Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 25

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Issue 25

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B E R K E L E Y

Managing Editors Michael Grisolia Juliana Yee Associate Editors Po-Wei Chen Nikki Gloudeman Georgina McWhirter Kristina Seilo

Cover art by Emi Ddcanda

Copyright 2005 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored. www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bfr Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 10B Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, Berkeley CA94720. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Alonzo Printing, Hayward, California

ISSN 1087-7053

Staff Judith Balmin Andrea de Brito Conor Christofferson Teresa Davis MaryFelz GeoffForcella KeleighFriedrich Lauren Gallo. Darlene Grover Victoria Ho Emilkkanda Erin Kennedy Marie Kent Abraham Kim Judith Klamecki Anna Korbozeva VladKroIl Arthur Lee JeffLennon Rosanna Leung Sandy Lwi Emily Major Interior Art Michael Greenstein William E. Meyer, Jr.

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W

Assistant Editors KatyCellers Irene Chu Elisa Jacobs Alana Jordan Elizabeth McCarthy

Kendra L. Marvel Lindsay Meisel Adam Miller Kasey Moffat Kristi Moos Vi vek Narayanadas Elizabeth Normoyle Lauren Polinsky Dax Proctor Ariel Richardson Carole Rogers Jessie Sandoval Harriet Shawcross Andy Sponring Michelle Truong Shannon Tucker Suzanne Turner Linh Vuong Natalie Warrick Rebecca Womack Jennifer Young Kevin Xu Cover Art Emilkkanda


B E R K E L E Y

Managing Editors Michael Grisolia Juliana Yee Associate Editors Po-Wei Chen Nikki Gloudeman Georgina McWhirter Kristina Seilo

Cover art by Emi Ddcanda

Copyright 2005 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored. www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bfr Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 10B Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, Berkeley CA94720. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Alonzo Printing, Hayward, California

ISSN 1087-7053

Staff Judith Balmin Andrea de Brito Conor Christofferson Teresa Davis MaryFelz GeoffForcella KeleighFriedrich Lauren Gallo. Darlene Grover Victoria Ho Emilkkanda Erin Kennedy Marie Kent Abraham Kim Judith Klamecki Anna Korbozeva VladKroIl Arthur Lee JeffLennon Rosanna Leung Sandy Lwi Emily Major Interior Art Michael Greenstein William E. Meyer, Jr.

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W

Assistant Editors KatyCellers Irene Chu Elisa Jacobs Alana Jordan Elizabeth McCarthy

Kendra L. Marvel Lindsay Meisel Adam Miller Kasey Moffat Kristi Moos Vi vek Narayanadas Elizabeth Normoyle Lauren Polinsky Dax Proctor Ariel Richardson Carole Rogers Jessie Sandoval Harriet Shawcross Andy Sponring Michelle Truong Shannon Tucker Suzanne Turner Linh Vuong Natalie Warrick Rebecca Womack Jennifer Young Kevin Xu Cover Art Emilkkanda


A D V I S O R S

Faculty Stephen Booth

F O R E W O R D

Among the many tasks facing us as editors of the Berkeley Fiction Review, one stands out for its perplexing yet entertaining nature. This is the duty of retroactively assigning some theme for the issue—crafting coherence from the creative chaos of thirteen stories, each selected solely on its own merits rather than adherence to such a theme.

Publications Xavier Hernandez

Alumna

This chaos mirrors that of our staff. Because of our democratic process for selecting submissions, our editorial voice reflects our entire'staff. And because most of our staff changes twice each issue, that voice may sound like white noise.

Sarah McClure Haufrect There is, however, a consistent undertone throughout this confusion. That tone is one of dedication. All of our staff members appreciate great stories (although they may disagree about which stories are great) and are dedicated to finding and recognizing these exceptional pieces. Many fight passionately for the inclusion of their favorite stories. The other constant is us. We have both been here since before work on this issue began, and have had the privilege of receiving manuscripts from writers all over the world who consider our"publication worthy of their work. We have also had the privilege of working with a dedicated staff that let only the very best submissions survive an editorial meeting. And now, our final privilege: This year's theme is alienation. All of our stories for this issue can be seen as showing people alienated from their goals, society, or each other. We make no claim that this theme was on our authors' minds. Whether or not you identify with (or can find) this imposed theme, welcome to the controlled chaos of our magazine. Sincerely, Michael Grisolia

Juliana Yee


A D V I S O R S

Faculty Stephen Booth

F O R E W O R D

Among the many tasks facing us as editors of the Berkeley Fiction Review, one stands out for its perplexing yet entertaining nature. This is the duty of retroactively assigning some theme for the issue—crafting coherence from the creative chaos of thirteen stories, each selected solely on its own merits rather than adherence to such a theme.

Publications Xavier Hernandez

Alumna

This chaos mirrors that of our staff. Because of our democratic process for selecting submissions, our editorial voice reflects our entire'staff. And because most of our staff changes twice each issue, that voice may sound like white noise.

Sarah McClure Haufrect There is, however, a consistent undertone throughout this confusion. That tone is one of dedication. All of our staff members appreciate great stories (although they may disagree about which stories are great) and are dedicated to finding and recognizing these exceptional pieces. Many fight passionately for the inclusion of their favorite stories. The other constant is us. We have both been here since before work on this issue began, and have had the privilege of receiving manuscripts from writers all over the world who consider our"publication worthy of their work. We have also had the privilege of working with a dedicated staff that let only the very best submissions survive an editorial meeting. And now, our final privilege: This year's theme is alienation. All of our stories for this issue can be seen as showing people alienated from their goals, society, or each other. We make no claim that this theme was on our authors' minds. Whether or not you identify with (or can find) this imposed theme, welcome to the controlled chaos of our magazine. Sincerely, Michael Grisolia

Juliana Yee


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

Winners of the Berkeley Fiction Review's Eighth Annual Sudden Fiction Contest First Place "Apple Thinks Again" Anna Waterhouse Second Place O w n i n g Shifts" Edward Moore Third Place "There Was the Fire Alarm, Like Before' Kirsten Allen Major

Contents

Etude for Suicide withAudio JeffPercifield

13

Guerilla Marketing Bernard Hafeli

19

LUy Jimmy J. Pack, Jr.

26

There Was the Fire Alarm, Like Before Kirsten Allen Major Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

39

April Fool Justin Courter

42

Less than Perfect Fran Kaplan

50

Evening Shifts Edward Moore Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

53

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit Andrew Farkas

55

Assignation David J. Popiel

77

Apple Thinks Again Anna Waterhouse First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

89

Flight Instinct Leonard Orr

91


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

Winners of the Berkeley Fiction Review's Eighth Annual Sudden Fiction Contest First Place "Apple Thinks Again" Anna Waterhouse Second Place O w n i n g Shifts" Edward Moore Third Place "There Was the Fire Alarm, Like Before' Kirsten Allen Major

Contents

Etude for Suicide withAudio JeffPercifield

13

Guerilla Marketing Bernard Hafeli

19

LUy Jimmy J. Pack, Jr.

26

There Was the Fire Alarm, Like Before Kirsten Allen Major Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

39

April Fool Justin Courter

42

Less than Perfect Fran Kaplan

50

Evening Shifts Edward Moore Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

53

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit Andrew Farkas

55

Assignation David J. Popiel

77

Apple Thinks Again Anna Waterhouse First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

89

Flight Instinct Leonard Orr

91


Oh, Baby Teresa Burns Gunther

102

105 Matthew Main


Oh, Baby Teresa Burns Gunther

102

105 Matthew Main


E T U D E W I T H b y

Jeff

F O R

S U I C I D E

A U D I O Percifield

... going to kill myself, my wife announced. "What??" I said. "Are you multitasking again?" my girlfriend said, voice popping! through cell-phone static. Why do you want to kill yourself? oozed the morning radio shrink. I turned up the volume. ".. .but we're stuck on the Bay Bridge," said my park-and-ride companion into her phone. "We haven't moved for ten minutes." She was a well puttogether woman with ecru stockings, a gray skirt, pink frame eyeglasses, and two frizzy flaps of gray hair that made her look like an Afghan. / 'm going to jump off the bridge, but I'm stuck in traffic, my wife said. "Oh my God," I gasped, looking frantically around for her car. In the back seat, my other park-and-ride companion, a goofy kid in a cyclist outfit, grinned at me, bopping to a Walkman. "Jack, we need to talk," my girlfriend menaced. "I gotta go," I hissed. I hung up and dialed my wife's number. What's that, are you getting another call? asked the radio shrink, whose thousand teeth and gratuitous red hair loomed over us from the side of a Muni bus that slunk past: DR. EILEEN GOODLOVE GIVES GOOD EAR! "I emailed him the subpoena with a Notify Receipt attachment," said the Afghan, talking on a cell while keying a laptop. It doesn 't matter, my wife said quietly on the radio. Hi, this is Alison, said her voicemail in my ear. "...the Man Who Sold the World," crooned the bike kid in the back seat. We all feel like that sometimes, said the radio shrink. If you 've read my 13


E T U D E W I T H b y

Jeff

F O R

S U I C I D E

A U D I O Percifield

... going to kill myself, my wife announced. "What??" I said. "Are you multitasking again?" my girlfriend said, voice popping! through cell-phone static. Why do you want to kill yourself? oozed the morning radio shrink. I turned up the volume. ".. .but we're stuck on the Bay Bridge," said my park-and-ride companion into her phone. "We haven't moved for ten minutes." She was a well puttogether woman with ecru stockings, a gray skirt, pink frame eyeglasses, and two frizzy flaps of gray hair that made her look like an Afghan. / 'm going to jump off the bridge, but I'm stuck in traffic, my wife said. "Oh my God," I gasped, looking frantically around for her car. In the back seat, my other park-and-ride companion, a goofy kid in a cyclist outfit, grinned at me, bopping to a Walkman. "Jack, we need to talk," my girlfriend menaced. "I gotta go," I hissed. I hung up and dialed my wife's number. What's that, are you getting another call? asked the radio shrink, whose thousand teeth and gratuitous red hair loomed over us from the side of a Muni bus that slunk past: DR. EILEEN GOODLOVE GIVES GOOD EAR! "I emailed him the subpoena with a Notify Receipt attachment," said the Afghan, talking on a cell while keying a laptop. It doesn 't matter, my wife said quietly on the radio. Hi, this is Alison, said her voicemail in my ear. "...the Man Who Sold the World," crooned the bike kid in the back seat. We all feel like that sometimes, said the radio shrink. If you 've read my 13


Berkeley Fiction Review book, Emotional Colonics... "Oh no, I'm getting an Instant Message from my son's principal," the Afghan said. My wife began to cry. "They evacuated the school just because of a—" "Excuse me," I shook the Afghan, "but could you look around for a green Saab?" "What??" the Afghan said. "Can you please turn that down?" I remember my first abortion, the radio shrink soothed. "My wife is on the radio," I told the Afghan, "she says she wants to jump off the bridge but she's stuck in traffic, she drives a green Saab, could you please help me look?" She looked at me as if I was mad. "I have to go," she rang off. I just wanted to talk to someone before I jumped, my wife said. "Good lord," the Afghan said. "Well, she's probably on the Golden Gate, nobody jumps off the Bay Bridge." "You don't understand," I said, rolling down my window, "she takes the Bay Bridge every day." / have nothing to live for. The Afghan looked at the radio. "She sounds like a little girl," she said. "Yeah, well it took years of practice," I grumbled. My phone rang. "Jack??" my girlfriend demanded. "Why would she want to kill herself?" the Afghan said. "Look, I can't talk, darling—" / think my husband is having an affair, Alison said, and the Afghan gave me a deadly look. "I love you, sweetheart, I'll call you back," I whispered and hung up. "It's not what you think," I told the Afghan, "help me put the top down." We struggled to fold back the top while the Afghan explained the situation to the bike kid. He stood up in the back seat, scanning the idling ranks of cars for a green Saab with a basketcase in it. "Josephine? It's Margo," the Afghan said into her cell phone. "You're not going to believe this." Where are you, dear? "You're listening?" the Afghan said. "Right. That's me. I'm in the husband's car!" In the middle of the bridge, Alison said. "Oh my god, we 're in the middle," I said, and the bike kid whistled. "No, I don't know the girlfriend," Margo sniffed. "Listen, where are you on the bridge? Do you see a green Honda?" "Saab," I said, "if you please." "Saab, I'm sorry. You do?" She put her hand over the mouthpiece. "She 14

Etude for Suicide with Audio does!" "What does the driver look like?" Margo listened. "An Asian man, about sixty, with a neck brace?" "Oh good grief." "I see a green car back there, I'm going to check it out," the bike kid said. He leapt over the back of the car and trotted off through ranks of stalled traffic. "I have an idea," Margo said, punching in numbers. She took off her gold earring so she could hear better. / haven't had a night's sleep in weeks, my wife sighed. That's so typical of depression, Eileen Goodlove said, let me send you my three-color brochure, Power Sleeping... "Hello?" Margo said into the phone. "Is this the Eileen Goodlove show? No, I don't need any advice, except perhaps about my delinquent son who's probably going to be expelled which will leave me a widow when his father has a complete—" "Hello??" I said. "—in a car with the husband. Yeah, that one. You will? Great!" We switched phones. "They're going to put you through." "What?" I gasped. I put Margo's phone to my ear. ... 'cause the world's so EMPTY without me! blared Eminem's syncopated sulk on hold. "False alarm," the bike kid said, bounding into the back seat, "but this girl gave me her number." .. .matters any more, Alison whispered. "What does she look like?" Margo said, standing up in her seat. I shook my head. "She's ... pretty, blonde, about a hundred and five pounds..." "A hundred and five and she wants to kill herself??" Alison, Eileen Goodlove said, Alison, I've just been informedyour husband is on another line. I don t want to talk to him, Alison said. He's abusive. Margo shot daggers at me. "That is not true," I said. Physically abusive?? Eileen Goodlove gushed. Did he breakyour arm? N-not physically, no, Alison admitted. Psychologically. Margo screwed up her mourn, like I smelled. "Oh fine," I said to her, "women always take the woman's side." "In my experience," Margo said, "it's the exact opposite." "Anyway, that's just nonsense she learned from all these—" - crackpot therapists, my voice boomed over the radio. Hello? said Eileen Goodlove, a bit frostily. / don t want to talk to you, Jack. 15


Berkeley Fiction Review book, Emotional Colonics... "Oh no, I'm getting an Instant Message from my son's principal," the Afghan said. My wife began to cry. "They evacuated the school just because of a—" "Excuse me," I shook the Afghan, "but could you look around for a green Saab?" "What??" the Afghan said. "Can you please turn that down?" I remember my first abortion, the radio shrink soothed. "My wife is on the radio," I told the Afghan, "she says she wants to jump off the bridge but she's stuck in traffic, she drives a green Saab, could you please help me look?" She looked at me as if I was mad. "I have to go," she rang off. I just wanted to talk to someone before I jumped, my wife said. "Good lord," the Afghan said. "Well, she's probably on the Golden Gate, nobody jumps off the Bay Bridge." "You don't understand," I said, rolling down my window, "she takes the Bay Bridge every day." / have nothing to live for. The Afghan looked at the radio. "She sounds like a little girl," she said. "Yeah, well it took years of practice," I grumbled. My phone rang. "Jack??" my girlfriend demanded. "Why would she want to kill herself?" the Afghan said. "Look, I can't talk, darling—" / think my husband is having an affair, Alison said, and the Afghan gave me a deadly look. "I love you, sweetheart, I'll call you back," I whispered and hung up. "It's not what you think," I told the Afghan, "help me put the top down." We struggled to fold back the top while the Afghan explained the situation to the bike kid. He stood up in the back seat, scanning the idling ranks of cars for a green Saab with a basketcase in it. "Josephine? It's Margo," the Afghan said into her cell phone. "You're not going to believe this." Where are you, dear? "You're listening?" the Afghan said. "Right. That's me. I'm in the husband's car!" In the middle of the bridge, Alison said. "Oh my god, we 're in the middle," I said, and the bike kid whistled. "No, I don't know the girlfriend," Margo sniffed. "Listen, where are you on the bridge? Do you see a green Honda?" "Saab," I said, "if you please." "Saab, I'm sorry. You do?" She put her hand over the mouthpiece. "She 14

Etude for Suicide with Audio does!" "What does the driver look like?" Margo listened. "An Asian man, about sixty, with a neck brace?" "Oh good grief." "I see a green car back there, I'm going to check it out," the bike kid said. He leapt over the back of the car and trotted off through ranks of stalled traffic. "I have an idea," Margo said, punching in numbers. She took off her gold earring so she could hear better. / haven't had a night's sleep in weeks, my wife sighed. That's so typical of depression, Eileen Goodlove said, let me send you my three-color brochure, Power Sleeping... "Hello?" Margo said into the phone. "Is this the Eileen Goodlove show? No, I don't need any advice, except perhaps about my delinquent son who's probably going to be expelled which will leave me a widow when his father has a complete—" "Hello??" I said. "—in a car with the husband. Yeah, that one. You will? Great!" We switched phones. "They're going to put you through." "What?" I gasped. I put Margo's phone to my ear. ... 'cause the world's so EMPTY without me! blared Eminem's syncopated sulk on hold. "False alarm," the bike kid said, bounding into the back seat, "but this girl gave me her number." .. .matters any more, Alison whispered. "What does she look like?" Margo said, standing up in her seat. I shook my head. "She's ... pretty, blonde, about a hundred and five pounds..." "A hundred and five and she wants to kill herself??" Alison, Eileen Goodlove said, Alison, I've just been informedyour husband is on another line. I don t want to talk to him, Alison said. He's abusive. Margo shot daggers at me. "That is not true," I said. Physically abusive?? Eileen Goodlove gushed. Did he breakyour arm? N-not physically, no, Alison admitted. Psychologically. Margo screwed up her mourn, like I smelled. "Oh fine," I said to her, "women always take the woman's side." "In my experience," Margo said, "it's the exact opposite." "Anyway, that's just nonsense she learned from all these—" - crackpot therapists, my voice boomed over the radio. Hello? said Eileen Goodlove, a bit frostily. / don t want to talk to you, Jack. 15


Berkeley Fiction Review "Sweetheart," I said, "where are you, what are you doing?" Ladies and gentlemen, this is REAL RADIO, we have the husband on the line! "Alison, we're looking for your car, where are you?" / don t want to talk to him. "Oh for god's sake, she's in a green Saab, will everyone listening please look for a green Saab?" The Saab is in the shop. "What?" I said. "What the hell happened to it??" "Excuse me?" Margo said. "I only meant because it's practically new," I said, putting my hand over the phone. Infidelity, Eileen Goodlove said, is the symptom, not the problem. I have a videotape I can send you called Intimacy for Idiots. What? Alison said. Well of course I didn t mean you were an idiot, Eileen Goodlove said. "This is not about infidelity," I said, "we don't even live together." Very often, Eileen Goodlove said, when one partner acts out, it's a cry to be heard and listened to— "Oh, for Christ's sake!" You see how he is. In the rear view mirror, I could see police lights trying to shoulder their way through the crush. A news helicopter banked overhead. Alison? Alison, we have to break away for a traffic report, but I want you to— "You're cutting to a traffic report with a suicide on the phone??" I said. Sir, I can— "/ can give you your traffic report," I said, standing up in the car, "it's not moving. There!" You have a lot of anger, sir— "And you're a crackpot" I said. "Everyone listening honk your horn if you think the shrink's a crackpot!" HONKHONKHONKHONKHONK! My phone rang in Margo's lap. "Hello?" said the Afghan. "Who?" She made a face. "Listen, sugar, don't you think you've caused enough damage—" "Give me that—" I lunged. "—never leave their wives and children, honey, so wake up and smell the—" I wrenched the phone away from her. "Hello, Wendy??" I said, holding two phones. "Jack?" my girlfriend said. "I'm in my car, listening to this, what the hell is going on?" 16

Etude for Suicide with Audio We do still have good sex, Alison admitted. "What??" said Wendy and Margo. "It was only one or two times," I hissed into the phone. Click! "Dude," the biker kid shook his head. "You are apig" Margo said. "Get out!" I said. "What??" "Get out of my car!" I said, shoving her briefcase at her. "Fine!" she said. She snatched up her laptop and her good shoes and her sippy cup and slammed! the door. "Go back to your bimbo babe!" "For your information," I said, "my wife's the bimbo, my girlfriend's older than me." Margo looked at me. "You're bizarre," she said. The bike kid patted my shoulder. "Do you want to talk, guy?" he said. "I'm studying to be a therapist." He looked about fifteen. "Get out," I said. He looked at me sheepishly, then climbed over the back. I wrenched it in gear and rolled forward about six inches. In the mirror, I saw Margo and the bike kid wandering through traffic. / can t take this anymore, Alison said, her voice breaking. Alison? Eileen Goodlove said. Alison? I think we lost her. "What??" / mean I think we got disconnected. I scrambled out of the car, still holding Margo's phone. "Alison?" I screamed, and began running towards the top of the span. "Is she on the line?" Whats that? Eileen Goodlove said. Another suicidal person - a man? running on the Bay Bridge? "Alison!" I yelled, darting in and out of traffic. "Alison!" But nobody jumps off the Bay Bridge. A portly man stumbled out of a truck and collared me. "Don't do it, guy!" he said. "Fuck off!" I said, shoving him away. "Alison!" I climbed onto the barrier, the slate gray bay pitching five stories below me, and lurched dizzily. A news helicopter reared up before me, filling the world with thunder. "Alison!" I shouted into the phone, "Alison, if you're still listening I love you!" HONKHONKHONKHONKHONK! The Highway Patrol held me for observation until my lawyer finished his golf game. Alison, it turned out, was at home all along. She could have been prosecuted for false reporting, but instead she checked into an expensive clinic with lots of understanding therapists. Eileen Goodlove was credited with saving a life. Wendy sent me a curt, businesslike card; the Saab needed a new 17


Berkeley Fiction Review "Sweetheart," I said, "where are you, what are you doing?" Ladies and gentlemen, this is REAL RADIO, we have the husband on the line! "Alison, we're looking for your car, where are you?" / don t want to talk to him. "Oh for god's sake, she's in a green Saab, will everyone listening please look for a green Saab?" The Saab is in the shop. "What?" I said. "What the hell happened to it??" "Excuse me?" Margo said. "I only meant because it's practically new," I said, putting my hand over the phone. Infidelity, Eileen Goodlove said, is the symptom, not the problem. I have a videotape I can send you called Intimacy for Idiots. What? Alison said. Well of course I didn t mean you were an idiot, Eileen Goodlove said. "This is not about infidelity," I said, "we don't even live together." Very often, Eileen Goodlove said, when one partner acts out, it's a cry to be heard and listened to— "Oh, for Christ's sake!" You see how he is. In the rear view mirror, I could see police lights trying to shoulder their way through the crush. A news helicopter banked overhead. Alison? Alison, we have to break away for a traffic report, but I want you to— "You're cutting to a traffic report with a suicide on the phone??" I said. Sir, I can— "/ can give you your traffic report," I said, standing up in the car, "it's not moving. There!" You have a lot of anger, sir— "And you're a crackpot" I said. "Everyone listening honk your horn if you think the shrink's a crackpot!" HONKHONKHONKHONKHONK! My phone rang in Margo's lap. "Hello?" said the Afghan. "Who?" She made a face. "Listen, sugar, don't you think you've caused enough damage—" "Give me that—" I lunged. "—never leave their wives and children, honey, so wake up and smell the—" I wrenched the phone away from her. "Hello, Wendy??" I said, holding two phones. "Jack?" my girlfriend said. "I'm in my car, listening to this, what the hell is going on?" 16

Etude for Suicide with Audio We do still have good sex, Alison admitted. "What??" said Wendy and Margo. "It was only one or two times," I hissed into the phone. Click! "Dude," the biker kid shook his head. "You are apig" Margo said. "Get out!" I said. "What??" "Get out of my car!" I said, shoving her briefcase at her. "Fine!" she said. She snatched up her laptop and her good shoes and her sippy cup and slammed! the door. "Go back to your bimbo babe!" "For your information," I said, "my wife's the bimbo, my girlfriend's older than me." Margo looked at me. "You're bizarre," she said. The bike kid patted my shoulder. "Do you want to talk, guy?" he said. "I'm studying to be a therapist." He looked about fifteen. "Get out," I said. He looked at me sheepishly, then climbed over the back. I wrenched it in gear and rolled forward about six inches. In the mirror, I saw Margo and the bike kid wandering through traffic. / can t take this anymore, Alison said, her voice breaking. Alison? Eileen Goodlove said. Alison? I think we lost her. "What??" / mean I think we got disconnected. I scrambled out of the car, still holding Margo's phone. "Alison?" I screamed, and began running towards the top of the span. "Is she on the line?" Whats that? Eileen Goodlove said. Another suicidal person - a man? running on the Bay Bridge? "Alison!" I yelled, darting in and out of traffic. "Alison!" But nobody jumps off the Bay Bridge. A portly man stumbled out of a truck and collared me. "Don't do it, guy!" he said. "Fuck off!" I said, shoving him away. "Alison!" I climbed onto the barrier, the slate gray bay pitching five stories below me, and lurched dizzily. A news helicopter reared up before me, filling the world with thunder. "Alison!" I shouted into the phone, "Alison, if you're still listening I love you!" HONKHONKHONKHONKHONK! The Highway Patrol held me for observation until my lawyer finished his golf game. Alison, it turned out, was at home all along. She could have been prosecuted for false reporting, but instead she checked into an expensive clinic with lots of understanding therapists. Eileen Goodlove was credited with saving a life. Wendy sent me a curt, businesslike card; the Saab needed a new 17


Berkeley Fiction Review alternator; I mailed Margo her phone. I don't know what happened to the bike therapist.

G U E R I L L A

M A R K E T I N G b y

B e r n a r d

Hafeli

arrin Stevens is how I knew him. Only when he got famous did I learn he was Daniel Bourdin. I'd see him on the streets, mostly in the | Mission around 16th. Then he disappeared. When I moved downtown, I ran across him again. This was before the mayor's misguided attempt to make downtown safe for tourists and conventioneers. That stuff never works. Christ, like some sad-ass wino flopped out on a sidewalk is ever a threat to anyone. It's the crazies you gotta watch out for—with the Manson eyes. And they don't listen to some policeman telling them to pack up and shag ass outta downtown. They don't hear no one but the nonstop bughouse radio stations broadcasting on frequencies only they can pick up. You are now listening to K-R-Z-Y. Thank you Ronald Reagan for closing down the loony bins and turning the entire state into one. Anyway, we were bivouacked along Market Street. Darrin, he came up to me with a proposition, this idea how I— how we—could panhandle more money. The gist of it was that I had to find a USP—a unique selling proposition—that's what he called it. I call it a gimmick. The point was I had to find something—anything—that would strike a chord with the citizens passing me by, so they'd give me their spare change instead of some other poor loser crapped out on the block there. He said I was competing for the shrinking panhandler dollar; that the economy was about to go south and there would be more and more panhandlers and fewer and fewer dollars. Luckily, he could help. I told him I didn't want another scraggly cat. I'd tried that and it worked okay for awhile but then everyone got cats and it all went to hell. People started giving me cat food. Christ, you ever eat cat food? Believe me, there's nothing fancy about Fancy Feast."

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Berkeley Fiction Review alternator; I mailed Margo her phone. I don't know what happened to the bike therapist.

G U E R I L L A

M A R K E T I N G b y

B e r n a r d

Hafeli

arrin Stevens is how I knew him. Only when he got famous did I learn he was Daniel Bourdin. I'd see him on the streets, mostly in the | Mission around 16th. Then he disappeared. When I moved downtown, I ran across him again. This was before the mayor's misguided attempt to make downtown safe for tourists and conventioneers. That stuff never works. Christ, like some sad-ass wino flopped out on a sidewalk is ever a threat to anyone. It's the crazies you gotta watch out for—with the Manson eyes. And they don't listen to some policeman telling them to pack up and shag ass outta downtown. They don't hear no one but the nonstop bughouse radio stations broadcasting on frequencies only they can pick up. You are now listening to K-R-Z-Y. Thank you Ronald Reagan for closing down the loony bins and turning the entire state into one. Anyway, we were bivouacked along Market Street. Darrin, he came up to me with a proposition, this idea how I— how we—could panhandle more money. The gist of it was that I had to find a USP—a unique selling proposition—that's what he called it. I call it a gimmick. The point was I had to find something—anything—that would strike a chord with the citizens passing me by, so they'd give me their spare change instead of some other poor loser crapped out on the block there. He said I was competing for the shrinking panhandler dollar; that the economy was about to go south and there would be more and more panhandlers and fewer and fewer dollars. Luckily, he could help. I told him I didn't want another scraggly cat. I'd tried that and it worked okay for awhile but then everyone got cats and it all went to hell. People started giving me cat food. Christ, you ever eat cat food? Believe me, there's nothing fancy about Fancy Feast."

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V Berkeley Fiction Review "I worked with Daniel twice. Great writer. No idea was too crazy or stupid not to explore. My best ads were all done with Daniel. His mind was like a highspeed blender with the lid off, splattering the walls with raw globs of halfformed ideas. We'd wipe away the stuff that was just too radical or inane and concentrate on what seemed to make sense, however tenuously. When he started a manic phase, he got even more antic. He'd start defending some really absurd idea—something the client would never buy or might even get us kicked off the account—and insist we present it. We owed it to St. Bill— Bernbach, the patron saint of creativity—to present it. Usually, it wasn't long after one of these episodes that Daniel would become obsessed with some new something and spend every waking moment pursuing it. Once it was the Masons. Origami. One time, he got totally into men's traditional fashion—went out and spent a fortune at Brooks Brothers and Burberry—then he became enamored with Buddhism, which didn't jibe with his new clothes. So he burned them all in a dumpster next to the agency, threw in his entire portfolio of ads too—his whole career up in flames—while we all watched from the windows above. Then he wandered around the Financial District wearing his bed sheets and parroting Buddhist proverbs until he disappeared."

Guerilla

Marketing

elected—that being a bipolar alcoholic would even be a plus with certain voters—I persuaded him to take the medication." "I told Darrin how I got drunk in North Beach with Kerouac. His eyes got big as brass doorknobs and he said, 'My, God, Cletus. That's it! That's your USP!' After that, there was little more to it than getting a magic marker and some cardboard and making up signs that said, 'I got drunk with Kerouac. Ask for details.' Well, Holy Christ, people started asking. And the spare change started rolling in. Actually, I didn't remember much about the episode in question—I was real drunk and passed out right after I met Kerouac—but I gave people what they wanted to hear: pure horse shit. Banana oil. Why do you figure fiction sells better than nonfiction? Darrin had me read up on Kerouac—to give my lying historical context. And then he had his second brainstorm. 'Cletus!'he said. 'We'reinthe wrong goddamn part of town. We need to be in North Beach.' So we humped over to that little alley between Vesuvio's and City Lights. And there, things really took off. I became a regular tourist attraction. I was on the news. Some kids from the Mission did a documentary on the Beats and I was a focal point. I saw myself on the silver screen, telling it like it wasn't. I got as much face time as Ferlinghetti."

"I met Daniel at a photo shoot. The next week, I saw him in a meeting. We became lovers. That was before I knew he was bipolar. Which wouldn't have made any difference if he'd stayed on his medication. He had—has—this energy. He was more alive than I was, that's how it felt. And when all this aliveness, this anima, was turned my way, I felt galvanized. Whoosh! The lights came on. I liked that. For awhile, it became my drug of choice. But when I realized that's what was happening, I pulled back. Danger ahead. I really did like him though, and I hoped the initial electricity I felt would morph into something more substantive. Love is what I had in mind. But it didn't happen. After a time, his perpetual exuberance wore me out. Then it got boring. Then we became just friends. One morning, I realized I hadn't heard from him in over a month. I called him at the agency and they said he no longer worked there, didn't know where he was. I thought—uh-oh—probably drunk. I felt terrible since I hadn't kept in touch."

"He finally contacted his sister from a commune in Idaho. She called me at the agency. This was nearly a year later. Another time, he joined the service and ended up in El Salvador. He'd ride the mania wherever it took him, but once the depression kicked in—usually after six months, sometimes a year—he'd try to get in touch with someone, or he'd have a psychotic break and his behavior would get so bizarre he'd find himself on a psych ward somewhere. He was manic-depressive—bipolar, as it's called now. He took medication. That's when his life was what we call normal. But Daniel was also an alcoholic. He went to meetings to stay sober. And as he went to more and more meetings—and piled up more and more months of quiet, normal life—he'd hear people talk about being totally drug free; of giving up cigarettes, coffee, chocolate, sugar, everything but vitamins and an occasional aspirin, and how good they felt as a result. That appealed to Daniel. He wanted that badly."

"Before I agreed to run Daniel's campaign, I made him get back on his meds. I knew the only way he could lose was to beat himself. Ever since the days of Emperor Norton, this city has embraced the eccentric and the truly outthere. If their offbeat ideas didn't always pan out, at least they weren't boring. So Daniel's background wasn't going to hurt him, not where he was running: the 8th District. One of his opponents was named Stardaughter, for god's sake. But if he began acting bizarrely during public appearances, or not showing up at all, that could do definite damage. So once I assured him he could get

"About a year later, I'm working late in my studio and someone starts ringing my buzzer. I'm in a rough part of town so I don't answer in the evening, unless I'm expecting someone. The buzzer keeps buzzing. For some reason— this is after fifteen minutes of nonstop buzzing—I decide to answer. I didn't have to. No one can tell if I'm there or not. It's this bum. His smell is turbo toxic: that ripe mingling of sweat, shit, urine, dirt, vomit—everything. He made my eyes water. Plus, he's drunk and incoherent. 'What do you want?' I yell at him. 'Here, go away.' I try to give him a twenty. When he won't take it, I look at

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V Berkeley Fiction Review "I worked with Daniel twice. Great writer. No idea was too crazy or stupid not to explore. My best ads were all done with Daniel. His mind was like a highspeed blender with the lid off, splattering the walls with raw globs of halfformed ideas. We'd wipe away the stuff that was just too radical or inane and concentrate on what seemed to make sense, however tenuously. When he started a manic phase, he got even more antic. He'd start defending some really absurd idea—something the client would never buy or might even get us kicked off the account—and insist we present it. We owed it to St. Bill— Bernbach, the patron saint of creativity—to present it. Usually, it wasn't long after one of these episodes that Daniel would become obsessed with some new something and spend every waking moment pursuing it. Once it was the Masons. Origami. One time, he got totally into men's traditional fashion—went out and spent a fortune at Brooks Brothers and Burberry—then he became enamored with Buddhism, which didn't jibe with his new clothes. So he burned them all in a dumpster next to the agency, threw in his entire portfolio of ads too—his whole career up in flames—while we all watched from the windows above. Then he wandered around the Financial District wearing his bed sheets and parroting Buddhist proverbs until he disappeared."

Guerilla

Marketing

elected—that being a bipolar alcoholic would even be a plus with certain voters—I persuaded him to take the medication." "I told Darrin how I got drunk in North Beach with Kerouac. His eyes got big as brass doorknobs and he said, 'My, God, Cletus. That's it! That's your USP!' After that, there was little more to it than getting a magic marker and some cardboard and making up signs that said, 'I got drunk with Kerouac. Ask for details.' Well, Holy Christ, people started asking. And the spare change started rolling in. Actually, I didn't remember much about the episode in question—I was real drunk and passed out right after I met Kerouac—but I gave people what they wanted to hear: pure horse shit. Banana oil. Why do you figure fiction sells better than nonfiction? Darrin had me read up on Kerouac—to give my lying historical context. And then he had his second brainstorm. 'Cletus!'he said. 'We'reinthe wrong goddamn part of town. We need to be in North Beach.' So we humped over to that little alley between Vesuvio's and City Lights. And there, things really took off. I became a regular tourist attraction. I was on the news. Some kids from the Mission did a documentary on the Beats and I was a focal point. I saw myself on the silver screen, telling it like it wasn't. I got as much face time as Ferlinghetti."

"I met Daniel at a photo shoot. The next week, I saw him in a meeting. We became lovers. That was before I knew he was bipolar. Which wouldn't have made any difference if he'd stayed on his medication. He had—has—this energy. He was more alive than I was, that's how it felt. And when all this aliveness, this anima, was turned my way, I felt galvanized. Whoosh! The lights came on. I liked that. For awhile, it became my drug of choice. But when I realized that's what was happening, I pulled back. Danger ahead. I really did like him though, and I hoped the initial electricity I felt would morph into something more substantive. Love is what I had in mind. But it didn't happen. After a time, his perpetual exuberance wore me out. Then it got boring. Then we became just friends. One morning, I realized I hadn't heard from him in over a month. I called him at the agency and they said he no longer worked there, didn't know where he was. I thought—uh-oh—probably drunk. I felt terrible since I hadn't kept in touch."

"He finally contacted his sister from a commune in Idaho. She called me at the agency. This was nearly a year later. Another time, he joined the service and ended up in El Salvador. He'd ride the mania wherever it took him, but once the depression kicked in—usually after six months, sometimes a year—he'd try to get in touch with someone, or he'd have a psychotic break and his behavior would get so bizarre he'd find himself on a psych ward somewhere. He was manic-depressive—bipolar, as it's called now. He took medication. That's when his life was what we call normal. But Daniel was also an alcoholic. He went to meetings to stay sober. And as he went to more and more meetings—and piled up more and more months of quiet, normal life—he'd hear people talk about being totally drug free; of giving up cigarettes, coffee, chocolate, sugar, everything but vitamins and an occasional aspirin, and how good they felt as a result. That appealed to Daniel. He wanted that badly."

