Alfredo all alone to search for his lost shadow. She made it back to town as quickly as she could and told everyone how she had seen Alfredo, who no longer cast any shadow. Later that same day the children of the village were seen following Alfredo around. "What next?" cried Maria Teresa. "Hasn't this gone on long enough? Someone should put a stop to this foolishness once and for all!" "Careful, woman," said Miguel. "You might blaspheme." It was generally agreed that Maria Teresa was a reckless woman. No one else in the village was about to say too much concerning this thing which none of them understood, especially after it was suggested that perhaps there was something supernatural involving with Alfredo and the children. He was seen leading them at all times of the day and night—along the roads in and around the village, down by the quay or the rocks along the

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shore, up the steep slopes of the mountain toward the caldeira, which bellowed volcanic smoke. The children came home infrequently and spoke mysteriously about things that frightened the old people. They said that Alfredo had taught them to talk with the animals, stay under water for days at a time, and converse with the dead. After a few years, many of the people who had known Alfredo were dead, but his name had by no means been forgotten. It was on one cold, windless night that his old friend Jose Vicente saw Alfredo walk out of the water and come toward him. "Alfredo," Jose said with a heavy sigh. "Still not dead, I see." "Good evening, Jose. I'm happy to see you are alive as well." "Everybody is dying, old man. Me and a few others. We are all that's left. Why aren't you dead yet?" Alfredo shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps it's still not my time." "Hell, we will all be dead before you are." "Who knows what God intends for any of us. Until next time." The next day, Jose Vicente told those villagers who were still alive about his talk with Alfredo. "I told you it was a bad thing," said Maria. "He's taken the children. What have we got left but a dead village?" "Be still, woman," Miguel said. "It's beyond our comprehension. Some things weren't meant for us to understand." "But who will fish and tend the cows?" Almerindo asked. "Or make the wine?" Manuel wanted to know. "We should talk to Padre Silveira," Maria Isabel said. They went to see the Padre and explained the situation, of which he already knew many of the particulars, and begged him to do something. "I'm not sure what I can do," he said. "Can't you declare him dead?" Maria Teresa said. "He should He down and be quiet like all' good dead people." "But I need a body, proof that he is deceased:" The Padre was clearly afraid of embroiling himself in something that he saw as beyond the scope of his experience, uncertain as to whether this had to do with God and heaven or was only some sinister ploy of the Devil. "What's more," he said. "I need to know the moment of death, or at least how long he has been dead." This thoroughly confused everybody, because no one could agree on when Alfredo had passed away. Since he had continued to live after losing his shadow and resisted death in drowning, falling, being run over

children, knew that it was somehow preparatory and necessary to the greater death to come. Alfredo often found a group of them waiting for him by the docks or in front of the market. "Mariazinha," he would say, patting the child's head. "Miguel, don't be afraid of anything. You listen to your uncle Alfredo. Don't let anyone tell you different." He would hand them some berries gathered on one of his walks. One day, his neighbor Maria Isabel found Alfredo two or three kilometers from the village. He was walking along the road in the wrong direction. She had been out to tend to her husband's cows and was surprised to find Alfredo there. He didn't see her until she shouted at him: "Alfredo! What are you doing?" He stared at her. His face was without expression. "Are you asleep?" "No," he said. "I don't think so." "What is wrong?" "Nothing." "Well, what are you doing, then?" "Looking." "You lose something?" "See there," he said, pointing at the ground beside his feet. "I have no shadow." "Oh, sweet Mother of God. You are a dead man!" Maria rolled her eyes toward heaven and ran away, leaving Alfredo all alone to search for his lost shadow. She made it back to town as quickly as she could and told everyone how she had seen Alfredo, who no longer cast any shadow. Later that same day the children of the village were seen following Alfredo around. "What next?" cried Maria Teresa. "Hasn't this gone on long enough? Someone should put a stop to this foolishness once and for all!" "Careful, woman," said Miguel. "You might blaspheme." It was generally agreed that Maria Teresa was a reckless woman. No one else in the village was about to say too much concerning this thing which none of them understood, especially after it was suggested that perhaps there was something supernatural involving with Alfredo and the children. He was seen leading them at all times of the day and night—along the roads in and around the village, down by the quay or the rocks along the

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Berkeley Fiction Review several times, and numerous other instances, the Padre declared that for all practical purposes, he was still a living man, as far as he could ascertain, and as such, he was in no position to be pronounced dead. Alfredo was seen again and again, looking older but no less alive. He shouted unintelligible words at the clouds, sun, and moon; even the waves appeared to behave strangely in his presence. The villagers often heard him speaking to the goats and cows, and, sometimes, those aboard the fishing boats observed him swimming with the whales and dolphins. Except for the children, he hardly spoke at all to any of the remaining townspeople and, in fact, rarely seemed to notice them. No one understood anything he said anymore. "He is louco, at last," was the general consensus. Still the children, who remained children no matter what the old and dying said or did, produced the offerings of miracles they had long ago prophesied. Little Emmanuel paraded a hermaphroditic goat; Maria Luisa da Costa e Silva carried about her two-headed chicken; three of the children were deaf and dumb and so given the stature of minor divinities; Eriana "Nina" Pacheco carried her baby within her virgin womb for eighteen months before delivering the child at night under the waves, tearfully watching it swim off for the open sea—a creature with scales, gills, and flippers. Alfredo spent more and more of his time at the top of the mountain. The Padre continued his Sunday Mass and didn't appear to notice that the only people who attended his services were ghosts. Seasons changed and winter brought bright fruits and vegetables of enormous size. Maracuja and oranges grew the size of melons, nesperas the size of pears, and fresh water suddenly began flowing from a spring in the ground. The children waded into the ocean and caught fish which leaped into their hands. Delightfully warm rains fell, and on occasion, the sun stayed in the sky for several days. The children gathered one night and watched as the moon settled on the mountains, brought there, of course, by Alfredo, who was still up to his old tricks. The children played, and made up poems and songs about their village and the legend of the great timeless death of Alfredo. They continued to gather the special animals born with three legs or two heads, and lived without any regard for the outside world, perhaps without even knowing that they were not following the ways of their parents and grandparents. 104

Alfredo's Timeless Death Finally, Alfredo's friend Jose Vicente, now quite old and one of the few remaining villagers alive, decided to take matters into his own hands. "As long as Alfredo is alive," Jose said. "Nothing will ever change around here." So Jose Vicente went off in search of Alfredo, prepared to bring Alfredo the death which had eluded him for so long and return his village at last to normal. "I hope he finds him*" Maria Teresa said. "This should have been done a long time ago." Jose Vicente swore he wouldn't come back without having delivered Alfredo to the very Gates of Heaven. He marched up the side'of the mountain, disappointed that the children he spoke to refused to tell him whether Alfredo had swum off, or flown, or gone up to the mountaintop and climbed onto the back of the moon as it made its way across the sky. ****** Many, many years later, a bent and frail old man stumbled into the village. His eyes were opaque with cataracts, his skin was like the bark of the trees, his hair was a tangled nest of silver and gray, and his limbs resembled the spindly branches of the Fava trees more than human arms and legs. A group of people were hard at work In the village—strangers who had come on a large boat. They were cutting down huge plants and vines, many of which criss-crossed the roads and completely covered the houses. A small group of nuns and priests were busy officiating over the recitation of prayers and splashing holy water everywhere. There was an overpowering stench of blood, and the old man walked until he found a yard being used to slaughter the huddled groups of deformed animals. The children were being led toward a boat that had come to take them away. The old man stared at the children as they passed, and some of them looked up at him, as well. His own child, Joana Maria, didn't recognize him, nor did Jose Vicente recognize her. Jose Vicente passed the workers and opened his mouth to speak, but no one could make out a word he said. They heard gibberish and assumed he was senile. "Hey, you," someone shouted. "Old man!" He was gently grabbed by the arm and pulled to face one of the workers. "Are you coming with us or are you staying here?" The old man's lips moved without a sound. 105


Berkeley Fiction Review several times, and numerous other instances, the Padre declared that for all practical purposes, he was still a living man, as far as he could ascertain, and as such, he was in no position to be pronounced dead. Alfredo was seen again and again, looking older but no less alive. He shouted unintelligible words at the clouds, sun, and moon; even the waves appeared to behave strangely in his presence. The villagers often heard him speaking to the goats and cows, and, sometimes, those aboard the fishing boats observed him swimming with the whales and dolphins. Except for the children, he hardly spoke at all to any of the remaining townspeople and, in fact, rarely seemed to notice them. No one understood anything he said anymore. "He is louco, at last," was the general consensus. Still the children, who remained children no matter what the old and dying said or did, produced the offerings of miracles they had long ago prophesied. Little Emmanuel paraded a hermaphroditic goat; Maria Luisa da Costa e Silva carried about her two-headed chicken; three of the children were deaf and dumb and so given the stature of minor divinities; Eriana "Nina" Pacheco carried her baby within her virgin womb for eighteen months before delivering the child at night under the waves, tearfully watching it swim off for the open sea—a creature with scales, gills, and flippers. Alfredo spent more and more of his time at the top of the mountain. The Padre continued his Sunday Mass and didn't appear to notice that the only people who attended his services were ghosts. Seasons changed and winter brought bright fruits and vegetables of enormous size. Maracuja and oranges grew the size of melons, nesperas the size of pears, and fresh water suddenly began flowing from a spring in the ground. The children waded into the ocean and caught fish which leaped into their hands. Delightfully warm rains fell, and on occasion, the sun stayed in the sky for several days. The children gathered one night and watched as the moon settled on the mountains, brought there, of course, by Alfredo, who was still up to his old tricks. The children played, and made up poems and songs about their village and the legend of the great timeless death of Alfredo. They continued to gather the special animals born with three legs or two heads, and lived without any regard for the outside world, perhaps without even knowing that they were not following the ways of their parents and grandparents. 104

Alfredo's Timeless Death Finally, Alfredo's friend Jose Vicente, now quite old and one of the few remaining villagers alive, decided to take matters into his own hands. "As long as Alfredo is alive," Jose said. "Nothing will ever change around here." So Jose Vicente went off in search of Alfredo, prepared to bring Alfredo the death which had eluded him for so long and return his village at last to normal. "I hope he finds him*" Maria Teresa said. "This should have been done a long time ago." Jose Vicente swore he wouldn't come back without having delivered Alfredo to the very Gates of Heaven. He marched up the side'of the mountain, disappointed that the children he spoke to refused to tell him whether Alfredo had swum off, or flown, or gone up to the mountaintop and climbed onto the back of the moon as it made its way across the sky. ****** Many, many years later, a bent and frail old man stumbled into the village. His eyes were opaque with cataracts, his skin was like the bark of the trees, his hair was a tangled nest of silver and gray, and his limbs resembled the spindly branches of the Fava trees more than human arms and legs. A group of people were hard at work In the village—strangers who had come on a large boat. They were cutting down huge plants and vines, many of which criss-crossed the roads and completely covered the houses. A small group of nuns and priests were busy officiating over the recitation of prayers and splashing holy water everywhere. There was an overpowering stench of blood, and the old man walked until he found a yard being used to slaughter the huddled groups of deformed animals. The children were being led toward a boat that had come to take them away. The old man stared at the children as they passed, and some of them looked up at him, as well. His own child, Joana Maria, didn't recognize him, nor did Jose Vicente recognize her. Jose Vicente passed the workers and opened his mouth to speak, but no one could make out a word he said. They heard gibberish and assumed he was senile. "Hey, you," someone shouted. "Old man!" He was gently grabbed by the arm and pulled to face one of the workers. "Are you coming with us or are you staying here?" The old man's lips moved without a sound. 105


Berkeley Fiction Review "Who are you?" The old man shook his head. "Everyone in this village is dead except for some poor children, who are, you know?" the worker said, touching the side of his head. He peered at the old man's face and slowly spoke in a loud voice. "Even the old Padre was found just a skeleton kneeling in prayer in the church. It looks as if we are the first people to arrive in, hell, who knows how many years?" Jose Vicente made a hoarse wheezing sound. "Are you from here?" "Hey, Joao, hurry up," one of the others shouted. "There's still work to do," "Yeah, I'm coming. Good-bye, old man." He returned to the group of workers. Jose Vicente turned around and shuffled down the dirt road back toward the mountains, mumbling and muttering to himself. His eyes shone, alive with the light of one who has searched the back of the moon and beyond, the look of one who has wandered a landscape where time performed strange permutations and sleight of hand, as he set out once more to follow the slippery trail of Alfredo Bettencourt's timeless and elusive death.

Third Place Sudden Fiction

ARS

Winner

HUMANUM

Steve T o m a s u l a

he voluptuous women of Rubens. The damned, entombed in his own skin. A critic's statement laminated to the wall. The curve of a feminine thigh in black. Cindy Sherman's vomit photos. Seventy-five hundred generations of sapiens, then a day trip to the museum and another fight. Petticoats, frothy mannerism, and rosy skies. Nonetheless, all the way home, Square tried to convince Circle that he'd only been looking at the art, not the art student in spandex, an arrangement of shapes having caught both their eyes. Such fragile clay. Despite bold strokes. Trying to get at what? Nature all—but what was that? Realism Impressionism Cubism Minimalism Now what?— "I couldn't help-" "Words. Only more words!" "—but notice." Shapes and colors do that, as the shock of any EXIT sign can attest. Bathers in a secret pond. A doe-eyed maiden's innocence. Construct a line and the mind reacts. And the art student continued helping him to understand: the eye naturally follows curvilinear form, unawares, despite intent. Loungers in a Turkish harem, the curve of fabric continued by voluptuous hip. He didn't make the world.

106

107


Berkeley Fiction Review "Who are you?" The old man shook his head. "Everyone in this village is dead except for some poor children, who are, you know?" the worker said, touching the side of his head. He peered at the old man's face and slowly spoke in a loud voice. "Even the old Padre was found just a skeleton kneeling in prayer in the church. It looks as if we are the first people to arrive in, hell, who knows how many years?" Jose Vicente made a hoarse wheezing sound. "Are you from here?" "Hey, Joao, hurry up," one of the others shouted. "There's still work to do," "Yeah, I'm coming. Good-bye, old man." He returned to the group of workers. Jose Vicente turned around and shuffled down the dirt road back toward the mountains, mumbling and muttering to himself. His eyes shone, alive with the light of one who has searched the back of the moon and beyond, the look of one who has wandered a landscape where time performed strange permutations and sleight of hand, as he set out once more to follow the slippery trail of Alfredo Bettencourt's timeless and elusive death.

Third Place Sudden Fiction

ARS

Winner

HUMANUM

Steve T o m a s u l a

he voluptuous women of Rubens. The damned, entombed in his own skin. A critic's statement laminated to the wall. The curve of a feminine thigh in black. Cindy Sherman's vomit photos. Seventy-five hundred generations of sapiens, then a day trip to the museum and another fight. Petticoats, frothy mannerism, and rosy skies. Nonetheless, all the way home, Square tried to convince Circle that he'd only been looking at the art, not the art student in spandex, an arrangement of shapes having caught both their eyes. Such fragile clay. Despite bold strokes. Trying to get at what? Nature all—but what was that? Realism Impressionism Cubism Minimalism Now what?— "I couldn't help-" "Words. Only more words!" "—but notice." Shapes and colors do that, as the shock of any EXIT sign can attest. Bathers in a secret pond. A doe-eyed maiden's innocence. Construct a line and the mind reacts. And the art student continued helping him to understand: the eye naturally follows curvilinear form, unawares, despite intent. Loungers in a Turkish harem, the curve of fabric continued by voluptuous hip. He didn't make the world.