"Before I agreed to run Daniel's campaign, I made him get back on his meds. I knew the only way he could lose was to beat himself. Ever since the days of Emperor Norton, this city has embraced the eccentric and the truly outthere. If their offbeat ideas didn't always pan out, at least they weren't boring. So Daniel's background wasn't going to hurt him, not where he was running: the 8th District. One of his opponents was named Stardaughter, for god's sake. But if he began acting bizarrely during public appearances, or not showing up at all, that could do definite damage. So once I assured him he could get

"About a year later, I'm working late in my studio and someone starts ringing my buzzer. I'm in a rough part of town so I don't answer in the evening, unless I'm expecting someone. The buzzer keeps buzzing. For some reason— this is after fifteen minutes of nonstop buzzing—I decide to answer. I didn't have to. No one can tell if I'm there or not. It's this bum. His smell is turbo toxic: that ripe mingling of sweat, shit, urine, dirt, vomit—everything. He made my eyes water. Plus, he's drunk and incoherent. 'What do you want?' I yell at him. 'Here, go away.' I try to give him a twenty. When he won't take it, I look at

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Berkeley Fiction Review him more closely. Why would a homeless wino not want a twenty-dollar bill? Suddenly, I know it's Daniel. Oh my God. I call my friend Ralph—he drives a mobile assistance van—and we get him to a detox. Eventually, he gets into a program. I visit all the time. He tells me about his bipolarness—bipolarity?—is that how you say it? Well, after he gets everything relatively together, he goes back to work and about a year later—kapoof!—the same thing happens. He disappears. By now, nobody's really surprised. When your life takes on a pattern—even if it's an erratic, completely nonsensical pattern—people know what to expect. You lose shock value. So when Daniel comes to my door again, about nine months later, I'm not exactly stunned. This time though, he's not so seedy. He's not what you'd call kempt, but he's nowhere near the squalid clump of defeated humanity he'd been on his previous visit. He was wearing a ripped tweed sport coat and had managed to hang on to the same tortoise shell glasses he'd worn when I last saw him. He was almost rakish, street professorial. I invited him in." "The campaign went wonderfully, right up to the end. Magic. Those photos of Daniel at the Black and White Ball, in a tuxedo, passing out paper plates of paella and caviar to the homeless—that put Daniel's campaign in the Chronicle, page one, below the fold. Of course, the whole thing was orchestrated. Daniel had his homeless pals meet him near the barricade on Golden Gate and Larkin. His photographer friend, Lisa, got the police on duty there involved in a photo with the cast of Nash Bridges. While that was playing out, Daniel snuck his merry band over to the food tent from Moose's Restaurant. Once they all had food, Lisa came over and snapped her pictures. Voila: Chronicle, page one. We kept all the pictures of them quaffing champagne from plastic flutes. Wrong message. But they look really good in Lisa's portfolio. In this one, a guy with no teeth has a positively beatific smile as he's lifting a glass to his lips, pinky in the air." "After we started making good coin, we got rooms in a piss-in-the-sink fieabag in the Tenderloin. A couple times, I had to go back to camping out, but Darrin never did. See, he helped some other street people find their USP's and was getting a percentage of their takes too. Kept him in cheap rooms and Royal Gate, which was his beverage of choice, though he'd drink hair tonic if that was all that was available. There was this sweet old gent in a wheelchair—the Morning Man—said 'Good morning' and smiled at everyone as they walked to work. Darrin, he took the Morning Man to the Goodwill on Geary and got him a nice suit of clothes. Then he asked the outdoor florist on Market and Montgomery if he could have whatever cut flowers they might be getting rid of at night, because they weren't the picture of freshness or whatever. He gave the flowers to the Morning Man, who passed them out to the morning walkers 22

Guerilla

Marketing

as he greeted them. That dude cleaned up. And then there was Little Mac, who opened the door for people at the fast food joints on Market, hoping for a handout. Mac also watched like a hawk for people eating on the run; to see if they might toss what was left of their burgers and fries in the trash as they hurried on to their next big deal. Then he'd swoop down and have lunch. Darrin figured Mac to be somewhat of a fast food connoisseur. So he promoted that. He'd do up signs that read, 'Little Mac says the New Whopper is done up proper.' Or 'Forget finger lickin', this is booty-kickin' chicken.' Or'WithArby's tender beef, who needs teeth?' At first, the restaurants shooed him away, but Darrin showed them how Little Mac could be good advertising. He got some photographer he knew to shoot pictures of Mac next to a trash can, holding up a half-eaten sandwich or a french fry, so the signs looked semi-professional. Pretty soon, Little Mac was doing restaurant reviews in the Bay Area Guardian. And getting paid for it. The last time I saw Darrin was when he was running for office. About two months before he disappeared. We were doing a commercial for his campaign—two street people who'd sobered up and were doing alright. Who would have a better idea about the homeless situation in San Francisco?" "Daniel would convince himself that everything was copacetic—he had a job, an apartment, usually a girlfriend—and that if he'd just stop taking the pills, things would be that much finer. So he'd stop, and see that he was right, because his life would go along great for months. But inevitably, the manic cycle would start to kick in. I imagine this was imperceptible to Daniel at first; if anything, it probably felt like life was getting even better, evidence that he'd made the right choice. And it wasn't easy for others to notice a mood swing— especially if they didn't know Daniel—he was pretty wired all the time. Once, I thought I saw it coming on. 'Daniel,* I asked him, 'have you stopped taking your meds?' 'Yes,' he said, 'and it's the best decision I ever made.' I called his sister. She called his shrink. But he told them he was back on them. After that, he refused to work with me, asked to be teamed up with another art director. Two months later, he was gone. He turned up on a beach on Orcas Island up in the San Juans. A jogger saw him and thought he might try to drown himself. She called the police. I don't know what Daniel was like during a depressive cycle. Like I say, he'd split, leave town. Then when he came back, he'd live on the street—in the Mission or south of Market—drinking. A lot of photographers and illustrators have their studios over there. Sometimes, someone would see him." "We talked and drank coffee. He said he was back on the streets—some nights he could afford a TL hotel—and that's how he wanted it. He wasn't taking medication and was in the midst of a depressive cycle. He was drinking, but not every minute. He said he wanted to see where it all led. In the past, 23


Berkeley Fiction Review him more closely. Why would a homeless wino not want a twenty-dollar bill? Suddenly, I know it's Daniel. Oh my God. I call my friend Ralph—he drives a mobile assistance van—and we get him to a detox. Eventually, he gets into a program. I visit all the time. He tells me about his bipolarness—bipolarity?—is that how you say it? Well, after he gets everything relatively together, he goes back to work and about a year later—kapoof!—the same thing happens. He disappears. By now, nobody's really surprised. When your life takes on a pattern—even if it's an erratic, completely nonsensical pattern—people know what to expect. You lose shock value. So when Daniel comes to my door again, about nine months later, I'm not exactly stunned. This time though, he's not so seedy. He's not what you'd call kempt, but he's nowhere near the squalid clump of defeated humanity he'd been on his previous visit. He was wearing a ripped tweed sport coat and had managed to hang on to the same tortoise shell glasses he'd worn when I last saw him. He was almost rakish, street professorial. I invited him in." "The campaign went wonderfully, right up to the end. Magic. Those photos of Daniel at the Black and White Ball, in a tuxedo, passing out paper plates of paella and caviar to the homeless—that put Daniel's campaign in the Chronicle, page one, below the fold. Of course, the whole thing was orchestrated. Daniel had his homeless pals meet him near the barricade on Golden Gate and Larkin. His photographer friend, Lisa, got the police on duty there involved in a photo with the cast of Nash Bridges. While that was playing out, Daniel snuck his merry band over to the food tent from Moose's Restaurant. Once they all had food, Lisa came over and snapped her pictures. Voila: Chronicle, page one. We kept all the pictures of them quaffing champagne from plastic flutes. Wrong message. But they look really good in Lisa's portfolio. In this one, a guy with no teeth has a positively beatific smile as he's lifting a glass to his lips, pinky in the air." "After we started making good coin, we got rooms in a piss-in-the-sink fieabag in the Tenderloin. A couple times, I had to go back to camping out, but Darrin never did. See, he helped some other street people find their USP's and was getting a percentage of their takes too. Kept him in cheap rooms and Royal Gate, which was his beverage of choice, though he'd drink hair tonic if that was all that was available. There was this sweet old gent in a wheelchair—the Morning Man—said 'Good morning' and smiled at everyone as they walked to work. Darrin, he took the Morning Man to the Goodwill on Geary and got him a nice suit of clothes. Then he asked the outdoor florist on Market and Montgomery if he could have whatever cut flowers they might be getting rid of at night, because they weren't the picture of freshness or whatever. He gave the flowers to the Morning Man, who passed them out to the morning walkers 22

Guerilla

Marketing

as he greeted them. That dude cleaned up. And then there was Little Mac, who opened the door for people at the fast food joints on Market, hoping for a handout. Mac also watched like a hawk for people eating on the run; to see if they might toss what was left of their burgers and fries in the trash as they hurried on to their next big deal. Then he'd swoop down and have lunch. Darrin figured Mac to be somewhat of a fast food connoisseur. So he promoted that. He'd do up signs that read, 'Little Mac says the New Whopper is done up proper.' Or 'Forget finger lickin', this is booty-kickin' chicken.' Or'WithArby's tender beef, who needs teeth?' At first, the restaurants shooed him away, but Darrin showed them how Little Mac could be good advertising. He got some photographer he knew to shoot pictures of Mac next to a trash can, holding up a half-eaten sandwich or a french fry, so the signs looked semi-professional. Pretty soon, Little Mac was doing restaurant reviews in the Bay Area Guardian. And getting paid for it. The last time I saw Darrin was when he was running for office. About two months before he disappeared. We were doing a commercial for his campaign—two street people who'd sobered up and were doing alright. Who would have a better idea about the homeless situation in San Francisco?" "Daniel would convince himself that everything was copacetic—he had a job, an apartment, usually a girlfriend—and that if he'd just stop taking the pills, things would be that much finer. So he'd stop, and see that he was right, because his life would go along great for months. But inevitably, the manic cycle would start to kick in. I imagine this was imperceptible to Daniel at first; if anything, it probably felt like life was getting even better, evidence that he'd made the right choice. And it wasn't easy for others to notice a mood swing— especially if they didn't know Daniel—he was pretty wired all the time. Once, I thought I saw it coming on. 'Daniel,* I asked him, 'have you stopped taking your meds?' 'Yes,' he said, 'and it's the best decision I ever made.' I called his sister. She called his shrink. But he told them he was back on them. After that, he refused to work with me, asked to be teamed up with another art director. Two months later, he was gone. He turned up on a beach on Orcas Island up in the San Juans. A jogger saw him and thought he might try to drown himself. She called the police. I don't know what Daniel was like during a depressive cycle. Like I say, he'd split, leave town. Then when he came back, he'd live on the street—in the Mission or south of Market—drinking. A lot of photographers and illustrators have their studios over there. Sometimes, someone would see him." "We talked and drank coffee. He said he was back on the streets—some nights he could afford a TL hotel—and that's how he wanted it. He wasn't taking medication and was in the midst of a depressive cycle. He was drinking, but not every minute. He said he wanted to see where it all led. In the past, 23


Berkeley Fiction Review whenever he'd hit this point, some kind soul—me, his sister, his art director friend Ron—had always bailed him out. Then he'd put down the bottle, pick up the meds, and climb back on the horse; only to get pitched off into the poison oak again at some future date. I was so pleased to see him so, well, comparatively together, I said, 'Daniel, whatever I can do to help, just say the word.' 'You can take some photographs,' he said. So I did, first of this homeless guy, Little Mac, then of other street people. Daniel was doing this guerilla advertising for them. He was living—such as it was—off some of the proceeds. Then it got more serious. He started doing these portraits of the homeless—like Dewar's profiles, those scotch ads—only of Sixth Street Sarah, Say What, and the World's Greatest Wino. He still had contacts at the ad agencies and production places, so he was able to produce these bus shelter posters and post them free of charge, as a public service. It was great for me. I got to do these gorgeous portraits of people with really fascinating faces and see them hung out all over town—seven feet by about four feet—on the sides of bus shelters. You must have seen them. For Fortified Fred, we had, 'favorite color: white zinfandel, favorite charity: the United Negro Pizza Fund, favorite drink: the next one.' Around then, Daniel sobered up again. And he started noticing these other homeless people who were doing the same thing. So he changed the focus of the bus shelter posters to 'Hire the Homeless.' The photos were of these street people who had taken steps to put their lives back together. The copy listed their work experience and other attributes. Well, all of this activity started generating Daniel a certain amount of local acclaim. SF Weekly did a piece on him. So did the Guardian, but of course, with a slightly different slant. He was on the local news. He got involved in the Mission, raised money for a free ad school for at-risk Mission adolescents. I taught a photography class. The kids learned fast. They're real creative at that age. Daniel got them actual assignments from Levi and Apple Computer aimed at other kids. The work was great, real successful. Then, Daniel asked me out to dinner one night, said he needed to talk. It was about running for office. I told him it was a bad idea, but he didn't listen. Nicole Heitzman had convinced him he was a shoo-in for supervisor in the Mission District. And as it turned out, he was."

Guerilla

Marketing

yellow?' and 'What's he keeping under his hat?' Two months later, in October, I get a call from the mayor's office. They agree to the debate. Only by then it's too late. I tell them forget it. The problem was that earlier that month we were at this fundraiser in the Mission. All the local glitterati turned out. We were standing there, talking to some artist and writer types when Daniel grabbed a wine glass off a passing tray and downed it, almost in one motion. I pulled him aside. 'That's nonalcoholic, right?' 'No, Nicole.' 'What exactly the fuck are you doing, Daniel?' 'Look,' he says, 'I'm on the medication, my disorder is under control. I can take an occasional sip of chardonnay.' Then he walks off into the crowd. Fuck! I know this is wrong, wrong, wrong. But what can I do? We're at the crescendo of a campaign here. The rest of the month, he's pretty okay, makes all his appearances, never acts drunk. But on several occasions, I smell the booze on him. 'Daniel,' I tell him, 'aftecthe election, you're getting in a program. You've got to get clear of this alcohol.' He agrees, a little too quickly I think, probably just blowing smoke. You know the rest. Two days before the election, he vanishes. I manage to keep it quiet until noon on Election Day, then I have to spill the beans. I say his mother had a stroke in Florida and he went to be with her. He'll be back as-soon as he can. Of course, he never returns; gets elected supervisor and shines the whole thing on. Have you heard what happened to him? There was a recent sighting in Florida. Hurricane Daniel touches down on the East Coast. You'll be glad to know his mother is fully recovered from her stroke. I talked to her. She said Daniel was sober again, taking his medication, and driving a cab in Port St. Lucie. Apparently, he's organizing the cabbies to strike. He's formed an alliance with the Teamsters. You know, it must be tough for him. I imagine the manic phase of his illness is an overpowering high, like a cocaine rush that lasts for months and months. I wonder if that's true. If it is, who wouldn't stop taking their meds?"

"I got an idea that Daniel should debate the mayor, on the homeless issue. But the mayor was way too smart for that. He could have filleted Daniel and exposed all the flaws inherent in his plan. Daniel, in fact, had no plan. Just a dreamy eyed WPA-inspired belief that it could all work out if we just changed our way of thinking. But the mayor was afraid that by appearing with a grassroots guerilla like Daniel, he'd come off looking slick, and he looked slick enough already. He was thinking about the Senate. Well, Daniel did some ads: big pictures of the smiling mayor in his hat, with headlines like, 'Is Brown 24

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Berkeley Fiction Review whenever he'd hit this point, some kind soul—me, his sister, his art director friend Ron—had always bailed him out. Then he'd put down the bottle, pick up the meds, and climb back on the horse; only to get pitched off into the poison oak again at some future date. I was so pleased to see him so, well, comparatively together, I said, 'Daniel, whatever I can do to help, just say the word.' 'You can take some photographs,' he said. So I did, first of this homeless guy, Little Mac, then of other street people. Daniel was doing this guerilla advertising for them. He was living—such as it was—off some of the proceeds. Then it got more serious. He started doing these portraits of the homeless—like Dewar's profiles, those scotch ads—only of Sixth Street Sarah, Say What, and the World's Greatest Wino. He still had contacts at the ad agencies and production places, so he was able to produce these bus shelter posters and post them free of charge, as a public service. It was great for me. I got to do these gorgeous portraits of people with really fascinating faces and see them hung out all over town—seven feet by about four feet—on the sides of bus shelters. You must have seen them. For Fortified Fred, we had, 'favorite color: white zinfandel, favorite charity: the United Negro Pizza Fund, favorite drink: the next one.' Around then, Daniel sobered up again. And he started noticing these other homeless people who were doing the same thing. So he changed the focus of the bus shelter posters to 'Hire the Homeless.' The photos were of these street people who had taken steps to put their lives back together. The copy listed their work experience and other attributes. Well, all of this activity started generating Daniel a certain amount of local acclaim. SF Weekly did a piece on him. So did the Guardian, but of course, with a slightly different slant. He was on the local news. He got involved in the Mission, raised money for a free ad school for at-risk Mission adolescents. I taught a photography class. The kids learned fast. They're real creative at that age. Daniel got them actual assignments from Levi and Apple Computer aimed at other kids. The work was great, real successful. Then, Daniel asked me out to dinner one night, said he needed to talk. It was about running for office. I told him it was a bad idea, but he didn't listen. Nicole Heitzman had convinced him he was a shoo-in for supervisor in the Mission District. And as it turned out, he was."

Guerilla

Marketing

yellow?' and 'What's he keeping under his hat?' Two months later, in October, I get a call from the mayor's office. They agree to the debate. Only by then it's too late. I tell them forget it. The problem was that earlier that month we were at this fundraiser in the Mission. All the local glitterati turned out. We were standing there, talking to some artist and writer types when Daniel grabbed a wine glass off a passing tray and downed it, almost in one motion. I pulled him aside. 'That's nonalcoholic, right?' 'No, Nicole.' 'What exactly the fuck are you doing, Daniel?' 'Look,' he says, 'I'm on the medication, my disorder is under control. I can take an occasional sip of chardonnay.' Then he walks off into the crowd. Fuck! I know this is wrong, wrong, wrong. But what can I do? We're at the crescendo of a campaign here. The rest of the month, he's pretty okay, makes all his appearances, never acts drunk. But on several occasions, I smell the booze on him. 'Daniel,' I tell him, 'aftecthe election, you're getting in a program. You've got to get clear of this alcohol.' He agrees, a little too quickly I think, probably just blowing smoke. You know the rest. Two days before the election, he vanishes. I manage to keep it quiet until noon on Election Day, then I have to spill the beans. I say his mother had a stroke in Florida and he went to be with her. He'll be back as-soon as he can. Of course, he never returns; gets elected supervisor and shines the whole thing on. Have you heard what happened to him? There was a recent sighting in Florida. Hurricane Daniel touches down on the East Coast. You'll be glad to know his mother is fully recovered from her stroke. I talked to her. She said Daniel was sober again, taking his medication, and driving a cab in Port St. Lucie. Apparently, he's organizing the cabbies to strike. He's formed an alliance with the Teamsters. You know, it must be tough for him. I imagine the manic phase of his illness is an overpowering high, like a cocaine rush that lasts for months and months. I wonder if that's true. If it is, who wouldn't stop taking their meds?"

"I got an idea that Daniel should debate the mayor, on the homeless issue. But the mayor was way too smart for that. He could have filleted Daniel and exposed all the flaws inherent in his plan. Daniel, in fact, had no plan. Just a dreamy eyed WPA-inspired belief that it could all work out if we just changed our way of thinking. But the mayor was afraid that by appearing with a grassroots guerilla like Daniel, he'd come off looking slick, and he looked slick enough already. He was thinking about the Senate. Well, Daniel did some ads: big pictures of the smiling mayor in his hat, with headlines like, 'Is Brown 24

25


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y friend Catherine said, almost every time we went to the closed cafeteria at the Equity Mutual Life and Casualty Company for our fifteen-minute break, "Your problem is you only like straight guys." She lectured me on the negative aspects of being a gay virgin at 25 and how I could rid myself of that scarlet word at my age. "You just like them big and built. You like them looking like their faces could smash walls. I don't know what's wrong with you. I'm a woman and the thought of some guy working ten hours on a highway all day breaking concrete and sweating and getting all nasty and stinky does not turn me on. I'd love to date a guy like you. At least gay men know how to do nice things like give people flowers. At best my husband brings home Filet o' Fishes when I don't want to cook on Fridays." Our conversations were hushed but I could still hear the word 'gay' echo off the covered stainless steel buffet tables and the huge tinted windows that maintained the sterility of the Mutual of Nowhere's Casualty and All Purpose Insurance Agency's cafeteria. I hated hearing that word. Sometimes I even hated the fact that I was gay, because it meant that I, an avid car enthusiast, bowler, listener to Kom and wearer of ripped jeans, soccer shorts and Adidas tshirts had to be lumped in with the flaming queers who smell like a Calvin Klein cologne factory, spend $10,000 on a cup of coffee, frequent Ikea and lisp like an Al Stewart song a la 1977's smash hit, The Year of the Cat—now popular on LITE music stations. The other thing that bothered me about it was that I felt I was cursed and damned to be alone. I, Roger Fields, had to go out and buy three Persian cats and live above a happily married couple in an over-priced apartment somewhere in Center City, Philadelphia and be as helpful as possible 26

to the new tenants—The Curse of the Upstairs Gay Neighbor. Either that, or I would be the next-door neighbor of freshman college girls who'd ask me for man and cooking advice, with my only correct answers coming from the culinary world. That was the fate I was afraid of. No one at my night job knew I was gay. As a matter of fact, very few people knew, and when I told them it was always, "No you're not." But Catherine knew the second she saw me singing along to the Muzak version of Carly Simon's "Anticipation" that the Fire and Health Insurance Company piped in to keep underwriters from realizing that their station in life was just above toll-booth attendant but right below underwear inspector for Hanes. Catherine walked over to my section, Team 2, home of six underwriters all with the same initials— B J—which made placing mail in the correct folders of the correct underwriters ten times harder for me to do than anyone else. For me, it was a temporary part-time job that turned into a permanent parttime job. Catherine worked the twenty-hour a week shift to get away from her two kids and husband for a few hours a night, thus making me her answering service every time her phone rang while we worked. "How long do Tater Tots take to cook in the oven? What does Jo-jo like in his salad? How many ear drops does Max get before he goes to bed?" Donald was a great dad, but not much of a housemaker. To avoid conversation Catherine would stand by the phone and mouth the answers to me, "Twenty minutes. Lettuce and cucumbers, no dressing. Three drops." As soon as she heard the words, "Anticipa-a-tion is making me wait," sung in perfect harmony with bony violin strings and nauseous piano keys, Catherine walked over to me, introduced herself and said, "Nobody here knows you're gay, you know." It was then that I befriended my first and very own fag hag. I blushed. "What?" "I know. I'm not dumb. I/iaveGaydar!" She dropped her handful of folders on Brian Jenk's desk and started rotating her hands quickly while making a 'Boop Boop' sound, only to stop her hands, point right at me and say, "Bingo." "Was his name-o. Right. You caught me," I said, picking up her folders and handing them to her. "Just wanted to let you know in case you ever wanted to talk. See you later, kiddo." She walked away and I watched her round the corner. 'Kiddo,'I thought. At best she was only a year older than me. 'Kiddo.' I did want to talk to her. I didn't have any gay friends because it seemed when you went on a date with gay men, they were like slot machines—you've got to put a lot in to get a little out, and unless you were hot as heroin-chicprissy-boy-models or really needed to get laid, there was no friendship or attachment whatsoever. 27


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y friend Catherine said, almost every time we went to the closed cafeteria at the Equity Mutual Life and Casualty Company for our fifteen-minute break, "Your problem is you only like straight guys." She lectured me on the negative aspects of being a gay virgin at 25 and how I could rid myself of that scarlet word at my age. "You just like them big and built. You like them looking like their faces could smash walls. I don't know what's wrong with you. I'm a woman and the thought of some guy working ten hours on a highway all day breaking concrete and sweating and getting all nasty and stinky does not turn me on. I'd love to date a guy like you. At least gay men know how to do nice things like give people flowers. At best my husband brings home Filet o' Fishes when I don't want to cook on Fridays." Our conversations were hushed but I could still hear the word 'gay' echo off the covered stainless steel buffet tables and the huge tinted windows that maintained the sterility of the Mutual of Nowhere's Casualty and All Purpose Insurance Agency's cafeteria. I hated hearing that word. Sometimes I even hated the fact that I was gay, because it meant that I, an avid car enthusiast, bowler, listener to Kom and wearer of ripped jeans, soccer shorts and Adidas tshirts had to be lumped in with the flaming queers who smell like a Calvin Klein cologne factory, spend $10,000 on a cup of coffee, frequent Ikea and lisp like an Al Stewart song a la 1977's smash hit, The Year of the Cat—now popular on LITE music stations. The other thing that bothered me about it was that I felt I was cursed and damned to be alone. I, Roger Fields, had to go out and buy three Persian cats and live above a happily married couple in an over-priced apartment somewhere in Center City, Philadelphia and be as helpful as possible 26

to the new tenants—The Curse of the Upstairs Gay Neighbor. Either that, or I would be the next-door neighbor of freshman college girls who'd ask me for man and cooking advice, with my only correct answers coming from the culinary world. That was the fate I was afraid of. No one at my night job knew I was gay. As a matter of fact, very few people knew, and when I told them it was always, "No you're not." But Catherine knew the second she saw me singing along to the Muzak version of Carly Simon's "Anticipation" that the Fire and Health Insurance Company piped in to keep underwriters from realizing that their station in life was just above toll-booth attendant but right below underwear inspector for Hanes. Catherine walked over to my section, Team 2, home of six underwriters all with the same initials— B J—which made placing mail in the correct folders of the correct underwriters ten times harder for me to do than anyone else. For me, it was a temporary part-time job that turned into a permanent parttime job. Catherine worked the twenty-hour a week shift to get away from her two kids and husband for a few hours a night, thus making me her answering service every time her phone rang while we worked. "How long do Tater Tots take to cook in the oven? What does Jo-jo like in his salad? How many ear drops does Max get before he goes to bed?" Donald was a great dad, but not much of a housemaker. To avoid conversation Catherine would stand by the phone and mouth the answers to me, "Twenty minutes. Lettuce and cucumbers, no dressing. Three drops." As soon as she heard the words, "Anticipa-a-tion is making me wait," sung in perfect harmony with bony violin strings and nauseous piano keys, Catherine walked over to me, introduced herself and said, "Nobody here knows you're gay, you know." It was then that I befriended my first and very own fag hag. I blushed. "What?" "I know. I'm not dumb. I/iaveGaydar!" She dropped her handful of folders on Brian Jenk's desk and started rotating her hands quickly while making a 'Boop Boop' sound, only to stop her hands, point right at me and say, "Bingo." "Was his name-o. Right. You caught me," I said, picking up her folders and handing them to her. "Just wanted to let you know in case you ever wanted to talk. See you later, kiddo." She walked away and I watched her round the corner. 'Kiddo,'I thought. At best she was only a year older than me. 'Kiddo.' I did want to talk to her. I didn't have any gay friends because it seemed when you went on a date with gay men, they were like slot machines—you've got to put a lot in to get a little out, and unless you were hot as heroin-chicprissy-boy-models or really needed to get laid, there was no friendship or attachment whatsoever. 27


Berkeley Fiction Review

Lily

I started eating Swanson's finest dinners at my apartment during Sunday family dinners. Not that my parents hated me or hated gays, but they didn't want to believe their only son liked guys. By ignoring it, they had hoped, since I was fifteen when Mom found a copy of Playgirl piled in with my Soccer America, that it would go away and I' d bring home the girl of their dreams. They never talked about it and I knew that if I brought home the right guy, Dad would love him because he'd be able to help us put the addition on the house that he wanted to build for Grandma, and perhaps he'd finally have another buddy to talk about football with instead of those little girl soccer games. The same night Catherine introduced herself, we went on our fifteen minute break together and sat eating Andy Capp's hot fries and Snapple we bought from the vending machines in the cold closed cafeteria of the Whoseawhatsis Life and Fire Insurance Company that was empty of the morning/afternoon rush of insurance workers scrambling to be fed and doing everything they could to socialize before heading back to their cubicles. I finished off the bag of hot fries and said to Catherine, "I hate gay men. They're all about looks and bitchy attitudes. If I wanted that, I'd date a thirteen year-old girl." "Easy, Roger," she said. "Don't judge a man by his swish. Use the cock and then see what you think." "Uh, I don't think so.... I want a boyfriend, someone who I can go to soccer games with and not have to worry that some guy behind us will smash our heads in. I want a guy I can lie in bed with until the late afternoon on a Sunday, and someone I can mow the lawn with and someone I can have happy, dirty, sloppy sex with if we're in the mood." "You worry too much, Rog. You think too much about it. AH men, gay or straight, are pigs. The only difference is that gay men give more thoughtful gifts, like fresh cut flowers from a flower shop, not three cheap carnations from SuperFresh like my husband does every once in a while, when he sees them while standing in line to buy me panty-liners and Krazy-Glue. How romantic." "A real man doesn't give flowers to another man." I slugged back some Snapple. "Hey. Why are you such an expert on gay men?" I asked, standing up to head back upstairs. "My brother's gay. He's your age. I'd fix you up with him but he's already got three boyfriends. You don't need to get into that mess. You're already in a nice one yourself." "What do you mean 'your age,'" I asked her as we walked towards the elevator. "You can't be older than me by more than a year." "I'm twenty-one. See what a husband and kids'll do to you?" She stopped short of walking into the elevator and waved to me as the doors closed.

***** 28

After eight months of work and a nightly lecture from Catherine telling me to become one of the sluts that I hated, and 22—count them, 22—bad dates, all of which ended with a choice of the following—You're too slow for me. Any man will suck dick on the first date, what's wrong with you? You're a virgin? You've never kissed a guy? (At least I got free dinners out of most of them.)— the Causal Equity Premium Fire and Band-Aid Insurance Company hired Rob. He was everything I physically wanted in a guy. He was built like a wrestler, dark hair and eyes, hairy and had a calm soothing voice devoid of any lisp. He was a guy-guy. "Don't be shy," Catherine said. "The early gay catches the man. And he's obviously your type." "Straight," I answered her. Catherine handed me a pile of folders and started-up her 'gaydar' again, going "Bingo" in Rob's direction. "Those folders belong to his team. Give them to him and then give him a kiss." "B-I-N-G-0,"Isaid. "Go get him, pardner," Catherine said as she patted me on the ass. It was go-time. He was there and if Catherine figured me out then I assumed she must've been right about Rob. I walked over to him and he looked-up at me as he sat at underwriter Steve Calandi's desk. He smiled and said, "Hi." "Uh. Hi. I'm Roger. These belong to your team." "Thanks. Are you going to show me where to put them?" It's so queer but I actually got butterflies at that point. I looked down at my feet. Catherine was right. "No, I'm going to show you where to put them," said Cadence, the team trainer, as she marched towards Rob and me. "You go back to team two, Roger." Rob didn't say anything. He kept his smile as he worked with Cadence. Catherine was wrong. He seemed as though he enjoyed working with her and her flirtatiousness made me sick. They kept laughing and as-a-matter-of-factly touching each other. "Oh, Rob, you're so cute the way you laugh like that. I love it when guys keep their hair cropped so close. Do you work out?" Good Lord, I wanted to vomit. Catherine walked over to me while Cadence showed Rob all the paper clips and staplers in the office supply closet. "I think he's interested in you, you know." "No, I don't think so." I went back to stuffing letters in Bonnie Jordan's folders. "You are so clueless. Are you sure you're gay? You totally flashed. He saw you look down when he asked you that question. You looked like a scared 29


Berkeley Fiction Review

Lily

I started eating Swanson's finest dinners at my apartment during Sunday family dinners. Not that my parents hated me or hated gays, but they didn't want to believe their only son liked guys. By ignoring it, they had hoped, since I was fifteen when Mom found a copy of Playgirl piled in with my Soccer America, that it would go away and I' d bring home the girl of their dreams. They never talked about it and I knew that if I brought home the right guy, Dad would love him because he'd be able to help us put the addition on the house that he wanted to build for Grandma, and perhaps he'd finally have another buddy to talk about football with instead of those little girl soccer games. The same night Catherine introduced herself, we went on our fifteen minute break together and sat eating Andy Capp's hot fries and Snapple we bought from the vending machines in the cold closed cafeteria of the Whoseawhatsis Life and Fire Insurance Company that was empty of the morning/afternoon rush of insurance workers scrambling to be fed and doing everything they could to socialize before heading back to their cubicles. I finished off the bag of hot fries and said to Catherine, "I hate gay men. They're all about looks and bitchy attitudes. If I wanted that, I'd date a thirteen year-old girl." "Easy, Roger," she said. "Don't judge a man by his swish. Use the cock and then see what you think." "Uh, I don't think so.... I want a boyfriend, someone who I can go to soccer games with and not have to worry that some guy behind us will smash our heads in. I want a guy I can lie in bed with until the late afternoon on a Sunday, and someone I can mow the lawn with and someone I can have happy, dirty, sloppy sex with if we're in the mood." "You worry too much, Rog. You think too much about it. AH men, gay or straight, are pigs. The only difference is that gay men give more thoughtful gifts, like fresh cut flowers from a flower shop, not three cheap carnations from SuperFresh like my husband does every once in a while, when he sees them while standing in line to buy me panty-liners and Krazy-Glue. How romantic." "A real man doesn't give flowers to another man." I slugged back some Snapple. "Hey. Why are you such an expert on gay men?" I asked, standing up to head back upstairs. "My brother's gay. He's your age. I'd fix you up with him but he's already got three boyfriends. You don't need to get into that mess. You're already in a nice one yourself." "What do you mean 'your age,'" I asked her as we walked towards the elevator. "You can't be older than me by more than a year." "I'm twenty-one. See what a husband and kids'll do to you?" She stopped short of walking into the elevator and waved to me as the doors closed.

***** 28

After eight months of work and a nightly lecture from Catherine telling me to become one of the sluts that I hated, and 22—count them, 22—bad dates, all of which ended with a choice of the following—You're too slow for me. Any man will suck dick on the first date, what's wrong with you? You're a virgin? You've never kissed a guy? (At least I got free dinners out of most of them.)— the Causal Equity Premium Fire and Band-Aid Insurance Company hired Rob. He was everything I physically wanted in a guy. He was built like a wrestler, dark hair and eyes, hairy and had a calm soothing voice devoid of any lisp. He was a guy-guy. "Don't be shy," Catherine said. "The early gay catches the man. And he's obviously your type." "Straight," I answered her. Catherine handed me a pile of folders and started-up her 'gaydar' again, going "Bingo" in Rob's direction. "Those folders belong to his team. Give them to him and then give him a kiss." "B-I-N-G-0,"Isaid. "Go get him, pardner," Catherine said as she patted me on the ass. It was go-time. He was there and if Catherine figured me out then I assumed she must've been right about Rob. I walked over to him and he looked-up at me as he sat at underwriter Steve Calandi's desk. He smiled and said, "Hi." "Uh. Hi. I'm Roger. These belong to your team." "Thanks. Are you going to show me where to put them?" It's so queer but I actually got butterflies at that point. I looked down at my feet. Catherine was right. "No, I'm going to show you where to put them," said Cadence, the team trainer, as she marched towards Rob and me. "You go back to team two, Roger." Rob didn't say anything. He kept his smile as he worked with Cadence. Catherine was wrong. He seemed as though he enjoyed working with her and her flirtatiousness made me sick. They kept laughing and as-a-matter-of-factly touching each other. "Oh, Rob, you're so cute the way you laugh like that. I love it when guys keep their hair cropped so close. Do you work out?" Good Lord, I wanted to vomit. Catherine walked over to me while Cadence showed Rob all the paper clips and staplers in the office supply closet. "I think he's interested in you, you know." "No, I don't think so." I went back to stuffing letters in Bonnie Jordan's folders. "You are so clueless. Are you sure you're gay? You totally flashed. He saw you look down when he asked you that question. You looked like a scared 29


Lily

Berkeley Fiction Review little girl. He was staring at you the entire time he was with Cadence. You're blind. You're clueless. He even looked at your shoes!" Catherine looked down at my feet. "Hey, those are Rockports, aren't they? Total man-humping shoes. Nothing better than shiny black leather to get a man. Let's go get some vending machine shit." Everyone packed into the elevators. As Rob was running to catch it, I swung out my hand to hold the doors. Cadence stepped out and said, "I'll go down with him—keep him company." She turned her ass-eating smile towards him as the doors closed. She bagged him. Catherine and I shared a Milky Way and drank from the water fountain. I asked her, "Don't you think it bad taste to be after a fellow worker you don't even know?" "All's fair in cock and war, kiddo. He likes you." Catherine looked three tables over at Cadence talking to Rob about the great 401k that the We Want Your Cash Insurance Company offered her, with the words "cock" and "401k" meshing in their echoes somewhere between the closed buffet and the vending machines. I got up and went to the men's room. As soon as I unzipped my pants, Rob walked in. He said, "This is the only place we're going to get privacy here." I laughed. How cliche"—two guys hooking-up in the men's room. "Listen, I might be way out of line here, but would you like to grab a beer with me down at Monk's Cafe? I just moved to Philly about a two weeks ago and could use a few friends." I shook and zipped back up. "Sure." I wondered who would drive. "If you have your car here you could follow me down." Even though my car was parked only five cars away from his, I said, "No, I got a ride from Catherine today. My car's dead." "No problem. Follow me down to mine when work gets out. My treat. V11 drive you back home." Rob walked out. When I got into the hallway after drying my hands in the wall blow-dryer, Catherine was waiting by the elevator doors. "He went up already. Cadence took him on the Fat-Ass Express Elevator, put in especially for her." "I'm going to grab a beer with him after work." "Nice going, Tiger. A date." "A beer." "Make sure you bring protection." Catherine stood pushing the button to the elevator as if her magical powers of pushing the button more than once would teleport the elevator down quicker. When the doors opened she added, "And don't be so slow. You're not a little girl."

*****

He drove a restored' 66 Mustang. It was repainted a metallic blue and the stereo blasted Fleetwood Mac. The windows were open, letting in the warm night-time April air. "If the music's too loud, feel free to turn it down." Rob reached over and lowered the music a little so the digital sound panel read three. "No problem," I responded, my hands folded and resting in my lap. "I love Fleetwood Mac." Rob reached over and turned the dial up to six. We didn't say anything as he drove. The silence wasn't awkward at all. I felt like I was driving with an old friend to a movie or to dinner or to dribble the soccer ball at FDR park. The knots in my stomach kept folding over one another. I was in a car with a guy I was attracted to and I still wasn't sure if he was interested in me or just needed a friend. At Monk's, Rob ordered two Bass Ales. Scotch on the rocks was my preferred brain killer but Rob did the ordering and I thought it was cute that he 'took charge' of the situation. He said, "I found this place by accident one night while walking around. Cool, huh?" The place was overtly hetero—not one gay couple. So, Catherine was wrong. She owed me something. "Yeah, it's nice. Feel like I'm hiding from the Nazis in a World War Two cafe\ All the old jazz posters. Dark." Rob laughed. He swigged his beer down in four gulps and ordered another. Wow! My first was still more than three-quarters full—what a wuss. "Yeah. I realize it's hard to meet people when you get older. Ifyou'renotin school or in some sort of club or gym or activity, the chances of making friends lessens. Ever notice that?" I felt the urge to gulp my beer—two gulps, half empty. I hid the nasty beer face—bleah. I replied, "Yeah, actually. Making friends is hard because it seems people always want something from you. They should tell you these things when you are young so that people won't let you down as you grow up. It would make dating a hell of a lot less stressful." Rob smiled and held his second beer in his hand, savoring this one. "I don't know. I just came here from Pittsburgh to start a masters program at Temple in biological research and thought I'd get a heads-up before school began. That way I'd know my way around the city, you know? I haven't even thought about dating yet." 31

30 m~


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Berkeley Fiction Review little girl. He was staring at you the entire time he was with Cadence. You're blind. You're clueless. He even looked at your shoes!" Catherine looked down at my feet. "Hey, those are Rockports, aren't they? Total man-humping shoes. Nothing better than shiny black leather to get a man. Let's go get some vending machine shit." Everyone packed into the elevators. As Rob was running to catch it, I swung out my hand to hold the doors. Cadence stepped out and said, "I'll go down with him—keep him company." She turned her ass-eating smile towards him as the doors closed. She bagged him. Catherine and I shared a Milky Way and drank from the water fountain. I asked her, "Don't you think it bad taste to be after a fellow worker you don't even know?" "All's fair in cock and war, kiddo. He likes you." Catherine looked three tables over at Cadence talking to Rob about the great 401k that the We Want Your Cash Insurance Company offered her, with the words "cock" and "401k" meshing in their echoes somewhere between the closed buffet and the vending machines. I got up and went to the men's room. As soon as I unzipped my pants, Rob walked in. He said, "This is the only place we're going to get privacy here." I laughed. How cliche"—two guys hooking-up in the men's room. "Listen, I might be way out of line here, but would you like to grab a beer with me down at Monk's Cafe? I just moved to Philly about a two weeks ago and could use a few friends." I shook and zipped back up. "Sure." I wondered who would drive. "If you have your car here you could follow me down." Even though my car was parked only five cars away from his, I said, "No, I got a ride from Catherine today. My car's dead." "No problem. Follow me down to mine when work gets out. My treat. V11 drive you back home." Rob walked out. When I got into the hallway after drying my hands in the wall blow-dryer, Catherine was waiting by the elevator doors. "He went up already. Cadence took him on the Fat-Ass Express Elevator, put in especially for her." "I'm going to grab a beer with him after work." "Nice going, Tiger. A date." "A beer." "Make sure you bring protection." Catherine stood pushing the button to the elevator as if her magical powers of pushing the button more than once would teleport the elevator down quicker. When the doors opened she added, "And don't be so slow. You're not a little girl."

*****

He drove a restored' 66 Mustang. It was repainted a metallic blue and the stereo blasted Fleetwood Mac. The windows were open, letting in the warm night-time April air. "If the music's too loud, feel free to turn it down." Rob reached over and lowered the music a little so the digital sound panel read three. "No problem," I responded, my hands folded and resting in my lap. "I love Fleetwood Mac." Rob reached over and turned the dial up to six. We didn't say anything as he drove. The silence wasn't awkward at all. I felt like I was driving with an old friend to a movie or to dinner or to dribble the soccer ball at FDR park. The knots in my stomach kept folding over one another. I was in a car with a guy I was attracted to and I still wasn't sure if he was interested in me or just needed a friend. At Monk's, Rob ordered two Bass Ales. Scotch on the rocks was my preferred brain killer but Rob did the ordering and I thought it was cute that he 'took charge' of the situation. He said, "I found this place by accident one night while walking around. Cool, huh?" The place was overtly hetero—not one gay couple. So, Catherine was wrong. She owed me something. "Yeah, it's nice. Feel like I'm hiding from the Nazis in a World War Two cafe\ All the old jazz posters. Dark." Rob laughed. He swigged his beer down in four gulps and ordered another. Wow! My first was still more than three-quarters full—what a wuss. "Yeah. I realize it's hard to meet people when you get older. Ifyou'renotin school or in some sort of club or gym or activity, the chances of making friends lessens. Ever notice that?" I felt the urge to gulp my beer—two gulps, half empty. I hid the nasty beer face—bleah. I replied, "Yeah, actually. Making friends is hard because it seems people always want something from you. They should tell you these things when you are young so that people won't let you down as you grow up. It would make dating a hell of a lot less stressful." Rob smiled and held his second beer in his hand, savoring this one. "I don't know. I just came here from Pittsburgh to start a masters program at Temple in biological research and thought I'd get a heads-up before school began. That way I'd know my way around the city, you know? I haven't even thought about dating yet." 31

30 m~


Berkeley Fiction Review

Lily

Rob looked around the bar. He said, "From what I see, there doesn't seem to be much to choose from, you know?" Rob laughed and lightly punched my arm. I nodded in agreement. We spent the rest of the evening talking about our families, cars and our favorite bands—all of which seemed to be the same, only he loved Madonna.

*****

"Madonna, huh," asked Catherine while we were sharing a bag of Fritos and a can of V-8 at the No-Nonsense No-Payoff Insurance Company. "See, I told you he likes men." "A lot of straight guys like Madonna," I said. "And thanks for driving me to work." "No problem, my retarded Romeo. You know, a lot of straight guys also sleep with men and wear women's clothing," said Catherine, who followed it up by tilting her head back using her chin to point behind me. Cadence and Rob were walking out of the elevator. Her arms were around his shoulder and they were laughing. She walked to the women's room and Rob walked over to us. "Hey guys," he said, patting me on the shoulder and waving to Catherine. "Hi Rob," I answered. "Hey, don't mean to interrupt, but you want to go out again sometime to hang?" Rob held onto my shoulder as he asked. I felt my pulse rise—what a queer. "Uh, sure. What are you doing tomorrow night?" "Ah, no good. I'm taking Cadence out for dinner and a movie. She said she'd show me a few things." Rob laughed after he said that and squeezed my shoulder again. My blood circulation came to a complete stop. "Uh, ok, well, maybe some other time then." Catherine kicked my shin under the table with the sound of hard rubber on denim-covered skin—shin thumping from beneath. "How about the day after?" I asked. "Cool! A Friday night out. Perfect." Rob pulled a pen out of his front shirt pocket, grabbed a napkin off the table and wrote down his phone number. He dropped it in front of me just as Cadence walked up behind and poked Rob in his sides. He jumped up and let out a small yelp while Cadence laughed. "That was so funny, Rob. You're so cute when you scream like that," Cadence said, giggling like an idiot. "Let's go get a snack." 32

"Later," Rob said and headed to the vending machines with Cadence guarding him like a bad president. "He is so gay, did you hear that scream?" Catherine asked. "He's going on a date with Cadence, Catherine, he's hardly a gay," Catherine stared at me with a Bela Lugosi evil-eye. "Look, I know you're not stupid and I know you're desperate so please, take off the straight glasses and put on a pair of Foster Grants HomoSpecs. He's gay." Rob turned around and looked at us as if he'd just heard a loud explosion. Catherine's "gay" word again, doing its stealthiest of echo flights around the hollow cafeteria into Rob's ear. He turned his head to the vending machine and headed back upstairs with Cadence into the empty cubicles for the remainder of our ten minute break. "He heard you." "Good. Maybe he'll ask you for a real date." "How will I know it's a real date," I asked. "Buy him something sweet."

*****

I arrived at the Mutual of Hell's Wild Brokerage Firm fifteen minutes early and so did Rob. We were at our desks sorting our mail and I kept looking up at him every so often. He was so masculine I could smell the testosterone from across the room. He even had bad handwriting and didn't match his clothes. He was straight-up straight. He stood up and walked over to my desk. "Hey. We're still on for tonight, right?" "Yeah. I was gonna call but you didn't come in the day after your date with Cadence." "Sorry about that. I never got your number either. I got sick—ptomaine poisoning. She wanted me to try sushi. Her favorite. It sucks. Like eating a plate full of batter-fried lips." We both laughed. "Well, what do you want to do?" "Let's go get a coffee and decide from there, okay?" Rob walked away and was, as usual, intercepted by Cadence, "I had a great time the other night. Sorry you got sick. What are you doing Saturday?" I was feeling sick myself at that point and concentrated on my mail pile. I wanted to vomit sushi all over Cadence. Nothing worse than a woman married to her job and using it as a dating agency. She tried to get a date with me the second week after I was hired. I declined five dates and then she started talking to me like I was the lowly floor mail boy. Whatever. 33


Berkeley Fiction Review

Lily

Rob looked around the bar. He said, "From what I see, there doesn't seem to be much to choose from, you know?" Rob laughed and lightly punched my arm. I nodded in agreement. We spent the rest of the evening talking about our families, cars and our favorite bands—all of which seemed to be the same, only he loved Madonna.

*****

"Madonna, huh," asked Catherine while we were sharing a bag of Fritos and a can of V-8 at the No-Nonsense No-Payoff Insurance Company. "See, I told you he likes men." "A lot of straight guys like Madonna," I said. "And thanks for driving me to work." "No problem, my retarded Romeo. You know, a lot of straight guys also sleep with men and wear women's clothing," said Catherine, who followed it up by tilting her head back using her chin to point behind me. Cadence and Rob were walking out of the elevator. Her arms were around his shoulder and they were laughing. She walked to the women's room and Rob walked over to us. "Hey guys," he said, patting me on the shoulder and waving to Catherine. "Hi Rob," I answered. "Hey, don't mean to interrupt, but you want to go out again sometime to hang?" Rob held onto my shoulder as he asked. I felt my pulse rise—what a queer. "Uh, sure. What are you doing tomorrow night?" "Ah, no good. I'm taking Cadence out for dinner and a movie. She said she'd show me a few things." Rob laughed after he said that and squeezed my shoulder again. My blood circulation came to a complete stop. "Uh, ok, well, maybe some other time then." Catherine kicked my shin under the table with the sound of hard rubber on denim-covered skin—shin thumping from beneath. "How about the day after?" I asked. "Cool! A Friday night out. Perfect." Rob pulled a pen out of his front shirt pocket, grabbed a napkin off the table and wrote down his phone number. He dropped it in front of me just as Cadence walked up behind and poked Rob in his sides. He jumped up and let out a small yelp while Cadence laughed. "That was so funny, Rob. You're so cute when you scream like that," Cadence said, giggling like an idiot. "Let's go get a snack." 32

"Later," Rob said and headed to the vending machines with Cadence guarding him like a bad president. "He is so gay, did you hear that scream?" Catherine asked. "He's going on a date with Cadence, Catherine, he's hardly a gay," Catherine stared at me with a Bela Lugosi evil-eye. "Look, I know you're not stupid and I know you're desperate so please, take off the straight glasses and put on a pair of Foster Grants HomoSpecs. He's gay." Rob turned around and looked at us as if he'd just heard a loud explosion. Catherine's "gay" word again, doing its stealthiest of echo flights around the hollow cafeteria into Rob's ear. He turned his head to the vending machine and headed back upstairs with Cadence into the empty cubicles for the remainder of our ten minute break. "He heard you." "Good. Maybe he'll ask you for a real date." "How will I know it's a real date," I asked. "Buy him something sweet."

*****

I arrived at the Mutual of Hell's Wild Brokerage Firm fifteen minutes early and so did Rob. We were at our desks sorting our mail and I kept looking up at him every so often. He was so masculine I could smell the testosterone from across the room. He even had bad handwriting and didn't match his clothes. He was straight-up straight. He stood up and walked over to my desk. "Hey. We're still on for tonight, right?" "Yeah. I was gonna call but you didn't come in the day after your date with Cadence." "Sorry about that. I never got your number either. I got sick—ptomaine poisoning. She wanted me to try sushi. Her favorite. It sucks. Like eating a plate full of batter-fried lips." We both laughed. "Well, what do you want to do?" "Let's go get a coffee and decide from there, okay?" Rob walked away and was, as usual, intercepted by Cadence, "I had a great time the other night. Sorry you got sick. What are you doing Saturday?" I was feeling sick myself at that point and concentrated on my mail pile. I wanted to vomit sushi all over Cadence. Nothing worse than a woman married to her job and using it as a dating agency. She tried to get a date with me the second week after I was hired. I declined five dates and then she started talking to me like I was the lowly floor mail boy. Whatever. 33


Berkeley Fiction Review Later, Catherine and I took the elevator down to the cafeteria. "You'd better not screw tonight up. If you do, on Monday when we go down to the cafe, I'm gonna stop this elevator in the very middle of this building and make sure you suffocate to death, got it?" "Man. Why are you in a hurry to see me get laid?" She took my hand and held it. "Listen, kiddo, it's important to have a little romance in your life. You're a nice guy and... Well, just prove to me that nice people don't have to finish last. I have three little boys and if every one of them grew up to be as nice as you and not as manny man-guy like their dad, well, I'd be pretty happy. Now do good." "Catherine, he's straight. Don't you think I'd know this by now? He went on a date with Cadence and they made another one for this weekend." "You sure?" Catherine released my hand and let it drop. Her face drooped. "I'm sorry, Roger. lam. We'll find you someone yet." "Probably not, but that's okay. Maybe we can go out some time and look at catsattheASPCA." "What?" "Nevermind." I spent the rest of the night at work going through folders and turning the possibility of the night's plans over and over in my head. I was worried about the mistakes—I hated the thought of doing something and then regretting it. I thought about Catherine getting pregnant and married at eighteen—what she would be like if she didn't have that one night that changed her life forever. Some mistakes we make make sense—others, well.... Maybe we should know better. And I always think I know better. I saw myself in Rob's car asking him if he was gay—the car screeches to a stop and he beats the life out of me with one hand on the steering wheel, the other clenched in a fist doing its best to pass through my skin and bones. Then he pushes my body out of the car where it rolls into a ditch and I drown, passed out and breathing in the muddy water of a day old puddle. The consequences, the risks of never knowing what people think, made my stomach compact into a barbed ball of fear. I hated dating. After work, Rob and I met in the parking lot and hopped into his car. We drove into Center City and went to a coffee shop on 12th street called The Millennium. It was located in what Catherine called 'The Gayborhood.' It was obvious Rob still didn't know Philly yet, even with Cadence giving him her little Philly tours in her blue Ford Taurus. He ordered an iced tea for me and a cappuccino for himself. We sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched people walk by. The entire street had gay couples walking up and down, in and out of stores, holding hands and kissing in their seats at the coffee shop. 34

Lily "Does this place make you uncomfortable," Rob asked. "No, no, not at all." "I just live a few blocks away from here and found it. Cadence and I stopped here before we went to dinner, and what a lousy dinner. But we went back to her place and had a nice time." Dear God! At that point, I didn't want to hear it. There's nothing worse than hearing of sexual escapades from someone you'd like to learn something sexually from. I just nodded my head and took a sip of my iced tea. "We watched a movie on her DVD player and then she fell asleep and I left. It was nice having a quiet night and spending it with someone, you know?" So, he wasn't a slime out for a quick lay. I answered, "Yeah." "I've been hanging out in Philly trying to meet someone, you know, decent. Someone you could go on a nice romantic date with. It's hard meeting people at our age, you know?" Oh, I knew. "I think I just have shit luck," he said. My heart started beating faster. He sounded like me. There was sweat slowly moistening parts of my body I didn't know needed moistening. I watched him swirl his spoon in his cappuccino and stare at the white and black broths swirl together. He stopped talking. The sounds of the city kicked me. I looked up at the sky and saw the stars. The guys around me talking in hushed, loved voices to one another, smiling, joking, brushing their legs together under the table, the patterns of myths made with white firey dots marking the deep navy hue of the sky—the fates of people being brought together was injecting itself into some sort of passionate sack located in some lobe of the brain. It came out. "I'm gay and I think you're incredibly attractive and if I shut my mouth any longer I'm going to bust and I hope this doesn't mean you're going to beat my ass or stop talking to me because this hurts enough as it is. I'll be right back." I stood up and walked to the bathroom at a fast pace. I locked myself inside and turned on the faucet, throwing cold water in my face. I looked at my pale skin in the mirror and hoped the water would flush blood to the surface. My breathing was belabored and I stared into my own eyes wondering what was the thinking going on beneath the blue circles that covered the well of my soul. Fucking idiot. I pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser and held it to my face wondering if I looked like a flaming fool or a pathetic loser. I checked my pocket for a token so I could take the subway back home. I walked out of the bathroom and it felt as though every person were looking at me. The eyes were fixed on the dead man being carried in his casket to the grave. I looked at our table and sure enough only my mug was sitting on the table with my jacket slung over my chair and Rob's seat was empty.

35


Berkeley Fiction Review Later, Catherine and I took the elevator down to the cafeteria. "You'd better not screw tonight up. If you do, on Monday when we go down to the cafe, I'm gonna stop this elevator in the very middle of this building and make sure you suffocate to death, got it?" "Man. Why are you in a hurry to see me get laid?" She took my hand and held it. "Listen, kiddo, it's important to have a little romance in your life. You're a nice guy and... Well, just prove to me that nice people don't have to finish last. I have three little boys and if every one of them grew up to be as nice as you and not as manny man-guy like their dad, well, I'd be pretty happy. Now do good." "Catherine, he's straight. Don't you think I'd know this by now? He went on a date with Cadence and they made another one for this weekend." "You sure?" Catherine released my hand and let it drop. Her face drooped. "I'm sorry, Roger. lam. We'll find you someone yet." "Probably not, but that's okay. Maybe we can go out some time and look at catsattheASPCA." "What?" "Nevermind." I spent the rest of the night at work going through folders and turning the possibility of the night's plans over and over in my head. I was worried about the mistakes—I hated the thought of doing something and then regretting it. I thought about Catherine getting pregnant and married at eighteen—what she would be like if she didn't have that one night that changed her life forever. Some mistakes we make make sense—others, well.... Maybe we should know better. And I always think I know better. I saw myself in Rob's car asking him if he was gay—the car screeches to a stop and he beats the life out of me with one hand on the steering wheel, the other clenched in a fist doing its best to pass through my skin and bones. Then he pushes my body out of the car where it rolls into a ditch and I drown, passed out and breathing in the muddy water of a day old puddle. The consequences, the risks of never knowing what people think, made my stomach compact into a barbed ball of fear. I hated dating. After work, Rob and I met in the parking lot and hopped into his car. We drove into Center City and went to a coffee shop on 12th street called The Millennium. It was located in what Catherine called 'The Gayborhood.' It was obvious Rob still didn't know Philly yet, even with Cadence giving him her little Philly tours in her blue Ford Taurus. He ordered an iced tea for me and a cappuccino for himself. We sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched people walk by. The entire street had gay couples walking up and down, in and out of stores, holding hands and kissing in their seats at the coffee shop. 34

Lily "Does this place make you uncomfortable," Rob asked. "No, no, not at all." "I just live a few blocks away from here and found it. Cadence and I stopped here before we went to dinner, and what a lousy dinner. But we went back to her place and had a nice time." Dear God! At that point, I didn't want to hear it. There's nothing worse than hearing of sexual escapades from someone you'd like to learn something sexually from. I just nodded my head and took a sip of my iced tea. "We watched a movie on her DVD player and then she fell asleep and I left. It was nice having a quiet night and spending it with someone, you know?" So, he wasn't a slime out for a quick lay. I answered, "Yeah." "I've been hanging out in Philly trying to meet someone, you know, decent. Someone you could go on a nice romantic date with. It's hard meeting people at our age, you know?" Oh, I knew. "I think I just have shit luck," he said. My heart started beating faster. He sounded like me. There was sweat slowly moistening parts of my body I didn't know needed moistening. I watched him swirl his spoon in his cappuccino and stare at the white and black broths swirl together. He stopped talking. The sounds of the city kicked me. I looked up at the sky and saw the stars. The guys around me talking in hushed, loved voices to one another, smiling, joking, brushing their legs together under the table, the patterns of myths made with white firey dots marking the deep navy hue of the sky—the fates of people being brought together was injecting itself into some sort of passionate sack located in some lobe of the brain. It came out. "I'm gay and I think you're incredibly attractive and if I shut my mouth any longer I'm going to bust and I hope this doesn't mean you're going to beat my ass or stop talking to me because this hurts enough as it is. I'll be right back." I stood up and walked to the bathroom at a fast pace. I locked myself inside and turned on the faucet, throwing cold water in my face. I looked at my pale skin in the mirror and hoped the water would flush blood to the surface. My breathing was belabored and I stared into my own eyes wondering what was the thinking going on beneath the blue circles that covered the well of my soul. Fucking idiot. I pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser and held it to my face wondering if I looked like a flaming fool or a pathetic loser. I checked my pocket for a token so I could take the subway back home. I walked out of the bathroom and it felt as though every person were looking at me. The eyes were fixed on the dead man being carried in his casket to the grave. I looked at our table and sure enough only my mug was sitting on the table with my jacket slung over my chair and Rob's seat was empty.

35


Lily Berkeley Fiction Review I sat in my chair and took a sip of my iced tea thinking I would call in tomorrow and hope that Rob quit that day so I could go back and pretend nothing happened, $1,000,000 richer from the bet I made with Catherine. I was right. That puncture in my gut was fate, was decision telling me to hold back— not everything you feel is right and sometimes your own body tells you that. Staring into my mug I envisioned living above the Millennium Cafe" with my two cats and Judy Garland videotape collection. I wasn't a crier but I sure wanted to. A man's hand grabbed my shoulder. He must've been watching us and felt bad for me—a mercy fuck for him tonight. "I got you something." The hand also had a voice. Rob put another iced tea in front of me and sat down with a cappuccino in his hand. "You're cute, you know that?" He said. He grabbed my right hand off my mug and held it in both of his. "I never had a guy do that before, but I' m glad you did. Don't think I could've done it. I am so painfully shy it was hard enough to ask you to get a beer, let alone go to a gay coffee house." My heart put itself at its perfect pace. I asked, "How did you know I was gay?" "Well, I wasn't really sure, but the way you looked at me. You got nervous. I saw that. I was watching you all night waiting for you to look up at me, but you didn't." I sipped my iced tea. "And you took a chance, huh?" "An incredible chance. You have no clue how shy I am. I normally clam up. I haven't been with many guys and most of the guys I've dated asked me out or got in touch with me through a personal ad I put out on the web. Not too much luck there, though." Rob kept wiping his hands on his pants, up and down his legs and continued, "One guy I really liked ditched me after we spent a weekend together. Hedidn'tjustcallanddumpmeortakeme'outtodumpme. His normal nightly calls became every other day calls and then once a week calls. He didn't have much to say. I haven't dated anyone since. The pickens have been lean. All I ever really wanted was a nice date, you know? No expectations of anything, just something nice and thoughtful. Maybe I've just been having bad luck." He stared into his cappuccino and twitched his nose and mouth. "I don't want to be down about it though, you know? An optimist is a person who believes a housefly is looking for a way out. I keep all my windows open." He took a drink from his cappuccino. "You just seem like a guy I'd really like to get to know...God! That sounds.like a pick-up line. I guess anything at this point would sound that way."

We exchanged nervous laughter. Rob asked in a mock game show host voice— "So, what do you like to do, Roger?" He watched me, waiting for an answer. He kept staring into my eyes. The nervous blood returned. I felt warm, dizzy and like I wanted to throw up. Love, disease—the same thing. I looked straight at him and felt a list coming out of me like I was writing a personal ad. "A lot of things. I like hanging out down the shore. Walking around Center City, shopping, relaxing by the river. Love movies. Going out to eat... This sounds so damn cheesy." I looked around at all the happy gay couples walking by in the night. "I like doing a lot of things, Rob. It all depends upon who's with me and how I feel." He swished his cup around and stared into the inside of it. "I love to garden. I love flowers. 1 roller-blade. Shop. Most of the same things you do too." It was as if we were both writing personal ads and passing them back and forth to one another. The air was ridden with pollen and dust with a touch of humidity. The sounds of bats echoed off the buildings above us and other people's conversations became amplified to me. I felt like I was going to flip out. I stood-up and said it. "Rob, let's not try. Let's not try at all. Let's just say exactly what we feel, what's going on in our heads. If you want to go home and ignore me, that's fine. If you want to take me home and slide all over one another, I'm all for that. If you just want to go to my apartment and lie in bed or on the couch together kissing, I'd love it. And if you just wanted to sit in your car, hold hands and watch the sunrise over the river, it'd make me ecstatic. Tell me what you think, whatyoufeel. rilberightback." I stood up to go the bathroom again. My nerves kept getting tangled like a box of steel paper clips tumbling down a flight of stairs. Rob grabbed my arm before I could walk away. "You can't run away every time you tell someone how you feel.... Besides, I can't let you go now." Rob stood up and slid his hand down to mine and he pulled me with him to the counter to get a bottle of water. I stood next to him as he was rung-up. He never let go of my hand, and we walked out together still holding one another close. He said to me, "I really like you, you know that? You're cute...in every way." I blushed like a little girl. If Catherine were here, she'd have an airplane flying by with a huge "I TOLD YOU SO" banner tied to it's taiL or, at the least, the Goodyear blimp flying by with the word "DIPSHIT" lighting all of Center City and a spotlight trailing me home. We walked back to his car. He said, "I have to go into my job at 7 AM. I work at a lab in the daytime counting cells. Would you want to come to my 37

36


Lily Berkeley Fiction Review I sat in my chair and took a sip of my iced tea thinking I would call in tomorrow and hope that Rob quit that day so I could go back and pretend nothing happened, $1,000,000 richer from the bet I made with Catherine. I was right. That puncture in my gut was fate, was decision telling me to hold back— not everything you feel is right and sometimes your own body tells you that. Staring into my mug I envisioned living above the Millennium Cafe" with my two cats and Judy Garland videotape collection. I wasn't a crier but I sure wanted to. A man's hand grabbed my shoulder. He must've been watching us and felt bad for me—a mercy fuck for him tonight. "I got you something." The hand also had a voice. Rob put another iced tea in front of me and sat down with a cappuccino in his hand. "You're cute, you know that?" He said. He grabbed my right hand off my mug and held it in both of his. "I never had a guy do that before, but I' m glad you did. Don't think I could've done it. I am so painfully shy it was hard enough to ask you to get a beer, let alone go to a gay coffee house." My heart put itself at its perfect pace. I asked, "How did you know I was gay?" "Well, I wasn't really sure, but the way you looked at me. You got nervous. I saw that. I was watching you all night waiting for you to look up at me, but you didn't." I sipped my iced tea. "And you took a chance, huh?" "An incredible chance. You have no clue how shy I am. I normally clam up. I haven't been with many guys and most of the guys I've dated asked me out or got in touch with me through a personal ad I put out on the web. Not too much luck there, though." Rob kept wiping his hands on his pants, up and down his legs and continued, "One guy I really liked ditched me after we spent a weekend together. Hedidn'tjustcallanddumpmeortakeme'outtodumpme. His normal nightly calls became every other day calls and then once a week calls. He didn't have much to say. I haven't dated anyone since. The pickens have been lean. All I ever really wanted was a nice date, you know? No expectations of anything, just something nice and thoughtful. Maybe I've just been having bad luck." He stared into his cappuccino and twitched his nose and mouth. "I don't want to be down about it though, you know? An optimist is a person who believes a housefly is looking for a way out. I keep all my windows open." He took a drink from his cappuccino. "You just seem like a guy I'd really like to get to know...God! That sounds.like a pick-up line. I guess anything at this point would sound that way."

We exchanged nervous laughter. Rob asked in a mock game show host voice— "So, what do you like to do, Roger?" He watched me, waiting for an answer. He kept staring into my eyes. The nervous blood returned. I felt warm, dizzy and like I wanted to throw up. Love, disease—the same thing. I looked straight at him and felt a list coming out of me like I was writing a personal ad. "A lot of things. I like hanging out down the shore. Walking around Center City, shopping, relaxing by the river. Love movies. Going out to eat... This sounds so damn cheesy." I looked around at all the happy gay couples walking by in the night. "I like doing a lot of things, Rob. It all depends upon who's with me and how I feel." He swished his cup around and stared into the inside of it. "I love to garden. I love flowers. 1 roller-blade. Shop. Most of the same things you do too." It was as if we were both writing personal ads and passing them back and forth to one another. The air was ridden with pollen and dust with a touch of humidity. The sounds of bats echoed off the buildings above us and other people's conversations became amplified to me. I felt like I was going to flip out. I stood-up and said it. "Rob, let's not try. Let's not try at all. Let's just say exactly what we feel, what's going on in our heads. If you want to go home and ignore me, that's fine. If you want to take me home and slide all over one another, I'm all for that. If you just want to go to my apartment and lie in bed or on the couch together kissing, I'd love it. And if you just wanted to sit in your car, hold hands and watch the sunrise over the river, it'd make me ecstatic. Tell me what you think, whatyoufeel. rilberightback." I stood up to go the bathroom again. My nerves kept getting tangled like a box of steel paper clips tumbling down a flight of stairs. Rob grabbed my arm before I could walk away. "You can't run away every time you tell someone how you feel.... Besides, I can't let you go now." Rob stood up and slid his hand down to mine and he pulled me with him to the counter to get a bottle of water. I stood next to him as he was rung-up. He never let go of my hand, and we walked out together still holding one another close. He said to me, "I really like you, you know that? You're cute...in every way." I blushed like a little girl. If Catherine were here, she'd have an airplane flying by with a huge "I TOLD YOU SO" banner tied to it's taiL or, at the least, the Goodyear blimp flying by with the word "DIPSHIT" lighting all of Center City and a spotlight trailing me home. We walked back to his car. He said, "I have to go into my job at 7 AM. I work at a lab in the daytime counting cells. Would you want to come to my 37

36


Berkeley Fiction

Review

place and sit and talk for a little while?" "Just talk, huh?" I smiled at him. "And maybe a little light pecking." "Bingo." We passed a flower shop where he stopped and turned around. "What are you looking for," I asked. "I wanted to see if they had any lilies. My favorite flower." He pointed. "There they are, see them? They're so beautiful." I wasn't a flower expert though I did have my favorite—roses. I looked into the flower shop and saw smooth delicate white flowers stretching out of thenvase. Before Rob could start walking, I went into the flower shop to prove to myself what kind of man I was, then we continued our walk down the sodium-lit path to Rob's apartment located somewhere on the outskirts of the Gayborhood while Rob's bottle of water vased his two lilies.

Third

Place

T H E R E

Sudden

W

A L A R M , b y

A

Fiction

S

T H E

L I K E

Kirsten A l l e n

Winner

F I R E

B E F O R E

M a j o r

here was the fire alarm, like before. It was like an unzipper in time: a test, a duty. It was daybreak and we all filed out like we had twenty | years before. And we stood there shivering watching the sky turn pink. Pam wanted to sleep in; she was always up early because of her children. But the thing that made me not look entirely straight on was Jeanne, her lovely long brown hair, just as it was before college, when we were here at boarding school, in the dawn light. "Remember how we were supposed to bring a towel with us?" she said, and none of us could remember why. To look at her was to be back, to really be back; to look at her, we would go back into Kellas and fall asleep next to our books, everything just the way it was. I could not look at her straight on, and eventually the alarm was over and we were in our rooms until my alarm woke me up signaling that it was time to go. I lay in bed for not very long and then packed and had almost sneaked out successfully but for one trip back to look at my senior picture on my door. As I was leaving again I heard "Susan!" and my heart sank. I went into Sally's room. Daylight was filtering weakly through the blinds. She was in bed, still wearing her fleece from the fire alarm. Through the diffused light it was Sally, but it would always be Sally, even though the next time we'd see each other we'd be in our forties. "This whole thing was really emotional," I said. "Yeah," she said. "I didn't expect it." Then she said, "I've been thinking of what you told me about you and Kate. You know I had a serious falling out with Pam and Tina and it took years for us to get over it. Everything is just about back to normal." 39

38 1


Berkeley Fiction

Review

place and sit and talk for a little while?" "Just talk, huh?" I smiled at him. "And maybe a little light pecking." "Bingo." We passed a flower shop where he stopped and turned around. "What are you looking for," I asked. "I wanted to see if they had any lilies. My favorite flower." He pointed. "There they are, see them? They're so beautiful." I wasn't a flower expert though I did have my favorite—roses. I looked into the flower shop and saw smooth delicate white flowers stretching out of thenvase. Before Rob could start walking, I went into the flower shop to prove to myself what kind of man I was, then we continued our walk down the sodium-lit path to Rob's apartment located somewhere on the outskirts of the Gayborhood while Rob's bottle of water vased his two lilies.

Third

Place

T H E R E

Sudden

W

A L A R M , b y

A

Fiction

S

T H E

L I K E

Kirsten A l l e n

Winner

F I R E

B E F O R E

M a j o r

here was the fire alarm, like before. It was like an unzipper in time: a test, a duty. It was daybreak and we all filed out like we had twenty | years before. And we stood there shivering watching the sky turn pink. Pam wanted to sleep in; she was always up early because of her children. But the thing that made me not look entirely straight on was Jeanne, her lovely long brown hair, just as it was before college, when we were here at boarding school, in the dawn light. "Remember how we were supposed to bring a towel with us?" she said, and none of us could remember why. To look at her was to be back, to really be back; to look at her, we would go back into Kellas and fall asleep next to our books, everything just the way it was. I could not look at her straight on, and eventually the alarm was over and we were in our rooms until my alarm woke me up signaling that it was time to go. I lay in bed for not very long and then packed and had almost sneaked out successfully but for one trip back to look at my senior picture on my door. As I was leaving again I heard "Susan!" and my heart sank. I went into Sally's room. Daylight was filtering weakly through the blinds. She was in bed, still wearing her fleece from the fire alarm. Through the diffused light it was Sally, but it would always be Sally, even though the next time we'd see each other we'd be in our forties. "This whole thing was really emotional," I said. "Yeah," she said. "I didn't expect it." Then she said, "I've been thinking of what you told me about you and Kate. You know I had a serious falling out with Pam and Tina and it took years for us to get over it. Everything is just about back to normal." 39

38 1


Berkeley Fiction Review I thought, what, in holding on to your friends while you rocket through your life span, is normal? "I don't know what to do." "I think Kate just thought you needed a good kick in the pants." "Yeah," I said. "I should write her a letter, but.. .you know?" "I think you just need more time." We sat there quietly for a moment. I looked around the room, high ceilings, lead paned glass, a wide green athletic field below edged by forest. Our school was on the National Register of Historic Places. "I don't know why I was in such a goddamned hurry to get out of here," Sally said. "I just thought the exact same thing," I said. "I think it's because we didn't know how hard the rest of life was going to be." We didn't say anything and I thought, I could start crying, and I could cry here for hours, everyone could come in here and why keep holding back the tears that were just around the corner, had been just around the corner all weekend. I thought of asking her why she knew it was me who would sneak out, but I didn't want to hear the answer, which I realized was another way of sneaking out. "I'm getting out of bed to hug you," Sally said, and she did, and it was a tight real hug like the one when we said good-bye at graduation.

40


Berkeley Fiction Review I thought, what, in holding on to your friends while you rocket through your life span, is normal? "I don't know what to do." "I think Kate just thought you needed a good kick in the pants." "Yeah," I said. "I should write her a letter, but.. .you know?" "I think you just need more time." We sat there quietly for a moment. I looked around the room, high ceilings, lead paned glass, a wide green athletic field below edged by forest. Our school was on the National Register of Historic Places. "I don't know why I was in such a goddamned hurry to get out of here," Sally said. "I just thought the exact same thing," I said. "I think it's because we didn't know how hard the rest of life was going to be." We didn't say anything and I thought, I could start crying, and I could cry here for hours, everyone could come in here and why keep holding back the tears that were just around the corner, had been just around the corner all weekend. I thought of asking her why she knew it was me who would sneak out, but I didn't want to hear the answer, which I realized was another way of sneaking out. "I'm getting out of bed to hug you," Sally said, and she did, and it was a tight real hug like the one when we said good-bye at graduation.