106

107


Berkeley Fiction Review Please don't touch. Marble arms. Each in their thoughts, viewers slowly circulate from room to room, searching for a mirror not this pigment going to compost too fast. Medievals believed God shaped pears to fit the hand. Greek cups and Roman urns. The sensual visions of pagans past. The Venus of (fill in the blank). Each style a willingness to try again. Back in the car, they completed their trip under glass, micro weather mechanically controlled. The cave paintings of Lascaux. It was only by degrees that they returned. A light dinner. The body must endure, no matter what. "Did you like Cupid, Folly and Time}" "Yes." At least that was a start. A gentle slope to, what the hell, "I'm sorry— I didn't mean to, it was only words." Saint Lucy holding out a platter bearing her eyes. "No, that's okay," both remembering, if not remarking upon, a young aristocrat's haughty, porcelain skin. Thank God, that's all past, and Circle put her hand in his (an ancient cliche), the scent of her hair close (still pressing the right buttons). Stirrings within, beginning again— What? Pistil and stamen? A fashion? Albrecht Altdorfer never wondered, painting Lot screwing his daughter. Fucking was dark back in 1510, what made man animal—Pan copulating with goats and anything else he could catch—and so always man was shown mounting the woman from behind (making the beast with two backs, as Shakespeare had it), often upright: a thousand years of authors and painters and clergymen and just plain folks who were sure it was satyrs and gardens and oysters and horny nature— a style? beauty as biological as beholder's eye? —bestial—and could imagine it no other way (though they themselves never fucked "doggie style"—how our imagery dates us!). But today, where the main sexual organ was the brain, and making love as polysemous as language.... Roses are Red Violets are— Who's on top?... Unless forgiveness could be found, after all, in four little letters—A-GOT—bodies making what counterfeits never could, the pre-larynx— "Come,"imprinted on a single partner (cementing the pair bond). A soft108

ArsHumanum ening in Circle's eyes, call it dilation, indicating that she was receptive. Hearts andflowers.And 186,000 years of conditioning; the Pavlovian dog within secretes— Words? More words? Can any mirror be less opaque than paint? —catecholamines. Estradiol binds to estrogen receptors. Moonlit Serenade. Likewise, testosterone washes cellular organization of the male variety, hypothalamus, vaso-dilation following strictly the double-helix law, hearts also anticipating exertion—precipitating vaso congestion of spongy tissue—beating within the law of the letter, the alpha and omega of cells propagating themselves—motive without mind—his bilateral symmetry having suggested to her, unawares, a high probability of average gametes, average being more desirable than Valentines for its lack of irregularities, her clear complexion, 0.7 hip-to-waist ratio and sound teeth—a biology of selection often figured by these apes, naked, as alove}"

109


Berkeley Fiction Review Please don't touch. Marble arms. Each in their thoughts, viewers slowly circulate from room to room, searching for a mirror not this pigment going to compost too fast. Medievals believed God shaped pears to fit the hand. Greek cups and Roman urns. The sensual visions of pagans past. The Venus of (fill in the blank). Each style a willingness to try again. Back in the car, they completed their trip under glass, micro weather mechanically controlled. The cave paintings of Lascaux. It was only by degrees that they returned. A light dinner. The body must endure, no matter what. "Did you like Cupid, Folly and Time}" "Yes." At least that was a start. A gentle slope to, what the hell, "I'm sorry— I didn't mean to, it was only words." Saint Lucy holding out a platter bearing her eyes. "No, that's okay," both remembering, if not remarking upon, a young aristocrat's haughty, porcelain skin. Thank God, that's all past, and Circle put her hand in his (an ancient cliche), the scent of her hair close (still pressing the right buttons). Stirrings within, beginning again— What? Pistil and stamen? A fashion? Albrecht Altdorfer never wondered, painting Lot screwing his daughter. Fucking was dark back in 1510, what made man animal—Pan copulating with goats and anything else he could catch—and so always man was shown mounting the woman from behind (making the beast with two backs, as Shakespeare had it), often upright: a thousand years of authors and painters and clergymen and just plain folks who were sure it was satyrs and gardens and oysters and horny nature— a style? beauty as biological as beholder's eye? —bestial—and could imagine it no other way (though they themselves never fucked "doggie style"—how our imagery dates us!). But today, where the main sexual organ was the brain, and making love as polysemous as language.... Roses are Red Violets are— Who's on top?... Unless forgiveness could be found, after all, in four little letters—A-GOT—bodies making what counterfeits never could, the pre-larynx— "Come,"imprinted on a single partner (cementing the pair bond). A soft108

ArsHumanum ening in Circle's eyes, call it dilation, indicating that she was receptive. Hearts andflowers.And 186,000 years of conditioning; the Pavlovian dog within secretes— Words? More words? Can any mirror be less opaque than paint? —catecholamines. Estradiol binds to estrogen receptors. Moonlit Serenade. Likewise, testosterone washes cellular organization of the male variety, hypothalamus, vaso-dilation following strictly the double-helix law, hearts also anticipating exertion—precipitating vaso congestion of spongy tissue—beating within the law of the letter, the alpha and omega of cells propagating themselves—motive without mind—his bilateral symmetry having suggested to her, unawares, a high probability of average gametes, average being more desirable than Valentines for its lack of irregularities, her clear complexion, 0.7 hip-to-waist ratio and sound teeth—a biology of selection often figured by these apes, naked, as alove}"

109


The Story of Esther Quinones watched the.bodles of friends get caught there—wrapped perfectly around the speeding cars before careening skyward. He saw them bound tightly in their own tangled limbs when they came to rest, after a few long seconds, on the dirt they'd taken off from. Rogelio noted their mistakes. ****** T H E

S T O R Y

O F

E S T H E R

Q U I N O N E S

Joshua C. Kamler

sther rides the BART out to Pittsburgh. She sits on the train with her arms crossed and her eyes down. She wears her hair pulled back tight enough to lift her eyebrows. Her eyes are sharp-edged ellipses. When she gets off the train, she walks. She keeps her arms crossed and walks briskly. She smiles at no one. She believes her whole demeanor says don't touch me loud enough for it to mean something. When she gets home, her mother tells her the story of Rogelio Campos, who got creamed by a truck while trying to cross the freeway. Rosa says, "Tu abuelo. Escucha." "Okay, mama. Si, ya se." This is not a new story. It's a story that's been built and rebuilt every few years like bridges and freeways. It's one of those family myths she'd consider telling her patients, as a diversion, if only she was sure it wasn't true. Her grandfather had practiced on the streets in Mexico City, where there were no road signs and the traffic came fast from nowhere and every where. He stood for hours watching the traffic. He noted the collective roar of the engines and wind, the voice of velocity. It wasn't the cars you had to watch out for; it was the spaces in between. They were wide open, trailing each car like banners that read corre. Run. The air between beckoned softly, hypnotically, like the comforts of home. They were drowsy and silent spaces, naked air that cushioned and funneled you through when you relaxed enough. The cars were merely an afterthought. So Rogelio practiced. He watched the spaces in between, tested the air in them. He

Esther busies herself in her room. She removes the white sneakers, the tight white slacks she'd packed herself into, the nurse's coat. She checks her face in the mirror. Her eyebrows are penciled in, as are her lips because this is the style these days. The tight, slightly flared pants, the high, arched eyebrows like parentheses turned side ways, the dark lipstick and finer etched tightly around her small mouth. She doesn't see her grandfather's face in hers, not at all. She sits down on her bed, crosses her arms, and listens again to the old story. ****** Then he did it. He crossed the freeway barefoot. He crossed in sneakers; he crossed with his green mochila, carrying a cooler filled with sand, and once, with only one eye open. He learned to cross for his family—to bring them to a house with a door that locked, and perhaps a stove and a refrigerator, a tele, even a yard in the front with flowers in it. They wanted it. He wanted to get it for them. Por la vida, says Esther's mother. Rogelio had heard stories of the yellow road signs on the other side that read, Por el amor de Dios, no crucen la carretera. For the love of God, don't cross the freeway. But people had crossed the border and then crossed the freeway and sent dollar bills home in old newspapers and peanut butter jars. They wrote letters to family in the newspaper margins, next to the news, made dates to call. Rogelio ran his thin, dark body over the tar again and again, in between cars and trucks, motorcycles, and trailers. For each successful crossing, he decided, he would award himself one new thing for his life on the other side. Some nice shoes with strong new rubber on their soles, a new hat, a power saw and a nail gun, a microwave for his wife, a bicycle for Rosa, aluminum framed windows, and his own car. These were the items he had coming to him. When the time came, a dusty, brownish night in August, Rogelio and his family crossed the border. They did it on foot, each carrying a bag, except Rosa, who was seven and nursing a thumb pricked by thistles. Her 111

110


The Story of Esther Quinones watched the.bodles of friends get caught there—wrapped perfectly around the speeding cars before careening skyward. He saw them bound tightly in their own tangled limbs when they came to rest, after a few long seconds, on the dirt they'd taken off from. Rogelio noted their mistakes. ****** T H E

S T O R Y

O F

E S T H E R

Q U I N O N E S

Joshua C. Kamler

sther rides the BART out to Pittsburgh. She sits on the train with her arms crossed and her eyes down. She wears her hair pulled back tight enough to lift her eyebrows. Her eyes are sharp-edged ellipses. When she gets off the train, she walks. She keeps her arms crossed and walks briskly. She smiles at no one. She believes her whole demeanor says don't touch me loud enough for it to mean something. When she gets home, her mother tells her the story of Rogelio Campos, who got creamed by a truck while trying to cross the freeway. Rosa says, "Tu abuelo. Escucha." "Okay, mama. Si, ya se." This is not a new story. It's a story that's been built and rebuilt every few years like bridges and freeways. It's one of those family myths she'd consider telling her patients, as a diversion, if only she was sure it wasn't true. Her grandfather had practiced on the streets in Mexico City, where there were no road signs and the traffic came fast from nowhere and every where. He stood for hours watching the traffic. He noted the collective roar of the engines and wind, the voice of velocity. It wasn't the cars you had to watch out for; it was the spaces in between. They were wide open, trailing each car like banners that read corre. Run. The air between beckoned softly, hypnotically, like the comforts of home. They were drowsy and silent spaces, naked air that cushioned and funneled you through when you relaxed enough. The cars were merely an afterthought. So Rogelio practiced. He watched the spaces in between, tested the air in them. He

Esther busies herself in her room. She removes the white sneakers, the tight white slacks she'd packed herself into, the nurse's coat. She checks her face in the mirror. Her eyebrows are penciled in, as are her lips because this is the style these days. The tight, slightly flared pants, the high, arched eyebrows like parentheses turned side ways, the dark lipstick and finer etched tightly around her small mouth. She doesn't see her grandfather's face in hers, not at all. She sits down on her bed, crosses her arms, and listens again to the old story. ****** Then he did it. He crossed the freeway barefoot. He crossed in sneakers; he crossed with his green mochila, carrying a cooler filled with sand, and once, with only one eye open. He learned to cross for his family—to bring them to a house with a door that locked, and perhaps a stove and a refrigerator, a tele, even a yard in the front with flowers in it. They wanted it. He wanted to get it for them. Por la vida, says Esther's mother. Rogelio had heard stories of the yellow road signs on the other side that read, Por el amor de Dios, no crucen la carretera. For the love of God, don't cross the freeway. But people had crossed the border and then crossed the freeway and sent dollar bills home in old newspapers and peanut butter jars. They wrote letters to family in the newspaper margins, next to the news, made dates to call. Rogelio ran his thin, dark body over the tar again and again, in between cars and trucks, motorcycles, and trailers. For each successful crossing, he decided, he would award himself one new thing for his life on the other side. Some nice shoes with strong new rubber on their soles, a new hat, a power saw and a nail gun, a microwave for his wife, a bicycle for Rosa, aluminum framed windows, and his own car. These were the items he had coming to him. When the time came, a dusty, brownish night in August, Rogelio and his family crossed the border. They did it on foot, each carrying a bag, except Rosa, who was seven and nursing a thumb pricked by thistles. Her 111

110


Berkeley Fiction Review

The Story ofEsther Quinones

father carried her as well as his backpack. Rosa's mother carried two satchels and ran daintily through the brush. The coyote they'd paid to lead them across did his job well and disappeared into the sagebrush night after robbing them at gunpoint. Or at knifepoint, Esther's mother can't always remember the details. Rogelio set his daughter on the ground and the three linked hands. Between the cars flashing by, Rogelio saw their own small house, a job as a guide at the museum. Or else making money from the computer. He saw welcome mats on doorsteps, a garden, his car in the driveway, the leisure to dance on a Wednesday morning. They breathed in the sky. There was a small silence in the world, and then they took off running. Across the freeway like the silhouette of Father, Mother, and Child pictured on the yellow signs. Their bodies shone fractal in the glare of the headlights. The sound of velocity pricked their spines. And then Rogelio is hurtling silently through the night, his family missing the splendor of his trajectory. His mind is quiet instantly; his body twists itself up like a braid. The traffic doesn't notice. The flatbed that hit him doesn't even check its pace. The driver thinks maybe he's hit a deer and continues on to Phoenix, singing aloud to The Boss on his radio. The roar of wind and metal and belted radials on asphalt rages without pause for breath. There is no more breath. Mother and daughter hit the dirt on the other side as the body of Rogelio Campos twisted through tires and grilles and windshields and pavement. He bounced through cushions of air and steel fenders and lay mangled on the reflectors in the fast lane his body illuminated in the traffic strobe and swaying slightly as cars blew by. Mother and daughter lay still and silent in the night as the traffic wailed. ***** * Esther rides the BART out to Pittsburgh. She sits on the train with her arms crossed and her eyes down. She thinks about her job at the hospital: the vomit she's mopped off chests, the bedpans she's emptied, the hands she's held, the jaws she's seen wired shut, the needles, the respirators, the charts, the Albuterol inhalers, the Demerol and the Oxycodon. The bitter, chemical smell of waste, which reminds her too strongly of her mother. Outside the train, the space is vast, rushing by in shades of gray. Her hair is pulled back tight enough to lift her eyebrows. There is dog with a spiked choke chain collar sitting with his owner on the seat across 112

from her. She and the dog share a glance. He blinks, she blinks. He leans forward and she watches the barbs on the metal collar jab the flesh around his neck. The dog leans back, sniffles, casts his head down. When Esther gets off the train, she walks. She thinks about Mexico. She remembers having been there once with her mother, being introduced to her father. When she gets home her mother tells her the story of Alejandro Quinones, who is somewhere in Mexico, drinking and dancing and sleeping and working. Most likely in that order. And he is probably with his family. His real family. Rosa tells this story from her chair in the front room. She shouts the story of Esther's father, who lived alone in the States for six years, sending money back to his wife and child In Zacatecas. And who now sends letters once a year to Rosa and her daughter, but will never come back. She shouts it, over the drone of the television, into the kitchen where Esther shuffles through the refrigerator, paralyzed by her choices. ****** Alejandro crossed the border like Rogelio had, but survived. He lived first in a canyon in near San Bernadino, climbing up and out of it to trudge along the freeway each morning before sunrise. Cars came tearing out of the dusk, their lights blurring his eyes. He walked with the flow of traffic, kept his shoulders tensed for a blow. He took his place with the rest of the men in a vacant lot near a lumberyard. The throng of Mexican men in flannel surged towards each truck that slowed along side. Alejandro surged with them. He shouted out the virtues of his own strong arms to gringos in pick-up trucks who'd pay him twenty dollars for a day's work. \Brazosfuertes\ The gringo would simply say, "No hablo espanol" and point to the men he wanted. Alejandro felt as if he were a used car, his tires being kicked by a man who knew only that kicking the tires made it seem as if his choice had some basis in fact. He kept moving. He harvested dates in Central California, alongside 1-5, sleeping in the fields or in the rooms of others he met on the job. He shared the floor with fourteen men. Poured concrete in Bakersfield, welded truck parts on the line in Greenbay, tied steel in Lima, Ohio. It hurt his heart stay in one place. He bought a tent and began sleeping in fields on the side of the road. He dreamt of his wife, saw her sitting on an adobe stoop, waving at him as the truck rolled off. He didn't cry then. The rest of the men in the truck were doing the same as he; it wouldn't have been fair. If one man 113


Berkeley Fiction Review

The Story ofEsther Quinones

father carried her as well as his backpack. Rosa's mother carried two satchels and ran daintily through the brush. The coyote they'd paid to lead them across did his job well and disappeared into the sagebrush night after robbing them at gunpoint. Or at knifepoint, Esther's mother can't always remember the details. Rogelio set his daughter on the ground and the three linked hands. Between the cars flashing by, Rogelio saw their own small house, a job as a guide at the museum. Or else making money from the computer. He saw welcome mats on doorsteps, a garden, his car in the driveway, the leisure to dance on a Wednesday morning. They breathed in the sky. There was a small silence in the world, and then they took off running. Across the freeway like the silhouette of Father, Mother, and Child pictured on the yellow signs. Their bodies shone fractal in the glare of the headlights. The sound of velocity pricked their spines. And then Rogelio is hurtling silently through the night, his family missing the splendor of his trajectory. His mind is quiet instantly; his body twists itself up like a braid. The traffic doesn't notice. The flatbed that hit him doesn't even check its pace. The driver thinks maybe he's hit a deer and continues on to Phoenix, singing aloud to The Boss on his radio. The roar of wind and metal and belted radials on asphalt rages without pause for breath. There is no more breath. Mother and daughter hit the dirt on the other side as the body of Rogelio Campos twisted through tires and grilles and windshields and pavement. He bounced through cushions of air and steel fenders and lay mangled on the reflectors in the fast lane his body illuminated in the traffic strobe and swaying slightly as cars blew by. Mother and daughter lay still and silent in the night as the traffic wailed. ***** * Esther rides the BART out to Pittsburgh. She sits on the train with her arms crossed and her eyes down. She thinks about her job at the hospital: the vomit she's mopped off chests, the bedpans she's emptied, the hands she's held, the jaws she's seen wired shut, the needles, the respirators, the charts, the Albuterol inhalers, the Demerol and the Oxycodon. The bitter, chemical smell of waste, which reminds her too strongly of her mother. Outside the train, the space is vast, rushing by in shades of gray. Her hair is pulled back tight enough to lift her eyebrows. There is dog with a spiked choke chain collar sitting with his owner on the seat across 112

from her. She and the dog share a glance. He blinks, she blinks. He leans forward and she watches the barbs on the metal collar jab the flesh around his neck. The dog leans back, sniffles, casts his head down. When Esther gets off the train, she walks. She thinks about Mexico. She remembers having been there once with her mother, being introduced to her father. When she gets home her mother tells her the story of Alejandro Quinones, who is somewhere in Mexico, drinking and dancing and sleeping and working. Most likely in that order. And he is probably with his family. His real family. Rosa tells this story from her chair in the front room. She shouts the story of Esther's father, who lived alone in the States for six years, sending money back to his wife and child In Zacatecas. And who now sends letters once a year to Rosa and her daughter, but will never come back. She shouts it, over the drone of the television, into the kitchen where Esther shuffles through the refrigerator, paralyzed by her choices. ****** Alejandro crossed the border like Rogelio had, but survived. He lived first in a canyon in near San Bernadino, climbing up and out of it to trudge along the freeway each morning before sunrise. Cars came tearing out of the dusk, their lights blurring his eyes. He walked with the flow of traffic, kept his shoulders tensed for a blow. He took his place with the rest of the men in a vacant lot near a lumberyard. The throng of Mexican men in flannel surged towards each truck that slowed along side. Alejandro surged with them. He shouted out the virtues of his own strong arms to gringos in pick-up trucks who'd pay him twenty dollars for a day's work. \Brazosfuertes\ The gringo would simply say, "No hablo espanol" and point to the men he wanted. Alejandro felt as if he were a used car, his tires being kicked by a man who knew only that kicking the tires made it seem as if his choice had some basis in fact. He kept moving. He harvested dates in Central California, alongside 1-5, sleeping in the fields or in the rooms of others he met on the job. He shared the floor with fourteen men. Poured concrete in Bakersfield, welded truck parts on the line in Greenbay, tied steel in Lima, Ohio. It hurt his heart stay in one place. He bought a tent and began sleeping in fields on the side of the road. He dreamt of his wife, saw her sitting on an adobe stoop, waving at him as the truck rolled off. He didn't cry then. The rest of the men in the truck were doing the same as he; it wouldn't have been fair. If one man 113


The Story ofEsther Quinones

Berkeley Fiction Review broke, the rest must as well. He remembered her saying, "Mira mi vida, no denes que salir." You don't have to go. She told him she would get a job. She was a wonderful seamstress. She could sew anything. But it was a slap to the face. He was a man. He had promised to take care of her, had promised her the fantastic things that lovers promise each other when it's very late and they are cuddling in the dark. In truth, he would have given her the moon if he could. He'd told her of a house they would build together, on the coast. A house with two yards, two floors, and central heating. A balcony that looked out on the ocean, a large, terracotta tiled kitchen with two sinks, a music room, a garage. They would not take a bus there when they traveled; they would take an airplane and steal the tiny bottles of liquor. He'd told her of a real school for their son, where the children wore crisp uniforms and the teachers were the best, from all over the world. She would have a garden, as many acres as she wanted. She would have a television, and they would watch it late at night, while lying in bed. He had to leave. Now, alone in his tent, the traffic shaking the ground, he cried. He said out loud that he would be home soon, with money to burn. The night said nothing back, and it was the silence that stung most. He would have preferred a cough or a giggle, even screams, anything but nothing. It was like this always. To him, it had been years beyond counting. Alejandro Quinones met Rosa Campos while harvesting strawberries under the flat, empty sky in the San Joaquin Valley. Rosa's mother lay dying with fever in Indio, in the house of a Guatemalan woman who'd found them wandering along the freeway and had brought them to a laundry for work a few days later. Rosa rode the bus to L.A. for three hours each way to collect bottles, sweep floors, or pick fruit to bring back enough money to pay the Guatemalan woman for her hospitality, and to buy aspirin for her mother. She cursed her father for leaving them here. She had few memories of Mexico: only the earthy smell of tortilla, the sound of her father's voice and a nylon-stringed guitar, her mother's feet slapping against the dirt as she danced. Here, she had no time for memories. She simply bent her back under the sun, placed the fruits gently in her basket andworked, ignoring the naked rednessvof her fingers. She was twenty years old and plump. Her face was as round as the moon, the wrinkles around her brown eyes growing deeper by the day. For all the hard work, she was beautiful. She was beautiful with grief and loneliness. Gorgeous with determination. Rosa tells the story as if Alejandro materialized from beneath a strawberry plant, with his floppy, canvas hat and strong hands. As if he had 114

fallen down with the rain. Alejandro had been dreaming of his wife and child back home. He'd seen them, night after night, trailing an empty plastic bag blown out of reach by the wind. Dark circles ringed his eyes. In the field one afternoon, their skin dusty and burnt, he told Rosa that he couldn't find the time to think or even breathe, to plan tomorrow or enjoy today: He couldn't find the time to return home. He'd been sending everything he earned back to Zacatecas, to his family. He wondered if his wife had gotten it, if she was rich now, sewing his new clothes, waiting. He didn't know. His wife couldn't write him. She didn't know where he was. He told Rosa about the school their son would attend and the house they'd have on the coast. He told her that his wife would have to introduce him to his son as a stranger. It was an odd thing to be searching for time when in Mexico, years ago, it was all they had. Rosa listened and understood. "Hay tiempo. No tepreocupes, hija. Siemprehay tiempo" Rosa remembered her father saying when she told him she wanted be a dancer, an astronaut, a bus driver, a painter and then a doctor and a chef and a zookeeper. Don't worry, there's time. There's always time. They stole strawberries that day, and fed each other in Alejandro's tent, the traffic humming in the distance. She laid back in his blanket, let him stroke her face and neck, the roughness of his hands sending shivers through her body. She let him remove the ancient blouse she'd worn for weeks. He rubbed her shoulders and her thighs, kissed her stomach. He let himself cry. Rosa kissed his eyes and mouth, tasted the bitterness of his skin. She unwrapped herself and let her worries seep out through her pores and into the ground. She thought that here, in this place, would grow a sad and beautiful tree. They pushed into each other under the skies of an America neither had expected to come to. She whispered in the dark, "Hay tiempo, ahora." When they woke in the morning, Alejandro left. He gave her the address of his family in Zacatecas and a Spanish-to-English dictionary. He told her he was going home and thanked her for the time. She watched him hunch up the road from the door of his tent, as she wrapped herself up again. ****** Esther rides the BART out to Pittsburgh. She sits on the train with her arms crossed and her eyes down. She tries desperately to picture her father, to picture Mexico In the landscape rushing by outside the train. She tries to 115


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Berkeley Fiction Review broke, the rest must as well. He remembered her saying, "Mira mi vida, no denes que salir." You don't have to go. She told him she would get a job. She was a wonderful seamstress. She could sew anything. But it was a slap to the face. He was a man. He had promised to take care of her, had promised her the fantastic things that lovers promise each other when it's very late and they are cuddling in the dark. In truth, he would have given her the moon if he could. He'd told her of a house they would build together, on the coast. A house with two yards, two floors, and central heating. A balcony that looked out on the ocean, a large, terracotta tiled kitchen with two sinks, a music room, a garage. They would not take a bus there when they traveled; they would take an airplane and steal the tiny bottles of liquor. He'd told her of a real school for their son, where the children wore crisp uniforms and the teachers were the best, from all over the world. She would have a garden, as many acres as she wanted. She would have a television, and they would watch it late at night, while lying in bed. He had to leave. Now, alone in his tent, the traffic shaking the ground, he cried. He said out loud that he would be home soon, with money to burn. The night said nothing back, and it was the silence that stung most. He would have preferred a cough or a giggle, even screams, anything but nothing. It was like this always. To him, it had been years beyond counting. Alejandro Quinones met Rosa Campos while harvesting strawberries under the flat, empty sky in the San Joaquin Valley. Rosa's mother lay dying with fever in Indio, in the house of a Guatemalan woman who'd found them wandering along the freeway and had brought them to a laundry for work a few days later. Rosa rode the bus to L.A. for three hours each way to collect bottles, sweep floors, or pick fruit to bring back enough money to pay the Guatemalan woman for her hospitality, and to buy aspirin for her mother. She cursed her father for leaving them here. She had few memories of Mexico: only the earthy smell of tortilla, the sound of her father's voice and a nylon-stringed guitar, her mother's feet slapping against the dirt as she danced. Here, she had no time for memories. She simply bent her back under the sun, placed the fruits gently in her basket andworked, ignoring the naked rednessvof her fingers. She was twenty years old and plump. Her face was as round as the moon, the wrinkles around her brown eyes growing deeper by the day. For all the hard work, she was beautiful. She was beautiful with grief and loneliness. Gorgeous with determination. Rosa tells the story as if Alejandro materialized from beneath a strawberry plant, with his floppy, canvas hat and strong hands. As if he had 114

fallen down with the rain. Alejandro had been dreaming of his wife and child back home. He'd seen them, night after night, trailing an empty plastic bag blown out of reach by the wind. Dark circles ringed his eyes. In the field one afternoon, their skin dusty and burnt, he told Rosa that he couldn't find the time to think or even breathe, to plan tomorrow or enjoy today: He couldn't find the time to return home. He'd been sending everything he earned back to Zacatecas, to his family. He wondered if his wife had gotten it, if she was rich now, sewing his new clothes, waiting. He didn't know. His wife couldn't write him. She didn't know where he was. He told Rosa about the school their son would attend and the house they'd have on the coast. He told her that his wife would have to introduce him to his son as a stranger. It was an odd thing to be searching for time when in Mexico, years ago, it was all they had. Rosa listened and understood. "Hay tiempo. No tepreocupes, hija. Siemprehay tiempo" Rosa remembered her father saying when she told him she wanted be a dancer, an astronaut, a bus driver, a painter and then a doctor and a chef and a zookeeper. Don't worry, there's time. There's always time. They stole strawberries that day, and fed each other in Alejandro's tent, the traffic humming in the distance. She laid back in his blanket, let him stroke her face and neck, the roughness of his hands sending shivers through her body. She let him remove the ancient blouse she'd worn for weeks. He rubbed her shoulders and her thighs, kissed her stomach. He let himself cry. Rosa kissed his eyes and mouth, tasted the bitterness of his skin. She unwrapped herself and let her worries seep out through her pores and into the ground. She thought that here, in this place, would grow a sad and beautiful tree. They pushed into each other under the skies of an America neither had expected to come to. She whispered in the dark, "Hay tiempo, ahora." When they woke in the morning, Alejandro left. He gave her the address of his family in Zacatecas and a Spanish-to-English dictionary. He told her he was going home and thanked her for the time. She watched him hunch up the road from the door of his tent, as she wrapped herself up again. ****** Esther rides the BART out to Pittsburgh. She sits on the train with her arms crossed and her eyes down. She tries desperately to picture her father, to picture Mexico In the landscape rushing by outside the train. She tries to 115


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understand why Alejandro left to come here. Why Rogelio and his family left the men pounding silver in open-door shops, the cobbled streets in which the stones change color during the day, the Callejoneada where women in yellow dance to drums in the street and mezcal is drunk from cups laced around revelers' necks. She has hazy flashes of laughing children throwing rocks at a dog in the desert. She thinks her father was there too. She vaguely remembers the warm gaze of his wife in her red shawl and sandals as her mother stood in the road, leaning against the bus, crying. Alejandro stared at her for a long time after Rosa had yelled from the street who the nina was. "]Tuhija\ {Recuerdas}" He looked at her and offered his hand, introduced her to his family simply as Esther. His boy pulled on his toes and Alejandro chased him out into the dirt behind their house. In the afternoon, Esther watched the university students stroll through the plaza, heedless of time. A guitar and a drum danced with each other from across the square, the sound simmering in the soft light. She watched toothless women selling pan get up to pee in the street without halting their conversation. Their words rose in the air like smoke. Alejandro's wife had braided her hair as they sat in the sun, watching the street. She gave Esther some bread for the six-hour bus ride back to Mexico City. Esther knew why her father had come back here. She remembers a vague, hopeful feeling in the emptiness of the Zacatecas sky. ****** Rosa has grown fat. The flesh of her ankles hangs over the side of her shoes. Her face is as round as it had ever been. Four days a week she vacuums floors and scrubs toilets and empties trash cans in an office building from seven in the evening until two in the morning. She has taken on an oily, yellowish hue and tells Esther these stories before she goes to work to remind her of how lucky she is. Esther doesn't feel lucky, she feels empty. She feels the sharp points of her mother's words, when she tells her in English, " You will be nothing in this place. We are stuck." ****** Lying in the dirt with her mother, watching Rogelio's body sway softly to the howl of velocity, Rosa knew she shouldn't have come. She knew then, at seven years old, that she would have to build a shell like a clam 116

around her heart. She knew that the notes on newspapers and the dollar bills in peanut butter jars and the numbers of pay phones, which rang through the night, were all an illusion. She would cover the shell with rocks and sticks, spikes and tar. She would keep the shell closed tight with the residue of dried out tear ducts and spit. In the night, as her mother wailed along with the traffic, she hardened her face and turned it away from her father, away from Mexico. She would not go back. She would live here, regardless. As she grew, so did the shell until it became covered with scraps of carpet, trash bags, Pepsi cans, diapers, TV Guide, take-out menus, husbands, billboards, brooms, mops, found furniture, hospitals, detergent, tax forms, vacuum cleaners, light bulbs, lovers, ex-lovers, bank statements, bosses, smoke, rubber gloves, lye, and the ugly, whining words of the English language. She became heavy with the burden, and sat most of the day talking back to the tele, as she waited for the sacrifice to be worth it. ****** Esther gets off the BART at the Richmond station. She walks softly down the stairs, running her fingers along the tiled mosaic on the station wall, and slides her ticket into the turnstile before walking through when the gate snaps back. Outside, the Amtrak trains are lined up with their silver noses pointing south. The windows at the front of each train stretch along their sides and up, arching like Esther's penciled eyebrows along their bullet heads. Strangers have formed the merest suggestion of a line as they funnel up into the train. Their clothing and baggage catch on each other and push the linked and writhing mass of bodies smoothly into the corrugated car. Through the windows, Esther watches parents adjust their children in their seats. Some children are crying, some are not. She buys a ticket and wanders down the platform toward the train. When she gets on, she crosses her arms and casts her eyes down. The smell of the seats is new and dank, like engine grease. Already the air inside the car has become murky with the breath of a hundred people. It is a safe fog of humanity in which she feels suddenly hidden by the sameness. She chooses a seat at the rear of the train and slides in next to the window. There is a new feeling in her face. A tingling inside her skull, an inch back from her eyeballs. There's tightness in her throat, like a shoe caught between her clavicle and her vocal chords. Something vaguely tugging on her cheeks. She is unsure whether she might cry or burst out into hysterical laughter. So she does nothing but sit with her cheek pressed flat against the window and let the new feeling wash over her. The en117


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understand why Alejandro left to come here. Why Rogelio and his family left the men pounding silver in open-door shops, the cobbled streets in which the stones change color during the day, the Callejoneada where women in yellow dance to drums in the street and mezcal is drunk from cups laced around revelers' necks. She has hazy flashes of laughing children throwing rocks at a dog in the desert. She thinks her father was there too. She vaguely remembers the warm gaze of his wife in her red shawl and sandals as her mother stood in the road, leaning against the bus, crying. Alejandro stared at her for a long time after Rosa had yelled from the street who the nina was. "]Tuhija\ {Recuerdas}" He looked at her and offered his hand, introduced her to his family simply as Esther. His boy pulled on his toes and Alejandro chased him out into the dirt behind their house. In the afternoon, Esther watched the university students stroll through the plaza, heedless of time. A guitar and a drum danced with each other from across the square, the sound simmering in the soft light. She watched toothless women selling pan get up to pee in the street without halting their conversation. Their words rose in the air like smoke. Alejandro's wife had braided her hair as they sat in the sun, watching the street. She gave Esther some bread for the six-hour bus ride back to Mexico City. Esther knew why her father had come back here. She remembers a vague, hopeful feeling in the emptiness of the Zacatecas sky. ****** Rosa has grown fat. The flesh of her ankles hangs over the side of her shoes. Her face is as round as it had ever been. Four days a week she vacuums floors and scrubs toilets and empties trash cans in an office building from seven in the evening until two in the morning. She has taken on an oily, yellowish hue and tells Esther these stories before she goes to work to remind her of how lucky she is. Esther doesn't feel lucky, she feels empty. She feels the sharp points of her mother's words, when she tells her in English, " You will be nothing in this place. We are stuck." ****** Lying in the dirt with her mother, watching Rogelio's body sway softly to the howl of velocity, Rosa knew she shouldn't have come. She knew then, at seven years old, that she would have to build a shell like a clam 116

around her heart. She knew that the notes on newspapers and the dollar bills in peanut butter jars and the numbers of pay phones, which rang through the night, were all an illusion. She would cover the shell with rocks and sticks, spikes and tar. She would keep the shell closed tight with the residue of dried out tear ducts and spit. In the night, as her mother wailed along with the traffic, she hardened her face and turned it away from her father, away from Mexico. She would not go back. She would live here, regardless. As she grew, so did the shell until it became covered with scraps of carpet, trash bags, Pepsi cans, diapers, TV Guide, take-out menus, husbands, billboards, brooms, mops, found furniture, hospitals, detergent, tax forms, vacuum cleaners, light bulbs, lovers, ex-lovers, bank statements, bosses, smoke, rubber gloves, lye, and the ugly, whining words of the English language. She became heavy with the burden, and sat most of the day talking back to the tele, as she waited for the sacrifice to be worth it. ****** Esther gets off the BART at the Richmond station. She walks softly down the stairs, running her fingers along the tiled mosaic on the station wall, and slides her ticket into the turnstile before walking through when the gate snaps back. Outside, the Amtrak trains are lined up with their silver noses pointing south. The windows at the front of each train stretch along their sides and up, arching like Esther's penciled eyebrows along their bullet heads. Strangers have formed the merest suggestion of a line as they funnel up into the train. Their clothing and baggage catch on each other and push the linked and writhing mass of bodies smoothly into the corrugated car. Through the windows, Esther watches parents adjust their children in their seats. Some children are crying, some are not. She buys a ticket and wanders down the platform toward the train. When she gets on, she crosses her arms and casts her eyes down. The smell of the seats is new and dank, like engine grease. Already the air inside the car has become murky with the breath of a hundred people. It is a safe fog of humanity in which she feels suddenly hidden by the sameness. She chooses a seat at the rear of the train and slides in next to the window. There is a new feeling in her face. A tingling inside her skull, an inch back from her eyeballs. There's tightness in her throat, like a shoe caught between her clavicle and her vocal chords. Something vaguely tugging on her cheeks. She is unsure whether she might cry or burst out into hysterical laughter. So she does nothing but sit with her cheek pressed flat against the window and let the new feeling wash over her. The en117


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gine starts up and her seat vibrates loosely, shaking free both kinds of tears. Her breath catches behind her teeth for just a moment before she exhales. She hears her mother speaking to the tele, ranting, telling the story of Esther Quinones who did not come home on a Wednesday evening, as the train squeals and churns and then rumbles south.