40


April Fool

J

A P R I L

F O O L

b y

Courter

Justin

ames Worthing got to the office half an hour before anyone else each morning, gave a condescending nod to the security guard in the lobby, rode the elevator to the eighth floor and took a great big crap in the men's room. Worthing loved this time alone. It afforded him the opportunity to meditate upon his strategy for the day while simultaneously experiencing the sensation of getting things moving. He liked to think about his own upward mobility within his company even as, with a gentle application of pressure from the toe of his wing tip to the flush, he sent his own feces down the eight stories he had minutes ago ascended. On April 1, Worthing took a special pleasure in his morning ritual. April Fools' Day was Worthing's favorite day of the year. He told outrageous lies to complete strangers and devised elaborate practical jokes to play on his coworkers and his family. One year, he had called each member of his department into his office individually and maintained a solemn expression while he told them they had lost their jobs, and to go home. As soon as each of them left his office he burst out laughing. They all became so pitiful and dejected. Of course he'd had his secretary phone them all the next day to tell them it had been a joke. The people who reported directly to Worthing had by now learned to watch out for the date, and did their best to give the impression that his were the most hysterically funny jokes to which they had ever been subjected. Worthing's wife, Becky, however, never seemed to wise up. Once, he sent her on a wild goose chase to meet his parents, who, he told her in the morning, would be flying in to Boston that afternoon. Becky cleaned the house in a flurry after Worthing went to work and then rushed off to the airport to pick up the.senior 42

Worthings at one o'clock. A few minutes after one, Worming called Logan Airport and had his wife paged. He was going to say "April Fools'," but while he was waiting for her to get to the phone he thought of a way to make his entertainment last the rest of the day. When Becky got on the line she was breathless and flustered because, of course, she had not been able to find the bogus flight number. At that moment, Worthing might have felt as deeply for his wife as he ever had. It was almost too adorable to hear her voice when she was so confused and excited. Worthing felt a stirring in the crotch of his trousers. He said he was sorry, but that he had just remembered that his parents were flying into Manchester, New Hampshire, not Logan Airport in Boston. Becky was hypoglycemic and had to eat several small meals a day or else she got tremors and dizzy spells. But on that April first she didn't get a chance to eat much more than the candy bar she kept in her glove compartment for emergencies. Nevertheless, in the Lexus Worthing had bought for her, she dutifully drove all the way to New Hampshire, was again paged and told "April Fools'," then on her journey back home, got stuck in traffic and missed picking Benjamin up from school. By the time she reached the house she was completely frazzled. Though she was shaking and distressed, she had entered a trance-like state and allowed herself to be taken into Worthing's crushing bear hug. For his part, Worthing couldn't hold back a good chuckle. That, Worthing thought, had been high comedy. But this year's plan was even more ingenious. Its nature requires a brief history of James and Becky's relationship. When Worthing first met Becky, they were both in their senior year at Cornell. At the time, for reasons Worthing still couldn't fathom, Becky was dating a perfect dud named David Kiminski. Kiminski didn't belong to a fraternity. He wore shabby clothes. The only contributions he made to the Cornell community were in the form of a few lugubrious poems that dribbled onto the pages of the school literary magazine each year. One sunny afternoon, Worthing saw Becky, dressed in a tennis outfit, meet Kiminski after class. Her tanned legs were spectacular and she fit perfectly into a snapshot he kept in his mind's eye of himself and an Irish setter standing in front of a Tudor mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Taking her from Kiminski was easy. The way everything fell into place reminded Worthing of crew practice, of sliding forward and pulling something toward him as he did hundreds of times with his oar each afternoon. Everything flowed the way it does when constant practice has made an act second nature. Worthing and Kiminski were taking the same publishing seminar and Worthing talked to Kiminski a couple times after class, feigning enough interest in Kiminski's naive opinions to appear friendly without being patronizing. Kiminski was taking the seminar because he wanted to start a literary magazine and publish his dreary poems for an indifferent public; Worthing simply wanted to 43


April Fool

J

A P R I L

F O O L

b y

Courter

Justin

ames Worthing got to the office half an hour before anyone else each morning, gave a condescending nod to the security guard in the lobby, rode the elevator to the eighth floor and took a great big crap in the men's room. Worthing loved this time alone. It afforded him the opportunity to meditate upon his strategy for the day while simultaneously experiencing the sensation of getting things moving. He liked to think about his own upward mobility within his company even as, with a gentle application of pressure from the toe of his wing tip to the flush, he sent his own feces down the eight stories he had minutes ago ascended. On April 1, Worthing took a special pleasure in his morning ritual. April Fools' Day was Worthing's favorite day of the year. He told outrageous lies to complete strangers and devised elaborate practical jokes to play on his coworkers and his family. One year, he had called each member of his department into his office individually and maintained a solemn expression while he told them they had lost their jobs, and to go home. As soon as each of them left his office he burst out laughing. They all became so pitiful and dejected. Of course he'd had his secretary phone them all the next day to tell them it had been a joke. The people who reported directly to Worthing had by now learned to watch out for the date, and did their best to give the impression that his were the most hysterically funny jokes to which they had ever been subjected. Worthing's wife, Becky, however, never seemed to wise up. Once, he sent her on a wild goose chase to meet his parents, who, he told her in the morning, would be flying in to Boston that afternoon. Becky cleaned the house in a flurry after Worthing went to work and then rushed off to the airport to pick up the.senior 42

Worthings at one o'clock. A few minutes after one, Worming called Logan Airport and had his wife paged. He was going to say "April Fools'," but while he was waiting for her to get to the phone he thought of a way to make his entertainment last the rest of the day. When Becky got on the line she was breathless and flustered because, of course, she had not been able to find the bogus flight number. At that moment, Worthing might have felt as deeply for his wife as he ever had. It was almost too adorable to hear her voice when she was so confused and excited. Worthing felt a stirring in the crotch of his trousers. He said he was sorry, but that he had just remembered that his parents were flying into Manchester, New Hampshire, not Logan Airport in Boston. Becky was hypoglycemic and had to eat several small meals a day or else she got tremors and dizzy spells. But on that April first she didn't get a chance to eat much more than the candy bar she kept in her glove compartment for emergencies. Nevertheless, in the Lexus Worthing had bought for her, she dutifully drove all the way to New Hampshire, was again paged and told "April Fools'," then on her journey back home, got stuck in traffic and missed picking Benjamin up from school. By the time she reached the house she was completely frazzled. Though she was shaking and distressed, she had entered a trance-like state and allowed herself to be taken into Worthing's crushing bear hug. For his part, Worthing couldn't hold back a good chuckle. That, Worthing thought, had been high comedy. But this year's plan was even more ingenious. Its nature requires a brief history of James and Becky's relationship. When Worthing first met Becky, they were both in their senior year at Cornell. At the time, for reasons Worthing still couldn't fathom, Becky was dating a perfect dud named David Kiminski. Kiminski didn't belong to a fraternity. He wore shabby clothes. The only contributions he made to the Cornell community were in the form of a few lugubrious poems that dribbled onto the pages of the school literary magazine each year. One sunny afternoon, Worthing saw Becky, dressed in a tennis outfit, meet Kiminski after class. Her tanned legs were spectacular and she fit perfectly into a snapshot he kept in his mind's eye of himself and an Irish setter standing in front of a Tudor mansion in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Taking her from Kiminski was easy. The way everything fell into place reminded Worthing of crew practice, of sliding forward and pulling something toward him as he did hundreds of times with his oar each afternoon. Everything flowed the way it does when constant practice has made an act second nature. Worthing and Kiminski were taking the same publishing seminar and Worthing talked to Kiminski a couple times after class, feigning enough interest in Kiminski's naive opinions to appear friendly without being patronizing. Kiminski was taking the seminar because he wanted to start a literary magazine and publish his dreary poems for an indifferent public; Worthing simply wanted to 43


Berkeley Fiction Review learn the quickest route to becoming a hideously wealthy baron of the communications industry. Worthing invited Kiminski and his girlfriend to one of his fraternity parties. As soon as they arrived, Worthing adroitly shoved Kiminski adrift in a literary conversation with a frat brother he had bribed to read some Robert Frost in order to detain Kiminski for a while. Worthing then offered to pour Becky some punch, which he continued to do practically every time she took a sip from her cup. She was a lightweight. Before the end of the night she was in Worthing's room engaged in a sloppy exchange of fluids. From that point, it was merely a matter of a whirlwind of dancing, necking, a road trip in his convertible to do some horseback riding at his parents' ranch in the Hamptons and within a week Becky was his. And within weeks after graduation they were engaged. Kiminski had never confronted Worthing regarding Becky. In fact, Worthing could only remember ever seeing Kiminski on one occasion after the fraternity party. He was standing on the steps of the library talking to Becky when Worthing saw them from a distance. Kiminski had stopped going to the publishing seminar and evidently (Worthing noticed as he approached) also given up shaving and sleeping. Kiminski and Becky parted before Worthing could hear any of their conversation. Kiminski made his gloomy way up the steps of the building and Becky turned away. Her eyes were red, her face streaked with tears. She refused to tell Worthing what they had been talking about and was quiet and morose for several days. But what could that matter now? Worthing knew from the alumni quarterly that Kiminski was still writing poetry (publishing in a few obscure periodicals no one ever read) and making his meager living as a high school English teacher in some tiny town in western Massachusetts. Worthing, on the other hand, worked daily with authors who received million-dollar advances and spoke to rooms full of sales reps—adults who hung on his every word—while Kiminski babbled about the past perfect for the benefit of a pack of snot-nosed kids. But there was one thing that bothered Worthing, something that kept alive the memory of that day in front of the library. It was a book. One Saturday afternoon in March, while Becky was playing tennis at the club, Worthing was hunting for stamps in the study. He pulled open a drawer of Becky's desk and a small book slid partially out from beneath a manila envelope. There was nothing in the drawer except for the book and the envelope that had been placed over it. It was as if the drawer had been kept free just for the arrival of this slim volume of poems. It was Kiminski's first published collection. Worthing checked the copyright date, saw that it had been published that year, and noted the publishing company. It was one of the small presses, perennially commended by small magazines, dedicated to poetry, minuscule print runs and obscurity. With his thumb on the edge of the rough-cut pages, Worthing flipped through the book as if it were a deck of cards and he were looking for the joker. The poems, 44

April Fool none of which he read, were centered like dark bits of macrame" on mostly blank pages—nothings written for no one. Worming knew he was above jealousy, so he did not mention the book to his wife. Anyway, this year's gag would conclusively illustrate his superiority to Kiminski. The day before, Worthing had had a dozen roses sent to his wife with a note that said, "With love, always, David K." Worthing had also sent a letter to Kiminski that gushed with the agony of Becky's lost love. In his best imitation of his wife's handwriting, Worthing described how her marriage had gone sour and how she longed to be living in that squalid little town in western Massachusetts with Kiminski, the true love of her life. In the letter, Worthing appointed a time for Kiminski to meet Becky at the Four Seasons if he were still interested in her. A couple days after Becky received the flowers, which she must have hidden from him, he told her to meet him at the Parish Cafe" for a drink after work. He would then take her to the Four Seasons at about fifteen minutes after the time he had told Kiminski to meet her. How hysterically funny it would all be! It would be a reunion of sorts. Becky would be as flustered and impressed as she had been the weekend he had taken her to his parents' place in the Hamptons. Kiminski would be nervously loitering in the lobby of the Four Seasons, looking outclassed in a rumpled, tweed, high-school-teacher's sports jacket. And there Worthing would be, in a Brooks Brothers' suit, jutting his chin slightly (Worthing remembered that Kiminski had a rather weak chin) with Becky, glamorous as ever, on his arm. Kiminski would be forced to see that Worthing and Becky existed in a world that was forever out of his reach, an entirely different world from the one in which he made his meager existence. And Becky would see what a pitiful creature Kiminski truly was. She would be forced to dismiss as youthful nearsightedness any feelings she had once had for him. For Worthing, it would be the victory of the frat party night all over again. "What a coincidence!" Worthing would say when they ran into Kiminski. As if Kiminski had been the coxswain for Worthing's winning eight, he would heartily clap Kiminski's frail shoulder, exchange a few chiding pleasantries, then usher his beautiful wife into the lavish dining room and permanently out of Kiminski's life. He too would be able to dismiss Kiminski from his mind once and for all. Or he might even invite Kiminski to dine with them, treat Kiminski as a novelty, toy with him like a contented cat with a dead mouse. Worthing was so giddy with anticipation of the night's events that he found he could concentrate on almost nothing in the office all day, except flirting with the assistant editor he'd recently hired. Worthing got to the Parish early enough to have a drink before Becky arrived. After his second gin and tonic, Worthing's excitement mellowed into a general appreciation of himself and his surroundings. The bottles behind the bar sparkled with a renewed clarity. His reflection in the mirror on the wall behind the bottles was blessed with 45


Berkeley Fiction Review learn the quickest route to becoming a hideously wealthy baron of the communications industry. Worthing invited Kiminski and his girlfriend to one of his fraternity parties. As soon as they arrived, Worthing adroitly shoved Kiminski adrift in a literary conversation with a frat brother he had bribed to read some Robert Frost in order to detain Kiminski for a while. Worthing then offered to pour Becky some punch, which he continued to do practically every time she took a sip from her cup. She was a lightweight. Before the end of the night she was in Worthing's room engaged in a sloppy exchange of fluids. From that point, it was merely a matter of a whirlwind of dancing, necking, a road trip in his convertible to do some horseback riding at his parents' ranch in the Hamptons and within a week Becky was his. And within weeks after graduation they were engaged. Kiminski had never confronted Worthing regarding Becky. In fact, Worthing could only remember ever seeing Kiminski on one occasion after the fraternity party. He was standing on the steps of the library talking to Becky when Worthing saw them from a distance. Kiminski had stopped going to the publishing seminar and evidently (Worthing noticed as he approached) also given up shaving and sleeping. Kiminski and Becky parted before Worthing could hear any of their conversation. Kiminski made his gloomy way up the steps of the building and Becky turned away. Her eyes were red, her face streaked with tears. She refused to tell Worthing what they had been talking about and was quiet and morose for several days. But what could that matter now? Worthing knew from the alumni quarterly that Kiminski was still writing poetry (publishing in a few obscure periodicals no one ever read) and making his meager living as a high school English teacher in some tiny town in western Massachusetts. Worthing, on the other hand, worked daily with authors who received million-dollar advances and spoke to rooms full of sales reps—adults who hung on his every word—while Kiminski babbled about the past perfect for the benefit of a pack of snot-nosed kids. But there was one thing that bothered Worthing, something that kept alive the memory of that day in front of the library. It was a book. One Saturday afternoon in March, while Becky was playing tennis at the club, Worthing was hunting for stamps in the study. He pulled open a drawer of Becky's desk and a small book slid partially out from beneath a manila envelope. There was nothing in the drawer except for the book and the envelope that had been placed over it. It was as if the drawer had been kept free just for the arrival of this slim volume of poems. It was Kiminski's first published collection. Worthing checked the copyright date, saw that it had been published that year, and noted the publishing company. It was one of the small presses, perennially commended by small magazines, dedicated to poetry, minuscule print runs and obscurity. With his thumb on the edge of the rough-cut pages, Worthing flipped through the book as if it were a deck of cards and he were looking for the joker. The poems, 44

April Fool none of which he read, were centered like dark bits of macrame" on mostly blank pages—nothings written for no one. Worming knew he was above jealousy, so he did not mention the book to his wife. Anyway, this year's gag would conclusively illustrate his superiority to Kiminski. The day before, Worthing had had a dozen roses sent to his wife with a note that said, "With love, always, David K." Worthing had also sent a letter to Kiminski that gushed with the agony of Becky's lost love. In his best imitation of his wife's handwriting, Worthing described how her marriage had gone sour and how she longed to be living in that squalid little town in western Massachusetts with Kiminski, the true love of her life. In the letter, Worthing appointed a time for Kiminski to meet Becky at the Four Seasons if he were still interested in her. A couple days after Becky received the flowers, which she must have hidden from him, he told her to meet him at the Parish Cafe" for a drink after work. He would then take her to the Four Seasons at about fifteen minutes after the time he had told Kiminski to meet her. How hysterically funny it would all be! It would be a reunion of sorts. Becky would be as flustered and impressed as she had been the weekend he had taken her to his parents' place in the Hamptons. Kiminski would be nervously loitering in the lobby of the Four Seasons, looking outclassed in a rumpled, tweed, high-school-teacher's sports jacket. And there Worthing would be, in a Brooks Brothers' suit, jutting his chin slightly (Worthing remembered that Kiminski had a rather weak chin) with Becky, glamorous as ever, on his arm. Kiminski would be forced to see that Worthing and Becky existed in a world that was forever out of his reach, an entirely different world from the one in which he made his meager existence. And Becky would see what a pitiful creature Kiminski truly was. She would be forced to dismiss as youthful nearsightedness any feelings she had once had for him. For Worthing, it would be the victory of the frat party night all over again. "What a coincidence!" Worthing would say when they ran into Kiminski. As if Kiminski had been the coxswain for Worthing's winning eight, he would heartily clap Kiminski's frail shoulder, exchange a few chiding pleasantries, then usher his beautiful wife into the lavish dining room and permanently out of Kiminski's life. He too would be able to dismiss Kiminski from his mind once and for all. Or he might even invite Kiminski to dine with them, treat Kiminski as a novelty, toy with him like a contented cat with a dead mouse. Worthing was so giddy with anticipation of the night's events that he found he could concentrate on almost nothing in the office all day, except flirting with the assistant editor he'd recently hired. Worthing got to the Parish early enough to have a drink before Becky arrived. After his second gin and tonic, Worthing's excitement mellowed into a general appreciation of himself and his surroundings. The bottles behind the bar sparkled with a renewed clarity. His reflection in the mirror on the wall behind the bottles was blessed with 45


Berkeley Fiction Review health and success. The legs of the woman two stools away from him were fascinating works of art. After a while the legs got up and sauntered magnificently out the door. Worthing checked his watch. Becky should have been there for her April Fools' drink a half an hour before. Worthing wondered vaguely what she' d thought when she received the flowers. Though she hadn't said anything about them, she had been a little quieter than usual that day, and when Worthing had put his hand on her thigh when they were in bed that night, she had merely emitted a faint groan and rolled away from him. But that was nothing new. In fact, it had been going on for about a year. Worthing called the house from the phone by the bathrooms. On the second ring the answering machine picked up, but the message was not the one he had recorded a year before. It was Benjamin's voice. "Hello Dad," he said, "Mom and I are gone. You should have tried to reach us sooner." Benjamin sounded as if he were reading the words, or had memorized them. "You have to come home and watch the movie now." The machine beeped and Worthing listened to the sound of his own breathing being recorded on his answering machine for a few seconds before he hung up the phone. The movie? What the hell was the kid talking about and why did he sound like a little robot? A nervous, chicken-shit little robot. Benjamin took after Becky's side of the family. He had been plagued by asthma and sinus problems from the minute he was born. Worthing had been there. He remembered his disappointment when the doctor slapped little Ben and rather than crying, he made a sickly gagging noise. At the moment, Worthing would have liked to slap Benjamin himself. Worthing called and listened to the message again. Why, he wondered, did Benjamin say he should have gotten in touch sooner? But what more deeply disturbed him was that his plans were now thrown completely off. Nothing would be as he had envisioned it. When he got home the house was silent. Even Phoenix, the Irish setter, wasn't around. There was a videotape on the kitchen's island counter. Without taking off his suit jacket, Worthing went into the living room, stuck the tape into ! the VCR and plopped down on the couch. When the picture came on, Becky and Benjamin were sitting on the same couch on which Worthing now sat, with i Phoenix at their feet. Judging from the angle of the light coming in through the living room window on the videotape, it was shot in the early afternoon. "Hello James," Becky said, "and good-bye. We won't be around for a while, so you'll have to fix your own dinner. We're taking a little trip. I'm not sure where we're going or when we'll be back, so I thought you might want to be able to see us." Benjamin suddenly had a sneezing fit that shook his fragile frame so violently he looked as if he were the victim of a sudden earthquake that affected no one else. Becky wiped his nose with a tissue. 46

April Fool This is rich, Worthing thought. He had never guessed Becky would have her own April Fools'joke up her sleeve. She'd certainly one-upped him today. "Actually," Becky continued, after wiping Benjamin's nose, "this is probably just the right kind of family for you—a videotape; it's clean and uncomplicated, you can keep it in a box on a shelf and take it out to show your friends when..." Her eyes welled up, she made a faint choking sound, pursed her lips and shook her head. The camera jiggled slightly. This was a side of his wife that Worthing had never encountered before. It turned out Becky was a comedian. What a flair for melodrama! She spoke as if she were under hypnosis. In closing, Becky told Worthing not to worry about her and Benjamin, and not to bother trying to find them. The screen blipped, turned to snow and the quiet room filled with an ocean of static. Worthing burst out laughing and clapped his hands. What,a terrific show. When she got home he would have to admit that it was better than any of his stunts. In fact, he wished he had thought of it himself. The next morning the house had the same eerie stillness it'd had the night before. Worthing conceded to himself that Becky must actually have been pretty angry. She had probably guessed that the flowers and note were from him, and had decided to play out her own joke to teach him a lesson. The only other time Becky had ever spent the night somewhere besides their home was a few years before, after she had found out about his affair with one of the sales reps. She spent the night at her mother's in Springfield, which undoubtedly was where she was now. Worthing had abruptly broken off the affair, and it had been a good eight months before he began seeing Barbara. Worthing played golf that morning with Brent, a friend from work, who took the opportunity to bitch about his own wife for eighteen holes. Worthing listened with an air of detachment, feeling that between the previous night and that morning he had gotten enough of a whiff of the bachelor's life to listen to Brent's troubles with the objectivity and superiority of a kind of monk. When he got home that afternoon, Becky still hadn't gotten back from her mother's. He checked the closet and guessed that she hadn't taken more clothes than she would for a long weekend. Worthing decided that if it was Becky's intention to teach him a lesson, at least he would have the pleasure of learning it in the comfort of his own home. The only problem was that the lack of distraction in his own home suddenly became an intolerably distracting discomfort. He took a leisurely shower, slipped into some comfy clothes and settled into his favorite chair with a cold beer and a copy of Money magazine. He soon found himself unable to concentrate, reading the same paragraph over and over like an Alzheimer's victim and glancing intermittently at the large, ominous, black television screen and the VCR beneath it that eternally pulsed the incorrect time. Finally, he called Barbara, hung up on her answering machine, circumnavigated the island counter in the kitchen several times, called and hung 47


Berkeley Fiction Review health and success. The legs of the woman two stools away from him were fascinating works of art. After a while the legs got up and sauntered magnificently out the door. Worthing checked his watch. Becky should have been there for her April Fools' drink a half an hour before. Worthing wondered vaguely what she' d thought when she received the flowers. Though she hadn't said anything about them, she had been a little quieter than usual that day, and when Worthing had put his hand on her thigh when they were in bed that night, she had merely emitted a faint groan and rolled away from him. But that was nothing new. In fact, it had been going on for about a year. Worthing called the house from the phone by the bathrooms. On the second ring the answering machine picked up, but the message was not the one he had recorded a year before. It was Benjamin's voice. "Hello Dad," he said, "Mom and I are gone. You should have tried to reach us sooner." Benjamin sounded as if he were reading the words, or had memorized them. "You have to come home and watch the movie now." The machine beeped and Worthing listened to the sound of his own breathing being recorded on his answering machine for a few seconds before he hung up the phone. The movie? What the hell was the kid talking about and why did he sound like a little robot? A nervous, chicken-shit little robot. Benjamin took after Becky's side of the family. He had been plagued by asthma and sinus problems from the minute he was born. Worthing had been there. He remembered his disappointment when the doctor slapped little Ben and rather than crying, he made a sickly gagging noise. At the moment, Worthing would have liked to slap Benjamin himself. Worthing called and listened to the message again. Why, he wondered, did Benjamin say he should have gotten in touch sooner? But what more deeply disturbed him was that his plans were now thrown completely off. Nothing would be as he had envisioned it. When he got home the house was silent. Even Phoenix, the Irish setter, wasn't around. There was a videotape on the kitchen's island counter. Without taking off his suit jacket, Worthing went into the living room, stuck the tape into ! the VCR and plopped down on the couch. When the picture came on, Becky and Benjamin were sitting on the same couch on which Worthing now sat, with i Phoenix at their feet. Judging from the angle of the light coming in through the living room window on the videotape, it was shot in the early afternoon. "Hello James," Becky said, "and good-bye. We won't be around for a while, so you'll have to fix your own dinner. We're taking a little trip. I'm not sure where we're going or when we'll be back, so I thought you might want to be able to see us." Benjamin suddenly had a sneezing fit that shook his fragile frame so violently he looked as if he were the victim of a sudden earthquake that affected no one else. Becky wiped his nose with a tissue. 46

April Fool This is rich, Worthing thought. He had never guessed Becky would have her own April Fools'joke up her sleeve. She'd certainly one-upped him today. "Actually," Becky continued, after wiping Benjamin's nose, "this is probably just the right kind of family for you—a videotape; it's clean and uncomplicated, you can keep it in a box on a shelf and take it out to show your friends when..." Her eyes welled up, she made a faint choking sound, pursed her lips and shook her head. The camera jiggled slightly. This was a side of his wife that Worthing had never encountered before. It turned out Becky was a comedian. What a flair for melodrama! She spoke as if she were under hypnosis. In closing, Becky told Worthing not to worry about her and Benjamin, and not to bother trying to find them. The screen blipped, turned to snow and the quiet room filled with an ocean of static. Worthing burst out laughing and clapped his hands. What,a terrific show. When she got home he would have to admit that it was better than any of his stunts. In fact, he wished he had thought of it himself. The next morning the house had the same eerie stillness it'd had the night before. Worthing conceded to himself that Becky must actually have been pretty angry. She had probably guessed that the flowers and note were from him, and had decided to play out her own joke to teach him a lesson. The only other time Becky had ever spent the night somewhere besides their home was a few years before, after she had found out about his affair with one of the sales reps. She spent the night at her mother's in Springfield, which undoubtedly was where she was now. Worthing had abruptly broken off the affair, and it had been a good eight months before he began seeing Barbara. Worthing played golf that morning with Brent, a friend from work, who took the opportunity to bitch about his own wife for eighteen holes. Worthing listened with an air of detachment, feeling that between the previous night and that morning he had gotten enough of a whiff of the bachelor's life to listen to Brent's troubles with the objectivity and superiority of a kind of monk. When he got home that afternoon, Becky still hadn't gotten back from her mother's. He checked the closet and guessed that she hadn't taken more clothes than she would for a long weekend. Worthing decided that if it was Becky's intention to teach him a lesson, at least he would have the pleasure of learning it in the comfort of his own home. The only problem was that the lack of distraction in his own home suddenly became an intolerably distracting discomfort. He took a leisurely shower, slipped into some comfy clothes and settled into his favorite chair with a cold beer and a copy of Money magazine. He soon found himself unable to concentrate, reading the same paragraph over and over like an Alzheimer's victim and glancing intermittently at the large, ominous, black television screen and the VCR beneath it that eternally pulsed the incorrect time. Finally, he called Barbara, hung up on her answering machine, circumnavigated the island counter in the kitchen several times, called and hung 47


Berkeley Fiction Review up on her answering machine again. Then he called Brent, who was also out. He looked through the movie times in the paper, found one that started in fifteen minutes and left. The next day, before he left the house to spend his usual Sunday afternoon with Barbara, he stood in the doorway for a moment with his keys in his hand. "I'm going to the club with Brent," he lied aloud to the empty, indifferent house. "I'll be back around dinner time." When he returned that night, and Becky and Benjamin still had not returned, he called Becky's mother. After shooting the bull about the weather and her garden for a couple minutes, Worthing gathered that the old bag knew nothing about her daughter's disappearance. "How was your weekend?" Stephanie, a copywriter, asked him on Monday morning. "Fine," Worthing said automatically, though he thought there was something sinister behind her smile. It seemed that Stephanie must somehow have found out everything that had happened over the weekend. Everyone he saw seemed to know all about the Parish Cafe, the videotape, the lonely weekend, Barbara, everything. His stomach leapt every time the phone rang. By Tuesday he had still not heard from Becky. Worthing stayed late at the office, not doing much of anything besides dreading the silence that waited for him at home. Becky held a very important position in Worthing's life, he realized now. She seemed to be the very cornerstone of his existence. After all, everything he had done in his life, he believed, he had done for her. For wasn't it she with whom he shared the tales of his daily triumphs when he came home at night? Where was the validation of his worth without her? He just wanted to talk to her now. He spent a lot of time calling friends and relatives from the office, trying to guess from the tones of their voices whether they had heard from Becky. He was too embarrassed to actually tell anyone what had happened. James Worthing simply was not the sort of man whose wife, child, and dog walked out on him, leaving him with nothing but a videotape. The week dragged on. Worthing ate Chinese take-out alone in front of the TV, called phone-sex numbers, drank more beer than he should have. He went to see Barbara one night, but even when she was on top of him and he was squeezing her naked behind, he found himself wondering about Becky. What was she doing at that moment? How well did he know her? Worthing went for long walks around his neighborhood and sometimes stood in the dark for several minutes looking through windows watching other families. The way they all sat around eating dinner and talking together seemed so innocent, so naive. And why should he be like Adam sent from paradise, a wandering exile in suburbia? By Friday, Worthing could hardly stand being in his house or his neighborhood for more than a few hours.

48

April Fool On Friday night he had a dream that he was back at Cornell. He was going to the library. He had left something at the library, although he didn't know what it was. When he got to the library, Becky and Kiminski were standing face-toface as they had been when Worthing had seen them talking together that day so many years before. But this time they were just standing and smiling at each other. Becky was wearing her wedding dress. They were so still they looked like mannequins. They remained frozen, smiling at each other until Worthing reached them. Then Kiminski turned his head to Worthing, still smiling, and said, "April Fools'." Worthing awoke with a start. He was more awake than he had been for the past week—perhaps his entire life. He went downstairs and put the tape Becky had made in the VCR. He watched intently. Becky didn't look like someone about to go on a long trip. Worthing watched the tape twice before he realized something. The camera had jiggled a couple times. They hadn't been using the tripod; someone had been holding it. On the fourth viewing he thought he heard something just before the footage ended. He rewound the tape, turned the volume up and listened to it again. It was a voice, a man's voice that murmured something inaudible when Becky got choked-up, just before the camera jiggled. Worthing knew with a fearful certainty whose voice it was and he thought of something else, another almost, subliminal blip that had gone by on the screen of his consciousness. He went to the study and found Kiminski's book of poems. He flipped past the copyright page to the dedication which read, simply, "For Becky." "Bastard," Worthing said aloud, his voice reverberating from the walls of his deserted home. "You miserable, fucking bastard!" He threw the book and its pages fluttered, making a sound like bird a flushed from its hiding place, before it hit the wall and fell dead to the floor.

49


Berkeley Fiction Review up on her answering machine again. Then he called Brent, who was also out. He looked through the movie times in the paper, found one that started in fifteen minutes and left. The next day, before he left the house to spend his usual Sunday afternoon with Barbara, he stood in the doorway for a moment with his keys in his hand. "I'm going to the club with Brent," he lied aloud to the empty, indifferent house. "I'll be back around dinner time." When he returned that night, and Becky and Benjamin still had not returned, he called Becky's mother. After shooting the bull about the weather and her garden for a couple minutes, Worthing gathered that the old bag knew nothing about her daughter's disappearance. "How was your weekend?" Stephanie, a copywriter, asked him on Monday morning. "Fine," Worthing said automatically, though he thought there was something sinister behind her smile. It seemed that Stephanie must somehow have found out everything that had happened over the weekend. Everyone he saw seemed to know all about the Parish Cafe, the videotape, the lonely weekend, Barbara, everything. His stomach leapt every time the phone rang. By Tuesday he had still not heard from Becky. Worthing stayed late at the office, not doing much of anything besides dreading the silence that waited for him at home. Becky held a very important position in Worthing's life, he realized now. She seemed to be the very cornerstone of his existence. After all, everything he had done in his life, he believed, he had done for her. For wasn't it she with whom he shared the tales of his daily triumphs when he came home at night? Where was the validation of his worth without her? He just wanted to talk to her now. He spent a lot of time calling friends and relatives from the office, trying to guess from the tones of their voices whether they had heard from Becky. He was too embarrassed to actually tell anyone what had happened. James Worthing simply was not the sort of man whose wife, child, and dog walked out on him, leaving him with nothing but a videotape. The week dragged on. Worthing ate Chinese take-out alone in front of the TV, called phone-sex numbers, drank more beer than he should have. He went to see Barbara one night, but even when she was on top of him and he was squeezing her naked behind, he found himself wondering about Becky. What was she doing at that moment? How well did he know her? Worthing went for long walks around his neighborhood and sometimes stood in the dark for several minutes looking through windows watching other families. The way they all sat around eating dinner and talking together seemed so innocent, so naive. And why should he be like Adam sent from paradise, a wandering exile in suburbia? By Friday, Worthing could hardly stand being in his house or his neighborhood for more than a few hours.

48

April Fool On Friday night he had a dream that he was back at Cornell. He was going to the library. He had left something at the library, although he didn't know what it was. When he got to the library, Becky and Kiminski were standing face-toface as they had been when Worthing had seen them talking together that day so many years before. But this time they were just standing and smiling at each other. Becky was wearing her wedding dress. They were so still they looked like mannequins. They remained frozen, smiling at each other until Worthing reached them. Then Kiminski turned his head to Worthing, still smiling, and said, "April Fools'." Worthing awoke with a start. He was more awake than he had been for the past week—perhaps his entire life. He went downstairs and put the tape Becky had made in the VCR. He watched intently. Becky didn't look like someone about to go on a long trip. Worthing watched the tape twice before he realized something. The camera had jiggled a couple times. They hadn't been using the tripod; someone had been holding it. On the fourth viewing he thought he heard something just before the footage ended. He rewound the tape, turned the volume up and listened to it again. It was a voice, a man's voice that murmured something inaudible when Becky got choked-up, just before the camera jiggled. Worthing knew with a fearful certainty whose voice it was and he thought of something else, another almost, subliminal blip that had gone by on the screen of his consciousness. He went to the study and found Kiminski's book of poems. He flipped past the copyright page to the dedication which read, simply, "For Becky." "Bastard," Worthing said aloud, his voice reverberating from the walls of his deserted home. "You miserable, fucking bastard!" He threw the book and its pages fluttered, making a sound like bird a flushed from its hiding place, before it hit the wall and fell dead to the floor.