S U N D A Y S

W I T H

M E L O D Y

Elise J u s k a

n his Wranglers, Ed's a stallion. The blue jeans hug his hips like a baseball glove worn soft, lined with copper rivets and busted inseams that make the women in Ye Olde Town Tavern fall in lust-at-first-sight. The ladies line up at the bar to watch his denim-smooth moves, giggling and eyeing him until he singles one out—like this lucky blond here with the straight gaze and the purple eye makeup, which looks kind of cheap but that's just the kind of mood Ed's in tonight—and walks on over to her, boot heels tapping, steel toes clicking, rusted buckles peeking out from under the Wranglers' gritty cuffs. The boots look cool, super cool, even though the soles are coated with smashed raisins and cookie crumbs from the rec room at his sister's place, where he's been crashing ever since his divorce. Elaine, Ed's sister, hates his boots. "Don't wear them in the house!" she shrieks. "You might accidentally kill somebody." She says it because once, thirteen years ago, soon after his daughter Melody was born, Ed was walking across his living room floor—squashing rubber balls and stuffed animals under his boot soles, feeling pretty pleased with himself for being the manly animal who produced such a good-looking baby girl—when he went and almost stepped right on her. She was just lying there on the floor, mixed in with the toys. She looked like a doll, honest to God. His back-then-wife Olivia screamed, "STOP!" and Ed's boot stopped, inches from the baby's chest, which was soft and fuzzy in a duck-print sleep suit with plastic feet. The boot just hung there, pointed as a weapon. Baby Melody stared up at Ed, gurgling and dewy-eyed, spittle bubbling up in the corners of her mouth. Melody wasn't mad, he could tell. She forgave him. It was 118

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gine starts up and her seat vibrates loosely, shaking free both kinds of tears. Her breath catches behind her teeth for just a moment before she exhales. She hears her mother speaking to the tele, ranting, telling the story of Esther Quinones who did not come home on a Wednesday evening, as the train squeals and churns and then rumbles south.

S U N D A Y S

W I T H

M E L O D Y

Elise J u s k a

n his Wranglers, Ed's a stallion. The blue jeans hug his hips like a baseball glove worn soft, lined with copper rivets and busted inseams that make the women in Ye Olde Town Tavern fall in lust-at-first-sight. The ladies line up at the bar to watch his denim-smooth moves, giggling and eyeing him until he singles one out—like this lucky blond here with the straight gaze and the purple eye makeup, which looks kind of cheap but that's just the kind of mood Ed's in tonight—and walks on over to her, boot heels tapping, steel toes clicking, rusted buckles peeking out from under the Wranglers' gritty cuffs. The boots look cool, super cool, even though the soles are coated with smashed raisins and cookie crumbs from the rec room at his sister's place, where he's been crashing ever since his divorce. Elaine, Ed's sister, hates his boots. "Don't wear them in the house!" she shrieks. "You might accidentally kill somebody." She says it because once, thirteen years ago, soon after his daughter Melody was born, Ed was walking across his living room floor—squashing rubber balls and stuffed animals under his boot soles, feeling pretty pleased with himself for being the manly animal who produced such a good-looking baby girl—when he went and almost stepped right on her. She was just lying there on the floor, mixed in with the toys. She looked like a doll, honest to God. His back-then-wife Olivia screamed, "STOP!" and Ed's boot stopped, inches from the baby's chest, which was soft and fuzzy in a duck-print sleep suit with plastic feet. The boot just hung there, pointed as a weapon. Baby Melody stared up at Ed, gurgling and dewy-eyed, spittle bubbling up in the corners of her mouth. Melody wasn't mad, he could tell. She forgave him. It was 118

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Berkeley Fiction Review only when the screaming started in the next room—Ed's sister and Ed's mother and Ed's wife and Ed's wife's friends, screeching all at once like a pack of hungry gulls—that the baby started to cry. "I saw her," Ed said, laughing a little as Olivia swooped the baby off the floor. "Jesus, Olivia. You think I didn't see her?" But he felt a little shaky himself. He grabbed a six-pack out of the fridge and took it out to the small, square backyard, where he walked in circles, around and around, pouring the cool beer down his throat, thinking about what might have just happened inside, and how what might have just happened inside would have changed the way his life went from that day forward, and how it was possible that one small moment could be so important, until he gave up thinking and headed on back indoors. Now, pushing thirty-five years old, Ed figures things could be worse. Melody is alive and kicking. Olivia doesn't have much opportunity to nag him anymore, thank God. And down at Ye Olde Town Tavern, Ed knows how to work it so the women can't keep their eyes off him. He has moves. Always did. Back in high school, he was the guy scooping up grounders and sliding into bases. He never missed a beat, not once, except that ball that got lost in the sun. The one that made him run back, trip over his own shoelaces, fall on his wrist and bust it all apart. Put him on the bench for the rest of the season and made him cry on the front of Olivia's peach-colored blouse. These days, there's no tripping and falling. Ed will not be caught looking that dumb again. He plays it cool. Leaning forward to throw a dart, easing back against the bar to swallow a beer, grinding a cigarette out under his boot's steel tip. Ed's sure he's the only guy in all of West Conway—maybe all of Southern Maine, for that matter—to wear boots with honest-to-God steel tips. As he cruises around the bar-room, he can feel the ladies staring, checking him out over the rims of their pale yellow beers. Ed works his way over to the blond with the purple makeup. She's got on a tight white shirt that crisscrosses her chest, making a ridge of pink flesh where the shirt hits skin. Up close, Ed can see that her lavender eyelids look greasy. Her frizzy blond hair is darker at the roots. She flips her hair over one shoulder and smiles from the corners of her mouth. "You wanna dance?" she says. Ed does not dance. He's seen men dance, men who are cool one minute—throwing a dart, sipping a beer, smoking a butt—but the minute they hit the dance floor, they start flailing around like sick birds. Arms start flying, legs start kicking, and faces get all open-mouthed and red and 120

Sundays with Melody sweaty. He does not ever want to be a man who looks like that. Downside is, it's a hell of a lot easier to get the lady if you're pressed up next to her on the dance floor to begin with. It's harder to get them just by talking. But by God, Ed's up to the challenge. The blond is still smiling at him. She's got a pretty face, Ed thinks, and feels his stomach do a slow roll. He sips his beer, smiles—a quirk of the mouth—and says, "Why don't you tell me your name." "Linda," she says. Ed licks his lips, leans in closer. "Sorry. Can't hear you." "Linda," she says again, tongue curling over her pink top lip. "My ears must be going." Ed grins, his face an inch from hers. "One more time, darlin'." "Lin-da," she repeats, and by now she's on to his tricks, and her voice is getting husky, and her breath's tickling his ear, and he knows and she knows that a few more rounds of Miller and they're all done for. By midnight, slumped in the front seat of his Davies Oil Service delivery truck, Ed drives Linda back to his place. He tells her it's "his place" even though it's really only the rec room of his sister's house: a basement with a TV, ashtray, poster of Yaz hanging over a pull-out bed. The basics. When they walk through the living room, Linda trips over some toys in the fuzzy darkness. They're Elaine's twins' toys, racecar tracks and halfdone puzzles and those goddamned cabbage kids. Linda turns to Ed, flips her hair over one shoulder, and asks him: "Oh. Do you have children?" As casual as that. Ed stops. The word "no" almost rolls off his tongue without thinking, because the twins aren't his, because the toys don't have anything to do with him. But then he thinks about his daughter, Melody. When she was a baby, Melody was his chick magnet. Mention "my two-year-old girl" and ladies went soft. Walk her to the playground and women crowded in to see her. Curl her in the crook of his arm and they leaned over her to get, a better look, and their hair swung forward to brush his arm, and their shampooed smell floated up to tickle his nose. "Stop showing off, Ed," Olivia would snap. God knows he had the chance to cheat on her, lots of times. But he only did it once. With the Shop Right supermarket checker, the redheaded one, the one he left with from Ye Olde Town Tavern when he was feeling drunk and lonely and Melody was nowhere in sight. But Melody's no baby now, Ed thinks. She's thirteen years old, with freckles and glasses and dirty blond hair. Chubby as a snowman. Men121


Berkeley Fiction Review only when the screaming started in the next room—Ed's sister and Ed's mother and Ed's wife and Ed's wife's friends, screeching all at once like a pack of hungry gulls—that the baby started to cry. "I saw her," Ed said, laughing a little as Olivia swooped the baby off the floor. "Jesus, Olivia. You think I didn't see her?" But he felt a little shaky himself. He grabbed a six-pack out of the fridge and took it out to the small, square backyard, where he walked in circles, around and around, pouring the cool beer down his throat, thinking about what might have just happened inside, and how what might have just happened inside would have changed the way his life went from that day forward, and how it was possible that one small moment could be so important, until he gave up thinking and headed on back indoors. Now, pushing thirty-five years old, Ed figures things could be worse. Melody is alive and kicking. Olivia doesn't have much opportunity to nag him anymore, thank God. And down at Ye Olde Town Tavern, Ed knows how to work it so the women can't keep their eyes off him. He has moves. Always did. Back in high school, he was the guy scooping up grounders and sliding into bases. He never missed a beat, not once, except that ball that got lost in the sun. The one that made him run back, trip over his own shoelaces, fall on his wrist and bust it all apart. Put him on the bench for the rest of the season and made him cry on the front of Olivia's peach-colored blouse. These days, there's no tripping and falling. Ed will not be caught looking that dumb again. He plays it cool. Leaning forward to throw a dart, easing back against the bar to swallow a beer, grinding a cigarette out under his boot's steel tip. Ed's sure he's the only guy in all of West Conway—maybe all of Southern Maine, for that matter—to wear boots with honest-to-God steel tips. As he cruises around the bar-room, he can feel the ladies staring, checking him out over the rims of their pale yellow beers. Ed works his way over to the blond with the purple makeup. She's got on a tight white shirt that crisscrosses her chest, making a ridge of pink flesh where the shirt hits skin. Up close, Ed can see that her lavender eyelids look greasy. Her frizzy blond hair is darker at the roots. She flips her hair over one shoulder and smiles from the corners of her mouth. "You wanna dance?" she says. Ed does not dance. He's seen men dance, men who are cool one minute—throwing a dart, sipping a beer, smoking a butt—but the minute they hit the dance floor, they start flailing around like sick birds. Arms start flying, legs start kicking, and faces get all open-mouthed and red and 120

Sundays with Melody sweaty. He does not ever want to be a man who looks like that. Downside is, it's a hell of a lot easier to get the lady if you're pressed up next to her on the dance floor to begin with. It's harder to get them just by talking. But by God, Ed's up to the challenge. The blond is still smiling at him. She's got a pretty face, Ed thinks, and feels his stomach do a slow roll. He sips his beer, smiles—a quirk of the mouth—and says, "Why don't you tell me your name." "Linda," she says. Ed licks his lips, leans in closer. "Sorry. Can't hear you." "Linda," she says again, tongue curling over her pink top lip. "My ears must be going." Ed grins, his face an inch from hers. "One more time, darlin'." "Lin-da," she repeats, and by now she's on to his tricks, and her voice is getting husky, and her breath's tickling his ear, and he knows and she knows that a few more rounds of Miller and they're all done for. By midnight, slumped in the front seat of his Davies Oil Service delivery truck, Ed drives Linda back to his place. He tells her it's "his place" even though it's really only the rec room of his sister's house: a basement with a TV, ashtray, poster of Yaz hanging over a pull-out bed. The basics. When they walk through the living room, Linda trips over some toys in the fuzzy darkness. They're Elaine's twins' toys, racecar tracks and halfdone puzzles and those goddamned cabbage kids. Linda turns to Ed, flips her hair over one shoulder, and asks him: "Oh. Do you have children?" As casual as that. Ed stops. The word "no" almost rolls off his tongue without thinking, because the twins aren't his, because the toys don't have anything to do with him. But then he thinks about his daughter, Melody. When she was a baby, Melody was his chick magnet. Mention "my two-year-old girl" and ladies went soft. Walk her to the playground and women crowded in to see her. Curl her in the crook of his arm and they leaned over her to get, a better look, and their hair swung forward to brush his arm, and their shampooed smell floated up to tickle his nose. "Stop showing off, Ed," Olivia would snap. God knows he had the chance to cheat on her, lots of times. But he only did it once. With the Shop Right supermarket checker, the redheaded one, the one he left with from Ye Olde Town Tavern when he was feeling drunk and lonely and Melody was nowhere in sight. But Melody's no baby now, Ed thinks. She's thirteen years old, with freckles and glasses and dirty blond hair. Chubby as a snowman. Men121


Berkeley Fiction Review tion a thirteen-year-old daughter to a lady and all she'll think about is stepmothering and allowances and curfews. Mention a thirteen-year-old to a lady and she'll think you're, well, old. "So?" this Linda's asking. They're stopped by the doorway off the living room, the one that leads to Ed's "place" downstairs. "Do you have kids or don't you?" She throws one hip out and plants a hand on it. "Or can't you remember?" Ed knows this is a do-or-die moment. Linda's face has some of its flirtiness left in it from the bar, but there's another look sneaking across it now, something not-too-sure-anymore. It's a squint creeping in around the eyes, the squint of a sober woman, a daylight woman, a woman who likes to watch soap operas and complain about her overgrown lawn. Now's his only shot to save this night. Say the right thing, or this Linda's out the door. "Well?" she says. Ed opens his mouth. What he thinks to himself is: Yes, yes I do, I have a daughter. Thirteen and chubby as a snowman. "No," he says. "I don't." Linda smiles. She moves the hand from her hip to his. Ed kisses her hard, harder, trying to drown the guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Hell, he thinks, as the door shuts behind them, Melody's hardly a part of my life anymore. Except on Sundays. Every Sunday since the divorce, Ed takes Melody to lunch at the Nifty Fifties restaurant. Same time, same place, same burger and strawberry shake on the Lord's day. Six whole years of it. Olivia drops her off there after church, then picks her up an hour later. For Ed, the Sunday lunches are like a church substitute. It lasts an hour, he pays some money, acts nice and doesn't swear. It's as good as sitting in the back pew of St. Mary's. That's his theory anyway, and he's stuck to it like a soldier. Aside from his mother's funeral in '97, Ed hasn't set foot in a church in six years. Ed doesn't mind the arrangement. After the divorce, it was a given that Melody would stay with Olivia. After all, Ed was the father. And he was the cheater. Plus, he went to the bar on the weekends and didn't know the first thing about taking a temperature or cooking a chicken. He didn't want all that responsibility anyway. When Olivia suggested Ed see Melody for lunch on Sundays, it sounded like a good plan to him. It was one hour a week: not so long that he'd have to tell her how to behave, but long enough that she'd know he was cool for not doing it. 122

Sundays with Melody Truth be told, Ed looks forward to the Sunday lunches. It's easy, being with Mel. She doesn't nag or yell at him. She doesn't ask what he's doing with his life. At the end of a week's worth of swapping dirty jokes with the Davies Oil guys and wooing women at the Olde Town, sitting down to lunch with Melody is the one hour of the week Ed doesn't feel any pressure to perform. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don't. Sometimes she tells him what's going on at the junior high. Sometimes he tells her his old baseball stories—his two-run homer against East Conway, his RBI in the Maine State Finals—and watches her eyes get big, listening. Sometimes he builds up the stories, just a little, to make them more exciting. There's no harm in it. As Ed understands it, that's what fathers do. But this morning, driving to the Nifty, Ed's not in a mood for talking. His head's hurting worse than usual. His tongue feels thick, dry. The rain drumming on the windshield is making his head pound harder. Turns out Linda was one of those slow-to-leave ladies. After they woke up, she lay there in one of his baseball shirts, unloading on him everything and anything going on in her life, a combination of every wife-woman-andmother Ed had ever known. She yapped about her friends, her friends' boyfriends, her new job, her landlord, even her goddamn cat, while she wound his chest hair around her pinky finger. Ed couldn't blame her. He grew good chest hair. But that morning, he just wanted to give his body a rest and quit being a stallion for a while. Let his breath out, let his gut sprawl. Some Sunday mornings, in the privacy of his sister's house, Ed traded in the Wranglers for a pair of old sweatpants and let it all hang out. But there was no time for that this morning. Not if he was going to be on time for Melody. After Linda left for work—finally—Ed was already running late. Then to make matters worse, Elaine decided to give him a hard time about her at breakfast. "They can hear you, Ed." She was buttering up waffles for the twins, who sat across from Ed at the kitchen table, their eyes gluey with sleep. Ed was waiting for his cup of coffee to cool down and starting to wish it would hurry. "If you've got to do it," Elaine said, banging the plates down on the table, "do it somewhere else." She dropped a loaded glance at the top of the twins' heads. Part of the deal, when Ed moved in six years ago, was he was going to be some kind of "father figure" for these twins: Danny and Darren. Elaine wanted to make sure D & D had somebody around to teach them how to hit a ball, tie a necktie, change a tire, clip their whiskers when the time 123


Berkeley Fiction Review tion a thirteen-year-old daughter to a lady and all she'll think about is stepmothering and allowances and curfews. Mention a thirteen-year-old to a lady and she'll think you're, well, old. "So?" this Linda's asking. They're stopped by the doorway off the living room, the one that leads to Ed's "place" downstairs. "Do you have kids or don't you?" She throws one hip out and plants a hand on it. "Or can't you remember?" Ed knows this is a do-or-die moment. Linda's face has some of its flirtiness left in it from the bar, but there's another look sneaking across it now, something not-too-sure-anymore. It's a squint creeping in around the eyes, the squint of a sober woman, a daylight woman, a woman who likes to watch soap operas and complain about her overgrown lawn. Now's his only shot to save this night. Say the right thing, or this Linda's out the door. "Well?" she says. Ed opens his mouth. What he thinks to himself is: Yes, yes I do, I have a daughter. Thirteen and chubby as a snowman. "No," he says. "I don't." Linda smiles. She moves the hand from her hip to his. Ed kisses her hard, harder, trying to drown the guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Hell, he thinks, as the door shuts behind them, Melody's hardly a part of my life anymore. Except on Sundays. Every Sunday since the divorce, Ed takes Melody to lunch at the Nifty Fifties restaurant. Same time, same place, same burger and strawberry shake on the Lord's day. Six whole years of it. Olivia drops her off there after church, then picks her up an hour later. For Ed, the Sunday lunches are like a church substitute. It lasts an hour, he pays some money, acts nice and doesn't swear. It's as good as sitting in the back pew of St. Mary's. That's his theory anyway, and he's stuck to it like a soldier. Aside from his mother's funeral in '97, Ed hasn't set foot in a church in six years. Ed doesn't mind the arrangement. After the divorce, it was a given that Melody would stay with Olivia. After all, Ed was the father. And he was the cheater. Plus, he went to the bar on the weekends and didn't know the first thing about taking a temperature or cooking a chicken. He didn't want all that responsibility anyway. When Olivia suggested Ed see Melody for lunch on Sundays, it sounded like a good plan to him. It was one hour a week: not so long that he'd have to tell her how to behave, but long enough that she'd know he was cool for not doing it. 122

Sundays with Melody Truth be told, Ed looks forward to the Sunday lunches. It's easy, being with Mel. She doesn't nag or yell at him. She doesn't ask what he's doing with his life. At the end of a week's worth of swapping dirty jokes with the Davies Oil guys and wooing women at the Olde Town, sitting down to lunch with Melody is the one hour of the week Ed doesn't feel any pressure to perform. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don't. Sometimes she tells him what's going on at the junior high. Sometimes he tells her his old baseball stories—his two-run homer against East Conway, his RBI in the Maine State Finals—and watches her eyes get big, listening. Sometimes he builds up the stories, just a little, to make them more exciting. There's no harm in it. As Ed understands it, that's what fathers do. But this morning, driving to the Nifty, Ed's not in a mood for talking. His head's hurting worse than usual. His tongue feels thick, dry. The rain drumming on the windshield is making his head pound harder. Turns out Linda was one of those slow-to-leave ladies. After they woke up, she lay there in one of his baseball shirts, unloading on him everything and anything going on in her life, a combination of every wife-woman-andmother Ed had ever known. She yapped about her friends, her friends' boyfriends, her new job, her landlord, even her goddamn cat, while she wound his chest hair around her pinky finger. Ed couldn't blame her. He grew good chest hair. But that morning, he just wanted to give his body a rest and quit being a stallion for a while. Let his breath out, let his gut sprawl. Some Sunday mornings, in the privacy of his sister's house, Ed traded in the Wranglers for a pair of old sweatpants and let it all hang out. But there was no time for that this morning. Not if he was going to be on time for Melody. After Linda left for work—finally—Ed was already running late. Then to make matters worse, Elaine decided to give him a hard time about her at breakfast. "They can hear you, Ed." She was buttering up waffles for the twins, who sat across from Ed at the kitchen table, their eyes gluey with sleep. Ed was waiting for his cup of coffee to cool down and starting to wish it would hurry. "If you've got to do it," Elaine said, banging the plates down on the table, "do it somewhere else." She dropped a loaded glance at the top of the twins' heads. Part of the deal, when Ed moved in six years ago, was he was going to be some kind of "father figure" for these twins: Danny and Darren. Elaine wanted to make sure D & D had somebody around to teach them how to hit a ball, tie a necktie, change a tire, clip their whiskers when the time 123


Berkeley Fiction Review came. Manly things. It made some sense, at the time. Olivia had just kicked him out so Ed, living apart from his own kid, would step in to fill the shoes left by his sister's ex, Ray (who announced he was leaving three weeks after the twins came) and of his own father, Bill (who hadn't given them the courtesy of a warning). It was a chance for Ed to prove everybody wrong: Olivia, her mother, her sisters, her friends. When he agreed to moving in, Ed dreamed of saving these poor fatherless boys, swooping down from the sky with his baseballs and knock-knock jokes, showing everyone who ever doubted him what Ed Tillio was really made of. That burst of good will lasted exactly six days, til the night Ed decided to do his Bugs Bunny impression. Nobody in the world had ever heard him do Bugs. He'd practiced it—alone in the truck between oil fills, or while shaving in the bathroom mirror—but that night, with his sister busy in the kitchen, he whispered to the twins: "Pssst. Hey. D's." The twins were about two at the time. They stared at him, fingers plugged up their mouths and noses. Half-curious, half-terrified. "Want to hear something?" Ed whispered1. "Want to hear what a bunny rabbit sounds like?" D & D just stood there staring, so Ed scooped them up and gently sat one on each knee. He smiled, just to put them at ease, then closed his eyes and mustered up the goddamn best "What's up Doc!" he'd ever produced. The twins' eyes went wide. For a minute, Ed thought they might start crying. Then their faces broke into gummy smiles, drool running down their chins. "What's up Doc!" Ed kept on, louder, until the kids started laughing. They were loving him, he could tell. He bared his top two teeth, getting ready to pretend-munch on a carrot, when one of the Ds pointed at his mouth and yelled: "BIG TEEF!" Ed stopped. The other D took up the call and started to point, too. "Big teef! Big teef!" they both started yelling. Ed knew they weren't laughing with him anymore. He'd mocked enough men dancing at the Olde Town to know the difference between laughing with and laughing at, and these kids were laughing at him. Ed quickly closed his mouth, picked up the remote, and slid the twins off his knees, "Go on," he muttered, as the Ds scampered off, singing "Big teef!" at the top of their lungs. It was the beginning and the end of Ed's career as the twins' father figure. And it was the last time he did Bugs Bunny for anyone, himself included. But that morning, as Ed watched his coffee cool, his sister was still trying to whip him into shape. "It's not good for them, Ed," she said, 124

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Sundays with Melody raking a hand through her short brown hair, still flat from sleeping. "It's not good to hear that kind of thing." "Not good?" Ed took a gulp of his coffee, burning his tongue halfoff. "If I was a kid, it would be a gift from God." "If you were a kid?" Elaine said, shaking her head. "You are a kid, Ed." He was in no mood for this. He gripped his cup in two hands and felt his old busted wrist starting to ache. He knew Elaine was just jealous. He was willing to bet his sister hadn't been with a man since Ray left. One time, he'd caught her thumbing through ads for sex toys in the back of one of her woman magazines, but she closed it up as soon as she saw Ed there. "What are you getting so uptight about, Ellie?" Ed said. "It was the middle of the night. She left out the back. Nobody knows the difference." "Ssssshhh!" Elaine looked at D & D, who were sitting there, bigeyed, cheeks full of waffle.. One of them burped, which set them both into fits of giggles. Elaine glared at Ed as if this, too, was somehow his fault. He set his coffee cup down. Suddenly, it seemed the whole world was conspiring against him. He rubbed at his wrist, at the joints and bones sore under his thumb. Could have held the all-time record for runs scored, Ed thought. Could have torn up the RBI record while he was at it. Could have been the best goddamn ballplayer in the history of West Conway High. Elaine narrowed her eyes, like she could hear his thoughts. "Don't think you can blame everything gone wrong in your life on that hand, Ed. You were a baseball player back in high school. That was a long time ago." Ed dropped his wrist in his lap. With his free hand, he shoved his coffee cup away, letting some splash onto the table. He scraped back his chair, loud, and stood up, making the cat skitter out from under it. "Jesus, Elaine." She looked at the floor, knowing she'd gone too far. Ed walked heavily across the room, one steel-tipped boot and then the other, and didn't even pause when he heard his sister mumble, "Sorry, Eddie." When Ed pulls up in front of Nifty Fifties, Olivia's already parked outside it. Figures. One of these weeks, he's going to beat her to it. He watches Melody give her mother a kiss on the cheek. Ed has to admit, Olivia still looks good. Her long blond hair's pinned up on her head, 125


Berkeley Fiction Review came. Manly things. It made some sense, at the time. Olivia had just kicked him out so Ed, living apart from his own kid, would step in to fill the shoes left by his sister's ex, Ray (who announced he was leaving three weeks after the twins came) and of his own father, Bill (who hadn't given them the courtesy of a warning). It was a chance for Ed to prove everybody wrong: Olivia, her mother, her sisters, her friends. When he agreed to moving in, Ed dreamed of saving these poor fatherless boys, swooping down from the sky with his baseballs and knock-knock jokes, showing everyone who ever doubted him what Ed Tillio was really made of. That burst of good will lasted exactly six days, til the night Ed decided to do his Bugs Bunny impression. Nobody in the world had ever heard him do Bugs. He'd practiced it—alone in the truck between oil fills, or while shaving in the bathroom mirror—but that night, with his sister busy in the kitchen, he whispered to the twins: "Pssst. Hey. D's." The twins were about two at the time. They stared at him, fingers plugged up their mouths and noses. Half-curious, half-terrified. "Want to hear something?" Ed whispered1. "Want to hear what a bunny rabbit sounds like?" D & D just stood there staring, so Ed scooped them up and gently sat one on each knee. He smiled, just to put them at ease, then closed his eyes and mustered up the goddamn best "What's up Doc!" he'd ever produced. The twins' eyes went wide. For a minute, Ed thought they might start crying. Then their faces broke into gummy smiles, drool running down their chins. "What's up Doc!" Ed kept on, louder, until the kids started laughing. They were loving him, he could tell. He bared his top two teeth, getting ready to pretend-munch on a carrot, when one of the Ds pointed at his mouth and yelled: "BIG TEEF!" Ed stopped. The other D took up the call and started to point, too. "Big teef! Big teef!" they both started yelling. Ed knew they weren't laughing with him anymore. He'd mocked enough men dancing at the Olde Town to know the difference between laughing with and laughing at, and these kids were laughing at him. Ed quickly closed his mouth, picked up the remote, and slid the twins off his knees, "Go on," he muttered, as the Ds scampered off, singing "Big teef!" at the top of their lungs. It was the beginning and the end of Ed's career as the twins' father figure. And it was the last time he did Bugs Bunny for anyone, himself included. But that morning, as Ed watched his coffee cool, his sister was still trying to whip him into shape. "It's not good for them, Ed," she said, 124

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Sundays with Melody raking a hand through her short brown hair, still flat from sleeping. "It's not good to hear that kind of thing." "Not good?" Ed took a gulp of his coffee, burning his tongue halfoff. "If I was a kid, it would be a gift from God." "If you were a kid?" Elaine said, shaking her head. "You are a kid, Ed." He was in no mood for this. He gripped his cup in two hands and felt his old busted wrist starting to ache. He knew Elaine was just jealous. He was willing to bet his sister hadn't been with a man since Ray left. One time, he'd caught her thumbing through ads for sex toys in the back of one of her woman magazines, but she closed it up as soon as she saw Ed there. "What are you getting so uptight about, Ellie?" Ed said. "It was the middle of the night. She left out the back. Nobody knows the difference." "Ssssshhh!" Elaine looked at D & D, who were sitting there, bigeyed, cheeks full of waffle.. One of them burped, which set them both into fits of giggles. Elaine glared at Ed as if this, too, was somehow his fault. He set his coffee cup down. Suddenly, it seemed the whole world was conspiring against him. He rubbed at his wrist, at the joints and bones sore under his thumb. Could have held the all-time record for runs scored, Ed thought. Could have torn up the RBI record while he was at it. Could have been the best goddamn ballplayer in the history of West Conway High. Elaine narrowed her eyes, like she could hear his thoughts. "Don't think you can blame everything gone wrong in your life on that hand, Ed. You were a baseball player back in high school. That was a long time ago." Ed dropped his wrist in his lap. With his free hand, he shoved his coffee cup away, letting some splash onto the table. He scraped back his chair, loud, and stood up, making the cat skitter out from under it. "Jesus, Elaine." She looked at the floor, knowing she'd gone too far. Ed walked heavily across the room, one steel-tipped boot and then the other, and didn't even pause when he heard his sister mumble, "Sorry, Eddie." When Ed pulls up in front of Nifty Fifties, Olivia's already parked outside it. Figures. One of these weeks, he's going to beat her to it. He watches Melody give her mother a kiss on the cheek. Ed has to admit, Olivia still looks good. Her long blond hair's pinned up on her head, 125


"I Sundays with Melody

Berkeley Fiction Review with strands of it hanging loose by her face. She's been wearing it that way ever since she started working as a bank teller, the last two years of the marriage. Those were the years she got harder, or Ed got softer. The years her life got faster and busier, packed with errands and play groups and lunch plans, while Ed's life seemed to slow down, way down, til the morning he slouched home from the Shop Right checker's apartment and it screeched to a halt. Ed watches as Olivia brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes—she's wearing glasses again, with silvery rims. He remembers how he used to take her glasses off when they were kissing. In the backseat, after his baseball games, the car smelling like sour sweat and sweet mowed grass, he'd slip the glasses off her nose and she'd blush. He used to make her nervous. Then he'd cross the two delicate arms and sit the glasses on the dashboard, where they reminded him of a miniature mother looking down on them: tight crossed arms and wide disapproving eyes. Ed also remembers the night he found out he was done playing ball. That night, the backseat felt different. Ed had a big pin jammed in his wrist, Dr. Gram had said he was out for the season. And for the first time, the car had a different smell. It smelled like Olivia instead of like Ed—a smell that was soapy and flowery and minty, a smell that he hated and wanted at the same time. He leaned into Olivia's peach-colored blouse and cried, despising himself for it. He could feel the point of her tiny chin resting on the top of his head as she wrapped her skinny arms around him, patting his back, not saying a word. Once they were married, Olivia got contact lenses. She popped them in every morning and popped them out every night. Ed never saw her flinch while she did it. She kept the lenses in a pink plastic case marked "L" and "R" that Ed knew enough not to touch, the same way he knew to keep his hands off the lotions and creams on her bureau, or the casseroles and cakes left cooling on the stove, or the soft spot at the back of baby Melody's head. Now, sitting in the parking lot of Nifty Fifties as his ex-wife starts backing away, Ed thinks that Elaine was wrong that morning when she said he blamed his wrist for his troubles. If he had to pick one moment that made his life go bad, it wouldn't be the moment he busted the wrist, it would be what came after: that night, in the soapy, flowery backseat of his car, the first time—and only time—Olivia saw him cry. Olivia doesn't even look Ed's way as she drives off, gravel spitting out from under her back tires. Melody, at least, is happy to see him. She's trying not to look too excited as she crosses the parking lot, doing a kind 126

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of half-walk half-run. But as soon as he sees her, Ed feels rotten all over about the lie he told Linda last night. Actually, despite avoiding church for six years, he feels guilty as hell. It was just a little lie, he tells himself, as he gets out of the car and slams the door. He was drunk and horny. He wasn't thinking straight. But he would make up for it now. He'd make this lunch extra, extra fun. The best lunch she ever had. "Hey there, Mel!" he says. It's too much. Melody looks at him funny. "Hey." She's still in her church clothes, like always. This week, a purple denim skirt, flowered blouse, and thick white tights. If Ed was in charge of raising this kid, she'd be dressing better, that's for damn sure. "Ready to eat?" Ed says. He claps his hands together, like he's seen fathers do on commercials for back-to-school supplies. The extra enthusiasm is dorky. He knows it, but it makes him feel a little better about the night before. "Sure," Melody says. They head for the entrance: daughter leading, fresh from Sunday Mass, father slouching behind her like he just robbed a bank. Nifty Fifties is pink and loud inside, like an old soda shop from the 1950s. The waitresses are all on roller skates. In the corner, they give hula-hoop lessons every hour, on the half. On the walls are pictures of teenage girls dancing in poodle skirts and teenage boys in letter sweaters swinging their arms like windmills. That's what happens to men who dance. Ed knows. You start looking like those goddamn guys. And God help the man who hula-hooped. Ed and Melody slide into a booth by the window to the tune of the jukebox chirping out "My Boyfriend's Back." Ed wishes, like he does every hungover Sunday, that the walls weren't black-and-white-checkered. He throws a few aspirins down the hatch. He should have showered. Shaved, too. His mouth tastes sour. He knows he looks like hell, but Melody doesn't seem to mind. She's looking around the room with a big smile on her face, swinging her feet to the music. She gazes at the waitresses on wheels- like they're Olympic skaters. This kid belongs in the fifties, Ed thinks. She hums along with the songs, knows every damn one of them. For a while, Melody tried to get Ed to hula-hoop in the corner, but finally, after a year of "maybe next time," she stopped asking. Ed feels another pang of guilt coming on and jerks his head toward the mini-jukebox screwed into the wall next to their elbows. "Want to pick a few?" 127


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Berkeley Fiction Review with strands of it hanging loose by her face. She's been wearing it that way ever since she started working as a bank teller, the last two years of the marriage. Those were the years she got harder, or Ed got softer. The years her life got faster and busier, packed with errands and play groups and lunch plans, while Ed's life seemed to slow down, way down, til the morning he slouched home from the Shop Right checker's apartment and it screeched to a halt. Ed watches as Olivia brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes—she's wearing glasses again, with silvery rims. He remembers how he used to take her glasses off when they were kissing. In the backseat, after his baseball games, the car smelling like sour sweat and sweet mowed grass, he'd slip the glasses off her nose and she'd blush. He used to make her nervous. Then he'd cross the two delicate arms and sit the glasses on the dashboard, where they reminded him of a miniature mother looking down on them: tight crossed arms and wide disapproving eyes. Ed also remembers the night he found out he was done playing ball. That night, the backseat felt different. Ed had a big pin jammed in his wrist, Dr. Gram had said he was out for the season. And for the first time, the car had a different smell. It smelled like Olivia instead of like Ed—a smell that was soapy and flowery and minty, a smell that he hated and wanted at the same time. He leaned into Olivia's peach-colored blouse and cried, despising himself for it. He could feel the point of her tiny chin resting on the top of his head as she wrapped her skinny arms around him, patting his back, not saying a word. Once they were married, Olivia got contact lenses. She popped them in every morning and popped them out every night. Ed never saw her flinch while she did it. She kept the lenses in a pink plastic case marked "L" and "R" that Ed knew enough not to touch, the same way he knew to keep his hands off the lotions and creams on her bureau, or the casseroles and cakes left cooling on the stove, or the soft spot at the back of baby Melody's head. Now, sitting in the parking lot of Nifty Fifties as his ex-wife starts backing away, Ed thinks that Elaine was wrong that morning when she said he blamed his wrist for his troubles. If he had to pick one moment that made his life go bad, it wouldn't be the moment he busted the wrist, it would be what came after: that night, in the soapy, flowery backseat of his car, the first time—and only time—Olivia saw him cry. Olivia doesn't even look Ed's way as she drives off, gravel spitting out from under her back tires. Melody, at least, is happy to see him. She's trying not to look too excited as she crosses the parking lot, doing a kind 126