49


Less Than Perfect

L E S S

b y

F r a n

T H A N

P E R F E C T

K a p l a n

heila counted five walkers, four mobile oxygen tanks, and seared, sun1 scarred faces at the support group meeting of Loners In The Desert. | Scanning the room, she viewed mirrored images of herself: sun-spots, facial creases, and incipient Dowager humps. Age 79, widowed for five years, Sheila knew that living alone did strange things to a person, that she didn't get better, she got more. More selective, picky, and brittle. Thankful to be living alone, she had freedom to burp aloud when she wanted, to eat standing up by the sink, and to skip a meal or a shower when it pleased her. She looked around the room. Soft-cushioned sofas, hard to get up from; six hard folding chairs, difficult to get down to, and one other person who needed to rhythmically clear his throat as she did. The leader, Evie, a cheerless person seated in the center of a circle of 18 Loners, announced, "The topic today will be sleeping alone. Will someone please talk about it?" Sheila wanted to. Why didn't she? When alone in bed, all she could think about was the empty half. She longed to reach for her husband's hand or to rub her cold toes on his warm calves. A kiss. How lingering a kiss could be! She remembered it as an eternal warming of her now-cold lips. She couldn't bring herself to talk about sleeping alone, the time of night she hated the most. The man seated across from Evie nodded as though he knew what she was asking. He raised his hand to be recognized. "Yes, Fergusen, go ahead." "It feels like I am all alone in the world. The bluest time is in bed. My mind races into my mortality, children, lack of sex, all the emotional nooks and crannies that I try to stay away from. 50

Sheila admired his openness and candor. Only her third meeting, but she felt a closeness to him . . . to his vulnerability. After the meeting, and before the Loners pushed their chairs against the wall, Fergusen cut across the circle toward her. She wasn't in a hurry to leave, but she stood as he approached. "Somehow when I see you here, I don't feel so lonely," he said. "An attractive woman can have that effect. Mind if I walk you to your car? Sheila, isn't it?" She nodded. "That would be nice." As they walked and talked, she wished she had parked further away. Getting to know him was like inhaling freshness after seclusion in stale air. Conversation easy, personal tidbits laced with frankness and humor. "Do you have children?" she asked. "Yes." He laughed. "My son is sixty and and my daughter is fifty-seven. Potty-trained and eating soft foods!" "Same ages as my offspring," she said. "Hard to believe they're that old, almost our contemporaries." She laughed. They lunched and dined together that day and every day for a week. In her late sixties, Sheila stopped thinking about having cosmetic surgery: Forget Botox injections for frown lines, fat-plungers for my sagging stomach. Cellulite be damned, just let me complete my life with all that I came in with. At Loners, she considered that decision with gratitude and validation. She could be valued for her natural self. Pock those thighs all you want! I'm in love. He's eighty-one, I'm seventynine. "I'm lucky to find someone so young," he said to her one evening, his smile underlining his warm humor. "I love your eyes." The eyes I considered bagged and ready to ship out, the eyes that used to be hazel, now spotty brown. But if he loves them, I'll keep the editorializing to myself. One thing I've learned, don r argue with a compliment. "You make me feel young again." She let her short, blondish hair fly in the soft breeze, ignoring her perfect, every-hair-in-place habit. Fergusen had thin hair combed straight back without a part. His hair wasn't coiffed, and not greased . . . at least not much. A few catsup spots on his shirt: "That must have just happened," he said. The last time she pointed out the tear in his jacket seam, he responded, "Oh, I just did that about fouryears ago." His devil-may-care persona, that's what attracted her. She'd lived in the desert 15 years, all but the last five with her husband, an engineer. Fergusen, a desert dweller of 25 years, had become a widower two years ago. Low clouds skimmed the mountain tops. Sheila and Fergusen sat together on a slatted park bench, praising the scene. A daily ritual the past week. Sheila held her legs straight out in front of her. Hiking up her skirt, she considered her 51


Less Than Perfect

L E S S

b y

F r a n

T H A N

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heila counted five walkers, four mobile oxygen tanks, and seared, sun1 scarred faces at the support group meeting of Loners In The Desert. | Scanning the room, she viewed mirrored images of herself: sun-spots, facial creases, and incipient Dowager humps. Age 79, widowed for five years, Sheila knew that living alone did strange things to a person, that she didn't get better, she got more. More selective, picky, and brittle. Thankful to be living alone, she had freedom to burp aloud when she wanted, to eat standing up by the sink, and to skip a meal or a shower when it pleased her. She looked around the room. Soft-cushioned sofas, hard to get up from; six hard folding chairs, difficult to get down to, and one other person who needed to rhythmically clear his throat as she did. The leader, Evie, a cheerless person seated in the center of a circle of 18 Loners, announced, "The topic today will be sleeping alone. Will someone please talk about it?" Sheila wanted to. Why didn't she? When alone in bed, all she could think about was the empty half. She longed to reach for her husband's hand or to rub her cold toes on his warm calves. A kiss. How lingering a kiss could be! She remembered it as an eternal warming of her now-cold lips. She couldn't bring herself to talk about sleeping alone, the time of night she hated the most. The man seated across from Evie nodded as though he knew what she was asking. He raised his hand to be recognized. "Yes, Fergusen, go ahead." "It feels like I am all alone in the world. The bluest time is in bed. My mind races into my mortality, children, lack of sex, all the emotional nooks and crannies that I try to stay away from. 50

Sheila admired his openness and candor. Only her third meeting, but she felt a closeness to him . . . to his vulnerability. After the meeting, and before the Loners pushed their chairs against the wall, Fergusen cut across the circle toward her. She wasn't in a hurry to leave, but she stood as he approached. "Somehow when I see you here, I don't feel so lonely," he said. "An attractive woman can have that effect. Mind if I walk you to your car? Sheila, isn't it?" She nodded. "That would be nice." As they walked and talked, she wished she had parked further away. Getting to know him was like inhaling freshness after seclusion in stale air. Conversation easy, personal tidbits laced with frankness and humor. "Do you have children?" she asked. "Yes." He laughed. "My son is sixty and and my daughter is fifty-seven. Potty-trained and eating soft foods!" "Same ages as my offspring," she said. "Hard to believe they're that old, almost our contemporaries." She laughed. They lunched and dined together that day and every day for a week. In her late sixties, Sheila stopped thinking about having cosmetic surgery: Forget Botox injections for frown lines, fat-plungers for my sagging stomach. Cellulite be damned, just let me complete my life with all that I came in with. At Loners, she considered that decision with gratitude and validation. She could be valued for her natural self. Pock those thighs all you want! I'm in love. He's eighty-one, I'm seventynine. "I'm lucky to find someone so young," he said to her one evening, his smile underlining his warm humor. "I love your eyes." The eyes I considered bagged and ready to ship out, the eyes that used to be hazel, now spotty brown. But if he loves them, I'll keep the editorializing to myself. One thing I've learned, don r argue with a compliment. "You make me feel young again." She let her short, blondish hair fly in the soft breeze, ignoring her perfect, every-hair-in-place habit. Fergusen had thin hair combed straight back without a part. His hair wasn't coiffed, and not greased . . . at least not much. A few catsup spots on his shirt: "That must have just happened," he said. The last time she pointed out the tear in his jacket seam, he responded, "Oh, I just did that about fouryears ago." His devil-may-care persona, that's what attracted her. She'd lived in the desert 15 years, all but the last five with her husband, an engineer. Fergusen, a desert dweller of 25 years, had become a widower two years ago. Low clouds skimmed the mountain tops. Sheila and Fergusen sat together on a slatted park bench, praising the scene. A daily ritual the past week. Sheila held her legs straight out in front of her. Hiking up her skirt, she considered her 51


Berkeley Fiction

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socks. "I've always liked unmatched socks, sometimes even shoes. After all, nature isn't matched. Look at the trees, different sizes and colors." "I feel the same way, that's why I always enjoy your unmatched socks. The left one resembles a Matisse. The right one . . . I'm not quite sure." "How about Van Gogh? Yellow, squiggly lines of primary shades?" "That's it!" Fergusen slipped his hand between her knees, turned to face her, and worked his fingers upward, gently, to where she held her skirt. Sheila knew life as she lived it had changed. Someone who understood her antipathy of matching socks, and her concept of nature. "How do you feel about nightstands? They have to match?" she asked. "The only things that have to match, Sheila, are you and me." He laughed, and trailed his fingers into her panties. "And I think we do." "Right here, on a park bench?" "Correctness be damned." Why not? Who do I have to impress? What is there to wait for? I'm already old enough to do whatever I like. "I think this is correctness, and I'm loving it. Don't stop." Not sure if she'd have an orgasm or an epiphany, Sheila moved nearer.

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'm confused. My mind is a murky stupor, muddled and disorganized. I I'm shivering. How long have I been lying here like this? Groping in the dark, my hand falls upon something. It's warm to my touch, and I recognize its shape and texture. I grasp it and pull, but to my chagrin, there is no give. It is trapped. Its capture angers me. It must be freed. Relax; I must relax before I can continue. Slow down my heart, control my emotions. I inhale the cool, moist air deeply into my lungs, it relaxes me. I'm ready now. Resolve is what I need. I can't give up, it must be freed. My hands are weak; my fingers feel like thin, dry twigs. I slowly tense my arm, feel the blood begin to flow, and flex my hand. I take a stronger grip, and pull. My stomach muscles tense with my efforts. This time there is something. A slight shift, a few inches of movement. I feel my mind begin to relax, and tug again. I hear a low grunt from beside me and suddenly it comes free! Hallelujah and thanks to Jesus. I sigh with relief and pull it over me.

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Berkeley Fiction

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socks. "I've always liked unmatched socks, sometimes even shoes. After all, nature isn't matched. Look at the trees, different sizes and colors." "I feel the same way, that's why I always enjoy your unmatched socks. The left one resembles a Matisse. The right one . . . I'm not quite sure." "How about Van Gogh? Yellow, squiggly lines of primary shades?" "That's it!" Fergusen slipped his hand between her knees, turned to face her, and worked his fingers upward, gently, to where she held her skirt. Sheila knew life as she lived it had changed. Someone who understood her antipathy of matching socks, and her concept of nature. "How do you feel about nightstands? They have to match?" she asked. "The only things that have to match, Sheila, are you and me." He laughed, and trailed his fingers into her panties. "And I think we do." "Right here, on a park bench?" "Correctness be damned." Why not? Who do I have to impress? What is there to wait for? I'm already old enough to do whatever I like. "I think this is correctness, and I'm loving it. Don't stop." Not sure if she'd have an orgasm or an epiphany, Sheila moved nearer.

Second

Place

Sudden

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Winner

S H I F T S

M o o r e

'm confused. My mind is a murky stupor, muddled and disorganized. I I'm shivering. How long have I been lying here like this? Groping in the dark, my hand falls upon something. It's warm to my touch, and I recognize its shape and texture. I grasp it and pull, but to my chagrin, there is no give. It is trapped. Its capture angers me. It must be freed. Relax; I must relax before I can continue. Slow down my heart, control my emotions. I inhale the cool, moist air deeply into my lungs, it relaxes me. I'm ready now. Resolve is what I need. I can't give up, it must be freed. My hands are weak; my fingers feel like thin, dry twigs. I slowly tense my arm, feel the blood begin to flow, and flex my hand. I take a stronger grip, and pull. My stomach muscles tense with my efforts. This time there is something. A slight shift, a few inches of movement. I feel my mind begin to relax, and tug again. I hear a low grunt from beside me and suddenly it comes free! Hallelujah and thanks to Jesus. I sigh with relief and pull it over me.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Every damn night, I think, readjusting the blanket around me. We need separate beds.

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"Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite." - Jorge Luis Borges "The Library of Babel" [Deadpan Conversation "That's a deep pit." "Yes, it is." "Bottomless." "So they say." "It's been proven." "They used a rope." "A rope?" "A long, long rope." "No bottom?" "None at all." "How'd it get that way?" "No one knows." "Just opened up." "Just opened up?" "Just opened up." "That's a deep pit."

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Berkeley Fiction Review Every damn night, I think, readjusting the blanket around me. We need separate beds.

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"Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite." - Jorge Luis Borges "The Library of Babel" [Deadpan Conversation "That's a deep pit." "Yes, it is." "Bottomless." "So they say." "It's been proven." "They used a rope." "A rope?" "A long, long rope." "No bottom?" "None at all." "How'd it get that way?" "No one knows." "Just opened up." "Just opened up?" "Just opened up." "That's a deep pit."

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Berkeley Fiction Review Proof of the Existence of Bottomless Pits A man at a desk holding a piece of paper says: "To prove that the Knoxville Void is actually a bottomless pit, a team of anthropologists and geologists determined where on Earth the other side of the hole would be. With this location set, one part of the team lowered a rope ten times as long as the pit could be deep. Since the other team did not receive any of the rope, the Knoxville Void was declared a bottomless pit." Footage of this action is displayed on a small screen to the left of the man. Singularity A man fell into a pit today. Dropped like a stone. It was the strangest thing... He was walking slowly, randomly through World's Fair Park. Because of the sun-glare he could only be seen in silhouette. The shadow, like an optic disk in the atmosphere, played upon the world almost imperceptibly. Then the earth j opened beneath it. His hatfloated around above the hole for a bit. But then it fell, too. Arguments for and against Nicholas Copernicus, known for his Heliocentric Theory which proved that the earth was not the center of the universe, penned the original draft of what is now called the "Finite Planet, Finite Pit" Argument near the end of his life. Similar to the creation of the Heliocentric Theory, other scientists have since tweaked the treatise; the Copernican version, however, states the main idea: that earth is a finite planet, and therefore cannot contain an infinite structure. If by no other means, a pit that opened in the vicinity of the North Pole and continued directly through the crust, the mantle, and the core would still find its conclusion in the South Pole and the vacuum of space. Although technically it would be without an earthen bottom, the pit would still cease, since the entire expanse of space could not be considered part of the pit. Unlike his Heliocentric Theory, Copernicus' bottomless pit article was not found until years after his death. In place of this pragmatic theory, manifold arguments arose and held precedence amongst various groups of thinkers: Plato's "No Shadow" Argument (stating that we could not see the shadow of a bottomless pit in the allegorical cave); Aristotle's "It's Not a Pit Without a Bottom" Argument; Saint Thomas Aquinas' "Aristotelian God" Argument (wherein he agrees with Aristotle, but includes the Christian deity and Right Reason in the wording); Descartes' "Solipsistic Pit" Argument (remarking that since he was not falling through an abyss sans bottom, bottomless pits must not exist) which he later replaced with his "Good God, No Pit" Argument (proclaiming that a good God would not construct such a diabolical thing); Locke's and Hume's "What Pit? I Don't See Any Pit" Argument; Kant's "Categorical Imperative Against Bottomless Pits" (elucidating the fact that since a pit could not expect all pits to be bottomless, 56

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit no pits should be bottomless); and finally, Sartre's "Lack of Responsibility" Argument (quoting, "People fabricate bottomless pits in their minds so they need not take responsibility for their actions"). Until the opening of the Knoxville Void, the sole pro bottomless pit argument came from Saint Anselm, who deduced that, "Since we can conceive of no pit deeper than one without a bottom, then behold, bottomless pits must exist." Observations on the Bottomless Pit "Oh, they exist. You can bet on it. The government doesn't want you to think they do, but they do. They're everywhere. They can open up at any time in any place. You'll never know where. You could be walking down the street and, BOOM!, a bottomless pit opens underneath you. And what are you going to do about it? A guy I knew put a map together of where all the pits will open because somehow he figured the conspiracy out, but the government came and took him away. He... knew too much. They drove flying cars. They spoke in no human language. They wore all black. It wasfreaky,man. Freaky..." *** "Friend a mine fell inna one a them-thar bottomless pits. He'd been a drinkin' whisky and I done tole him to stay away from them-thar wells since they done got plenty bottomless pits around 'em. But 'ol Roscoe didn't listen, so's he up and fell in. Had to winch him out with ma truck." *** "The Lord God in Heaven could, at any time, decide to cast all of us into the Bottomless Pit, and there is nothing we could do about it. Those who have Fallen, then, deserve their fate because it was designed for them by the Almighty; as for us, those who have not Fallen, we should get down on our knees and pray to thank the Lord that He has not decided to banish us into the Abyss." *** "The Bottomless Pits, dude! They're the greatest band there ever was! I remember this one concert of theirs in Hotlanta, man, it was the best concert I ever been to. We were drinking beers and doin' shots and smokin' a little weed... not too much, man. Don't want to get roughed up by one a them bouncers. Those guys are huge...But the Bottomless Pits in Hotlanta, that was the most righteous show of all time. They played 'The Wind Will Blow' with that really cool guitar solo, and they did a cover of that Alice in Chains song, 'Down in a Hole,' and they did that creepy,' Sink or Swim,' and 'Like a Stone,' and their encore was my favorite song of all time, man:' Soar Above the Rest.' I mean what else could you ask for, dude? Guess they coulda played "Ah-Ah-Ahhhh," but... The Bottomless Pits and getting wasted. That's what it's all about." *** "There are no bottomless pits. Not even the Knoxville Void. It's just a big hole. The whole infinite abyss thing is all a hoax." 57


Berkeley Fiction Review Proof of the Existence of Bottomless Pits A man at a desk holding a piece of paper says: "To prove that the Knoxville Void is actually a bottomless pit, a team of anthropologists and geologists determined where on Earth the other side of the hole would be. With this location set, one part of the team lowered a rope ten times as long as the pit could be deep. Since the other team did not receive any of the rope, the Knoxville Void was declared a bottomless pit." Footage of this action is displayed on a small screen to the left of the man. Singularity A man fell into a pit today. Dropped like a stone. It was the strangest thing... He was walking slowly, randomly through World's Fair Park. Because of the sun-glare he could only be seen in silhouette. The shadow, like an optic disk in the atmosphere, played upon the world almost imperceptibly. Then the earth j opened beneath it. His hatfloated around above the hole for a bit. But then it fell, too. Arguments for and against Nicholas Copernicus, known for his Heliocentric Theory which proved that the earth was not the center of the universe, penned the original draft of what is now called the "Finite Planet, Finite Pit" Argument near the end of his life. Similar to the creation of the Heliocentric Theory, other scientists have since tweaked the treatise; the Copernican version, however, states the main idea: that earth is a finite planet, and therefore cannot contain an infinite structure. If by no other means, a pit that opened in the vicinity of the North Pole and continued directly through the crust, the mantle, and the core would still find its conclusion in the South Pole and the vacuum of space. Although technically it would be without an earthen bottom, the pit would still cease, since the entire expanse of space could not be considered part of the pit. Unlike his Heliocentric Theory, Copernicus' bottomless pit article was not found until years after his death. In place of this pragmatic theory, manifold arguments arose and held precedence amongst various groups of thinkers: Plato's "No Shadow" Argument (stating that we could not see the shadow of a bottomless pit in the allegorical cave); Aristotle's "It's Not a Pit Without a Bottom" Argument; Saint Thomas Aquinas' "Aristotelian God" Argument (wherein he agrees with Aristotle, but includes the Christian deity and Right Reason in the wording); Descartes' "Solipsistic Pit" Argument (remarking that since he was not falling through an abyss sans bottom, bottomless pits must not exist) which he later replaced with his "Good God, No Pit" Argument (proclaiming that a good God would not construct such a diabolical thing); Locke's and Hume's "What Pit? I Don't See Any Pit" Argument; Kant's "Categorical Imperative Against Bottomless Pits" (elucidating the fact that since a pit could not expect all pits to be bottomless, 56

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit no pits should be bottomless); and finally, Sartre's "Lack of Responsibility" Argument (quoting, "People fabricate bottomless pits in their minds so they need not take responsibility for their actions"). Until the opening of the Knoxville Void, the sole pro bottomless pit argument came from Saint Anselm, who deduced that, "Since we can conceive of no pit deeper than one without a bottom, then behold, bottomless pits must exist." Observations on the Bottomless Pit "Oh, they exist. You can bet on it. The government doesn't want you to think they do, but they do. They're everywhere. They can open up at any time in any place. You'll never know where. You could be walking down the street and, BOOM!, a bottomless pit opens underneath you. And what are you going to do about it? A guy I knew put a map together of where all the pits will open because somehow he figured the conspiracy out, but the government came and took him away. He... knew too much. They drove flying cars. They spoke in no human language. They wore all black. It wasfreaky,man. Freaky..." *** "Friend a mine fell inna one a them-thar bottomless pits. He'd been a drinkin' whisky and I done tole him to stay away from them-thar wells since they done got plenty bottomless pits around 'em. But 'ol Roscoe didn't listen, so's he up and fell in. Had to winch him out with ma truck." *** "The Lord God in Heaven could, at any time, decide to cast all of us into the Bottomless Pit, and there is nothing we could do about it. Those who have Fallen, then, deserve their fate because it was designed for them by the Almighty; as for us, those who have not Fallen, we should get down on our knees and pray to thank the Lord that He has not decided to banish us into the Abyss." *** "The Bottomless Pits, dude! They're the greatest band there ever was! I remember this one concert of theirs in Hotlanta, man, it was the best concert I ever been to. We were drinking beers and doin' shots and smokin' a little weed... not too much, man. Don't want to get roughed up by one a them bouncers. Those guys are huge...But the Bottomless Pits in Hotlanta, that was the most righteous show of all time. They played 'The Wind Will Blow' with that really cool guitar solo, and they did a cover of that Alice in Chains song, 'Down in a Hole,' and they did that creepy,' Sink or Swim,' and 'Like a Stone,' and their encore was my favorite song of all time, man:' Soar Above the Rest.' I mean what else could you ask for, dude? Guess they coulda played "Ah-Ah-Ahhhh," but... The Bottomless Pits and getting wasted. That's what it's all about." *** "There are no bottomless pits. Not even the Knoxville Void. It's just a big hole. The whole infinite abyss thing is all a hoax." 57


Berkeley Fiction Review *** "Bottomless pits? I'll tell you what a bottomless pit is: WorldRon. You have any stock in WorldRon? A stinking abyss if I ever saw one. People kept dumping money into it, but somehow it just all disappeared into the void. And all the money shoveled into the pit, well I' 11 be damned if it didn't turn into somebody's golden parachute. Like the mucky-mucks convinced the schmucks into jumping, but the mucky-mucks had jet packs and laughed as everyone else went screaming down, cheated." *** "I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have fallen into that terrible, terrible hole. Theirs is truly a tragic life. Falling for eternity, oh the horror. And if you will elect me as Mayor of Knoxville, I will do everything in my power to make the lives of the Fallers better, more livable. Hopefully, one day, we will be able to rescue the Fallers from their collective fates; hopefully we will be able to close up the abyss and make the future safe for our children. Indeed, I have a stake in this myself; you see, my brother fell into a bottomless pit..." Photonsphere The mostly blue light of the television flickers on the man's face. He sits immobile, occasionally raising the remote to change the station. The current show tells him that the Sunsphere is a tower, 1000 feet tall, consisting of a glowing golden orb and a green shaft. Surrounded by static electric blue lightning because it channels energy, the Sunsphere shines day and night. Visitors are equipped with rubber suits to avoid electrocution. From the acme, visitors can view the Knoxville Void. Of particular interest is the nightly dance around the bottomless pit. Performed by fifty ballet experts dressed in bright white, the dance consists of a circle formed nine meters away from thepit. When the dexterous adepts move, it appears as if the hole is spinning and the dancers are remaining perfectly still. What to Do in Case It is, of course, best to avoid falling into a bottomless pit. But since most eschew them, it is unknown how anyone falls into one in the first place; and then, since those who do fall into them forget how the event came about... If you should find yourself descending through a bottomless pit, here is a helpful tip on what you should do: Fall. Fall with grace, with clumsiness, with aplomb, without any plums, with agility, awkwardness, dramatic gravity, comic ridiculousness, seriously, ironically, sanely, insanely, on the outskirts of Sanely, as if this had all happened before (likened to deja vu), as if none of this has ever happened before, with religious zeal, with atheistic cynicism, with style and class, with churlish indifference, with purpose, 58

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit haphazardly, as if you were born to fall, as if you had taken up falling as a pastime in old age, as if you were looking forward to falling, as if you always dreaded falling (but knew there was no escaping it), like your parents told you to, expressly against your parents' wishes, like a stone, like a brick, like a pillow, like a feather, like a feather pillow, like a penguin who thought he could fly, like an eagle who has forgotten how, with intelligence, with stupidity, like a dandy, like a tough guy, like Horatio Alger, like Socrates, not like Socrates, the way you were taught in school, as you learned away from or in spite of school, with a catfish, with any number of aquatic animals (perhaps they will keep you company), in the manner of King Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round, as a Shakespearean actor would, as a Samuel Beckett actor would, this way, that way, the other way, however you damn well please. Just fall. The direction in which you should fall: Downwards. Falling upwards is impossible, for falling upwards is flying. Telephonic Repartee "Hello." "What?!" "Hello!" "Oh, hi!" "How's the weather today in your part of the pit?!" "Oh, fine!" "Fine?! That's swell." "Perhaps a bit windy." "Well, you'll have that." "Yes, you will. How about in yours?" "Oh, fine, I guess. If you like that sort of weather." "Yes, it is a subjective experience." "That it is, that it is." "So..." "So, indeed." "What are you doing today?" "Well, I thought I'd plant some begonias and George and I were thinking of seeing amovie..." "What movie?" "Oh, maybe Bottomless Pit." "I didn't know you were into action movies." "Well, George is and I'll watch just about anything...It's supposed to have a love story in it, too." "Oh... Maud?" "Yes, Gladys." 59


Berkeley Fiction Review *** "Bottomless pits? I'll tell you what a bottomless pit is: WorldRon. You have any stock in WorldRon? A stinking abyss if I ever saw one. People kept dumping money into it, but somehow it just all disappeared into the void. And all the money shoveled into the pit, well I' 11 be damned if it didn't turn into somebody's golden parachute. Like the mucky-mucks convinced the schmucks into jumping, but the mucky-mucks had jet packs and laughed as everyone else went screaming down, cheated." *** "I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those who have fallen into that terrible, terrible hole. Theirs is truly a tragic life. Falling for eternity, oh the horror. And if you will elect me as Mayor of Knoxville, I will do everything in my power to make the lives of the Fallers better, more livable. Hopefully, one day, we will be able to rescue the Fallers from their collective fates; hopefully we will be able to close up the abyss and make the future safe for our children. Indeed, I have a stake in this myself; you see, my brother fell into a bottomless pit..." Photonsphere The mostly blue light of the television flickers on the man's face. He sits immobile, occasionally raising the remote to change the station. The current show tells him that the Sunsphere is a tower, 1000 feet tall, consisting of a glowing golden orb and a green shaft. Surrounded by static electric blue lightning because it channels energy, the Sunsphere shines day and night. Visitors are equipped with rubber suits to avoid electrocution. From the acme, visitors can view the Knoxville Void. Of particular interest is the nightly dance around the bottomless pit. Performed by fifty ballet experts dressed in bright white, the dance consists of a circle formed nine meters away from thepit. When the dexterous adepts move, it appears as if the hole is spinning and the dancers are remaining perfectly still. What to Do in Case It is, of course, best to avoid falling into a bottomless pit. But since most eschew them, it is unknown how anyone falls into one in the first place; and then, since those who do fall into them forget how the event came about... If you should find yourself descending through a bottomless pit, here is a helpful tip on what you should do: Fall. Fall with grace, with clumsiness, with aplomb, without any plums, with agility, awkwardness, dramatic gravity, comic ridiculousness, seriously, ironically, sanely, insanely, on the outskirts of Sanely, as if this had all happened before (likened to deja vu), as if none of this has ever happened before, with religious zeal, with atheistic cynicism, with style and class, with churlish indifference, with purpose, 58

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit haphazardly, as if you were born to fall, as if you had taken up falling as a pastime in old age, as if you were looking forward to falling, as if you always dreaded falling (but knew there was no escaping it), like your parents told you to, expressly against your parents' wishes, like a stone, like a brick, like a pillow, like a feather, like a feather pillow, like a penguin who thought he could fly, like an eagle who has forgotten how, with intelligence, with stupidity, like a dandy, like a tough guy, like Horatio Alger, like Socrates, not like Socrates, the way you were taught in school, as you learned away from or in spite of school, with a catfish, with any number of aquatic animals (perhaps they will keep you company), in the manner of King Arthur and his Knights of the Table Round, as a Shakespearean actor would, as a Samuel Beckett actor would, this way, that way, the other way, however you damn well please. Just fall. The direction in which you should fall: Downwards. Falling upwards is impossible, for falling upwards is flying. Telephonic Repartee "Hello." "What?!" "Hello!" "Oh, hi!" "How's the weather today in your part of the pit?!" "Oh, fine!" "Fine?! That's swell." "Perhaps a bit windy." "Well, you'll have that." "Yes, you will. How about in yours?" "Oh, fine, I guess. If you like that sort of weather." "Yes, it is a subjective experience." "That it is, that it is." "So..." "So, indeed." "What are you doing today?" "Well, I thought I'd plant some begonias and George and I were thinking of seeing amovie..." "What movie?" "Oh, maybe Bottomless Pit." "I didn't know you were into action movies." "Well, George is and I'll watch just about anything...It's supposed to have a love story in it, too." "Oh... Maud?" "Yes, Gladys." 59


Berkeley Fiction Review Never.. .never mind. It was nice talking to you.' 'You too, Maud." 'All right. Goodbye." 'Maud? Maud?" 'Are you still there?"

Schwarzchild Radius Occasionally, it appears as if there are an infinite number of channels which all show an infinite number of shows, but the variations between the shows are infinitesimal, he movies, the reality shows, the sitcoms, the soap operas, the talk shows, the science shows, the dramas, the comedies, even the commercials all blend together. And the man continues to sit in the blue light, occasionally raising the remote to add yet another modification of negligible proportions to the conglomerate program. On the television, there are images of a botched construction project and this voiceover: "After the pit was found to be bottomless, the citizens of Knoxville decided that it would be best to seal the hole in order to keep people from becoming Fallers. An argument arose, however, in response to the fact that feathers in the bottomless pit are supposed to allow Fallers to attain weightlessness and ultimately to fry out of the pit. It was then determined that a hole should remain, although a small one, an ocular escape hatch. During the construction of the cap, however, many construction workers and supplies were accidentally dropped into the pit. The project has been put on hold until a better architectural plan can be worked out." Terminal Velocity An object falling through an atmosphere has a terminal velocity: a point where the wind resistance upwards is equal to the gravitational pull downwards; once an object attains terminal velocity, it can travel no faster unless acted upon by another force. In a bottomless pit, however, terminal velocity does not exist because gravity exerts an exponentially increasing force upon a descending object. The Parallel Universe Theory of Multi-Dimensional Science explains this exponential gravitational increase. Obviously it would be impossible for an infinite pit to exist within a finite space, much as Copernicus explained. Hence the overlap of dimensions containing parallel universes within the Knoxville Void makes continuous descent possible. For whenever an object begins to fall into a pit which contains a dimensional overlap, a dimension containing a universe exactly parallel to our own, that object will always, no matter the dimension, continue to fall through a pit that has dimensional overlaps containing parallel universes. If 60

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the falling object were to suddenly appear outside of an abyss, then that object would not have fallen through a bottomless pit, nor would it be entering parallel universes, it merely would have descended through a deep crevasse with a universal warp inside. As an object descends through a bottomless pit, each time it enters a new dimension, its speed is calculated as zero since the object is new to that particular time and space. Gravity, therefore, will begin to push on the object as if it had not been falling at all. This is similar to dropping a baseball off of the Empire State Building, and when the baseball has traveled the length of the building, someone catches it and immediately drops it off of another Empire State Building. The difference in the bottomless pit is that the "catching" is theoretical, is simply the entering of the object into another dimension. An object descending through the bottomless pit, then, is constantly achieving its maximum potential and kinetic energy states, since at any time it is falling as fast as it can, yet it is also in a state of rest compared with the amount of falling it will encounter less than a second into the future. This state of maximum potential and kinetic energy coincides with the psychological assertion that Fallers experience a constant fluctuation of feelings, ranging from deep depression ("I am at my maximum potential") to high-flying giddiness ("My speed will forever increase from here"). Theorists do question whether or not objects descending through abysses, although they do not have states of terminal velocity, will catch fire and be torn asunder, like meteorites. Unlike meteorites, however, an object falling through a bottomless pit does not have to deal with friction. For once an object encroaches upon a critical state, it instantly appears in yet another dimension where its friction level is calculated as zero, where there is no danger, there is merely more falling. New Fallers No one remembers when he or she began falling (those that do are called prevaricators or artistes), or how or why he or she fell because of Faller Memory Degeneration (FMD). If you are a Faller, when you first begin your descent into the bottomless pit, you are struck with the notion that you should not be cascading through a hole, you should be... But where should you be? You cannot recall. A legion of facts and fantasies swim around in your disoriented brain, but you cannot sort them out; you cannot make sense of them. You feel as if your previous life vanished; or, more accurately, as if it were sucked out by a vortex, a black hole. Now you must deal with your predicament, but you have no idea how and no memories of helpful situations, similes, metaphors, anecdotes, pieces of traditional wisdom that can assist you. As you fall, you look for the help of veteran Fallers. You descend faster than most veteran Fallers because you have not yet acquired any feathers. But you find 61


Berkeley Fiction Review Never.. .never mind. It was nice talking to you.' 'You too, Maud." 'All right. Goodbye." 'Maud? Maud?" 'Are you still there?"

Schwarzchild Radius Occasionally, it appears as if there are an infinite number of channels which all show an infinite number of shows, but the variations between the shows are infinitesimal, he movies, the reality shows, the sitcoms, the soap operas, the talk shows, the science shows, the dramas, the comedies, even the commercials all blend together. And the man continues to sit in the blue light, occasionally raising the remote to add yet another modification of negligible proportions to the conglomerate program. On the television, there are images of a botched construction project and this voiceover: "After the pit was found to be bottomless, the citizens of Knoxville decided that it would be best to seal the hole in order to keep people from becoming Fallers. An argument arose, however, in response to the fact that feathers in the bottomless pit are supposed to allow Fallers to attain weightlessness and ultimately to fry out of the pit. It was then determined that a hole should remain, although a small one, an ocular escape hatch. During the construction of the cap, however, many construction workers and supplies were accidentally dropped into the pit. The project has been put on hold until a better architectural plan can be worked out." Terminal Velocity An object falling through an atmosphere has a terminal velocity: a point where the wind resistance upwards is equal to the gravitational pull downwards; once an object attains terminal velocity, it can travel no faster unless acted upon by another force. In a bottomless pit, however, terminal velocity does not exist because gravity exerts an exponentially increasing force upon a descending object. The Parallel Universe Theory of Multi-Dimensional Science explains this exponential gravitational increase. Obviously it would be impossible for an infinite pit to exist within a finite space, much as Copernicus explained. Hence the overlap of dimensions containing parallel universes within the Knoxville Void makes continuous descent possible. For whenever an object begins to fall into a pit which contains a dimensional overlap, a dimension containing a universe exactly parallel to our own, that object will always, no matter the dimension, continue to fall through a pit that has dimensional overlaps containing parallel universes. If 60

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the falling object were to suddenly appear outside of an abyss, then that object would not have fallen through a bottomless pit, nor would it be entering parallel universes, it merely would have descended through a deep crevasse with a universal warp inside. As an object descends through a bottomless pit, each time it enters a new dimension, its speed is calculated as zero since the object is new to that particular time and space. Gravity, therefore, will begin to push on the object as if it had not been falling at all. This is similar to dropping a baseball off of the Empire State Building, and when the baseball has traveled the length of the building, someone catches it and immediately drops it off of another Empire State Building. The difference in the bottomless pit is that the "catching" is theoretical, is simply the entering of the object into another dimension. An object descending through the bottomless pit, then, is constantly achieving its maximum potential and kinetic energy states, since at any time it is falling as fast as it can, yet it is also in a state of rest compared with the amount of falling it will encounter less than a second into the future. This state of maximum potential and kinetic energy coincides with the psychological assertion that Fallers experience a constant fluctuation of feelings, ranging from deep depression ("I am at my maximum potential") to high-flying giddiness ("My speed will forever increase from here"). Theorists do question whether or not objects descending through abysses, although they do not have states of terminal velocity, will catch fire and be torn asunder, like meteorites. Unlike meteorites, however, an object falling through a bottomless pit does not have to deal with friction. For once an object encroaches upon a critical state, it instantly appears in yet another dimension where its friction level is calculated as zero, where there is no danger, there is merely more falling. New Fallers No one remembers when he or she began falling (those that do are called prevaricators or artistes), or how or why he or she fell because of Faller Memory Degeneration (FMD). If you are a Faller, when you first begin your descent into the bottomless pit, you are struck with the notion that you should not be cascading through a hole, you should be... But where should you be? You cannot recall. A legion of facts and fantasies swim around in your disoriented brain, but you cannot sort them out; you cannot make sense of them. You feel as if your previous life vanished; or, more accurately, as if it were sucked out by a vortex, a black hole. Now you must deal with your predicament, but you have no idea how and no memories of helpful situations, similes, metaphors, anecdotes, pieces of traditional wisdom that can assist you. As you fall, you look for the help of veteran Fallers. You descend faster than most veteran Fallers because you have not yet acquired any feathers. But you find 61


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the veterans to be of little help anyway because of acute cases of FMD. When you ask them about Falling, they look at you as ifyou were crazy, they tell extraordinary lies, they weave incomprehensible stories, they proffer useless bits of advice, they ignore you. Once you understand that veteran intelligence lacks salience, you take to watching the veterans. In their movements, they are instructional. Here you discover the importance of feathers and debris, of the constant mood swings, of the various societies descending through the pit. You perhaps decide to become a Stone or a Toiler or a Flyer. Perhaps you don't decide yet. It's early. You're falling so fast. You're a New Faller. There is much to experience, although all experiences are difficult and subjective because of the soaring and crushing nature of your emotions. The combination of depression and giddiness is dizzying. The former emotion emanates from the fear of death; the latter from cheating it. When you first fell into the pit you did a great deal of screaming. You followed your screaming with periods of absolute silence. These reactions are normal, since you are in a constant state of vertigo where, although you are already falling, you forever believe that you are about to fall again. The veterans in the pit can be expected to either ignore your screaming, or to mockingly join in. Hopefully early on you will meet a person with a mild case of FMD. These rare Fallers remember everything but how they got into the pit and usually have control over their emotions; yet they are a somber group, spending much of their days talking to themselves or to their pets, wishing they could find a solution to this problem without an answer. Accretion Disk After watching television in a windowless room for a certain amount of time, the worldfalls away. The darkness of the atmosphere is ubiquitous and can only ever be penetrated by the blue. There is no universe outside of one s own. Experience and knowledge are the same, and both are attained through the box which, itself, vanishes; the images then play in the watcher's brain like dreams. With a wry grin, the woman in the box says: "Although the Rope Test proved that the Knoxville Void is bottomless, there is a group forming opposing the results. At this time their numbers are small. They are expected to march on Worlds Fair Park to refute the pit's bottomlessness, citing Copernicus' Finite Planet, Finite Pit' Argument." The 8:15PMShowing of'Bottomless Pit: the Movie On the screen a cage is hanging over the bottomless pit, with a woman inside and a vile henchman outside whose hand is on a lever that apparently controls the I cage's trapdoor. "Oh, the Diabolical Villain's Henchman is going to throw me into the Bottomless Pit! Whatever shall I do," says Cleverly Bra-ed Heroine. "Wooh-hoo!" says the Horny Teenager watching the movie. 62

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit "Smack," says the hand of the Horny Teenager's Logical Friend. "Can't you see it's all tape and padding, smoke and mirrors?" "Damn," says the Horny Teenager. "Bladow," says the .50 Desert Eagle being wielded in one hand by Handsome Hero. "Woh-ooooh. Ahhhhhh!" says the Vile Henchman, as he falls into the pit. "Cool line," says Handsome Hero. "My Hero," says Cleverly Bra-ed Heroine. "Boo! Boo!" says the Horny Teenager's Logical Friend. "Not all people in bottomless pits are henchmen of diabolical villains," says the Credits of the movie. "Aww," says Horny Teenager. The Bottom of the Bottomless Pit If you are a Stone, you fill your pockets with debris so you drop more rapidly. Owning no feathers, you sink even quicker than the New Fallers, descending through cascading communities, perhaps making friends, perhaps not, hoarding more and more items, who cares what they are?, get all the debris you can, gain all the speed you can, you are a kind, reticent person and for the brief period of time you are in a community you help out in small ways, perhaps fixing something no one knew was broken until you quietly slip out without saying goodbye to anyone (at least not making a big production of it) and they say, well my goodness I don't think this thing's worked in years, and the only long-term pals you have are other Stones who keep falling with you, but if they decide to become Toilers or even Flyers, then you leave them behind, making your own small transient community accelerating to light speed (which no one has ever achieved), always wishing for the conclusion, the place you will soundlessly and calmly descend to, the place that will mark the end of your falling, that expanse of beautiful turf, that soil, that ground, that base where there will be wondering why no more, that colorful, joyful, blithe zone where you will not have to undergo a dropping death leaving behind a descending decaying celeritous corpse, that land that lacks anxiety: the bottom. You wish for the bottom. But there is no bottom. It's a bottomless pit. Binary Pair Steady breathing and drooping eyes show that he is only half-awake. Lethargy's hold tightens. An omnipresent buzzing sound, perhaps from the television, lulls him to sleep, absorbing his energy. The blue says: "The Finite Pit March, at first assumed to be a minor movement, is building in intensity. We take you now to our on-the-spot reporter." "The star HDE226868 taught us that the X-ray source Cygnm X-l was 63


Berkeley Fiction

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the veterans to be of little help anyway because of acute cases of FMD. When you ask them about Falling, they look at you as ifyou were crazy, they tell extraordinary lies, they weave incomprehensible stories, they proffer useless bits of advice, they ignore you. Once you understand that veteran intelligence lacks salience, you take to watching the veterans. In their movements, they are instructional. Here you discover the importance of feathers and debris, of the constant mood swings, of the various societies descending through the pit. You perhaps decide to become a Stone or a Toiler or a Flyer. Perhaps you don't decide yet. It's early. You're falling so fast. You're a New Faller. There is much to experience, although all experiences are difficult and subjective because of the soaring and crushing nature of your emotions. The combination of depression and giddiness is dizzying. The former emotion emanates from the fear of death; the latter from cheating it. When you first fell into the pit you did a great deal of screaming. You followed your screaming with periods of absolute silence. These reactions are normal, since you are in a constant state of vertigo where, although you are already falling, you forever believe that you are about to fall again. The veterans in the pit can be expected to either ignore your screaming, or to mockingly join in. Hopefully early on you will meet a person with a mild case of FMD. These rare Fallers remember everything but how they got into the pit and usually have control over their emotions; yet they are a somber group, spending much of their days talking to themselves or to their pets, wishing they could find a solution to this problem without an answer. Accretion Disk After watching television in a windowless room for a certain amount of time, the worldfalls away. The darkness of the atmosphere is ubiquitous and can only ever be penetrated by the blue. There is no universe outside of one s own. Experience and knowledge are the same, and both are attained through the box which, itself, vanishes; the images then play in the watcher's brain like dreams. With a wry grin, the woman in the box says: "Although the Rope Test proved that the Knoxville Void is bottomless, there is a group forming opposing the results. At this time their numbers are small. They are expected to march on Worlds Fair Park to refute the pit's bottomlessness, citing Copernicus' Finite Planet, Finite Pit' Argument." The 8:15PMShowing of'Bottomless Pit: the Movie On the screen a cage is hanging over the bottomless pit, with a woman inside and a vile henchman outside whose hand is on a lever that apparently controls the I cage's trapdoor. "Oh, the Diabolical Villain's Henchman is going to throw me into the Bottomless Pit! Whatever shall I do," says Cleverly Bra-ed Heroine. "Wooh-hoo!" says the Horny Teenager watching the movie. 62

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit "Smack," says the hand of the Horny Teenager's Logical Friend. "Can't you see it's all tape and padding, smoke and mirrors?" "Damn," says the Horny Teenager. "Bladow," says the .50 Desert Eagle being wielded in one hand by Handsome Hero. "Woh-ooooh. Ahhhhhh!" says the Vile Henchman, as he falls into the pit. "Cool line," says Handsome Hero. "My Hero," says Cleverly Bra-ed Heroine. "Boo! Boo!" says the Horny Teenager's Logical Friend. "Not all people in bottomless pits are henchmen of diabolical villains," says the Credits of the movie. "Aww," says Horny Teenager. The Bottom of the Bottomless Pit If you are a Stone, you fill your pockets with debris so you drop more rapidly. Owning no feathers, you sink even quicker than the New Fallers, descending through cascading communities, perhaps making friends, perhaps not, hoarding more and more items, who cares what they are?, get all the debris you can, gain all the speed you can, you are a kind, reticent person and for the brief period of time you are in a community you help out in small ways, perhaps fixing something no one knew was broken until you quietly slip out without saying goodbye to anyone (at least not making a big production of it) and they say, well my goodness I don't think this thing's worked in years, and the only long-term pals you have are other Stones who keep falling with you, but if they decide to become Toilers or even Flyers, then you leave them behind, making your own small transient community accelerating to light speed (which no one has ever achieved), always wishing for the conclusion, the place you will soundlessly and calmly descend to, the place that will mark the end of your falling, that expanse of beautiful turf, that soil, that ground, that base where there will be wondering why no more, that colorful, joyful, blithe zone where you will not have to undergo a dropping death leaving behind a descending decaying celeritous corpse, that land that lacks anxiety: the bottom. You wish for the bottom. But there is no bottom. It's a bottomless pit. Binary Pair Steady breathing and drooping eyes show that he is only half-awake. Lethargy's hold tightens. An omnipresent buzzing sound, perhaps from the television, lulls him to sleep, absorbing his energy. The blue says: "The Finite Pit March, at first assumed to be a minor movement, is building in intensity. We take you now to our on-the-spot reporter." "The star HDE226868 taught us that the X-ray source Cygnm X-l was 63


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The Physics of the Bottomless Pit

probably a black hole. How did it teach us? Well, for one, we found HDE226868 orbiting Cygnus X-I. Since HDE226868 is a supergiant star, whatever it was orbiting had to be more massive. Also, we found that Cygnus X-l was actually pulling material off of its companion star. It moved, therefore, because something much more massive was tugging on it. That something is what we now call a 'black hole.' And nothing can escape a black hole, not even electromagnetic radiation."