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of half-walk half-run. But as soon as he sees her, Ed feels rotten all over about the lie he told Linda last night. Actually, despite avoiding church for six years, he feels guilty as hell. It was just a little lie, he tells himself, as he gets out of the car and slams the door. He was drunk and horny. He wasn't thinking straight. But he would make up for it now. He'd make this lunch extra, extra fun. The best lunch she ever had. "Hey there, Mel!" he says. It's too much. Melody looks at him funny. "Hey." She's still in her church clothes, like always. This week, a purple denim skirt, flowered blouse, and thick white tights. If Ed was in charge of raising this kid, she'd be dressing better, that's for damn sure. "Ready to eat?" Ed says. He claps his hands together, like he's seen fathers do on commercials for back-to-school supplies. The extra enthusiasm is dorky. He knows it, but it makes him feel a little better about the night before. "Sure," Melody says. They head for the entrance: daughter leading, fresh from Sunday Mass, father slouching behind her like he just robbed a bank. Nifty Fifties is pink and loud inside, like an old soda shop from the 1950s. The waitresses are all on roller skates. In the corner, they give hula-hoop lessons every hour, on the half. On the walls are pictures of teenage girls dancing in poodle skirts and teenage boys in letter sweaters swinging their arms like windmills. That's what happens to men who dance. Ed knows. You start looking like those goddamn guys. And God help the man who hula-hooped. Ed and Melody slide into a booth by the window to the tune of the jukebox chirping out "My Boyfriend's Back." Ed wishes, like he does every hungover Sunday, that the walls weren't black-and-white-checkered. He throws a few aspirins down the hatch. He should have showered. Shaved, too. His mouth tastes sour. He knows he looks like hell, but Melody doesn't seem to mind. She's looking around the room with a big smile on her face, swinging her feet to the music. She gazes at the waitresses on wheels- like they're Olympic skaters. This kid belongs in the fifties, Ed thinks. She hums along with the songs, knows every damn one of them. For a while, Melody tried to get Ed to hula-hoop in the corner, but finally, after a year of "maybe next time," she stopped asking. Ed feels another pang of guilt coming on and jerks his head toward the mini-jukebox screwed into the wall next to their elbows. "Want to pick a few?" 127


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Melody's face lights up. "Okay." Ed digs in his tight jeans pocket and pushes three quarters across the table. He watches as his daughter flips through the selections carefully, reading every single song. His daughter. It doesn't seem possible to him sometimes. They don't feel connected enough to be flesh and blood. First off, they look nothing alike. Melody's got freckly pink skin and a turnedup nose (like Olivia's). Her eyes are green as a cat's (Olivia, too). She even inherited the glasses. Ed, on the other hand, is a ruddy red, bone and muscle, with blue eyes, 20/20. When Melody was a baby, people said they had the same mouth—but what does that mean, really? How can you tell one mouth from any other mouth?—But now there isn't one speck of resemblance between them, not that Ed can tell. Ed knows he loves Melody. He has to. A parent's love for his kid is supposed to be a given, not something you make a decision about. It isn't the kind of love his mother meant when she said, "Eddie, tell your mother you love her" and turned her wrinkled cheek for him to kiss each time he left her house. It isn't the kind of love Olivia meant either, as she stared at Ed in the backseat, saying, "Do you love me, Eddie?" while Ed peered down into her naked eye-whites, wondering what love was supposed to feel like, and if it might be something like dying to touch the smooth white skin between the hem of her skirt and her hairless knee. Ed would say it to them, of course, just to make things easier. To smooth things over. He said it because they asked him to say it and because he knew, once he did, that they'd get off his back. But Melody, she never asked. Ed watches as she punches in her last selection and sits back with a satisfied smile. "Pick some good ones, Mel?" he asks. "Yup," she says, trusty as a clock. When Melody was little, Olivia used to say that their baby must like fifties music because she was named for the song "Unchained Melody," the one Ed sang to Olivia one afternoon in the high school parking lot. "Oh my love, my darling..." he belted out, hopping along the rows of car hoods, til a gym teacher grabbed him by the cuff of his jeans and hauled him inside. Ed was known for stunts like that. Girls thought he was romantic. He remembers how Olivia stood giggling with her friends, all of them as smitten as the ladies at the Olde Town. Even back then, Ed had the moves. "You have moves, all right," Olivia said, eight years later, in the process of kicking him out. She'd always called him lazy and now, as if to prove her point, was even packing up his stuff for him before shoving

him out the door. "Why don't you go show your moves to that cashier." Ed sat on the bed, not saying anything, rubbing at his aching wrist as she tossed his gym socks and blue jeans into big, green trashbags. He'd already tried defending himself (he was drunk, he hardly knew her, he didn't even like her) but none of it worked. And he wouldn't be caught dead saying what he really felt: that at least the Shop Right checker had noticed him, had liked him, had wanted him to touch her—which is more than Olivia had in years. "You look good on the outside, Ed," Olivia went on. "You put on a good show. But you know what?" And here, she had stopped packing, faced him, and tapped his chest with one long finger. "You gotta back it up," she tapped. Tap tap. "There's got to be something underneath all that charm," she kept tap-tapping, and it took all the church sermons he'd ever half-absorbed to keepEd from knocking her hand away. Now, when he hears "Splish Splash" come bouncing through the speakers, he gives Melody a big thumbs-up. She grins, hearing one of her picks, and even starts to hum along. See, she's having a good time, Ed tells himself. Look at the kid, she's having a ball. He grins back at her, starting to feel a little better about the night before. Less guilt, less headache. Even the sun's starting to peek out from behind the clouds, making bright yellow squares on the table. Melody picks up her menu, even though they both know what she's going to order. "What looks good, Mel?" Ed asks anyway. They play this game every week. "Wait. Let me guess. I think I can sense it." He picks up his menu and holds it to his forehead, like a fortuneteller at a county fair. "Hamburger?" She shrugs, smiling. "Maybe." "Wait, wait. I'm getting something else here." He squinches his eyes shut. "Milkshake?" A pause, for dramatic effect. "Could it be...maybe...strawberry?" He half-opens one eye just in time to see her shrug as she giggles. Ed shuts his eyes tighter. He's working up to the high point of his routine—the line "I feel it...I feel it...extra-thick!"—when his act gets interrupted by the sounds of roller skates braking at their table and the coo of a lady's soft voice saying: "Well, what do you know. Hi there." Ed stiffens like a rod. He knows this voice. It isn't your typical happywaitress "hi there." This "hi there" is smooth, loaded, thick as syrup. Ed opens his eyes and lowers his menu and there is fucking Linda. Last night Linda.

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Melody's face lights up. "Okay." Ed digs in his tight jeans pocket and pushes three quarters across the table. He watches as his daughter flips through the selections carefully, reading every single song. His daughter. It doesn't seem possible to him sometimes. They don't feel connected enough to be flesh and blood. First off, they look nothing alike. Melody's got freckly pink skin and a turnedup nose (like Olivia's). Her eyes are green as a cat's (Olivia, too). She even inherited the glasses. Ed, on the other hand, is a ruddy red, bone and muscle, with blue eyes, 20/20. When Melody was a baby, people said they had the same mouth—but what does that mean, really? How can you tell one mouth from any other mouth?—But now there isn't one speck of resemblance between them, not that Ed can tell. Ed knows he loves Melody. He has to. A parent's love for his kid is supposed to be a given, not something you make a decision about. It isn't the kind of love his mother meant when she said, "Eddie, tell your mother you love her" and turned her wrinkled cheek for him to kiss each time he left her house. It isn't the kind of love Olivia meant either, as she stared at Ed in the backseat, saying, "Do you love me, Eddie?" while Ed peered down into her naked eye-whites, wondering what love was supposed to feel like, and if it might be something like dying to touch the smooth white skin between the hem of her skirt and her hairless knee. Ed would say it to them, of course, just to make things easier. To smooth things over. He said it because they asked him to say it and because he knew, once he did, that they'd get off his back. But Melody, she never asked. Ed watches as she punches in her last selection and sits back with a satisfied smile. "Pick some good ones, Mel?" he asks. "Yup," she says, trusty as a clock. When Melody was little, Olivia used to say that their baby must like fifties music because she was named for the song "Unchained Melody," the one Ed sang to Olivia one afternoon in the high school parking lot. "Oh my love, my darling..." he belted out, hopping along the rows of car hoods, til a gym teacher grabbed him by the cuff of his jeans and hauled him inside. Ed was known for stunts like that. Girls thought he was romantic. He remembers how Olivia stood giggling with her friends, all of them as smitten as the ladies at the Olde Town. Even back then, Ed had the moves. "You have moves, all right," Olivia said, eight years later, in the process of kicking him out. She'd always called him lazy and now, as if to prove her point, was even packing up his stuff for him before shoving

him out the door. "Why don't you go show your moves to that cashier." Ed sat on the bed, not saying anything, rubbing at his aching wrist as she tossed his gym socks and blue jeans into big, green trashbags. He'd already tried defending himself (he was drunk, he hardly knew her, he didn't even like her) but none of it worked. And he wouldn't be caught dead saying what he really felt: that at least the Shop Right checker had noticed him, had liked him, had wanted him to touch her—which is more than Olivia had in years. "You look good on the outside, Ed," Olivia went on. "You put on a good show. But you know what?" And here, she had stopped packing, faced him, and tapped his chest with one long finger. "You gotta back it up," she tapped. Tap tap. "There's got to be something underneath all that charm," she kept tap-tapping, and it took all the church sermons he'd ever half-absorbed to keepEd from knocking her hand away. Now, when he hears "Splish Splash" come bouncing through the speakers, he gives Melody a big thumbs-up. She grins, hearing one of her picks, and even starts to hum along. See, she's having a good time, Ed tells himself. Look at the kid, she's having a ball. He grins back at her, starting to feel a little better about the night before. Less guilt, less headache. Even the sun's starting to peek out from behind the clouds, making bright yellow squares on the table. Melody picks up her menu, even though they both know what she's going to order. "What looks good, Mel?" Ed asks anyway. They play this game every week. "Wait. Let me guess. I think I can sense it." He picks up his menu and holds it to his forehead, like a fortuneteller at a county fair. "Hamburger?" She shrugs, smiling. "Maybe." "Wait, wait. I'm getting something else here." He squinches his eyes shut. "Milkshake?" A pause, for dramatic effect. "Could it be...maybe...strawberry?" He half-opens one eye just in time to see her shrug as she giggles. Ed shuts his eyes tighter. He's working up to the high point of his routine—the line "I feel it...I feel it...extra-thick!"—when his act gets interrupted by the sounds of roller skates braking at their table and the coo of a lady's soft voice saying: "Well, what do you know. Hi there." Ed stiffens like a rod. He knows this voice. It isn't your typical happywaitress "hi there." This "hi there" is smooth, loaded, thick as syrup. Ed opens his eyes and lowers his menu and there is fucking Linda. Last night Linda.

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Lin-da. For a minute, he can't speak. It's wrong, too wrong, Linda and Melody together in the same room. His palms start to sweat, but he keeps his cool. "Hi," he returns. Linda looks different than she did last night. Her hair's pulled back in a ponytail, her lips pink and glossy. All the skin Ed's seen is hidden away now under a high-necked shirt and a poodle skirt, calf-length. "You new here?" She rolls back and forth on her skates, not too steady on the wheels yet. Melody's eyes are darting from his face to hers. "Just started this week." Her voice is light, flirty. Way too flirty for daytime. "But you knew that. I told you already." She had, that's right, in the middle of everything else she'd unloaded on him at 8 a.m. Something about a new job, a uniform, roller skates., .but Christ. Did she have to say it again? Here? In front of his kid, of all people? When Ed glances up at her, she's wearing a teasing smile, a Ye-OldeTown-smile. Christ. She probably thinks he came here on purpose, to see her. Ed quickly shifts his attention to Melody and asks her in a rush: "So what do you want, Mel? Go ahead. Tell the lady what you want." Melody looks confused for a second, but pipes up loyally: "Extrathick strawberry milkshake. And a Nifty Burger. Medium well." For some reason, the predictability of her order makes Ed feel a wash of comfort. "Please." "And for you?" Linda asks, looking at Ed. Her tone is playful. "Sir?" "Coffee." "No lunch?" "Not hungry." She frowns at him, the same way Elaine frowns when the twins are naughty. "Coming right up," she says, and skates away, butt twitching under her poodle skirt. Ed drops his head down over the menu, hoping Melody won't ask. "Who's that lady?" Melody asks. Ed feels hot. His thighs itch. The checkered walls are starting to make him dizzy. He can hear Linda's question echo in his head, keeping time with the pounding in his temples—"Oh. Do you have children?"—and feels guilt-wracked all over. Melody is looking at him with her face wide open, trusting, the same look she wore as a baby on the living room floor as Ed's steel-toed boot came at her. "She's just a lady I know, Mel," he says, poking his napkin with his 130

Sundays with Melody fork. "How do you know her?" "From around. Here and there." "What's her name?" "Her name? Uh, it's Linda, I think." "Do you like her?" Ed looks up and holds the fork still. "What do you mean, do I like her?" "Do you like her like her?" Melody asks. He can feel her foot jiggling excitedly, shaking the booth. "Like, do you want her to be your girlfriend?" She's serious. She really does belong in the fifties. Ed hasn't called anybody his "girlfriend" since high school, when he first started going with Olivia and she dragged him to dances and made him decide if he "loved" her or not. Even then, having a girlfriend wasn't so much a choice Ed made as it was something he just went along with. It was like getting swept up in a giant wave, smiling for the photos and meeting the parents and popping the questions when and where he was told, and somehow, one Saturday morning, finding himself on the altar at St. Mary's. But, Ed realizes, if he says "yes" to Melody, this woman—this stranger, cooing "hi there" in a calf-length poodle skirt—will make sense to her. Somehow, it will make all of this okay. His girlfriend. It sounds safe, even honorable. It isn't true exactly, but what the hell. That's what fathers do—isn't it? Fill their kids' heads with images of themselves ten sizes bigger than they really are? "Yeah," Ed says, nodding. "All right." He watches Linda behind the counter, wobbling on her skates, mixing up Mel's milkshake. She dips one finger in and licks it off, then starts to skate back toward their table, double-fisting the shake and a trembling cup of coffee. "Sure. Sure. She's my girlfriend." Melody's grinning from ear to ear now, eating up this piece of news. "So how long have you been dating?" she says, when Linda interrupts them, stopping herself just short of crashing into their table. She sets Ed's coffee down in front of him, purring "Here you go" as some of it sloshes over the side of the cup. She puts the milkshake in front of Melody and whispers, "I like milkshakes too." Then she winks, like they're secret pals. Ed thinks he might puke. But Melody's smiling away. She stares up at Linda's face with the same look in her eyes that she gets watching beauty pageant queens and Solid Gold dancers. Then, out of the blue, she blurts out: "My name's 131


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Lin-da. For a minute, he can't speak. It's wrong, too wrong, Linda and Melody together in the same room. His palms start to sweat, but he keeps his cool. "Hi," he returns. Linda looks different than she did last night. Her hair's pulled back in a ponytail, her lips pink and glossy. All the skin Ed's seen is hidden away now under a high-necked shirt and a poodle skirt, calf-length. "You new here?" She rolls back and forth on her skates, not too steady on the wheels yet. Melody's eyes are darting from his face to hers. "Just started this week." Her voice is light, flirty. Way too flirty for daytime. "But you knew that. I told you already." She had, that's right, in the middle of everything else she'd unloaded on him at 8 a.m. Something about a new job, a uniform, roller skates., .but Christ. Did she have to say it again? Here? In front of his kid, of all people? When Ed glances up at her, she's wearing a teasing smile, a Ye-OldeTown-smile. Christ. She probably thinks he came here on purpose, to see her. Ed quickly shifts his attention to Melody and asks her in a rush: "So what do you want, Mel? Go ahead. Tell the lady what you want." Melody looks confused for a second, but pipes up loyally: "Extrathick strawberry milkshake. And a Nifty Burger. Medium well." For some reason, the predictability of her order makes Ed feel a wash of comfort. "Please." "And for you?" Linda asks, looking at Ed. Her tone is playful. "Sir?" "Coffee." "No lunch?" "Not hungry." She frowns at him, the same way Elaine frowns when the twins are naughty. "Coming right up," she says, and skates away, butt twitching under her poodle skirt. Ed drops his head down over the menu, hoping Melody won't ask. "Who's that lady?" Melody asks. Ed feels hot. His thighs itch. The checkered walls are starting to make him dizzy. He can hear Linda's question echo in his head, keeping time with the pounding in his temples—"Oh. Do you have children?"—and feels guilt-wracked all over. Melody is looking at him with her face wide open, trusting, the same look she wore as a baby on the living room floor as Ed's steel-toed boot came at her. "She's just a lady I know, Mel," he says, poking his napkin with his 130