Personality Test Question I believe bottomless pits exist. 1. Strongly agree 2. Agree 3. No opinion 4. Disagree 5. Strongly disagree

Speeches Next to the Bottomless Pit "Why'd...why'd you have to go and do it? Why'd...why'd you leave me behind? You could've told me. You could've. Wasn't I always there for you? Wasn't I? Huh? Answer me! Please. Come on. Please. I don't understand. Why'd...why'd..." *** "Hey, did someone order this pizza? Hello? Hello! I know someone ordered this pizza. There ain't any other bottomless pits in town. If you don't come up and get it right now, I'm outta here. I'm leaving. Just watch me... Why do I always get stuck with the stupid orders to the bottomless pit?" *** "What else is there? I've tried everything, haven't I? Now it's just so boring. Anew life. Anew chance. Something...It's gotta be better, right? Yeah. I figure. But I don't know. Who does? Anyone? We're all baffled. We really are." *** "To be, or not to be..." *** "If there is an 'Andrew Farkas' down there, and I believe there is, he still owes $30,000 on his student loans. If anyone can hear me, please let him know." *** "Nietzsche says you're supposed to talk back or something. So...say something. You don't do anything. You're just a hole. And abyss, that's just a fancy word for hole. Don't go thinking you're all high and mighty, then... Well? Why don't you talk? Say something1.1 come here everyday, sit on the edge, and talk. But what do you do? Nothing. You can change all that, you know? Tell me why I come here everyday. Tell me! I want to know. You're not all that interesting, you know? You're a hole! How intriguing can that be? Not very intriguing at all. And I don't care how deep you are.. .Caves. Now caves, they're fun. Hole, I hate to tell you this, but you're no fun at all." *** "Wohh. Wo-oh-ohhh. Ahhhhhhlihhhhh!" *** "Deep enough for ya? Har har har har har!"

A Money Making Opportunity Jake Butcher, the bankrupt ex-convict who brought the World's Fair to Knoxville in 1982, is now attempting to become an energy mogul by harnessing the power inherent in the bottomless pit. He says that his plan will help the Knoxville community and the Fallers. His plan is to create Anthroelectric power, which will be similar to hydroelectric power; instead of rushing water turning turbines, however, falling human beings will be used to generate electricity. "Anthroelectric power," says Butcher, "will be the answer to all of our energy problems. No longer will we have to worry about our depleting fossil fuel supplies, about how we will discover cold fusion, about destroying the atmosphere with our smokestacks and emissions." By placing turbines at various points throughout the Knoxville Void, "We can harness this natural energy, thus giving meaning to the lives of the folks falling through the pit: they would be helping us by falling," says Butcher. Since Knoxville itself does not currently have an energy problem, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) would be able to store and sell the electricity to energy deprived areas, such as Los Angeles and New York City, which would in turn bring more money to the State of Tennessee. The TVA and the Sunsphere already power the entire Southeast United States; "Helping out the rest of the country is what we need to focus on now." At this time the plan is still in the structuring phase. If it goes through, "We may be looking at a goldmine; we may be looking at the future of energy," says Butcher. The Crushed State of Matter Barely conscious, buried beneath many pillows, a voice in the cobalt milieu proclaims: "According to unidentified sources, both bottomless pit believers and nonbelievers are packing into World's Fair Park, he confrontation, non-violent at first, became a confused panic when a lightning bolt emanatingfrom the Sunsphere surged forth because of the collected heat energy and crashed among the masses. Several bystanders have been knocked into the Knoxville Void due to the hysteria. If order is not restored soon, it is certain that more will be trampled, crushed, and pushed into the abyss. Unfortunately we have no video to show you of these

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Berkeley Fiction

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The Physics of the Bottomless Pit

probably a black hole. How did it teach us? Well, for one, we found HDE226868 orbiting Cygnus X-I. Since HDE226868 is a supergiant star, whatever it was orbiting had to be more massive. Also, we found that Cygnus X-l was actually pulling material off of its companion star. It moved, therefore, because something much more massive was tugging on it. That something is what we now call a 'black hole.' And nothing can escape a black hole, not even electromagnetic radiation."

Personality Test Question I believe bottomless pits exist. 1. Strongly agree 2. Agree 3. No opinion 4. Disagree 5. Strongly disagree

Speeches Next to the Bottomless Pit "Why'd...why'd you have to go and do it? Why'd...why'd you leave me behind? You could've told me. You could've. Wasn't I always there for you? Wasn't I? Huh? Answer me! Please. Come on. Please. I don't understand. Why'd...why'd..." *** "Hey, did someone order this pizza? Hello? Hello! I know someone ordered this pizza. There ain't any other bottomless pits in town. If you don't come up and get it right now, I'm outta here. I'm leaving. Just watch me... Why do I always get stuck with the stupid orders to the bottomless pit?" *** "What else is there? I've tried everything, haven't I? Now it's just so boring. Anew life. Anew chance. Something...It's gotta be better, right? Yeah. I figure. But I don't know. Who does? Anyone? We're all baffled. We really are." *** "To be, or not to be..." *** "If there is an 'Andrew Farkas' down there, and I believe there is, he still owes $30,000 on his student loans. If anyone can hear me, please let him know." *** "Nietzsche says you're supposed to talk back or something. So...say something. You don't do anything. You're just a hole. And abyss, that's just a fancy word for hole. Don't go thinking you're all high and mighty, then... Well? Why don't you talk? Say something1.1 come here everyday, sit on the edge, and talk. But what do you do? Nothing. You can change all that, you know? Tell me why I come here everyday. Tell me! I want to know. You're not all that interesting, you know? You're a hole! How intriguing can that be? Not very intriguing at all. And I don't care how deep you are.. .Caves. Now caves, they're fun. Hole, I hate to tell you this, but you're no fun at all." *** "Wohh. Wo-oh-ohhh. Ahhhhhhlihhhhh!" *** "Deep enough for ya? Har har har har har!"

A Money Making Opportunity Jake Butcher, the bankrupt ex-convict who brought the World's Fair to Knoxville in 1982, is now attempting to become an energy mogul by harnessing the power inherent in the bottomless pit. He says that his plan will help the Knoxville community and the Fallers. His plan is to create Anthroelectric power, which will be similar to hydroelectric power; instead of rushing water turning turbines, however, falling human beings will be used to generate electricity. "Anthroelectric power," says Butcher, "will be the answer to all of our energy problems. No longer will we have to worry about our depleting fossil fuel supplies, about how we will discover cold fusion, about destroying the atmosphere with our smokestacks and emissions." By placing turbines at various points throughout the Knoxville Void, "We can harness this natural energy, thus giving meaning to the lives of the folks falling through the pit: they would be helping us by falling," says Butcher. Since Knoxville itself does not currently have an energy problem, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) would be able to store and sell the electricity to energy deprived areas, such as Los Angeles and New York City, which would in turn bring more money to the State of Tennessee. The TVA and the Sunsphere already power the entire Southeast United States; "Helping out the rest of the country is what we need to focus on now." At this time the plan is still in the structuring phase. If it goes through, "We may be looking at a goldmine; we may be looking at the future of energy," says Butcher. The Crushed State of Matter Barely conscious, buried beneath many pillows, a voice in the cobalt milieu proclaims: "According to unidentified sources, both bottomless pit believers and nonbelievers are packing into World's Fair Park, he confrontation, non-violent at first, became a confused panic when a lightning bolt emanatingfrom the Sunsphere surged forth because of the collected heat energy and crashed among the masses. Several bystanders have been knocked into the Knoxville Void due to the hysteria. If order is not restored soon, it is certain that more will be trampled, crushed, and pushed into the abyss. Unfortunately we have no video to show you of these

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Berkeley Fiction Review occurrences because we have lost contact with our on-the-spot reporter and we have been unable to hail any cameramen." Feathers and Debris "You know what I'm gonna do?" "What?" "I'm gonna get all the feathers I can find and fly the hell outta here." "Really?" "Will you take us with you?" "Don't forget the little guys, right on?" "I won't forget you guys. You're the best friends a guy could have." "That's right, man. But how you gonna get the feathers? Some people take forever finding a couple." "Don't worry about it, man. I got it all figured out." "Come on, tell us." "All right: birds. For some reason it seems birds fall like we do. So I'm gonna catch the birds and take their feathers." "Birds? Who's ever seen any birds at all, man? Ain't no birds." "Ain't no birds." "I told you, don't worry about it. I've seen birds." "Oh, you're crazy, man." "Fine, I'm crazy. What're you guys gonna do?" "I'm goin' for the debris, man. Birds. Ain't no birds. I'm gonna gain all the weight I can and fill my pockets with all the junk I can find. I'm gonna head on out in search of the Zone man. The Bottom. That's what I'm gonna do." "That's cool, dude." "Ladies like Flyers more, man." "Not true! I think the Stones are cool." "Yeah, me too." "Really doesn't matter to me. Figure we're all Toilers until one of us picks up speed or soars the hell outta here." "You know what, babe?" "What?" "You're right. How you get so smart?" "I don't know. Maybe I don't think about feathers and debris so much. Maybe more than everyone else." "Lady, I don't care what you say, it's all about the birds." "Man, you're high." "That could be. But when I soar above all of you, you'll know where it's at." "What, the weed?" "Gotta live your dream, dude." "Whatever. When you're flyin' around up top, I'll be chillin' on the bottom. 66

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit No worries. No problems. No bottomless pits." "Ain't no bottom, man. And there ain't no birds." "Stopnay-sayin' us. e'rejusttalkin' here." "Yeah, I hear ya." "What the hell was that?!" "Looked like an Arthurian knight felling through the bottomless pit with a catfish." "Not something you see everyday, huh?" "Maybe it keeps him company." The Opening of the Bottomless Pit Theoretic entities until recently, bottomless pits open in opposition to sources of infinite energy. The Knoxville Void, therefore, counters the Sunsphere: a monolith of power which surges with energy day and night, giving the city of Knoxville an eerie golden glow. Such a mass of positivity was bound to attract a puissant negativistic converse sooner or later. One of Jake Butcher's reasons for wanting to construct turbines to harness Anthroelectric power from the Hominefall in the abyss is to "turn the negative into a positive." This solution is problematic, however, because if both the Sunsphere and the Void were positive, they might either erupt into a magnetic explosion, opposing each other like the similar ends of magnets; or they might generate an anti-matter field that could transmogrify into a black hole, tearing the entire earth to pieces. Currently it is believed that the Sunsphere and the Void are in a state of balance, with the overabundance of energy from the gigantic gold and green tower no longer threatening local inhabitants (Previously people had been electrocuted, some even killed by the stored static electricity). The bottomless pit's rapid emergence, although startling to the citizens of Knoxville, is figured to have taken place because of the surplus power seething out of the Sunsphere. When asked about the event, witnesses were unanimously unable to comment. All anyone could say was, "That's a deep pit." Event Horizon We still do not have direct contact with World's Fair Park in Knoxville. We have received conflicting reports from dubious anonymous sources. Speculation. The Finite Pit March demands to know where the information comes from. How lowering a rope into a pit proves it's bottomless. How we know people are falling through it. How we know anything about it. A hole in the ground. Theories. Theorists theorize. Actual evidence is necessary. Necessity is the defense of the believers. It must be bottomless. The Finite Pit March is swelling. It wants to know. Swelling. It wants to know. There is no direct information The events are unknown.

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Berkeley Fiction Review occurrences because we have lost contact with our on-the-spot reporter and we have been unable to hail any cameramen." Feathers and Debris "You know what I'm gonna do?" "What?" "I'm gonna get all the feathers I can find and fly the hell outta here." "Really?" "Will you take us with you?" "Don't forget the little guys, right on?" "I won't forget you guys. You're the best friends a guy could have." "That's right, man. But how you gonna get the feathers? Some people take forever finding a couple." "Don't worry about it, man. I got it all figured out." "Come on, tell us." "All right: birds. For some reason it seems birds fall like we do. So I'm gonna catch the birds and take their feathers." "Birds? Who's ever seen any birds at all, man? Ain't no birds." "Ain't no birds." "I told you, don't worry about it. I've seen birds." "Oh, you're crazy, man." "Fine, I'm crazy. What're you guys gonna do?" "I'm goin' for the debris, man. Birds. Ain't no birds. I'm gonna gain all the weight I can and fill my pockets with all the junk I can find. I'm gonna head on out in search of the Zone man. The Bottom. That's what I'm gonna do." "That's cool, dude." "Ladies like Flyers more, man." "Not true! I think the Stones are cool." "Yeah, me too." "Really doesn't matter to me. Figure we're all Toilers until one of us picks up speed or soars the hell outta here." "You know what, babe?" "What?" "You're right. How you get so smart?" "I don't know. Maybe I don't think about feathers and debris so much. Maybe more than everyone else." "Lady, I don't care what you say, it's all about the birds." "Man, you're high." "That could be. But when I soar above all of you, you'll know where it's at." "What, the weed?" "Gotta live your dream, dude." "Whatever. When you're flyin' around up top, I'll be chillin' on the bottom. 66

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit No worries. No problems. No bottomless pits." "Ain't no bottom, man. And there ain't no birds." "Stopnay-sayin' us. e'rejusttalkin' here." "Yeah, I hear ya." "What the hell was that?!" "Looked like an Arthurian knight felling through the bottomless pit with a catfish." "Not something you see everyday, huh?" "Maybe it keeps him company." The Opening of the Bottomless Pit Theoretic entities until recently, bottomless pits open in opposition to sources of infinite energy. The Knoxville Void, therefore, counters the Sunsphere: a monolith of power which surges with energy day and night, giving the city of Knoxville an eerie golden glow. Such a mass of positivity was bound to attract a puissant negativistic converse sooner or later. One of Jake Butcher's reasons for wanting to construct turbines to harness Anthroelectric power from the Hominefall in the abyss is to "turn the negative into a positive." This solution is problematic, however, because if both the Sunsphere and the Void were positive, they might either erupt into a magnetic explosion, opposing each other like the similar ends of magnets; or they might generate an anti-matter field that could transmogrify into a black hole, tearing the entire earth to pieces. Currently it is believed that the Sunsphere and the Void are in a state of balance, with the overabundance of energy from the gigantic gold and green tower no longer threatening local inhabitants (Previously people had been electrocuted, some even killed by the stored static electricity). The bottomless pit's rapid emergence, although startling to the citizens of Knoxville, is figured to have taken place because of the surplus power seething out of the Sunsphere. When asked about the event, witnesses were unanimously unable to comment. All anyone could say was, "That's a deep pit." Event Horizon We still do not have direct contact with World's Fair Park in Knoxville. We have received conflicting reports from dubious anonymous sources. Speculation. The Finite Pit March demands to know where the information comes from. How lowering a rope into a pit proves it's bottomless. How we know people are falling through it. How we know anything about it. A hole in the ground. Theories. Theorists theorize. Actual evidence is necessary. Necessity is the defense of the believers. It must be bottomless. The Finite Pit March is swelling. It wants to know. Swelling. It wants to know. There is no direct information The events are unknown.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Death in the Bottomless Pit Fallers, although their bodies appear to follow different rules because of the manifold universes and dimensions they descend through, do die. The most frequent causes of death are asphyxiation, coronary problems, starvation, cancer, sexually transmitted disease, suicide. Asphyxiation occurs usually in New Fallers and aged veteran Fallers; for New and veteran Fallers alike, though, the reason for asphyxiation is the same: panic. The New Faller, believing he or she is going to hit a surface sooner or later, enters a hysterical state, either forgetting to breathe or hyperventilating, and then perishes; the veteran Faller forgets that he or she is falling, and undergoes the same process as the frightened New Faller. Coronary often accompanies asphyxiation for veteran Fallers. Cancer and sexually transmitted disease come about in the same way as they do to those on the surface. Starvation is rampant in the bottomless pit because there is little to eat. There are also murders and accidents. Strangely, there are no murders for food. Many of those who die of starvation have decided to expire thusly, assuming their lives are futile. The most common accident is careening into the side of the bottomless pit. Because many people fall at similar rates of speed, and since corpses also continue to fall, Fallers are often surrounded by carcasses of lost family members, friends, acquaintances, and even enemies. Some purposefully gather feathers or debris to escape these harsh mementos, while others remain among the dead; amid those who linger with the dead, there are those who pretend there are no cadavers about them, while others lounge betwixt the dead as if they were normal houseguests. With those that pretend, there are those that build structures around themselves to block out the carcasses and those that enter an eternal state of denial. The most oft-cited example of approaching death for land-dwellers consists of walking down a long, dark tunnel, and seeing a faint light which grows in intensity. Not so for the Fallers. Imminent death in the bottomless pit is marked by an expanding, wide-open field full of light where you can traverse in any direction; or, if you please, you may remain still. Movement in the abyss is compulsory. In the field, you can survey the landscape, languishing amongst the stationary scenery (which remains motionless except for the occasional calm breeze), without stirring. A Saccharine Love Affair "So, did your son get the job?" "What?!" "Did your son get the job!" "You don't have to yell." "Oh, sorry." "And no, I'm afraid he didn't." "Why not?" "Unfortunately he 'Strongly Agreed' that bottomless pits exist." 68

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"I suppose it's tough, since he is falling through one. How can you lie and say they're imaginary?" "If he ever wants to get a job he'll have to!" "I guess..." "Listen, Mary, I didn't ask you here to talk about my son and bottomless pits." "Oh." "I have something to tell you." "Oh-oh, Kyle." "Yes, Mary. I love you." "Oh, Kyle." "I know the world is a difficult place and I know we're falling through a bottomless pit, but I love you. I love you, Ijove you, I love you. I don't care who knows or who hears, even though it's pretty tough to hear sometimes in the bottomless pit." "Yes, it certainly can..." "Do you think you could ever love me, Mary? Even though we're falling through a bottomless pit?" "Kyle..." "Yes, my love?" "I... I love you, too. I was afraid to say so before because it all seems so futile, what with the falling and the corpses and the heart attacks and the asphyxiation, but, Kyle, I love you." "Oh, I'm so happy. I'd shout for joy, if the echoes didn't last so long." "Oh-oh, Kyle, I'm so happy, too." "We're in love." "The greatest kind of love." "A joyous kind of love." "Even though we're falling through the bottomless pit." Ergosphere Awake. The buzzing noise, the pillows, the blue are still present. Continuing to maunder, the shows crystallizefor now into the news. Every station carries the same program. The television personality, while shuffling papers, says: "The Finite Pit March, again according to dubious anonymous sources, has proclaimed that the bottomless pit is a hoax, that the scientific articles about the pit are shams, that the films about the abyss are purely fictional, that the television shows are likewise, that the bands supposedly slated to play at Songs Sung from the Edge of a Cliff have not been contacted because there is no concert, and that the reason there is no actual news coverage of the conflict at World's Fair Park is because there is no one in the park It is empty. When we have more information on this enticing story, we will bring it to you. We now return you to 69


Berkeley Fiction Review Death in the Bottomless Pit Fallers, although their bodies appear to follow different rules because of the manifold universes and dimensions they descend through, do die. The most frequent causes of death are asphyxiation, coronary problems, starvation, cancer, sexually transmitted disease, suicide. Asphyxiation occurs usually in New Fallers and aged veteran Fallers; for New and veteran Fallers alike, though, the reason for asphyxiation is the same: panic. The New Faller, believing he or she is going to hit a surface sooner or later, enters a hysterical state, either forgetting to breathe or hyperventilating, and then perishes; the veteran Faller forgets that he or she is falling, and undergoes the same process as the frightened New Faller. Coronary often accompanies asphyxiation for veteran Fallers. Cancer and sexually transmitted disease come about in the same way as they do to those on the surface. Starvation is rampant in the bottomless pit because there is little to eat. There are also murders and accidents. Strangely, there are no murders for food. Many of those who die of starvation have decided to expire thusly, assuming their lives are futile. The most common accident is careening into the side of the bottomless pit. Because many people fall at similar rates of speed, and since corpses also continue to fall, Fallers are often surrounded by carcasses of lost family members, friends, acquaintances, and even enemies. Some purposefully gather feathers or debris to escape these harsh mementos, while others remain among the dead; amid those who linger with the dead, there are those who pretend there are no cadavers about them, while others lounge betwixt the dead as if they were normal houseguests. With those that pretend, there are those that build structures around themselves to block out the carcasses and those that enter an eternal state of denial. The most oft-cited example of approaching death for land-dwellers consists of walking down a long, dark tunnel, and seeing a faint light which grows in intensity. Not so for the Fallers. Imminent death in the bottomless pit is marked by an expanding, wide-open field full of light where you can traverse in any direction; or, if you please, you may remain still. Movement in the abyss is compulsory. In the field, you can survey the landscape, languishing amongst the stationary scenery (which remains motionless except for the occasional calm breeze), without stirring. A Saccharine Love Affair "So, did your son get the job?" "What?!" "Did your son get the job!" "You don't have to yell." "Oh, sorry." "And no, I'm afraid he didn't." "Why not?" "Unfortunately he 'Strongly Agreed' that bottomless pits exist." 68

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"I suppose it's tough, since he is falling through one. How can you lie and say they're imaginary?" "If he ever wants to get a job he'll have to!" "I guess..." "Listen, Mary, I didn't ask you here to talk about my son and bottomless pits." "Oh." "I have something to tell you." "Oh-oh, Kyle." "Yes, Mary. I love you." "Oh, Kyle." "I know the world is a difficult place and I know we're falling through a bottomless pit, but I love you. I love you, Ijove you, I love you. I don't care who knows or who hears, even though it's pretty tough to hear sometimes in the bottomless pit." "Yes, it certainly can..." "Do you think you could ever love me, Mary? Even though we're falling through a bottomless pit?" "Kyle..." "Yes, my love?" "I... I love you, too. I was afraid to say so before because it all seems so futile, what with the falling and the corpses and the heart attacks and the asphyxiation, but, Kyle, I love you." "Oh, I'm so happy. I'd shout for joy, if the echoes didn't last so long." "Oh-oh, Kyle, I'm so happy, too." "We're in love." "The greatest kind of love." "A joyous kind of love." "Even though we're falling through the bottomless pit." Ergosphere Awake. The buzzing noise, the pillows, the blue are still present. Continuing to maunder, the shows crystallizefor now into the news. Every station carries the same program. The television personality, while shuffling papers, says: "The Finite Pit March, again according to dubious anonymous sources, has proclaimed that the bottomless pit is a hoax, that the scientific articles about the pit are shams, that the films about the abyss are purely fictional, that the television shows are likewise, that the bands supposedly slated to play at Songs Sung from the Edge of a Cliff have not been contacted because there is no concert, and that the reason there is no actual news coverage of the conflict at World's Fair Park is because there is no one in the park It is empty. When we have more information on this enticing story, we will bring it to you. We now return you to 69


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your regularly scheduled programming. " The man in front of the television holds his remote aloft, but does not change the station. Songs Sung from the Edge of a Cliff To help fund bottomless pit research, a concert will be held at the Tennessee Amphitheater in World's Fair Park. The songs featured in the concert will be those from Songs Sung from the Edge of a Cliff. The title of this compilation album emanates from the following: any song with, "Wohh-oh-oh" or "Oh-oh-oh" in it is sung by a person about to fall off of a cliff, and any song that contains a section of sustained screaming is by someone falling from a cliff. For instance, "Jamie's Crying" by Van Halen, since it contains the lyrics, "Wohh-oh-oh, Jamie's crying," is sung by someone about to fall off of a cliff; whereas "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin is very obviously by someone who has already fallen. The line-up for the evening includes many bands, most notably Knoxville's own The Bottomless Pits, who have both screaming and "Oh-oh's" in all of their songs. The highlight of the show, however, will be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing their hit, "I'm on Fire," which contains Bruce about to fall off of a cliff right as he bursts into flames. One can only assume that after bursting into flames, he then falls from the cliff. His Pal, Sparky "Sparky?" "Woof." "Sparky, you're my only pal, my best pal. Yes you are; yes you are." "Woof-woof." "So I gotta tell ya, Sparky: I want to get to the bottom of things. Right to the bottom. Down here, we've learned that phrase means a lot more than we thought it did, didn't we Sparky?" "Woof. Woof." "I know, Sparky. But now that we're here, now that we've been falling for a while and we've learned all kinds of things about falling, I want to get to the bottom of things. You learn so much down here in the abyss.. .Did I tell you where I heard that, Sparky?" "Woof?" "Abyss, did I tell you where I heard that? That one day where you were tired out and I took my self to the movies. Saw Looking into the Abyss. It wasn't so bad, Sparky. Naw, it wasn't. Not too bad at all. Kind of slow, not too much happening, just a bunch of people standing around a hole saying, 'That's a big hole,' or something like that, and then they all jump in at the end." "Woof! Woof!" "Don't worry, Sparky, they're just like us. They didn't get hurt or nothing, 70

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they just became Fallers. We're Fallers, Sparky." "Woof." "Thing is, Sparky, I don't know why they jumped into the pit.. .oh, that brings me back to what I was saying originally: they called it the bottomless pit, and the pit, and the hole, but they also called it the abyss. I ain't never heard that one before, Sparky. Have you? Have ya, boy?" "Woof-woof. Woof." "Ya have? I knew you were a smart dog, but here you're a genius." "Woof!" "The smartest dog in the whole wide abyss...But that's what I want to do, Sparky. I want to get to the bottom of things. I don't know why them people in that movie, I don't know why they jumped in at the end. There's so much I don't know, Sparky. So much." "Woof! Woof." "Now you don't have to go agreeing with me so quick, Sparky." "Woofl Woof! Woof!" "Oh, I know. I was just kiddin'.. .But Sparky, there are so many things I don't know, some things I do know, but the one thing I really want to know is this here bottomless pit. I want to know what it is. I want to know why it is. I want to know why we're falling through it and why those people in the movie jumped in and I want to get to the bottom of things, Sparky." "Yes, Sparky, go to sleep now. Let oP Jay figure it all out. And then when you wake up, I'll have put it all together. I'll know why they jumped into the hole. I'll have all the answers. And then I'll tell you, Sparky, and you'll know, too." it » "And then you'll be even smarter than a genius, Sparky...I won't be too stupid myself. No I won't, Sparky." "And then [yawn], even though we're in the bottomless pit, [yawn] in the abyss, we'll have gotten to the bottom of things, Sparky. Yes, yes we will." Stationary Limit Remote still held aloft, eyes transfixed on the television, the buzzing noise in the background louder, so he turns up the volume in time for the news to return. The man behind the desk says: "Knowing that the television stations do not have contact with World's Fair Park, the Finite Pit March has sent us a videotape and a written message. The message says that the tape will prove that the pit is not bottomless. The recording shows—PAUSE—me broadcasting the news. I say that there is no Bottomless pit, that it was all a publicity stunt to launch an already recorded season of television programming and films; that the newscasts concerning the bottomless pit are 71


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your regularly scheduled programming. " The man in front of the television holds his remote aloft, but does not change the station. Songs Sung from the Edge of a Cliff To help fund bottomless pit research, a concert will be held at the Tennessee Amphitheater in World's Fair Park. The songs featured in the concert will be those from Songs Sung from the Edge of a Cliff. The title of this compilation album emanates from the following: any song with, "Wohh-oh-oh" or "Oh-oh-oh" in it is sung by a person about to fall off of a cliff, and any song that contains a section of sustained screaming is by someone falling from a cliff. For instance, "Jamie's Crying" by Van Halen, since it contains the lyrics, "Wohh-oh-oh, Jamie's crying," is sung by someone about to fall off of a cliff; whereas "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin is very obviously by someone who has already fallen. The line-up for the evening includes many bands, most notably Knoxville's own The Bottomless Pits, who have both screaming and "Oh-oh's" in all of their songs. The highlight of the show, however, will be Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performing their hit, "I'm on Fire," which contains Bruce about to fall off of a cliff right as he bursts into flames. One can only assume that after bursting into flames, he then falls from the cliff. His Pal, Sparky "Sparky?" "Woof." "Sparky, you're my only pal, my best pal. Yes you are; yes you are." "Woof-woof." "So I gotta tell ya, Sparky: I want to get to the bottom of things. Right to the bottom. Down here, we've learned that phrase means a lot more than we thought it did, didn't we Sparky?" "Woof. Woof." "I know, Sparky. But now that we're here, now that we've been falling for a while and we've learned all kinds of things about falling, I want to get to the bottom of things. You learn so much down here in the abyss.. .Did I tell you where I heard that, Sparky?" "Woof?" "Abyss, did I tell you where I heard that? That one day where you were tired out and I took my self to the movies. Saw Looking into the Abyss. It wasn't so bad, Sparky. Naw, it wasn't. Not too bad at all. Kind of slow, not too much happening, just a bunch of people standing around a hole saying, 'That's a big hole,' or something like that, and then they all jump in at the end." "Woof! Woof!" "Don't worry, Sparky, they're just like us. They didn't get hurt or nothing, 70

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they just became Fallers. We're Fallers, Sparky." "Woof." "Thing is, Sparky, I don't know why they jumped into the pit.. .oh, that brings me back to what I was saying originally: they called it the bottomless pit, and the pit, and the hole, but they also called it the abyss. I ain't never heard that one before, Sparky. Have you? Have ya, boy?" "Woof-woof. Woof." "Ya have? I knew you were a smart dog, but here you're a genius." "Woof!" "The smartest dog in the whole wide abyss...But that's what I want to do, Sparky. I want to get to the bottom of things. I don't know why them people in that movie, I don't know why they jumped in at the end. There's so much I don't know, Sparky. So much." "Woof! Woof." "Now you don't have to go agreeing with me so quick, Sparky." "Woofl Woof! Woof!" "Oh, I know. I was just kiddin'.. .But Sparky, there are so many things I don't know, some things I do know, but the one thing I really want to know is this here bottomless pit. I want to know what it is. I want to know why it is. I want to know why we're falling through it and why those people in the movie jumped in and I want to get to the bottom of things, Sparky." "Yes, Sparky, go to sleep now. Let oP Jay figure it all out. And then when you wake up, I'll have put it all together. I'll know why they jumped into the hole. I'll have all the answers. And then I'll tell you, Sparky, and you'll know, too." it » "And then you'll be even smarter than a genius, Sparky...I won't be too stupid myself. No I won't, Sparky." "And then [yawn], even though we're in the bottomless pit, [yawn] in the abyss, we'll have gotten to the bottom of things, Sparky. Yes, yes we will." Stationary Limit Remote still held aloft, eyes transfixed on the television, the buzzing noise in the background louder, so he turns up the volume in time for the news to return. The man behind the desk says: "Knowing that the television stations do not have contact with World's Fair Park, the Finite Pit March has sent us a videotape and a written message. The message says that the tape will prove that the pit is not bottomless. The recording shows—PAUSE—me broadcasting the news. I say that there is no Bottomless pit, that it was all a publicity stunt to launch an already recorded season of television programming and films; that the newscasts concerning the bottomless pit are 71


Berkeley Fiction Review intended to raise ratings; the scientific articles were written by quacksalvers and researchers desperate for money; the guidebook explaining life inside the bottomless pit and the psychological profiles of those inside of the bottomless pit are also hoaxes. I say all of this. "And then I play a clip from World's Fair Park But the clip, strangely, does not coincide with the Finite Pit March's former claims: it shows a park slowly filling with people. In the background the Sunsphere stands channeling energy. All of the people hold hands and walk forward, but they appear not to notice each other. They act as if they were all alone. They form a circle next to the Sunsphere. And in the circle the ground begins to dissolve, until an abyss opens. It grows larger and larger, as it swallows the participants. Many attempt to flee. But none escape. "Dear viewers, I do not remember making this broadcast. In fact, I remember so little. It's as if my mind was eroding away... " Life in the Bottomless Pit Falling through the bottomless pit, you become accustomed to the life you lead there, to the falling. It seems normal. You don't notice it most of the time. You even get used to the wind. It can be oddly harmonic, like a lullaby sung seriously by a comically tone-deaf vocalist. You speak loud when you have to speak. When you are with one of your friends, you sit very close and talk directly into his or her ear. You spend a lot of time by yourself. Perhaps at one time you were filled with ideas of escape. Perhaps you still are. The young always are filled with ideas of escape. It's normal. If you're not young, your dreams of escape are still normal because they hearken to your younger years. Everything is normal. Even dreams of life on the top, although you understand you do not remember what it was like there. Perhaps you have no interest in escape at all. Perhaps. You are in a community of Fallers. You may be new to th& community. You might be its oldest member. When New Fallers join, they believe they are on the fringe, and they speak in conspiratorial tones amongst themselves as if preparing for a prison break. The veteran Fallers, with their bad memories, assume the new members have always been there and have always acted so strangely. In this way, everyone is accepted in the bottomless pit and everyone is an outcast; everyone is a part of the community and everyone is on the fringe. You are a Flyer. You are a Stone. You are a Toiler. You are and have been and will be all of these. Perhaps you have pockets fall of feathers; you have pockets full of debris; your pockets are empty; some of your pockets are empty, some full of feathers, some of debris. And some pockets are 72