Sundays with Melody fork. "How do you know her?" "From around. Here and there." "What's her name?" "Her name? Uh, it's Linda, I think." "Do you like her?" Ed looks up and holds the fork still. "What do you mean, do I like her?" "Do you like her like her?" Melody asks. He can feel her foot jiggling excitedly, shaking the booth. "Like, do you want her to be your girlfriend?" She's serious. She really does belong in the fifties. Ed hasn't called anybody his "girlfriend" since high school, when he first started going with Olivia and she dragged him to dances and made him decide if he "loved" her or not. Even then, having a girlfriend wasn't so much a choice Ed made as it was something he just went along with. It was like getting swept up in a giant wave, smiling for the photos and meeting the parents and popping the questions when and where he was told, and somehow, one Saturday morning, finding himself on the altar at St. Mary's. But, Ed realizes, if he says "yes" to Melody, this woman—this stranger, cooing "hi there" in a calf-length poodle skirt—will make sense to her. Somehow, it will make all of this okay. His girlfriend. It sounds safe, even honorable. It isn't true exactly, but what the hell. That's what fathers do—isn't it? Fill their kids' heads with images of themselves ten sizes bigger than they really are? "Yeah," Ed says, nodding. "All right." He watches Linda behind the counter, wobbling on her skates, mixing up Mel's milkshake. She dips one finger in and licks it off, then starts to skate back toward their table, double-fisting the shake and a trembling cup of coffee. "Sure. Sure. She's my girlfriend." Melody's grinning from ear to ear now, eating up this piece of news. "So how long have you been dating?" she says, when Linda interrupts them, stopping herself just short of crashing into their table. She sets Ed's coffee down in front of him, purring "Here you go" as some of it sloshes over the side of the cup. She puts the milkshake in front of Melody and whispers, "I like milkshakes too." Then she winks, like they're secret pals. Ed thinks he might puke. But Melody's smiling away. She stares up at Linda's face with the same look in her eyes that she gets watching beauty pageant queens and Solid Gold dancers. Then, out of the blue, she blurts out: "My name's 131


Berkeley Fiction Review Melody." Oh God. Ed starts to sweat under his collar. What is she doing? "That's a pretty name," Linda says. She wipes off one hand on her poodle skirt and holds it out. "I'm Linda." "Yeah," Melody says, shaking it. "I know." This is horrible, horrible. Ed sinks lower in his seat. Feeling his heart pumping in his chest, he can only wait and brace himself for what happens next. Melody points a dimpled finger right at him, puffing out her bottom lip. She's practically beaming as she announces: "I'm his daughter." Ed's heart drops to his boot soles. He watches Linda turn to him, her face wrinkling into a frown. He can practically see inside her brain as the events of last night collide with the events of right now, could swear he even recognizes the exact moment when it all comes together and she catches him in his lie. As if in slow motion, her bright pink lips part and speak: "I thought you said you didn't have any children?" Ed can only glare at Linda. Melody drops her head, slowly, and looks down at the table. Linda's eyes slide, confused, from Ed, to Mel, back to Ed again. Gradually her frown begins disappearing, her eyebrows stretching up and up, and she says, "Let me go check on that burger," and backs off, skating slowly away. "Splish Splash" is fading out. There's a loud pause as the songs switch over, then "Rockin' Robin" comes whistling out of the walls. Ed knows Melody must have picked this one, too. She loves this damn song. But when he looks at her, she's anything but happy. Tears are filling her eyes behind her glasses. Her face quivers like a bowl of pudding. "You told her you didn't have any children?" she whispers. Sweat breaks out on Ed's upper lip. "Well, Mel, I really didn't tell her one way or the other." "She said you did. She said you told her that." "To be honest with you, Mel, I hardly know the woman." "But you said she was your girlfriend." He swipes the sweat from his lip with his index finger. "Well, yeah, but not a serious girlfriend or anything. Just like a girl, who's a friend." Melody drops her eyes again. She's not buying this for a second. Ed can't smooth-talk his daughter like the women at the Olde Town. She's too smart, and he's too sorry. But just when he thinks she's about to start crying, Melody blinks back her tears. She lifts her head. She isn't going to cry, Ed realizes, and for some reason it feels worse than if she had. At least if she cried he'd know she cared. But Melody just gets cool about it. 132

T

Sundays with Melody Turning her head to look out the window, narrowing her eyes to a hard squint, folding her arms loose across her belly, she might as well not know whether Ed is there or not. Something leaps in his chest. If he doesn't do something now, right now, Ed knows he might never make up for this moment. Melody might cancel next Sunday's lunch, and the next Sunday's, and the next, til he only sees her once a month, then maybe only a few lunches a year. He'll start getting just an hour on holidays, or quick birthday phone calls. He starts to panic, imagining his life without these lunches. He's never realized before how much he likes them. Christ, he needs them. They're the only hours in his sorry life when he can be himself. The only hours that feel real. "Rockin' Robin" gets cut off mid-note and a skinny busboy climbs up on a stool and cups his hands around his mouth. In a voice that's cracking up and down, he shouts: "The hula hoop lesson will be starting in five minutes!" Then he hops back to the floor as "The Twist" comes raging through the speakers, and girls and boys start jumping to their feet. Ed looks at his daughter's cool profile staring out the window. He recalls, now, the way she beamed as she pointed at him across the table— "I'm his daughter," was what she said—and Ed feels surprised, touched, that she would sound so proud. His daughter has never been disappointed in him, not once. In fact, she's the only female in his thirty-four years who hasn't. Ed takes a shaky sip of coffee and looks at her, at the hard little knob of clenched jaw below her ear.."Come on," he says, wiping his sweaty palms on his Wranglers. His wrist is aching, but he doesn't touch it. "Let's go." Melody turns from the window and gives him a straight stare. "Go where?" Ed stands up, jerking his head toward the crowd of kids and parents filling up the corner. His throat is drying out. "Come on, Mel. Let's do it." Melody looks at the kids laughing and grabbing at hoops, then turns back to the window. "No thanks." "Mel." Ed's starting to feel a little nauseous. "If you don't come with me, Pm going to chicken out. Or else I'm going to pass out. Chicken out or pass out, one or the other." A tiny smile squirms across her lips, then disappears. Ed holds out a sweaty palm. Melody looks at it, rolls her eyes, then neatly folds up her 133


Berkeley Fiction Review Melody." Oh God. Ed starts to sweat under his collar. What is she doing? "That's a pretty name," Linda says. She wipes off one hand on her poodle skirt and holds it out. "I'm Linda." "Yeah," Melody says, shaking it. "I know." This is horrible, horrible. Ed sinks lower in his seat. Feeling his heart pumping in his chest, he can only wait and brace himself for what happens next. Melody points a dimpled finger right at him, puffing out her bottom lip. She's practically beaming as she announces: "I'm his daughter." Ed's heart drops to his boot soles. He watches Linda turn to him, her face wrinkling into a frown. He can practically see inside her brain as the events of last night collide with the events of right now, could swear he even recognizes the exact moment when it all comes together and she catches him in his lie. As if in slow motion, her bright pink lips part and speak: "I thought you said you didn't have any children?" Ed can only glare at Linda. Melody drops her head, slowly, and looks down at the table. Linda's eyes slide, confused, from Ed, to Mel, back to Ed again. Gradually her frown begins disappearing, her eyebrows stretching up and up, and she says, "Let me go check on that burger," and backs off, skating slowly away. "Splish Splash" is fading out. There's a loud pause as the songs switch over, then "Rockin' Robin" comes whistling out of the walls. Ed knows Melody must have picked this one, too. She loves this damn song. But when he looks at her, she's anything but happy. Tears are filling her eyes behind her glasses. Her face quivers like a bowl of pudding. "You told her you didn't have any children?" she whispers. Sweat breaks out on Ed's upper lip. "Well, Mel, I really didn't tell her one way or the other." "She said you did. She said you told her that." "To be honest with you, Mel, I hardly know the woman." "But you said she was your girlfriend." He swipes the sweat from his lip with his index finger. "Well, yeah, but not a serious girlfriend or anything. Just like a girl, who's a friend." Melody drops her eyes again. She's not buying this for a second. Ed can't smooth-talk his daughter like the women at the Olde Town. She's too smart, and he's too sorry. But just when he thinks she's about to start crying, Melody blinks back her tears. She lifts her head. She isn't going to cry, Ed realizes, and for some reason it feels worse than if she had. At least if she cried he'd know she cared. But Melody just gets cool about it. 132

T

Sundays with Melody Turning her head to look out the window, narrowing her eyes to a hard squint, folding her arms loose across her belly, she might as well not know whether Ed is there or not. Something leaps in his chest. If he doesn't do something now, right now, Ed knows he might never make up for this moment. Melody might cancel next Sunday's lunch, and the next Sunday's, and the next, til he only sees her once a month, then maybe only a few lunches a year. He'll start getting just an hour on holidays, or quick birthday phone calls. He starts to panic, imagining his life without these lunches. He's never realized before how much he likes them. Christ, he needs them. They're the only hours in his sorry life when he can be himself. The only hours that feel real. "Rockin' Robin" gets cut off mid-note and a skinny busboy climbs up on a stool and cups his hands around his mouth. In a voice that's cracking up and down, he shouts: "The hula hoop lesson will be starting in five minutes!" Then he hops back to the floor as "The Twist" comes raging through the speakers, and girls and boys start jumping to their feet. Ed looks at his daughter's cool profile staring out the window. He recalls, now, the way she beamed as she pointed at him across the table— "I'm his daughter," was what she said—and Ed feels surprised, touched, that she would sound so proud. His daughter has never been disappointed in him, not once. In fact, she's the only female in his thirty-four years who hasn't. Ed takes a shaky sip of coffee and looks at her, at the hard little knob of clenched jaw below her ear.."Come on," he says, wiping his sweaty palms on his Wranglers. His wrist is aching, but he doesn't touch it. "Let's go." Melody turns from the window and gives him a straight stare. "Go where?" Ed stands up, jerking his head toward the crowd of kids and parents filling up the corner. His throat is drying out. "Come on, Mel. Let's do it." Melody looks at the kids laughing and grabbing at hoops, then turns back to the window. "No thanks." "Mel." Ed's starting to feel a little nauseous. "If you don't come with me, Pm going to chicken out. Or else I'm going to pass out. Chicken out or pass out, one or the other." A tiny smile squirms across her lips, then disappears. Ed holds out a sweaty palm. Melody looks at it, rolls her eyes, then neatly folds up her 133


wm Berkeley Fiction Review paper napkin. She slides out of the booth, ignoring Ed's hand, and starts across the room. Ed shoves the hand in his pocket. As he follows behind her, he feels a knot of panic growing tight inside his stomach. He knows Linda must be watching from the counter—what he wouldn't give right now for a beer to drink, a dart to toss, a cigarette to stamp out under his boot toe—but he doesn't look her way. He keeps his eyes straight ahead, on Melody. The hula instructor is a waitress with blond ringlets and saddle shoes. She beams as she hands Ed and Melody their pink hoops. Feeling ridiculous, Ed steps into his, holding the candy-striped plastic tubing against the hard denim waist of his jeans. "Okay, everybody!" the saddle-shoe girl shouts. "Let's huuuula!" The music surges. All at once, the crowd is alive with noise and color and motion. Ed throws his hoop, hard, to the right, but it immediately spirals down, down, down his hips and thighs and calves—in wide, leisurely loops, as if taunting him by taking its time about it—til it shivers to a stop on the floor. He grabs the hoop, feeling like he's been caught with his pants around his ankles. This time, he throws it harder, whipping it around his waist. But the extra force only makes the hoop coil to the floor that much faster. Ed looks at Melody, trying to catch her eye. She sees him and yells something over the music. "What?" Ed yells back. "Move your hips!" Ed grips the sides of the hoop. He gives it another throw. This time, he starts rotating his hips in circles, like the other hula-hoopers seem to be doing. But all at once, his body feels horribly out of control. His smooth, blue-jeaned hips feel like cannons misfiring, his copper-seamed legs like sticks of jelly. His arms are out stiff at his sides, like a plane ready for take-off. The hoop, however, manages to stay up a little longer before finding its way to the floor. Ed picks it up and tries again, and again, and again, tossing the hoop and swinging his hips. His elbows flail, knees buck. Wranglers lose all their cool. But he's starting to get the hang of it, a little. Through the commotion, Ed watches his daughter. Melody, he realizes, hula hoops like a pro. She tilts her hips in perfect circles, guides the hoop as smooth as butter. Her arms are raised, bent at the elbows, suspended like a dancer's in mid-air. Her face is pink, biting down on her bottom lip as she concentrates. Her eyes are closed. She sways, she swings, she rocks and rolls, like she's made of music. 134


wm Berkeley Fiction Review paper napkin. She slides out of the booth, ignoring Ed's hand, and starts across the room. Ed shoves the hand in his pocket. As he follows behind her, he feels a knot of panic growing tight inside his stomach. He knows Linda must be watching from the counter—what he wouldn't give right now for a beer to drink, a dart to toss, a cigarette to stamp out under his boot toe—but he doesn't look her way. He keeps his eyes straight ahead, on Melody. The hula instructor is a waitress with blond ringlets and saddle shoes. She beams as she hands Ed and Melody their pink hoops. Feeling ridiculous, Ed steps into his, holding the candy-striped plastic tubing against the hard denim waist of his jeans. "Okay, everybody!" the saddle-shoe girl shouts. "Let's huuuula!" The music surges. All at once, the crowd is alive with noise and color and motion. Ed throws his hoop, hard, to the right, but it immediately spirals down, down, down his hips and thighs and calves—in wide, leisurely loops, as if taunting him by taking its time about it—til it shivers to a stop on the floor. He grabs the hoop, feeling like he's been caught with his pants around his ankles. This time, he throws it harder, whipping it around his waist. But the extra force only makes the hoop coil to the floor that much faster. Ed looks at Melody, trying to catch her eye. She sees him and yells something over the music. "What?" Ed yells back. "Move your hips!" Ed grips the sides of the hoop. He gives it another throw. This time, he starts rotating his hips in circles, like the other hula-hoopers seem to be doing. But all at once, his body feels horribly out of control. His smooth, blue-jeaned hips feel like cannons misfiring, his copper-seamed legs like sticks of jelly. His arms are out stiff at his sides, like a plane ready for take-off. The hoop, however, manages to stay up a little longer before finding its way to the floor. Ed picks it up and tries again, and again, and again, tossing the hoop and swinging his hips. His elbows flail, knees buck. Wranglers lose all their cool. But he's starting to get the hang of it, a little. Through the commotion, Ed watches his daughter. Melody, he realizes, hula hoops like a pro. She tilts her hips in perfect circles, guides the hoop as smooth as butter. Her arms are raised, bent at the elbows, suspended like a dancer's in mid-air. Her face is pink, biting down on her bottom lip as she concentrates. Her eyes are closed. She sways, she swings, she rocks and rolls, like she's made of music. 134


C O N T R I B U T O R S

N O T E S

AUTHORS

Patricia Abbott studies creative writing at Wayne State University in Detroit. She has published poems in various literary journals (Potpourri, Mobius, the MacGuffm, etc.) and her first chapbook, "Next to the Serengeti Ballroom," won the Detroit Writer's Voice contest in 1998. Stephen Bercovitch is a native Californian and a 1970 graduate of University of California, Berkeley. He resides in Weehawken, New Jersey and practices tax law in Manhattan. Playland and the Gladiola Girl is his first published work of fiction. Alice Bradley is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of the New School for Social Research's creative writing program. Louis Gallo was born and raised in New Orleans.- He has taught at University of Missouri, University of New Orlenas, Columbia College and is now professor at Radford University in Virginia. He has published many essays, poems and stories in journals such as Glimmer Train, Greensboro Review, New Orleans Review, Missouri Review, The Macguffin, Mississippi Review, Baltimore Review, Louisiana Literature, et al. Cecilia Johnson has had works published in the University of Colorado's Sniper Logic and in the Colorado Daily where she writes a weekly flash fiction column. Her stories can be found along with her artwork on her website downtherabbithole.com. She has recently completed her first novel. Elise Juska is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire. Her fiction has appeared or will be appearing in Salmagundi, Room of One's Own, and the Seattle Review.

Joshua C. Kamler is a San Francisco writer who shares his living space with air ducts and water heaters. He has been published in various publications including the San Francisco Chronicle and the homeless-operated newspaper, Spare Change. He has also published online. D. Kastinovich, who now resides in Southern Oregon, has lived on the Azores, where, "Alfredo's Timeless Death" is set, and is currently attempting to market a collection of stories titled, Tales oftheAzorean Nights. Other work has appeared in the Blue Mesa Review, the Crescent Review, Magic Realism, and Gavea-Brown, a bilingual journal of Portuguese/American Studies. Patricia McEvoy is a psychologist living in Boston, Massachusetts and this is her first published short story. Gene Ryder lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He currently is working on a book of short stories. Suzy Spraker earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently teach at the University of Central Florida. Her stories have appeared in the the Greensboro Review, Artisan, and Carve Magazine. Donna Storey is a Japanese translator and author of Child of Darkness: Yoko and other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi. She is currently at work on a novel set in Japan. Steve Tomasula's fiction has appeared most recently in the Iowa Review and Fiction International. He teaches creative writing at the University of Notre Dame. Pushcart nominee Ruthanne Wiley was the 1999 winner of the Ohio Writer Fiction Award for her short story "Rain Silver on Me." Ms. Wiley held an MA in Creative Writing/English from Cleveland State University, where she studied with Sheila Schwartz, Tim Sandlin, and Karen Joy .Fowler, and was Fiction Editor of Whiskey Island Magazine. t A former concert violinist with a bachelor's degree from the Eastman School of Music, Ms. Wiley lived in Chagrin Falls, Ohio with her husband, Eli and her son, Adam. Unexpectedly, Ruthanne Wiley died from a heart attack on January 31, 2001.


C O N T R I B U T O R S

N O T E S

AUTHORS

Patricia Abbott studies creative writing at Wayne State University in Detroit. She has published poems in various literary journals (Potpourri, Mobius, the MacGuffm, etc.) and her first chapbook, "Next to the Serengeti Ballroom," won the Detroit Writer's Voice contest in 1998. Stephen Bercovitch is a native Californian and a 1970 graduate of University of California, Berkeley. He resides in Weehawken, New Jersey and practices tax law in Manhattan. Playland and the Gladiola Girl is his first published work of fiction. Alice Bradley is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a graduate of the New School for Social Research's creative writing program. Louis Gallo was born and raised in New Orleans.- He has taught at University of Missouri, University of New Orlenas, Columbia College and is now professor at Radford University in Virginia. He has published many essays, poems and stories in journals such as Glimmer Train, Greensboro Review, New Orleans Review, Missouri Review, The Macguffin, Mississippi Review, Baltimore Review, Louisiana Literature, et al. Cecilia Johnson has had works published in the University of Colorado's Sniper Logic and in the Colorado Daily where she writes a weekly flash fiction column. Her stories can be found along with her artwork on her website downtherabbithole.com. She has recently completed her first novel. Elise Juska is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire. Her fiction has appeared or will be appearing in Salmagundi, Room of One's Own, and the Seattle Review.