The Physics of the Bottomless

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only half-filled, but with both debris and feathers. People are surrounded by garbage and corpses. From falling debris they build houses, where they read falling newspapers, eat falling meals, have falling relationships, work falling jobs, operate through falling days, and when night falls they try to pretend that they aren't surrounded by garbage and corpses. That they aren't falling. Perhaps you explain to your friends what it is like for you. You tell them it's as if you're walking down a hallway. A long, thin hallway with doors on the far ends. You walk down the hallway. You open the door. You hope something magnificent is on the other side. Then it's another hallway, exactly like the one before. You continue. Walk. Open. Hope. Look. All the hallways are the same. But each time you open the door, you hope it will be different. It never is. So you sit down in the middle of a hallway and refuse to continue. Yet the floor is a conveyor belt. The doors are automated. Against your will you go on. You don't see the hallways. You don't feel the doors, ou don't look down the new corridors with hope. Your friend, named Roscoe or Rhonda (you have trouble remembering who you're talking to), cheers you up by saying, "Deep enough for ya? Har har har." The giddiness returns. You will reach the top. You will get to the bottom. You will attain light speed. You will be the first person ever to attain light speed. At light speed you will expand to infinite mass. By expanding you will absorb everyone in the bottomless pit. By absorbing everyone in the bottomless pit, you will become everyone. The Everyman. Everywoman. Everybeing. Everyfaller. At light speed you will crush the fears and anxieties of the Fallers. You will be a star that was sucked into a black hole, but turned the black hole inside out and back into a star. You will be the cure for the incurable disease. You are the last best hope. At light speed. Perhaps this feeling continues for hours. Days. Maybe only minutes. Before you descend back into your normal mood, if you have one. Perhaps Roscoe or Rhonda has to go. You are alone again. You cannot feel yourself fall. You want to feel it. You think of the top. You cannot remember it. You think of the bottom. You do not believe in it. Right now you are a Toiler. At night. By yourself. You see no way out of your predicament, even though there seems to be no predicament at all. You have no idea what to do with yourself, so you accept being a Toiler. You accept your helplessness. You sit on the cascading floor of your house, in the middle of the floor at some time of the night, having been alone for who knows how long (were you always alone?), and you accept it all. No solutions. No dreams. Just you on the floor. For now. Tomorrow there will be feathers. There will be debris. There will be the top. There will be the bottom, here will be the point, the incomprehensible point right before you attain light speed, where you will solve every Faller problem. And perhaps you will find all of these things tomorrow. Perhaps. 73


Berkeley Fiction Review intended to raise ratings; the scientific articles were written by quacksalvers and researchers desperate for money; the guidebook explaining life inside the bottomless pit and the psychological profiles of those inside of the bottomless pit are also hoaxes. I say all of this. "And then I play a clip from World's Fair Park But the clip, strangely, does not coincide with the Finite Pit March's former claims: it shows a park slowly filling with people. In the background the Sunsphere stands channeling energy. All of the people hold hands and walk forward, but they appear not to notice each other. They act as if they were all alone. They form a circle next to the Sunsphere. And in the circle the ground begins to dissolve, until an abyss opens. It grows larger and larger, as it swallows the participants. Many attempt to flee. But none escape. "Dear viewers, I do not remember making this broadcast. In fact, I remember so little. It's as if my mind was eroding away... " Life in the Bottomless Pit Falling through the bottomless pit, you become accustomed to the life you lead there, to the falling. It seems normal. You don't notice it most of the time. You even get used to the wind. It can be oddly harmonic, like a lullaby sung seriously by a comically tone-deaf vocalist. You speak loud when you have to speak. When you are with one of your friends, you sit very close and talk directly into his or her ear. You spend a lot of time by yourself. Perhaps at one time you were filled with ideas of escape. Perhaps you still are. The young always are filled with ideas of escape. It's normal. If you're not young, your dreams of escape are still normal because they hearken to your younger years. Everything is normal. Even dreams of life on the top, although you understand you do not remember what it was like there. Perhaps you have no interest in escape at all. Perhaps. You are in a community of Fallers. You may be new to th& community. You might be its oldest member. When New Fallers join, they believe they are on the fringe, and they speak in conspiratorial tones amongst themselves as if preparing for a prison break. The veteran Fallers, with their bad memories, assume the new members have always been there and have always acted so strangely. In this way, everyone is accepted in the bottomless pit and everyone is an outcast; everyone is a part of the community and everyone is on the fringe. You are a Flyer. You are a Stone. You are a Toiler. You are and have been and will be all of these. Perhaps you have pockets fall of feathers; you have pockets full of debris; your pockets are empty; some of your pockets are empty, some full of feathers, some of debris. And some pockets are 72

The Physics of the Bottomless

Pit

only half-filled, but with both debris and feathers. People are surrounded by garbage and corpses. From falling debris they build houses, where they read falling newspapers, eat falling meals, have falling relationships, work falling jobs, operate through falling days, and when night falls they try to pretend that they aren't surrounded by garbage and corpses. That they aren't falling. Perhaps you explain to your friends what it is like for you. You tell them it's as if you're walking down a hallway. A long, thin hallway with doors on the far ends. You walk down the hallway. You open the door. You hope something magnificent is on the other side. Then it's another hallway, exactly like the one before. You continue. Walk. Open. Hope. Look. All the hallways are the same. But each time you open the door, you hope it will be different. It never is. So you sit down in the middle of a hallway and refuse to continue. Yet the floor is a conveyor belt. The doors are automated. Against your will you go on. You don't see the hallways. You don't feel the doors, ou don't look down the new corridors with hope. Your friend, named Roscoe or Rhonda (you have trouble remembering who you're talking to), cheers you up by saying, "Deep enough for ya? Har har har." The giddiness returns. You will reach the top. You will get to the bottom. You will attain light speed. You will be the first person ever to attain light speed. At light speed you will expand to infinite mass. By expanding you will absorb everyone in the bottomless pit. By absorbing everyone in the bottomless pit, you will become everyone. The Everyman. Everywoman. Everybeing. Everyfaller. At light speed you will crush the fears and anxieties of the Fallers. You will be a star that was sucked into a black hole, but turned the black hole inside out and back into a star. You will be the cure for the incurable disease. You are the last best hope. At light speed. Perhaps this feeling continues for hours. Days. Maybe only minutes. Before you descend back into your normal mood, if you have one. Perhaps Roscoe or Rhonda has to go. You are alone again. You cannot feel yourself fall. You want to feel it. You think of the top. You cannot remember it. You think of the bottom. You do not believe in it. Right now you are a Toiler. At night. By yourself. You see no way out of your predicament, even though there seems to be no predicament at all. You have no idea what to do with yourself, so you accept being a Toiler. You accept your helplessness. You sit on the cascading floor of your house, in the middle of the floor at some time of the night, having been alone for who knows how long (were you always alone?), and you accept it all. No solutions. No dreams. Just you on the floor. For now. Tomorrow there will be feathers. There will be debris. There will be the top. There will be the bottom, here will be the point, the incomprehensible point right before you attain light speed, where you will solve every Faller problem. And perhaps you will find all of these things tomorrow. Perhaps. 73


Berkeley Fiction

Review

Ten Ways to Know You Are Falling through a Bottomless Pit 1. You fail to be impressed by the Grand Canyon. 2. People always say, "How are you...except for the whole 'falling through a bottomless pit' thing?" 3. Your favorite band has "Wo-oh's" and screaming in all of its songs. 4. Heavy objects levitate next to you. 5. You see the same people about all the time, until you load your pockets with bird shot. 6. Your number one greeting is: "What?!" 7. Wearing hats is just about impossible. 8. You feel as if you went skydiving sometime long ago, but something went terribly wrong. 9. You have been to many parallel universes and have visited several different dimensions, but you don't remember any of them. 10. It is very, very windy all the time. Gravity Well Completely aware, wide awake, the man in the blue atmosphere watches as his television reception freezes in place. And then the horizontal hold on the screen is lost. The picture flips ceaselessly. On the tube, the shocked and disheveled newsman, who was reaching out as if for assistance from his invisible audience, remains in the symbolic stance of one asking for alms forever. The picture flips ceaselessly. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it falls. With each ( passing moment, the man hopes it will stop. But it does not. He holds his remote t. aloft, impotently; squeezing the control with all his might, terrified to let it drop. I For he does not know if it will descend to the floor, or if it will hover next to him defying all the gravitational laws, all of the universal laws he has ever known.

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit a rocket. The speed is intense. But it is a calm intensity. You are confident. You will make it to the top. As you mount higher, the pit gets lighter. Full of light. Fallers gape at you. Ignore you. Some try to grab hold, pull you down with them. Some attempt to ride your coattails. Some attempt to stop you with their eyes. Their words. You outlast them all. You leave them all behind. You soar above the rest. Above the Fallers. Until you're above the bottomless pit. And when you're there, you seeDo you wonder? Do you dream? Do you realize that most Fallers dream of the top, but hope for the bottom? Another Deadpan Conversation "Why'd we jump?" "I don't know." "Pretty bad idea, huh?" "Yeah. Yeah it was." "What do we do now?" "Fall." "Fall?" "Fall." "Nothing else to do." "True." "This is a deep pit." "Yeah." "You can say that again." "This is a deep pit."

The Top of the Bottomless Pit If you are a Flyer, you fill your pockets with feathers. Your descent slows. Old and New Fallers shoot past you. Your community, if you were in one, drops away. You are on your own. Solo. You wonder if it was a good idea. Filling your pockets with feathers. Your fall slows so much. You feel as if you are truly suspended in air. You have forgotten your descent before. But the wind, he sound of the wind was always present. For the first time it is gone. The silence is deafening. You observe your surroundings. You look around as if someone has pressed PAUSE on your life. When you find you are still mobile, you are hit with a giddiness you never experienced in your descending mood swings. You run back and forth. You collect more feathers. A gaping abyss is beneath you. You are stronger than the abyss. Gradually, you begin to ascend. First it is like walking up stairs. Then like running up a hill. Like bounding off a trampoline. Like an express elevator. Like 74

75


Berkeley Fiction

Review

Ten Ways to Know You Are Falling through a Bottomless Pit 1. You fail to be impressed by the Grand Canyon. 2. People always say, "How are you...except for the whole 'falling through a bottomless pit' thing?" 3. Your favorite band has "Wo-oh's" and screaming in all of its songs. 4. Heavy objects levitate next to you. 5. You see the same people about all the time, until you load your pockets with bird shot. 6. Your number one greeting is: "What?!" 7. Wearing hats is just about impossible. 8. You feel as if you went skydiving sometime long ago, but something went terribly wrong. 9. You have been to many parallel universes and have visited several different dimensions, but you don't remember any of them. 10. It is very, very windy all the time. Gravity Well Completely aware, wide awake, the man in the blue atmosphere watches as his television reception freezes in place. And then the horizontal hold on the screen is lost. The picture flips ceaselessly. On the tube, the shocked and disheveled newsman, who was reaching out as if for assistance from his invisible audience, remains in the symbolic stance of one asking for alms forever. The picture flips ceaselessly. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it falls. With each ( passing moment, the man hopes it will stop. But it does not. He holds his remote t. aloft, impotently; squeezing the control with all his might, terrified to let it drop. I For he does not know if it will descend to the floor, or if it will hover next to him defying all the gravitational laws, all of the universal laws he has ever known.

The Physics of the Bottomless Pit a rocket. The speed is intense. But it is a calm intensity. You are confident. You will make it to the top. As you mount higher, the pit gets lighter. Full of light. Fallers gape at you. Ignore you. Some try to grab hold, pull you down with them. Some attempt to ride your coattails. Some attempt to stop you with their eyes. Their words. You outlast them all. You leave them all behind. You soar above the rest. Above the Fallers. Until you're above the bottomless pit. And when you're there, you seeDo you wonder? Do you dream? Do you realize that most Fallers dream of the top, but hope for the bottom? Another Deadpan Conversation "Why'd we jump?" "I don't know." "Pretty bad idea, huh?" "Yeah. Yeah it was." "What do we do now?" "Fall." "Fall?" "Fall." "Nothing else to do." "True." "This is a deep pit." "Yeah." "You can say that again." "This is a deep pit."

The Top of the Bottomless Pit If you are a Flyer, you fill your pockets with feathers. Your descent slows. Old and New Fallers shoot past you. Your community, if you were in one, drops away. You are on your own. Solo. You wonder if it was a good idea. Filling your pockets with feathers. Your fall slows so much. You feel as if you are truly suspended in air. You have forgotten your descent before. But the wind, he sound of the wind was always present. For the first time it is gone. The silence is deafening. You observe your surroundings. You look around as if someone has pressed PAUSE on your life. When you find you are still mobile, you are hit with a giddiness you never experienced in your descending mood swings. You run back and forth. You collect more feathers. A gaping abyss is beneath you. You are stronger than the abyss. Gradually, you begin to ascend. First it is like walking up stairs. Then like running up a hill. Like bounding off a trampoline. Like an express elevator. Like 74

75


A S S I G N A T I O N

b y

t

D a v i d

Popie l

or one disconcerting moment Charles thought the man and woman were coming to sit with him. j Charles Osgood is a semi-regular at the Royal Booth Bar. The Royal Booth is frequented by people like Charles—the upward bound men and women who keep the nation's money turning over. These are the people of Manhattan's financial district, where the Royal Booth is located on the street level of one of the district's tallest buildings. Immediately above it are twenty stories of hotel rooms, and immediately above these, thirty more stories of office space. Charles works on one of the floors high above the bar. Home is a nearby two-bedroom condominium apartment with a large, though neglected, kitchen and a view for which Charles paid more than he should have. The Royal is a convenient stop on the way from one to the other. Some time ago, after work on a Friday, Charles took his gin and tonic from the bar. It was early. The Royal was almost empty. No one would object to him having a quick drink alone at a booth. Charles loosened his tie. As he sat sipping his drink, his mind wandered. But in a few minutes his languishing was disturbed. A couple was walking towards him. The woman was tall and slender. She wore a dark blue business suit. The tight skirt ended at her knees. Her face was long, her cheek bones high, and her mouth wide. Her hair was short, red, and swept back. She was stunning. Charles kept glancing at her.

•This story first appeared in the May 12, 2003 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. 77 S


A S S I G N A T I O N

b y

t

D a v i d

Popie l

or one disconcerting moment Charles thought the man and woman were coming to sit with him. j Charles Osgood is a semi-regular at the Royal Booth Bar. The Royal Booth is frequented by people like Charles—the upward bound men and women who keep the nation's money turning over. These are the people of Manhattan's financial district, where the Royal Booth is located on the street level of one of the district's tallest buildings. Immediately above it are twenty stories of hotel rooms, and immediately above these, thirty more stories of office space. Charles works on one of the floors high above the bar. Home is a nearby two-bedroom condominium apartment with a large, though neglected, kitchen and a view for which Charles paid more than he should have. The Royal is a convenient stop on the way from one to the other. Some time ago, after work on a Friday, Charles took his gin and tonic from the bar. It was early. The Royal was almost empty. No one would object to him having a quick drink alone at a booth. Charles loosened his tie. As he sat sipping his drink, his mind wandered. But in a few minutes his languishing was disturbed. A couple was walking towards him. The woman was tall and slender. She wore a dark blue business suit. The tight skirt ended at her knees. Her face was long, her cheek bones high, and her mouth wide. Her hair was short, red, and swept back. She was stunning. Charles kept glancing at her.

•This story first appeared in the May 12, 2003 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. 77 S


Berkeley Fiction

Assignation

Review

is plasterboard and behind that the building's steel, its pipes, its tangled wires, its rodents. His mind adrift, Charles yet kept one subliminal ear open, and soon that concealed listening device shoved a word up to his conscious mind: "proposition." Instantly he focused on the conversation behind him. The man had said, "I wish to proposition you." There was a momentary silence. Apparently the woman was taken aback. "Proposition? Really? Now what do you mean by that? Are you joking?" The guy had just picked her up. How could he have the gall to be so straight forward about his intentions?! Another silence. This inept man was pausing to regroup, Charles thought. But the man continued without a hint of retreat. "Joking? No, it's no joke, though it might prove to be a lot of fun." Was he smiling? "You see, I didn't just approach you at random." "Oh? Then tell me why you approached me." "I watched you carefully from the moment you walked in. I saw immediately that you were beautiful, but that wasn't what I was really looking for. I watched you push the door open - briskly, purposefully I thought. I noted your posture—straight; your walk—relaxed. Your hair style exposed your full face. I've always believed that to be a likely indication of self confidence in a woman. I saw the comfortable, practiced way you swung yourself up on the bar stool and dropped your purse on the bar. You signaled for the bartender, and when he came you smiled and talked for a moment before you ordered. That's when I came over." "And just why did you watch me so carefully?" "Why, I was judging to see who you are, of course. You see, the proposition I am about to present to you requires a special kind of woman." "Really?" There was impatience in her voice. Surely she was tiring of this forwardness. "Yes. And now I will see ifmy judgment is correct. Here is my proposition." If Charles could have looked, he would have seen the man reach into his pocket and take out a single key. "Here is a key to one of the hotel rooms upstairs. Room 523." Charles heard the key drop onto the table. The man continued, "Perhaps I should first assure you that I will not pressure you in any way. I ask only that you hear me out. If after you listen to what I have to offer, you decide not to accept, that will be the end of it. You can walk away, and I assure you that I will never enter your life again." Now, Charles thought, the woman would surely step on the jerk. He had actually put a room key in front of her. It was preposterous. But she didn't step on him. "Go ahead," he heard her say. Charles straightened and stiffened.

His glances also took in the man accompanying the woman. He began comparing himself to the man. Such comparisons are fruitless. They are driven by insecurity. They are tiresome. He engaged in them anyway, all the time. The man did not seem an appropriate match for the woman. He was slightly shorter than she. Older, perhaps late forty-ish. Not fat; not quite pudgy, either; but not trim. Charles decided that the man was simply out of shape. To the man's credit, he had an immaculately groomed beard, and he had all his hair. But it was the man's clothes that truly distinguished him. His three-piece suit was charcoal black, pin striped, perfectly tailored—not off the rack. His shirt was a deep blue. His tie was red. Charles conceded a sartorial victory to the stranger. All of Charles' suits and sports jackets came off the rack of mid-level clothing stores. Even in these stores he was unsure of himself, ever concerned that he would choose unfashionable styles. But on every other point of comparison Charles felt an advantage. Charles was of better than medium height - taller than this man. He was in better shape—he worked out in a gym three times a week—and looked younger. In his bathroom mirror he regularly contorted his face into smiles and frowns during microscopic examinations for the first indications of age-related creases. To date there were none. And yet, though he compared favorably to this man, Charles had never had the company of a woman such as ihe one this stranger was escorting to a table. This was a fact that he rued and for which he sought explanation. If his physical appearance was not to blame, perhaps it was his personality. This was a disturbing possibility. There is no mirror into which you can look and see your personality. Seeking your own character flaws is like asking yourself if you are senile. You can never give yourself an objective answer. Asking others is only marginally less futile. No one responds with the unvarnished truth. This was a dreary, unresolvable matter. That he had never had the company of truly beautiful women pointed to some significant flaw. But in seeking the flaw Charles was blind and without cane, dog or guiding arm. On the wall above the booth he casually noted the print of an old-time baseball player—tall, straight, noble, with a curled mustache. Similar prints dot the Royal's walls. The ball players' bodies are twisted, poised for an instant at the finish of their powerful swings. Their heads are tilted upward following the flight of the ball they appear to have hit an instant earlier, but that we cannot see. In the Royal's muted lighting the walls on which the prints hang offer a warm reflection of polished wood. Darkly burnished, they imprint upon the eye as mahogany, but it is impossible to be sure of such things. Perhaps the wood is common pine. Perhaps it is an ecumenical compression of wood chips swept from the floor of the mill at the end of each shift. Behind the fine looking wood

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78 A.


Berkeley Fiction

Assignation

Review

is plasterboard and behind that the building's steel, its pipes, its tangled wires, its rodents. His mind adrift, Charles yet kept one subliminal ear open, and soon that concealed listening device shoved a word up to his conscious mind: "proposition." Instantly he focused on the conversation behind him. The man had said, "I wish to proposition you." There was a momentary silence. Apparently the woman was taken aback. "Proposition? Really? Now what do you mean by that? Are you joking?" The guy had just picked her up. How could he have the gall to be so straight forward about his intentions?! Another silence. This inept man was pausing to regroup, Charles thought. But the man continued without a hint of retreat. "Joking? No, it's no joke, though it might prove to be a lot of fun." Was he smiling? "You see, I didn't just approach you at random." "Oh? Then tell me why you approached me." "I watched you carefully from the moment you walked in. I saw immediately that you were beautiful, but that wasn't what I was really looking for. I watched you push the door open - briskly, purposefully I thought. I noted your posture—straight; your walk—relaxed. Your hair style exposed your full face. I've always believed that to be a likely indication of self confidence in a woman. I saw the comfortable, practiced way you swung yourself up on the bar stool and dropped your purse on the bar. You signaled for the bartender, and when he came you smiled and talked for a moment before you ordered. That's when I came over." "And just why did you watch me so carefully?" "Why, I was judging to see who you are, of course. You see, the proposition I am about to present to you requires a special kind of woman." "Really?" There was impatience in her voice. Surely she was tiring of this forwardness. "Yes. And now I will see ifmy judgment is correct. Here is my proposition." If Charles could have looked, he would have seen the man reach into his pocket and take out a single key. "Here is a key to one of the hotel rooms upstairs. Room 523." Charles heard the key drop onto the table. The man continued, "Perhaps I should first assure you that I will not pressure you in any way. I ask only that you hear me out. If after you listen to what I have to offer, you decide not to accept, that will be the end of it. You can walk away, and I assure you that I will never enter your life again." Now, Charles thought, the woman would surely step on the jerk. He had actually put a room key in front of her. It was preposterous. But she didn't step on him. "Go ahead," he heard her say. Charles straightened and stiffened.

His glances also took in the man accompanying the woman. He began comparing himself to the man. Such comparisons are fruitless. They are driven by insecurity. They are tiresome. He engaged in them anyway, all the time. The man did not seem an appropriate match for the woman. He was slightly shorter than she. Older, perhaps late forty-ish. Not fat; not quite pudgy, either; but not trim. Charles decided that the man was simply out of shape. To the man's credit, he had an immaculately groomed beard, and he had all his hair. But it was the man's clothes that truly distinguished him. His three-piece suit was charcoal black, pin striped, perfectly tailored—not off the rack. His shirt was a deep blue. His tie was red. Charles conceded a sartorial victory to the stranger. All of Charles' suits and sports jackets came off the rack of mid-level clothing stores. Even in these stores he was unsure of himself, ever concerned that he would choose unfashionable styles. But on every other point of comparison Charles felt an advantage. Charles was of better than medium height - taller than this man. He was in better shape—he worked out in a gym three times a week—and looked younger. In his bathroom mirror he regularly contorted his face into smiles and frowns during microscopic examinations for the first indications of age-related creases. To date there were none. And yet, though he compared favorably to this man, Charles had never had the company of a woman such as ihe one this stranger was escorting to a table. This was a fact that he rued and for which he sought explanation. If his physical appearance was not to blame, perhaps it was his personality. This was a disturbing possibility. There is no mirror into which you can look and see your personality. Seeking your own character flaws is like asking yourself if you are senile. You can never give yourself an objective answer. Asking others is only marginally less futile. No one responds with the unvarnished truth. This was a dreary, unresolvable matter. That he had never had the company of truly beautiful women pointed to some significant flaw. But in seeking the flaw Charles was blind and without cane, dog or guiding arm. On the wall above the booth he casually noted the print of an old-time baseball player—tall, straight, noble, with a curled mustache. Similar prints dot the Royal's walls. The ball players' bodies are twisted, poised for an instant at the finish of their powerful swings. Their heads are tilted upward following the flight of the ball they appear to have hit an instant earlier, but that we cannot see. In the Royal's muted lighting the walls on which the prints hang offer a warm reflection of polished wood. Darkly burnished, they imprint upon the eye as mahogany, but it is impossible to be sure of such things. Perhaps the wood is common pine. Perhaps it is an ecumenical compression of wood chips swept from the floor of the mill at the end of each shift. Behind the fine looking wood

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78 A.


Berkeley Fiction Review

Assignation

"If you accept my proposition, you will take this key and go to room 523. On the pillow will be a blindfold. You will put it on and wait. Soon a man will enter. He will say nothing, and you will say nothing. He will start to undress you. He will not, however, remove the blindfold. As he proceeds he will undress himself. You may help him if you wish. In fact, in all that happens there will be no restraints on you, but two. You may not say a word. He, too, will be silent. And you may not remove the blindfold. "The two of you will, of course, make love. You may do so in any manner you wish. You can have him do anything you want him to do. By the same token, he will not do anything you indicate you do not want him to do. You, on the other hand, may do whatever you like to him. You will be in control to the extent you want to be, and you may cede control to the extent you want to. "At whatever point you wish, the love making will end. When that occurs, the man will dress and leave. Only then may you remove the blindfold. You will dress, too. But you will not leave the room yet. There is more." Charles sat perfectly still, barely breathing. What more could there be? "Beyond the bed, are two comfortable chairs facing each other. You will take one and wait. In a few minutes I will enter. I will take the empty chair. Now you will finally speak. You will describe to me everything that happened in the room with your unknown lover. You will describe it from the first gropings to the final uncoupling, in minute detail. But most importantly, the thing on which you will expend your most potent powers of description will be your own reactions, the emotions that you experienced, the needs you felt, and how you responded to their fulfillment. "You may go on for as long as you wish. I trust that you will take advantage of the opportunity to review the particulars of your love making in a way that you likely have never done before. When you finally finish, I will leave. When you are ready, you, too, will leave. We will never meet again. You will never meet this night's lover again, either. We will all go our separate ways." Charles had not lifted his drink since the man began relating his proposition. He sat rigid, transfixed, every fiber straining to listen, still scarcely breathing, unaware of any physical sensation, disbelieving. The man went on. "That is my proposition. Or, may I be so presuming as to call it an offer. But there is one more condition. We are done with talking. When, in a moment, I stop speaking neither of us is to say another word. You cannot ask questions. You cannot make comments. If you do, I will take it as a rejection of my offer. I will gather up my key and leave. If, however, you decide to accept, simply reach for the key and proceed to room 523. The events I have described will unfold. If you turn me down, please simply rise from your seat and leave. I will wait a few minutes, and I will also leave, never to enter your life again. You may wish to think, but you must do so silently. You must either

accept or reject my proposition with your next motion towards or away from the key." The man fell silent. Voices, laughter, chairs pushed and pulled, and ice tinkling against glass drifted from other areas of the Royal—now rapidly filling—but Charles heard nothing. His heart thrashed at his ribs. The beats pulsed in his ears. He now knew of something he had never suspected. Charles had his fantasies. Like most people he practiced fantasy most diligently and most intensely in the time between lying down and falling asleep for the night, finding in that time the complete retreat from life on which fantasy thrives. He prohibited himself nothing in these moments. But now he had overheard something: an approach to a woman so bold, so provocative, so heated that he could never have fantasized it. The man's proposition both awed and frightened him. Men of such boldness and .imagination existed! And there must be two men - two who had conspired, each to feed a different appetite. And now he was about to learn something of even more profound importance. The next moments would reveal whether the world held women who would accept such a proposition. This was a type of knowledge that Charles had sought since adolescence. How to approach women. What works. What to avoid. The answers depended on the nature of the desired object. Momentarily Charles was to learn something about the nature of women. Finally, Charles moved. He took his one hand from the glass and his other from the table, and put both in his lap. He dropped his head, let his shoulders slump, and closed his eyes. He was close to prayer. But he would not have known what to pray for. Alarm rioted in his abdomen. True, many of his fantasies were based on the premise that women's sexuality could be unrestrained. But in his daily existence Charles had never acted on the premise that women are the voraciously sexual creatures that this proposition assumed they must be. So, if the woman turned away, Charles' practical understanding of what was possible, of what women wanted, and of how to approach them would be confirmed, and there would be comfort in that. On the other hand, if she accepted... The alarm pressed hard against his diaphragm. But now his edgy musing ended. He heard movement from the next booth. He lifted his head and opened his eyes. It was the hotel room key sliding along the top of the table. A click: the woman opening her purse. A muffled jingle: the key dropping into the purse. Another click: the purse closing. And then the woman was on her feet, walking away. Charles turned his head to follow her. She wove her way through the tables. Past the bar, she pushed the swinging doors open. Through the Royal's front windows Charles caught a glimpse of her in the building's brightly lit lobby. She turned left, in the direction of the elevators, rather than right, in the direction that would have brought her to the street. She had accepted.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Assignation

"If you accept my proposition, you will take this key and go to room 523. On the pillow will be a blindfold. You will put it on and wait. Soon a man will enter. He will say nothing, and you will say nothing. He will start to undress you. He will not, however, remove the blindfold. As he proceeds he will undress himself. You may help him if you wish. In fact, in all that happens there will be no restraints on you, but two. You may not say a word. He, too, will be silent. And you may not remove the blindfold. "The two of you will, of course, make love. You may do so in any manner you wish. You can have him do anything you want him to do. By the same token, he will not do anything you indicate you do not want him to do. You, on the other hand, may do whatever you like to him. You will be in control to the extent you want to be, and you may cede control to the extent you want to. "At whatever point you wish, the love making will end. When that occurs, the man will dress and leave. Only then may you remove the blindfold. You will dress, too. But you will not leave the room yet. There is more." Charles sat perfectly still, barely breathing. What more could there be? "Beyond the bed, are two comfortable chairs facing each other. You will take one and wait. In a few minutes I will enter. I will take the empty chair. Now you will finally speak. You will describe to me everything that happened in the room with your unknown lover. You will describe it from the first gropings to the final uncoupling, in minute detail. But most importantly, the thing on which you will expend your most potent powers of description will be your own reactions, the emotions that you experienced, the needs you felt, and how you responded to their fulfillment. "You may go on for as long as you wish. I trust that you will take advantage of the opportunity to review the particulars of your love making in a way that you likely have never done before. When you finally finish, I will leave. When you are ready, you, too, will leave. We will never meet again. You will never meet this night's lover again, either. We will all go our separate ways." Charles had not lifted his drink since the man began relating his proposition. He sat rigid, transfixed, every fiber straining to listen, still scarcely breathing, unaware of any physical sensation, disbelieving. The man went on. "That is my proposition. Or, may I be so presuming as to call it an offer. But there is one more condition. We are done with talking. When, in a moment, I stop speaking neither of us is to say another word. You cannot ask questions. You cannot make comments. If you do, I will take it as a rejection of my offer. I will gather up my key and leave. If, however, you decide to accept, simply reach for the key and proceed to room 523. The events I have described will unfold. If you turn me down, please simply rise from your seat and leave. I will wait a few minutes, and I will also leave, never to enter your life again. You may wish to think, but you must do so silently. You must either

accept or reject my proposition with your next motion towards or away from the key." The man fell silent. Voices, laughter, chairs pushed and pulled, and ice tinkling against glass drifted from other areas of the Royal—now rapidly filling—but Charles heard nothing. His heart thrashed at his ribs. The beats pulsed in his ears. He now knew of something he had never suspected. Charles had his fantasies. Like most people he practiced fantasy most diligently and most intensely in the time between lying down and falling asleep for the night, finding in that time the complete retreat from life on which fantasy thrives. He prohibited himself nothing in these moments. But now he had overheard something: an approach to a woman so bold, so provocative, so heated that he could never have fantasized it. The man's proposition both awed and frightened him. Men of such boldness and .imagination existed! And there must be two men - two who had conspired, each to feed a different appetite. And now he was about to learn something of even more profound importance. The next moments would reveal whether the world held women who would accept such a proposition. This was a type of knowledge that Charles had sought since adolescence. How to approach women. What works. What to avoid. The answers depended on the nature of the desired object. Momentarily Charles was to learn something about the nature of women. Finally, Charles moved. He took his one hand from the glass and his other from the table, and put both in his lap. He dropped his head, let his shoulders slump, and closed his eyes. He was close to prayer. But he would not have known what to pray for. Alarm rioted in his abdomen. True, many of his fantasies were based on the premise that women's sexuality could be unrestrained. But in his daily existence Charles had never acted on the premise that women are the voraciously sexual creatures that this proposition assumed they must be. So, if the woman turned away, Charles' practical understanding of what was possible, of what women wanted, and of how to approach them would be confirmed, and there would be comfort in that. On the other hand, if she accepted... The alarm pressed hard against his diaphragm. But now his edgy musing ended. He heard movement from the next booth. He lifted his head and opened his eyes. It was the hotel room key sliding along the top of the table. A click: the woman opening her purse. A muffled jingle: the key dropping into the purse. Another click: the purse closing. And then the woman was on her feet, walking away. Charles turned his head to follow her. She wove her way through the tables. Past the bar, she pushed the swinging doors open. Through the Royal's front windows Charles caught a glimpse of her in the building's brightly lit lobby. She turned left, in the direction of the elevators, rather than right, in the direction that would have brought her to the street. She had accepted.