Joshua C. Kamler is a San Francisco writer who shares his living space with air ducts and water heaters. He has been published in various publications including the San Francisco Chronicle and the homeless-operated newspaper, Spare Change. He has also published online. D. Kastinovich, who now resides in Southern Oregon, has lived on the Azores, where, "Alfredo's Timeless Death" is set, and is currently attempting to market a collection of stories titled, Tales oftheAzorean Nights. Other work has appeared in the Blue Mesa Review, the Crescent Review, Magic Realism, and Gavea-Brown, a bilingual journal of Portuguese/American Studies. Patricia McEvoy is a psychologist living in Boston, Massachusetts and this is her first published short story. Gene Ryder lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He currently is working on a book of short stories. Suzy Spraker earned her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently teach at the University of Central Florida. Her stories have appeared in the the Greensboro Review, Artisan, and Carve Magazine. Donna Storey is a Japanese translator and author of Child of Darkness: Yoko and other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi. She is currently at work on a novel set in Japan. Steve Tomasula's fiction has appeared most recently in the Iowa Review and Fiction International. He teaches creative writing at the University of Notre Dame. Pushcart nominee Ruthanne Wiley was the 1999 winner of the Ohio Writer Fiction Award for her short story "Rain Silver on Me." Ms. Wiley held an MA in Creative Writing/English from Cleveland State University, where she studied with Sheila Schwartz, Tim Sandlin, and Karen Joy .Fowler, and was Fiction Editor of Whiskey Island Magazine. t A former concert violinist with a bachelor's degree from the Eastman School of Music, Ms. Wiley lived in Chagrin Falls, Ohio with her husband, Eli and her son, Adam. Unexpectedly, Ruthanne Wiley died from a heart attack on January 31, 2001.


Berkeley Fiction Review Rob Yardumian lives with his wife in an old house in Los Angeles that seems woefully short on closet space, hemmed in by three cats who apply themselves only when tuna appears. He received his MFA from the Warren Wilson MFA Program, and his work has appeared in Porcupine and the Sycamore Review. ARTISTS

Andrew Denman, 22, resides in Orinda, California where he works as an artist and private art instructor. He has organized four local one-man shows, participated in exhibits at the Bedford and Hearst Galleries, and currently sells work at Pacific Wildlife Gallery in Lafayette. Andrew holds a BA in Art from Saint Mary's College in Moraga. Irina Mikhalevich is currently locked in combat with the omnipresent funnel, so she can't come to the...page...right now. If you will kindly leave a brief message she will be sure to misinterpret it and get back to you promptly. Wait for the beep. FIN.

138


Berkeley Fiction Review Rob Yardumian lives with his wife in an old house in Los Angeles that seems woefully short on closet space, hemmed in by three cats who apply themselves only when tuna appears. He received his MFA from the Warren Wilson MFA Program, and his work has appeared in Porcupine and the Sycamore Review. ARTISTS

Andrew Denman, 22, resides in Orinda, California where he works as an artist and private art instructor. He has organized four local one-man shows, participated in exhibits at the Bedford and Hearst Galleries, and currently sells work at Pacific Wildlife Gallery in Lafayette. Andrew holds a BA in Art from Saint Mary's College in Moraga. Irina Mikhalevich is currently locked in combat with the omnipresent funnel, so she can't come to the...page...right now. If you will kindly leave a brief message she will be sure to misinterpret it and get back to you promptly. Wait for the beep. FIN.

138


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to

First, Second, a n d T h i r d Place w i l l be p u b l i s h e d in Issue 22

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e

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mal

Guidelines:

mester ittle

*$6 e n t r y fee + $4 each additiona l e n t r y *Make check or m o n e y order payable to BFR Sudden Fix *1000 w o r d s o r less " T y p e d , double-spaced ^Include a brief c o v er letter 8c" SASE for list of w i n n e r s ^Submissions will n o t be r e t u r n e d

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I*

B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W ' S

S I X T H

A N N U A L

Just

as y o u

mustard

to

hamburger, \

S u d d e n

F i c t i o n

C o n t e s t

perk you

on k e t c h u p

up even the can depend

and dreariest

on

the

great merchandise, prices and

service

at

1! !

count

$200 Prize for First Place

W i n n e r

to

First, Second, a n d T h i r d Place w i l l be p u b l i s h e d in Issue 22

make

e

most

mal

Guidelines:

mester ittle

*$6 e n t r y fee + $4 each additiona l e n t r y *Make check or m o n e y order payable to BFR Sudden Fix *1000 w o r d s o r less " T y p e d , double-spaced ^Include a brief c o v er letter 8c" SASE for list of w i n n e r s ^Submissions will n o t be r e t u r n e d

sier

to

swallow!

Send submissions to: Sudden Fiction Contest B e r k e l e y F i c t i o n R e v i e w c / o 10 E s h l e m a n H a l l U n i v e r s i t y of C a l i f o r n i a Berkeley, C A 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e

is O c t o b e r

1,

2001

W i n n e r s will b e notified b y t h e e n d of F e b r u a r y 2002

7/lut** Bookstore 2480 Bancroft Way 204-0900

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::i that man.!t;f*» ^ i M # W i very c h a r m i n g . . . . [It] deserves a lot of readers." —Benjamin Saltman StnaUPrtss Previous issues have included work by: Edward Hirsch, Cynthia Mcdonald, Adam Zagaiewski, Garrett Hongo, Alan Hollinghurst, Beverly Lowry.ThUlip Lopate, Leslie Adrienne MUlei Timothy Liu, Pactiarm Rodgcrs, William Olsen, Nancy Eimers, Mi<:nelle Boisseau, Chttra Divakaruni, Daniel Stern, Mary Robison, Mary Gaitskill, Kathleen Cambor, Robert Phillips, Tracy Dauygherry,Lisa Lewis, Heather McHugh, Donald Barthelme, Madison Smartt Bell, Billy Collins, Lee K. Abbott, Arthur Vogelsang, Richard Lyons, Virgil Suarez, Patricia Goedichke, Mark HalHday,Mark Doty, Maxine ECumtn, Philip Levine, Robert Wrigley, V. Penelope Pelizzon, Thorn Gunn, Ann Hood, Ruben Degollado, Pamela Diamond, Ernest J. Gaines, Karla Kuban Subscriptions: $12, per year $10 tor Special, Double-sized Issue, Commemorating the Twentieth Anniversary of the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program $22 for two years, $7 for a regular single issue. Send submissions, subscriptions, and guideline requests to: Gulf Coast Sutenissions welcome August 15 - May 1 English Department Please include an SASE University of Houston Indicate genre on the envelope Houston, Texas 77204-3012 www.gulfcoast.uh.edu

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

John Ashbery Rick Bass r.C. Boyle Michael Burkard Ron Carlson Raymond Carver Richard Ford Tess Gallagher Robert Hass Brenda Hillman Jane Hirshfield David tee Demetrta Martinez Naomi Shthab Nye Bob Shacochis Maura Stanton Jean Valentine Charles Wright

SUBSCRIPTIONS: 1 year (2 issues) *10.00 2 years (4 issues) '18.00 Back issues for *6.00 each (includes '1.00 postage) SEND SASE OR VISIT OUR WEB SITE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. H A Y D E N ' S FERRY R E V I E W Arizona State University Box 871502 Tempe, Arizona 85287-1502 Telephone (480) 965-1243 FAX (480) 965-2229 Email: HFR@asu.edu www.statepress.com/hfr


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• POETRY • ART • FICTION • INTERVIEWS • PAST CONTRIBUTORS

k'SA&JS&XvV^Hitfl

::i that man.!t;f*» ^ i M # W i very c h a r m i n g . . . . [It] deserves a lot of readers." —Benjamin Saltman StnaUPrtss Previous issues have included work by: Edward Hirsch, Cynthia Mcdonald, Adam Zagaiewski, Garrett Hongo, Alan Hollinghurst, Beverly Lowry.ThUlip Lopate, Leslie Adrienne MUlei Timothy Liu, Pactiarm Rodgcrs, William Olsen, Nancy Eimers, Mi<:nelle Boisseau, Chttra Divakaruni, Daniel Stern, Mary Robison, Mary Gaitskill, Kathleen Cambor, Robert Phillips, Tracy Dauygherry,Lisa Lewis, Heather McHugh, Donald Barthelme, Madison Smartt Bell, Billy Collins, Lee K. Abbott, Arthur Vogelsang, Richard Lyons, Virgil Suarez, Patricia Goedichke, Mark HalHday,Mark Doty, Maxine ECumtn, Philip Levine, Robert Wrigley, V. Penelope Pelizzon, Thorn Gunn, Ann Hood, Ruben Degollado, Pamela Diamond, Ernest J. Gaines, Karla Kuban Subscriptions: $12, per year $10 tor Special, Double-sized Issue, Commemorating the Twentieth Anniversary of the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program $22 for two years, $7 for a regular single issue. Send submissions, subscriptions, and guideline requests to: Gulf Coast Sutenissions welcome August 15 - May 1 English Department Please include an SASE University of Houston Indicate genre on the envelope Houston, Texas 77204-3012 www.gulfcoast.uh.edu

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

John Ashbery Rick Bass r.C. Boyle Michael Burkard Ron Carlson Raymond Carver Richard Ford Tess Gallagher Robert Hass Brenda Hillman Jane Hirshfield David tee Demetrta Martinez Naomi Shthab Nye Bob Shacochis Maura Stanton Jean Valentine Charles Wright

SUBSCRIPTIONS: 1 year (2 issues) *10.00 2 years (4 issues) '18.00 Back issues for *6.00 each (includes '1.00 postage) SEND SASE OR VISIT OUR WEB SITE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. H A Y D E N ' S FERRY R E V I E W Arizona State University Box 871502 Tempe, Arizona 85287-1502 Telephone (480) 965-1243 FAX (480) 965-2229 Email: HFR@asu.edu www.statepress.com/hfr


"Among the best small magazines being published—even the graphics are first rate." Ann Beattie "Irs terrific." Max Apple "Elegant, warm, thoughtful— with a weight to it and a simplicity." Joseph McElroy "One of the most exciting, imaginative, energetic, arid important literary magazines in the country." Joe David Bellamy "Mississippi Review has become a vita! 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."

P r o u d l y l o w e r i n g

o u r

CLK'K: ww\v.virginia.eclu/v<jr

John Hawkes "It is a great pleasure to read MR; the handsome format and sophisticated edfting earn the magazines place of honor on my shelf." Mark Mirsky "Mississippi Review is probably one of the best magazines in the country." Charles Simic "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." Gordon Lish "MR is one of the most remarkabjeand indispensable literary journals of our time." Raymond Carver

)eWitt Henry r m s s i s s i p p i r e v i e w box 5144 hattiesburg ms . 39406 601-266-4321

T h e

s t a n d a r d s for

the in

first

time

75years.

In the summer of 1999, Time Magazine accused The Virginia Quarterly Review of lowering its standards for the first time in 75 years.

V i r g i n i a

Q u a r t e r l y

R e v i e w

0x11:804.924.3124 »h-:ad. Liui?m\>•^mdanh: Y e s ! * ; Kit r s'.,ijjs?t?i-if. ?s< •*;<:i> I'fease-H)! Hit inr mv : ,2 a-f'^rr ^ibicnptkiii «.' TffF,VlRO)\'rAQtJAKTH<l.\ RKVILW I understand that for my tw>- or three-year subscription. I'll also receive die newly published book. Hi Wite for Our Own Time, a $19.95 value, absolutely Jree.

DONE YEAR:$l8(SorrylFret book n« induded.) O TWO rBARS! $25 Ondadw the Ike book!) O THREE YEARS: $33 (Indude* thefasbook!) We'd run a previously unpublished story P L E ASE PRINT BadaKchlacardinincnwlsptraMndp^nwntnavt by WILLIAM FAULKNER, which had been rejected by Harpers and TO: One W» Range, UVA,BOBo* 400113, Clai)ono*d]ftVA £1004-4113 Xht Atlantic Monthly back in 1948, NAME: ,__ before Faulkner was famous. AR DRESS 1 SUBSCRIBE NOWfortwo years (Just $25), „_C HICKO VIA O M*"E «.Q and we'll promise never to do it again. CAfO l NO:. W H A T HAD WE DONE?

A-\& wt'H send you a F R E E book,

H^m4tfl^(#lfflffltiTffl'ffffiMM

We Write for Our Own Time, OKt I«A« *l8r]lWO ***** *1sQm^'^"-'*^^tMm . a collection of essays SAME: (& si 9.95 value)fromour ADDEeif long and'only recently checkered past. So you'll OKE tut MSQIVKI i»u tijO™"W« m**» IjiO get two years of great fiction, poetry, essays on art, politics, history, and spores~p/us afreegiftforyou andforyour ostimi tiSO''*<»":*WisOr",'Ee,r*Aa9 '35O gift recipients. Allforonly $25. "TRUST US.


"Among the best small magazines being published—even the graphics are first rate." Ann Beattie "Irs terrific." Max Apple "Elegant, warm, thoughtful— with a weight to it and a simplicity." Joseph McElroy "One of the most exciting, imaginative, energetic, arid important literary magazines in the country." Joe David Bellamy "Mississippi Review has become a vita! 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."

P r o u d l y l o w e r i n g

o u r

CLK'K: ww\v.virginia.eclu/v<jr

John Hawkes "It is a great pleasure to read MR; the handsome format and sophisticated edfting earn the magazines place of honor on my shelf." Mark Mirsky "Mississippi Review is probably one of the best magazines in the country." Charles Simic "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." Gordon Lish "MR is one of the most remarkabjeand indispensable literary journals of our time." Raymond Carver

)eWitt Henry r m s s i s s i p p i r e v i e w box 5144 hattiesburg ms . 39406 601-266-4321

T h e

s t a n d a r d s for

the in

first

time

75years.

In the summer of 1999, Time Magazine accused The Virginia Quarterly Review of lowering its standards for the first time in 75 years.

V i r g i n i a

Q u a r t e r l y

R e v i e w

0x11:804.924.3124 »h-:ad. Liui?m\>•^mdanh: Y e s ! * ; Kit r s'.,ijjs?t?i-if. ?s< •*;<:i> I'fease-H)! Hit inr mv : ,2 a-f'^rr ^ibicnptkiii «.' TffF,VlRO)\'rAQtJAKTH<l.\ RKVILW I understand that for my tw>- or three-year subscription. I'll also receive die newly published book. Hi Wite for Our Own Time, a $19.95 value, absolutely Jree.

DONE YEAR:$l8(SorrylFret book n« induded.) O TWO rBARS! $25 Ondadw the Ike book!) O THREE YEARS: $33 (Indude* thefasbook!) We'd run a previously unpublished story P L E ASE PRINT BadaKchlacardinincnwlsptraMndp^nwntnavt by WILLIAM FAULKNER, which had been rejected by Harpers and TO: One W» Range, UVA,BOBo* 400113, Clai)ono*d]ftVA £1004-4113 Xht Atlantic Monthly back in 1948, NAME: ,__ before Faulkner was famous. AR DRESS 1 SUBSCRIBE NOWfortwo years (Just $25), „_C HICKO VIA O M*"E «.Q and we'll promise never to do it again. CAfO l NO:. W H A T HAD WE DONE?

A-\& wt'H send you a F R E E book,

H^m4tfl^(#lfflffltiTffl'ffffiMM

We Write for Our Own Time, OKt I«A« *l8r]lWO ***** *1sQm^'^"-'*^^tMm . a collection of essays SAME: (& si 9.95 value)fromour ADDEeif long and'only recently checkered past. So you'll OKE tut MSQIVKI i»u tijO™"W« m**» IjiO get two years of great fiction, poetry, essays on art, politics, history, and spores~p/us afreegiftforyou andforyour ostimi tiSO''*<»":*WisOr",'Ee,r*Aa9 '35O gift recipients. Allforonly $25. "TRUST US.


B E R K E L Y

F I C T I O N

B A C K

ISSUE 1 8 :

ISSUE 1 9 :

R E V I E W

ISSUES

featuring D e W i t t H e n r y $7.50

featuring G . Davies J a n d r e y •

ISSUE 2 0 :

featuring A m i n a M e m o r y C a i n and Michael HolHster

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Send t o : Berkeley Fiction Review 10 E s h l e m a n H a l l U n i v e r s i t y of California Berkeley, C A 94720 (Make checks p a y a b l e t o B e r k e l e y F i c t i o n Review)


B E R K E L Y

F I C T I O N

B A C K

ISSUE 1 8 :

ISSUE 1 9 :

R E V I E W

ISSUES

featuring D e W i t t H e n r y $7.50

featuring G . Davies J a n d r e y •

ISSUE 2 0 :

featuring A m i n a M e m o r y C a i n and Michael HolHster

Name: Address:

Send t o : Berkeley Fiction Review 10 E s h l e m a n H a l l U n i v e r s i t y of California Berkeley, C A 94720 (Make checks p a y a b l e t o B e r k e l e y F i c t i o n Review)




Fiction by: Patricia Abbot Stephen Bercovitch Alice Bradley Louis Gallo Cecilia Johnson Elise Juska Joshua C. Kamler D. Kastinovich Patricia McEvoy Gene Ryder Suzy Spraker Donna George Storey Steve Tomasula Ruthanne Wiley Rob Yardumian

Cover Art by: Andrew Denman Interior Art by: Irina Mikhalevich