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Berkeley Fiction Review In that instant Charles' comfortable understanding of sexual limitations crumbled. While his old conceptions held, Charles was safe—frustrated perhaps, yearning after the unattainable, but safe. Now the edifice had imploded, and its place was being taken not by a new structure, but by a shifting, frightening array of possibilities that he had never before had to consider. As he watched the woman walk away the alarm in his gut turned to nausea. It was the sickness that comes to men who realize they are inadequate. Charles' hands still lay in his lap. His shoulders still slumped. A few moments passed. The man now rose from his booth. He walked towards the entrance. Charles watched. Through the windows Charles saw him turn in the same direction that the woman had turned: towards the elevators. This was odd. The man was not to reenter the night's drama until the love making in room 523 ended. Surely that would take some time. Why then was the man going towards the elevators now? Charles followed him. He took an elevator to the fifth floor and walked down a long hallway, following the arrows towards room 523. Another hallway branched to the right where a sign indicated room 523 was located. Charles walked past the branching hallway and glanced down it. He gasped. There, in the recess outside what must have been room 523, was the man from the booth in the Royal. But now he had taken off his suit jacket and vest and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. The jacket and vest lay on the floor in the hallway. And, as Charles passed, the man was taking off more than an outer layer of clothing. The man was ripping off his beard! Charles stumbled to just beyond the branching hallway, and leaned heavily with his back against the wall, out of the man's line of sight. His breath was suddenly deep and fast. The man from the booth was not possessed merely of incredible gall; he was a shameless deceiver as well. His proposition had posited two men as engaging in the night's scheme. One was the man himself, who would be a vicarious participant, listening to the woman's description of her love making with the other, never-to-be-seen, man. But, the man in the booth was to be both lover and listener. He was duping the woman by a slight change in clothing and by a theatrical transformation that would deceive the only sense that the proposition permitted her: touch. The man had enticed a beautiful woman into illicit lovemaking. And when it was over he would hear her describe every detail. He would feast twice: first on her body, and then on her psyche. Charles heard the man open and close the door to room 523. He peeked around the corner. The branching hallway was clear. He walked to 523. On the floor to the side of the doorway lay the man's jacket and vest. He had wrapped them around the false beard, a small piece of which protruded at one end. Charles stared incredulously. When he returned to the end of the branching

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Assignation hallway he assumed a waiting position around the corner, leaning against the wall where he could listen for the door to 523 opening again. The hallway was lit by bulbs encased in thick glass ornaments of ornate Victorian design that protruded from the walls just above each door. These cast a diffuse, milky illumination that gave Charles the unnerving feeling he was in a fog. A few people passed on the way to and from their rooms. He smiled pleasantly at them, and maintained his vigil. He waited for over three hours. Finally, he heard the door open and close. He held still. The man did not walk down the hallway. Charles waited until the door opened and closed again. Now he walked to 523. Thejacket, vest and beard were gone. He returned to his post. This time he waited for well over an hour. In describing her lovefest the woman must indeed be going into every detail, as the man desired. Charles' mind swirled with the possibilities of what had happened in that room. Finally, the door opened and closed for the fourth time. Charles heard the man approach, one footstep following quickly upon the other. At the intersection of the two hallways the man turned away from Charles, towards the elevators, unaware of Charles' presence. A few minutes more and the door to 523 opened and closed for what Charles knew would be the last time. He anticipated that the woman would be even more anxious to make her way to the elevators than the man had been, and thus she, too, would pass without noticing him. But the woman's steps were languidly slow. As she approached she began rummaging in her purse. She came to the intersection and stopped, still searching for something. Charles set his eyes resolutely straight ahead. He did not want to look at her, for she might look back, and then their eyes might meet. And if she looked into his eyes, this woman—this woman possessed of a white-hot sexuality heretofore beyond Charles'ken—would see it. Even the quickest glance would reveal it. This woman would see it in his eyes, in his face: his inadequacy. But out of the side of his eye Charles saw the woman lift her head from her purse and look towards him. He saw her hold her gaze, pressuring him, denying him any option. Slowly, he turned his head towards her. He forced the edges of his mouth upward and nodded, a hesitant, self-conscious smile, or perhaps, as he feared, a stupid grin. When their eyes met he might as well have been dropped naked in front of the pulpit on Sunday morning. Without acknowledging his gesture, the woman snapped her purse shut and turned away. He followed her slow, sinuous walk down the long hallway. In the coming days Charles carefully reviewed the events of that night. He had witnessed fantasy, better than fantasy: a new reality. And against this new reality he now judged himself. He was thirty-four years old. He had thought he knew the rules of the high stakes male-female games. But it seemed that women were not the creatures he had believed them to be, and now Charles came to 83


Berkeley Fiction Review In that instant Charles' comfortable understanding of sexual limitations crumbled. While his old conceptions held, Charles was safe—frustrated perhaps, yearning after the unattainable, but safe. Now the edifice had imploded, and its place was being taken not by a new structure, but by a shifting, frightening array of possibilities that he had never before had to consider. As he watched the woman walk away the alarm in his gut turned to nausea. It was the sickness that comes to men who realize they are inadequate. Charles' hands still lay in his lap. His shoulders still slumped. A few moments passed. The man now rose from his booth. He walked towards the entrance. Charles watched. Through the windows Charles saw him turn in the same direction that the woman had turned: towards the elevators. This was odd. The man was not to reenter the night's drama until the love making in room 523 ended. Surely that would take some time. Why then was the man going towards the elevators now? Charles followed him. He took an elevator to the fifth floor and walked down a long hallway, following the arrows towards room 523. Another hallway branched to the right where a sign indicated room 523 was located. Charles walked past the branching hallway and glanced down it. He gasped. There, in the recess outside what must have been room 523, was the man from the booth in the Royal. But now he had taken off his suit jacket and vest and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. The jacket and vest lay on the floor in the hallway. And, as Charles passed, the man was taking off more than an outer layer of clothing. The man was ripping off his beard! Charles stumbled to just beyond the branching hallway, and leaned heavily with his back against the wall, out of the man's line of sight. His breath was suddenly deep and fast. The man from the booth was not possessed merely of incredible gall; he was a shameless deceiver as well. His proposition had posited two men as engaging in the night's scheme. One was the man himself, who would be a vicarious participant, listening to the woman's description of her love making with the other, never-to-be-seen, man. But, the man in the booth was to be both lover and listener. He was duping the woman by a slight change in clothing and by a theatrical transformation that would deceive the only sense that the proposition permitted her: touch. The man had enticed a beautiful woman into illicit lovemaking. And when it was over he would hear her describe every detail. He would feast twice: first on her body, and then on her psyche. Charles heard the man open and close the door to room 523. He peeked around the corner. The branching hallway was clear. He walked to 523. On the floor to the side of the doorway lay the man's jacket and vest. He had wrapped them around the false beard, a small piece of which protruded at one end. Charles stared incredulously. When he returned to the end of the branching

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Assignation hallway he assumed a waiting position around the corner, leaning against the wall where he could listen for the door to 523 opening again. The hallway was lit by bulbs encased in thick glass ornaments of ornate Victorian design that protruded from the walls just above each door. These cast a diffuse, milky illumination that gave Charles the unnerving feeling he was in a fog. A few people passed on the way to and from their rooms. He smiled pleasantly at them, and maintained his vigil. He waited for over three hours. Finally, he heard the door open and close. He held still. The man did not walk down the hallway. Charles waited until the door opened and closed again. Now he walked to 523. Thejacket, vest and beard were gone. He returned to his post. This time he waited for well over an hour. In describing her lovefest the woman must indeed be going into every detail, as the man desired. Charles' mind swirled with the possibilities of what had happened in that room. Finally, the door opened and closed for the fourth time. Charles heard the man approach, one footstep following quickly upon the other. At the intersection of the two hallways the man turned away from Charles, towards the elevators, unaware of Charles' presence. A few minutes more and the door to 523 opened and closed for what Charles knew would be the last time. He anticipated that the woman would be even more anxious to make her way to the elevators than the man had been, and thus she, too, would pass without noticing him. But the woman's steps were languidly slow. As she approached she began rummaging in her purse. She came to the intersection and stopped, still searching for something. Charles set his eyes resolutely straight ahead. He did not want to look at her, for she might look back, and then their eyes might meet. And if she looked into his eyes, this woman—this woman possessed of a white-hot sexuality heretofore beyond Charles'ken—would see it. Even the quickest glance would reveal it. This woman would see it in his eyes, in his face: his inadequacy. But out of the side of his eye Charles saw the woman lift her head from her purse and look towards him. He saw her hold her gaze, pressuring him, denying him any option. Slowly, he turned his head towards her. He forced the edges of his mouth upward and nodded, a hesitant, self-conscious smile, or perhaps, as he feared, a stupid grin. When their eyes met he might as well have been dropped naked in front of the pulpit on Sunday morning. Without acknowledging his gesture, the woman snapped her purse shut and turned away. He followed her slow, sinuous walk down the long hallway. In the coming days Charles carefully reviewed the events of that night. He had witnessed fantasy, better than fantasy: a new reality. And against this new reality he now judged himself. He was thirty-four years old. He had thought he knew the rules of the high stakes male-female games. But it seemed that women were not the creatures he had believed them to be, and now Charles came to 83


Berkeley Fiction Review doubt the very rationale for the rules. He had always thought they were society's call—a demand made to protect women and, in some way that had always been unclear, the larger society itself. Men simply could not be allowed to discharge their full sexual artillery. However, now it occurred to him that the restraints had not been a submission to societal demands, but, rather, a very personal matter. He had formulated the restraints; and not to protect women from him, but to protect him from them—from their potential for a sexuality that he feared he could not match. After several days of thinking of little else but the events of that night and their ramifications, this understanding supplanted the old. However, even in this revelatory light, Charles believed that most women would reject an approach such as he had witnessed. Thus, the man at the Royal must have been willing to risk failure. But whereas formerly Charles could not conceive of any woman accepting such brazenness, now he knew that some would. If he could tolerate a number of rejections, he believed that he would ultimately win the same prize that the man at the Royal had won. For the first time in his life he had a suit tailored. Three-piece, pure wool, charcoal black, pin striped. A deep blue shirt, a red satin tie, a new pair of black shoes. The clothing was a modest challenge compared to the false beard. The first three stores he visited offered rags, shabby, polyester-like things fit only for Halloween. Finally, he found a woman who, from her shop in the rear of a / dressmaker's studio, specialized in costumes for professional actors, the theater, Broadway. She cut a beard to his face, like the tailor had cut the suit to his body. She instructed him on how to wear it, how to take it off and how to quickly reattach it, as would an actor playing two parts in a play. On the Friday three weeks after the night of his encounter with the man and woman, Charles rented a room in the hotel above the Royal Booth. He then went to the Royal and took a stool at the bar. He began studying the women who came in alone. He noted the way they moved, the expressions on their faces as they ordered drinks, their posture. He looked at them more carefully than he had ever looked at women before, trying to pick up the subtle messages that would identify the right one. He closely observed half a dozen women, discarding them for reasons that answered only to dim intuition. When he finally settled on one it was for no reason he could articulate. He approached and offered her a drink. She accepted. Small talk followed. Her name was Claire. Charles suggested that they take a booth. As soon as they settled into their seats, he began. He got as far as tossing the key on the table. Claire looked at him in amazement. "You must be kidding. I don't know a thing about you. Or, at least I didn't until now." She got up and walked away. The second time, a week later, the woman's name was Barbara. She was more patient. She let Charles get as far as the blindfold. "Blindfold? A blindfold? Youpervert!" And off she stormed. 84

Assignation The third time, on the next Friday, Helen recognized in Charles the philandering husband she had left six months earlier, only much worse. She screamed, "Another man!?" And then, once again, "You pervert. Where is he? Is he watching us right now?" People turned. She stood up and jerked her head around the Royal's expanse of tables and booths. She saw nothing suspicious. But before she, too, stormed away, she delivered a roundhouse slap to Charles' face that nearly knocked him out of his seat. A gasp rose from the surrounding tables. Charles was now $600 in the hole for room rentals—on top of the suit, the shirt, the tie, the shoes and the beard—and he had nothing to show for it but a stinging cheek and a badly mauled ego. He did not want to eat take-out pizza in his apartment that night. He went instead to a restaurant across town where he could be among people—but people who had not seen his most recent debacle—and take his time. He needed to think. Though he had been prepared for initial failures, he was beginning to feel that something was very wrong. Perhaps the man in the booth was simply a master at identifying willing women, while Charles' radar could not even see to the horizon. Charles had not observed the man's facial expressions and body language. Perhaps the man possessed physical charisma—something Charles knew he, himself, lacked. Perhaps Charles could not deliver the proposition with the confidence that the man had so obviously possessed. Maybe it was some combination of these. Maybe it was all of them. Maybe it was something that had not occurred to Charles, and never would. These speculations ate at Charles. But hard-breathing images of the man and woman together in Room 523 floated in the front of his libido, and continued to challenge him. He waited two weeks this time, girding himself, preparing for another failure if that was to be. This woman—her name was Ellen—was the best looking to date: tall, slim, jet-black hair, wide mouth, and a figure. No toothpick was Ellen. She had a real figure. And Ellen listened. Like the woman whose example Charles hoped she would follow, Ellen was at first suspicious. But as Charles worked his way through the proposition, assuring her that she would be in complete control, she sat without a word, watching him. When he was done, she was silent, as the terms of the proposition demanded. She looked from him to the key, back to him and back to the key again. She lifted her eyes one more time. She stared at him. Then, without a word, she rose and walked away leaving the key on the table. While Ellen had not taken the key, there was reason for optimism this night. Ellen had heard the proposition through to the end. Her interest had appeared to grow. And though she had turned Charles down, she had done it according to the proposition's terms. There was none of the embarrassment that had accompanied the previous three failures. This, in fact, was barely a failure at all.

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Berkeley Fiction Review doubt the very rationale for the rules. He had always thought they were society's call—a demand made to protect women and, in some way that had always been unclear, the larger society itself. Men simply could not be allowed to discharge their full sexual artillery. However, now it occurred to him that the restraints had not been a submission to societal demands, but, rather, a very personal matter. He had formulated the restraints; and not to protect women from him, but to protect him from them—from their potential for a sexuality that he feared he could not match. After several days of thinking of little else but the events of that night and their ramifications, this understanding supplanted the old. However, even in this revelatory light, Charles believed that most women would reject an approach such as he had witnessed. Thus, the man at the Royal must have been willing to risk failure. But whereas formerly Charles could not conceive of any woman accepting such brazenness, now he knew that some would. If he could tolerate a number of rejections, he believed that he would ultimately win the same prize that the man at the Royal had won. For the first time in his life he had a suit tailored. Three-piece, pure wool, charcoal black, pin striped. A deep blue shirt, a red satin tie, a new pair of black shoes. The clothing was a modest challenge compared to the false beard. The first three stores he visited offered rags, shabby, polyester-like things fit only for Halloween. Finally, he found a woman who, from her shop in the rear of a / dressmaker's studio, specialized in costumes for professional actors, the theater, Broadway. She cut a beard to his face, like the tailor had cut the suit to his body. She instructed him on how to wear it, how to take it off and how to quickly reattach it, as would an actor playing two parts in a play. On the Friday three weeks after the night of his encounter with the man and woman, Charles rented a room in the hotel above the Royal Booth. He then went to the Royal and took a stool at the bar. He began studying the women who came in alone. He noted the way they moved, the expressions on their faces as they ordered drinks, their posture. He looked at them more carefully than he had ever looked at women before, trying to pick up the subtle messages that would identify the right one. He closely observed half a dozen women, discarding them for reasons that answered only to dim intuition. When he finally settled on one it was for no reason he could articulate. He approached and offered her a drink. She accepted. Small talk followed. Her name was Claire. Charles suggested that they take a booth. As soon as they settled into their seats, he began. He got as far as tossing the key on the table. Claire looked at him in amazement. "You must be kidding. I don't know a thing about you. Or, at least I didn't until now." She got up and walked away. The second time, a week later, the woman's name was Barbara. She was more patient. She let Charles get as far as the blindfold. "Blindfold? A blindfold? Youpervert!" And off she stormed. 84

Assignation The third time, on the next Friday, Helen recognized in Charles the philandering husband she had left six months earlier, only much worse. She screamed, "Another man!?" And then, once again, "You pervert. Where is he? Is he watching us right now?" People turned. She stood up and jerked her head around the Royal's expanse of tables and booths. She saw nothing suspicious. But before she, too, stormed away, she delivered a roundhouse slap to Charles' face that nearly knocked him out of his seat. A gasp rose from the surrounding tables. Charles was now $600 in the hole for room rentals—on top of the suit, the shirt, the tie, the shoes and the beard—and he had nothing to show for it but a stinging cheek and a badly mauled ego. He did not want to eat take-out pizza in his apartment that night. He went instead to a restaurant across town where he could be among people—but people who had not seen his most recent debacle—and take his time. He needed to think. Though he had been prepared for initial failures, he was beginning to feel that something was very wrong. Perhaps the man in the booth was simply a master at identifying willing women, while Charles' radar could not even see to the horizon. Charles had not observed the man's facial expressions and body language. Perhaps the man possessed physical charisma—something Charles knew he, himself, lacked. Perhaps Charles could not deliver the proposition with the confidence that the man had so obviously possessed. Maybe it was some combination of these. Maybe it was all of them. Maybe it was something that had not occurred to Charles, and never would. These speculations ate at Charles. But hard-breathing images of the man and woman together in Room 523 floated in the front of his libido, and continued to challenge him. He waited two weeks this time, girding himself, preparing for another failure if that was to be. This woman—her name was Ellen—was the best looking to date: tall, slim, jet-black hair, wide mouth, and a figure. No toothpick was Ellen. She had a real figure. And Ellen listened. Like the woman whose example Charles hoped she would follow, Ellen was at first suspicious. But as Charles worked his way through the proposition, assuring her that she would be in complete control, she sat without a word, watching him. When he was done, she was silent, as the terms of the proposition demanded. She looked from him to the key, back to him and back to the key again. She lifted her eyes one more time. She stared at him. Then, without a word, she rose and walked away leaving the key on the table. While Ellen had not taken the key, there was reason for optimism this night. Ellen had heard the proposition through to the end. Her interest had appeared to grow. And though she had turned Charles down, she had done it according to the proposition's terms. There was none of the embarrassment that had accompanied the previous three failures. This, in fact, was barely a failure at all.

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Berkeley Fiction

Review

Ellen had played by the rules. Charles was emboldened. He was getting better at this game. He lingered over his drink. It was still early. He might actually try again that very night. He looked towards the entrance to watch single women as they walked in. But it was not another woman who drew his attention. Ellen was walking back towards him. The key was still on the table, and hope would have sent adrenalin coursing through his veins and arteries were it not for the fact that Ellen was accompanied by a very large policewoman. Charles glanced from the officer to the key. He wanted to reach for it and put it back in his pocket. It was too late. Ellen and the officer were upon him. "Sir," the officer said, "please stand up." Behind the officer, Ellen's arms were folded over her chest. Her lovely race was grim and determined. "Officer, what is this about?" "Please stand up, sir." The cop was big, even for a man. She spoke with the rigid formality of the police that threatens even when the words are formally polite. Charles stood. "Sir, please turn around, put your hands on the table and spread your legs." "What? You're gonna frisk me?" "Yes, sir, I am. Please turn around right now." She moved a step closer. Her right hand rested on her holster. Charles did what he was told. The officer's hands moved in practiced synchronization from his shoulders, down his torso, and then down each leg in turn. Her fingers probed. The acid thought came to Charles that this was the only contact with a woman he had had in over two months. "You can turn around now, sir." Charles faced the cop. "May I ask again what this is all about?" "This woman," she jerked a thumb at Ellen standing beside and slightly behind her, "says you propositioned her in an unusual manner, Sir." Ellen broke in. "I tell you he's running a sex slave ring! He entices women to a room in this hotel. And then he and another man take their liberties with her, and I don't think they let her go. It's amazing the foolishness he tried to feed me, officer. You won't believe it. It's just amazing." Charles' mouth dropped open. "My God, what are you talking about?" To the cop he said, "Officer, this is ridiculous. A... a..." the words drew his throat tight, "sex slave ring? I mean. Yeah, yeah, I propositioned her." He stopped, suddenly realizing that an innocent characterization of what he had said to Ellen might not be easy. "But a sex slave ring. Where does that come from?" His voice was excited and loud. People were staring. Eyebrows rose. Puzzled grins appeared. "Officer, surely you believe me." The cop was standing at her full height. She looked down at Charles. "Is there another man involved in this, sir?" 86

Assignation "No, no, there isn't. I swear there isn't." "She said you told her another man would come to the room." "Well, yes, I did say that. But it isn't true. I . . . I was trying to fool her." Charles heard the lameness in his voice. "Really, I was just trying to fool her." "I see." As she said this the officer reached for Charles' wrist. Grabbing it she ordered: "Turn around again and put your hands behind your back." "What?" Charles shrieked. "I didn't do anything." "Just do what I say." The cop was speaking fiercely now, asserting raw authority, putting an end to things. Still holding Charles' one wrist, she pushed his opposite shoulder, spinning him around. When his back was to her she grabbed his other wrist, held both in one hand while she took a pair of handcuffs from her belt, and coupled Charles' hands behind him. "I can't believe this." "Sir, I'm placing you under arrest. You have a right to remain silent. You have a right to a lawyer. Anything you say can and will be used against you." "My God, the Miranda warnings!" "This way, sir." The "sir" was a sneer. She pushed Charles towards the bar and from there, as all of the Royal watched in the muted light, she kept pushing him through the door and out into the lobby. There she stopped and looked Charles up and down. Charles' eyes adjusted to the lobby's bright illumination. He watched her shake her head in incredulity and pity. Then she pushed Charles away from the elevators, towards the street.

Some hours later there occurred a conversation that would have interested Charles. It was between the very man and woman whose assignation had set him on his humbling quest. Charles believed that the man and woman would never meet again. That had been one of the terms of the man's proposition. But here they were, in an apartment high above the city's streets, just a few blocks from the Royal Booth. The apartment was spacious. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room looked out on the city. Long horizontal lines defined sofa, coffee table and the slate-faced fireplace. No lights burned. There was only by the glow of the city coming from without. Seated on the couch, she sideways on his lap, they touched eacrfpther's faces with a hand. Manhattan reflected in their eyes. "Darling, I think we're about due," the woman said. "How long has it been?" Her lips brushed his. "Seven weeks, my love." "Getting restless?" His hand dropped to her thigh. "Yes." "Mmm. It's your turn, you know." 87


Berkeley Fiction

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Ellen had played by the rules. Charles was emboldened. He was getting better at this game. He lingered over his drink. It was still early. He might actually try again that very night. He looked towards the entrance to watch single women as they walked in. But it was not another woman who drew his attention. Ellen was walking back towards him. The key was still on the table, and hope would have sent adrenalin coursing through his veins and arteries were it not for the fact that Ellen was accompanied by a very large policewoman. Charles glanced from the officer to the key. He wanted to reach for it and put it back in his pocket. It was too late. Ellen and the officer were upon him. "Sir," the officer said, "please stand up." Behind the officer, Ellen's arms were folded over her chest. Her lovely race was grim and determined. "Officer, what is this about?" "Please stand up, sir." The cop was big, even for a man. She spoke with the rigid formality of the police that threatens even when the words are formally polite. Charles stood. "Sir, please turn around, put your hands on the table and spread your legs." "What? You're gonna frisk me?" "Yes, sir, I am. Please turn around right now." She moved a step closer. Her right hand rested on her holster. Charles did what he was told. The officer's hands moved in practiced synchronization from his shoulders, down his torso, and then down each leg in turn. Her fingers probed. The acid thought came to Charles that this was the only contact with a woman he had had in over two months. "You can turn around now, sir." Charles faced the cop. "May I ask again what this is all about?" "This woman," she jerked a thumb at Ellen standing beside and slightly behind her, "says you propositioned her in an unusual manner, Sir." Ellen broke in. "I tell you he's running a sex slave ring! He entices women to a room in this hotel. And then he and another man take their liberties with her, and I don't think they let her go. It's amazing the foolishness he tried to feed me, officer. You won't believe it. It's just amazing." Charles' mouth dropped open. "My God, what are you talking about?" To the cop he said, "Officer, this is ridiculous. A... a..." the words drew his throat tight, "sex slave ring? I mean. Yeah, yeah, I propositioned her." He stopped, suddenly realizing that an innocent characterization of what he had said to Ellen might not be easy. "But a sex slave ring. Where does that come from?" His voice was excited and loud. People were staring. Eyebrows rose. Puzzled grins appeared. "Officer, surely you believe me." The cop was standing at her full height. She looked down at Charles. "Is there another man involved in this, sir?" 86

Assignation "No, no, there isn't. I swear there isn't." "She said you told her another man would come to the room." "Well, yes, I did say that. But it isn't true. I . . . I was trying to fool her." Charles heard the lameness in his voice. "Really, I was just trying to fool her." "I see." As she said this the officer reached for Charles' wrist. Grabbing it she ordered: "Turn around again and put your hands behind your back." "What?" Charles shrieked. "I didn't do anything." "Just do what I say." The cop was speaking fiercely now, asserting raw authority, putting an end to things. Still holding Charles' one wrist, she pushed his opposite shoulder, spinning him around. When his back was to her she grabbed his other wrist, held both in one hand while she took a pair of handcuffs from her belt, and coupled Charles' hands behind him. "I can't believe this." "Sir, I'm placing you under arrest. You have a right to remain silent. You have a right to a lawyer. Anything you say can and will be used against you." "My God, the Miranda warnings!" "This way, sir." The "sir" was a sneer. She pushed Charles towards the bar and from there, as all of the Royal watched in the muted light, she kept pushing him through the door and out into the lobby. There she stopped and looked Charles up and down. Charles' eyes adjusted to the lobby's bright illumination. He watched her shake her head in incredulity and pity. Then she pushed Charles away from the elevators, towards the street.

Some hours later there occurred a conversation that would have interested Charles. It was between the very man and woman whose assignation had set him on his humbling quest. Charles believed that the man and woman would never meet again. That had been one of the terms of the man's proposition. But here they were, in an apartment high above the city's streets, just a few blocks from the Royal Booth. The apartment was spacious. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room looked out on the city. Long horizontal lines defined sofa, coffee table and the slate-faced fireplace. No lights burned. There was only by the glow of the city coming from without. Seated on the couch, she sideways on his lap, they touched eacrfpther's faces with a hand. Manhattan reflected in their eyes. "Darling, I think we're about due," the woman said. "How long has it been?" Her lips brushed his. "Seven weeks, my love." "Getting restless?" His hand dropped to her thigh. "Yes." "Mmm. It's your turn, you know." 87


Berkeley Fiction

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"Yes, and I have something in mind. But I'll have a hard time surpassing your last little game. It was impressive. I enjoyed it immensely." The man's hand moved along her thigh to her waist and rested there. He smiled. "Iputalotofthoughtintothatone. The beard and the threat of the other man. I wondered if you'd back out because of that." "If ten years of marriage hadn't left me trusting you in spite of your recklessness, I would have left that key on the table, and gone to stay with mother." The man smiled. "And I liked the part about your not being able to talk, too." At this she pulled away, grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head back against the sofe. "Oh, did you?" "Just kidding, my love. Just kidding. You know I adore every syllable that issues from that beautiful mouth of yours." She considered this. "That's better." She let go of his hair. She continued, "That curious man made it even more delicious. Leading me to the booth right next to him—exposing us and daring me to continue anyway. That was a brilliant improvisation." "I try." "He followed us to the room. He was there when I left. The poor thing must have stood at the end of the hallway all that while. I still wonder what he thought. I wonder what became of him." And her husband repeated, "I wonder."

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onversely," Joan said, twirling her hair, "he never even goes through the motions of a really..." and that's when Apple lost track, at "really," [because she had gotten stranded back on "conversely," wondering why Joan had used it, if she even knew what it meant, and was Joan the sort of person who would use a word just for effect without really grasping the definition, just as some people say "supposably" for "supposedly," though Apple was pretty certain that substituting one word for another was an altogether different proposition; and besides, how many people could there be, really, who understand with dictionary-like precision what most words mean and could therefore use language with any degree of authority - well, she had to assume there weren't many, especially since the population at large has a barely adequate comprehension of their mother tongue to begin with - but Apple was hardly able to enjoy the fact that her musings had taken on a distinctly sociopolitical slant when Joan suddenly reined her back in with the word "sex," as in, "He never even wants sex when he's feeling mat way," which naturally made Apple wonder, "Which way is that?" but of course she couldn't ask without revealing that she hadn't been present and accounted for, that a whole slew of words had flown right by her ears without her hearing a single one, and that she was now in the awkward position of having to listen that much more intently, of trying to find her way back, her body rocking ever so slightly back and forth, a movement imperceptible to the naked eye, perhaps, but in her own brain feeling much as a child who waits her turn at jump rope, using sight sound nuance shading anything at hand to leap in somehow, hoping Joan would drop a clue, any clue, or that she herself would find a break in the action that would allow her to sit once again amongst the cognoscenti; but of course Joan never 89


Berkeley Fiction

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"Yes, and I have something in mind. But I'll have a hard time surpassing your last little game. It was impressive. I enjoyed it immensely." The man's hand moved along her thigh to her waist and rested there. He smiled. "Iputalotofthoughtintothatone. The beard and the threat of the other man. I wondered if you'd back out because of that." "If ten years of marriage hadn't left me trusting you in spite of your recklessness, I would have left that key on the table, and gone to stay with mother." The man smiled. "And I liked the part about your not being able to talk, too." At this she pulled away, grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head back against the sofe. "Oh, did you?" "Just kidding, my love. Just kidding. You know I adore every syllable that issues from that beautiful mouth of yours." She considered this. "That's better." She let go of his hair. She continued, "That curious man made it even more delicious. Leading me to the booth right next to him—exposing us and daring me to continue anyway. That was a brilliant improvisation." "I try." "He followed us to the room. He was there when I left. The poor thing must have stood at the end of the hallway all that while. I still wonder what he thought. I wonder what became of him." And her husband repeated, "I wonder."

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onversely," Joan said, twirling her hair, "he never even goes through the motions of a really..." and that's when Apple lost track, at "really," [because she had gotten stranded back on "conversely," wondering why Joan had used it, if she even knew what it meant, and was Joan the sort of person who would use a word just for effect without really grasping the definition, just as some people say "supposably" for "supposedly," though Apple was pretty certain that substituting one word for another was an altogether different proposition; and besides, how many people could there be, really, who understand with dictionary-like precision what most words mean and could therefore use language with any degree of authority - well, she had to assume there weren't many, especially since the population at large has a barely adequate comprehension of their mother tongue to begin with - but Apple was hardly able to enjoy the fact that her musings had taken on a distinctly sociopolitical slant when Joan suddenly reined her back in with the word "sex," as in, "He never even wants sex when he's feeling mat way," which naturally made Apple wonder, "Which way is that?" but of course she couldn't ask without revealing that she hadn't been present and accounted for, that a whole slew of words had flown right by her ears without her hearing a single one, and that she was now in the awkward position of having to listen that much more intently, of trying to find her way back, her body rocking ever so slightly back and forth, a movement imperceptible to the naked eye, perhaps, but in her own brain feeling much as a child who waits her turn at jump rope, using sight sound nuance shading anything at hand to leap in somehow, hoping Joan would drop a clue, any clue, or that she herself would find a break in the action that would allow her to sit once again amongst the cognoscenti; but of course Joan never 89


Berkeley Fiction

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did, never even took a breath, her words butting up against each other like drunken revelers in a conga line, which of course was the most frustrating thing about Joan, the way she held court, talking for minutes that felt like hours, sometimes about virtually nothing at all, so that by the time she got to something really juicy (which she tended to do on occasion, Apple had to give her that), Apple was in such a stupor from sheer volume that she could only sit there dumbly, replaying in her mind how Joan had just described the most trivial things in maddening detail - a particularly adorable gabardine jacket on sale at Hinshaw's, say, or all the things on her to-do list she had accomplished that day, including vacuuming, for God's sakes! - so that the choice tidbits would slip by unnoticed, and Apple would find herself mentally asking, "What was that? What was that?" while repeating "uh-huh, uh-huh" like a human metronome waiting to feel a part of it again, because isn't that the bottom line, the nexus of friendship, if you will, feeling a part of someone else's life no matter how trivial or downright boring at times; though Apple had to wonder why some people seem to have absolutely no sense of audience, no sense that their own inconsequential lives don't make for good fodder, not to mention why - and this was the most infuriating of all - the most consistent talkers are rarely the best listeners because, try as she might, Apple couldn't remember the last time Joan had ever really listened to her.. .but what was that Joan just said, something about a nervous breakdown?...damn, she'd missed it again, and all because Joan could talk on and on like that when she herself- Apple - was always so terrified of boring people that she hardly ever spoke at all and when she did, she mostly asked questions, which of course was why her friendship with Joan worked so beautifully when another personality type might've just hit Joan over the head with the nearest available brick and simply walked away.

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pstein approached the house with concern. He had no idea that it was a large gathering at the Schulmans; he thought, in fact, that he was | the only guest, invited solely because he was new with the company and new in town. He expected only the Schulmans (and he'd never met Mrs. Schulman, though he saw her photograph on her husband's desk) and maybe a teenage child or two. Instead, he had to park his car far down the block. It was impossible to say how many cars parked on the streets were for the guests at the Schulmans' party, and how many habitually were parked there for the other homeowners. But he assumed, given the size of the houses, that most people were able to park in their driveway or garages (he noticed a large number of four-car garages while he was searching for the right street). As he walked towards the house, he wondered if he was invited by mistake. Maybe he should leave and tomorrow he could give some excuse about his health. But that wouldn't be a positive way to appear before his new boss, especially since Mr. Schulman seemed so robust. He received a broad-handed slap on the back when he accepted the job, and was nearly knocked into an aquarium filled with expensive and colorful fish. Although he knew very little about cars, it was obvious that all of those parked on the street cost many times what his old and rust-spotted Honda was worth. Perhaps it was just as well that it was parked far from the house and he could wave goodbye to the Schulmans later that evening and pretend he was headed towards one of the sleek, new cars nearby. Epstein stopped at the pathway to the front door. It definitely seemed like it was a mistake to have come. He remembered clearly Mr. Schulman's intense handshake, his narrow-eyed stare as he said with perfect sincerity, "We're 91


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did, never even took a breath, her words butting up against each other like drunken revelers in a conga line, which of course was the most frustrating thing about Joan, the way she held court, talking for minutes that felt like hours, sometimes about virtually nothing at all, so that by the time she got to something really juicy (which she tended to do on occasion, Apple had to give her that), Apple was in such a stupor from sheer volume that she could only sit there dumbly, replaying in her mind how Joan had just described the most trivial things in maddening detail - a particularly adorable gabardine jacket on sale at Hinshaw's, say, or all the things on her to-do list she had accomplished that day, including vacuuming, for God's sakes! - so that the choice tidbits would slip by unnoticed, and Apple would find herself mentally asking, "What was that? What was that?" while repeating "uh-huh, uh-huh" like a human metronome waiting to feel a part of it again, because isn't that the bottom line, the nexus of friendship, if you will, feeling a part of someone else's life no matter how trivial or downright boring at times; though Apple had to wonder why some people seem to have absolutely no sense of audience, no sense that their own inconsequential lives don't make for good fodder, not to mention why - and this was the most infuriating of all - the most consistent talkers are rarely the best listeners because, try as she might, Apple couldn't remember the last time Joan had ever really listened to her.. .but what was that Joan just said, something about a nervous breakdown?...damn, she'd missed it again, and all because Joan could talk on and on like that when she herself- Apple - was always so terrified of boring people that she hardly ever spoke at all and when she did, she mostly asked questions, which of course was why her friendship with Joan worked so beautifully when another personality type might've just hit Joan over the head with the nearest available brick and simply walked away.

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pstein approached the house with concern. He had no idea that it was a large gathering at the Schulmans; he thought, in fact, that he was | the only guest, invited solely because he was new with the company and new in town. He expected only the Schulmans (and he'd never met Mrs. Schulman, though he saw her photograph on her husband's desk) and maybe a teenage child or two. Instead, he had to park his car far down the block. It was impossible to say how many cars parked on the streets were for the guests at the Schulmans' party, and how many habitually were parked there for the other homeowners. But he assumed, given the size of the houses, that most people were able to park in their driveway or garages (he noticed a large number of four-car garages while he was searching for the right street). As he walked towards the house, he wondered if he was invited by mistake. Maybe he should leave and tomorrow he could give some excuse about his health. But that wouldn't be a positive way to appear before his new boss, especially since Mr. Schulman seemed so robust. He received a broad-handed slap on the back when he accepted the job, and was nearly knocked into an aquarium filled with expensive and colorful fish. Although he knew very little about cars, it was obvious that all of those parked on the street cost many times what his old and rust-spotted Honda was worth. Perhaps it was just as well that it was parked far from the house and he could wave goodbye to the Schulmans later that evening and pretend he was headed towards one of the sleek, new cars nearby. Epstein stopped at the pathway to the front door. It definitely seemed like it was a mistake to have come. He remembered clearly Mr. Schulman's intense handshake, his narrow-eyed stare as he said with perfect sincerity, "We're 91


Berkeley Fiction Review having a little thing over at our house tonight. If you're free, come by, we'd like to have you." And he had replied, also with seeming sincerity, "Yes, I'd like that, of course," and then he was told to pick up instructions from the secretary, Ms. Garble. But maybe Mr. Schulman meant some other night when he wasn't so burdened with guests. As he stood by the tall hedges, he could see lights on throughout the enormous house; it was far bigger than he would have guessed, three stories, three chimneys. It looked like there were two guards or footmen or something at the front doors and a flock of people was just entering the brightly lit foyer. He could see a maid with a black uniform and white apron, as if it were some BBC production. There was music from the depths of the house, and he could hear loud talk and much laughter. He sank down and looked at his meager offerings, which now seemed so senseless. A ten dollar bottle of wine and a white box of chocolates, his usual contribution for ihQ hostess on the rare occasions he was invited to someone's house. With so many guests, they must have ample chocolate and wine by now. Some dark shapes came up behind him and he let them pass: two couples in dark but somehow highly reflective clothes. He pressed his face into the hedge, feeling the sharp points of the twigs there, but also the refreshing coolness of the dark leaves. He went through all of the steps he had rehearsed with his therapist over the past two years. He took slow, deep breaths, careful not to hyperventilate. He imagined his heartbeat slowing. Then he thought often positive things about himself expressed in the third-person, like a review. ("Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible and is concerned about the environment; Dan Epstein often gives money to homeless people..."). While he was continuing with his routine of calmatives and mental preparation, he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. He whipped around, scaring an elderly couple, perhaps technically invalidating his first positive attribute. The man said tentatively, "Are you all right? Any problem?" The man sounded comforting and understanding, a bit like his therapist, Ms. Benicasa. "Just stumbled a little. I'm okay now. Almost dropped my candy," he said, and waved the white box to show he was fine. He went rapidly up the path to the house, walking quickly but cautiously. At the front door he was feeling weak again, however, because the security guards asked for his name and were going to check it on a clipboard. He had to repeat his name three times, since he said it so faintly, afraid that his name might not be on the list, that it was only an illusion that he had been invited. How catastrophic it would be to be sent back down the path, past the hedges, down the block, searching for his Honda among the Mercedes and Jaguars, driving back to his apartment with his unwanted wine and white box of candy! How

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thrilling it was when the guard found his name on the long list and checked it off! Inside it was worse than he pictured it from the street. He saw at least three maids rushing around, and to the first who approached him he handed the candy and bottle of wine. She looked confused but he supposed people usually gave their gifts directly to Mrs. Schulman. The music was fairly loud and there were dozens of guests. So this was "a little thing" for the Schulmans. He was directed though an archway into a sort of atrium. In the distance he could see French doors and people out on a patio, and there was a pool with swimmers. Some people were dancing in a ballroom off to the right. Men with short red jackets and women in black and white uniforms were serving drinks and small, unrecognizable foods. He just tried to stay out of everyone's way, turning down all offers of canapes. He nodded to people who glanced in his direction, but said nothing. In this way, the first ten minutes of his visit to chez Schulman passed without incident. A small blonde-haired woman in a low-cut green gown suddenly stood before him; her lips were moving but it took a moment for him to concentrate enough to understand her words through the party's din. "I'm Sylvia Schulman. I don't believe we've met." He tried to think of what to say and what to do. His tongue felt thick, as though injected with Novocain. He knew his forehead shone with sweat and he quickly thought, "Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible...". Mrs. Schulman's smile diminished and a line of concern crossed her forehead. "Are you all right?" she asked. "Epstein. Epstein, Dan. Okay, feeling fine," he managed to say, and for a moment he felt relieved and remembered he should shake her hand. But when he attempted this, something in his expression or the sudden movement of his arm startled her and somehow her drink was flung across her breasts and shoulders. He didn't quite follow what happened, but at least two maids came rushing over with napkins and then Mrs. Schulman was gone. Epstein felt like he could not breathe. A few people nearby looked at him as if he had just shot someone. He walked down an uncrowded hallway, seeking anonymity. When something like this happened normally, at work or in a store, Ms. Benicasa had him write down a full description of the episode, and then they analyzed it together at the next session. He would try to make light of it ("An amusing mishap occurred..."), but he could not fool her. He had settled on Ms. Benicasa after failing to feel comfortable with two other therapists. The first, Dr. Kirschbaum, looked and sounded exactly like his uncle Manny; the second, Mrs. Lieberman, was like one of his mother's friends.

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Berkeley Fiction Review having a little thing over at our house tonight. If you're free, come by, we'd like to have you." And he had replied, also with seeming sincerity, "Yes, I'd like that, of course," and then he was told to pick up instructions from the secretary, Ms. Garble. But maybe Mr. Schulman meant some other night when he wasn't so burdened with guests. As he stood by the tall hedges, he could see lights on throughout the enormous house; it was far bigger than he would have guessed, three stories, three chimneys. It looked like there were two guards or footmen or something at the front doors and a flock of people was just entering the brightly lit foyer. He could see a maid with a black uniform and white apron, as if it were some BBC production. There was music from the depths of the house, and he could hear loud talk and much laughter. He sank down and looked at his meager offerings, which now seemed so senseless. A ten dollar bottle of wine and a white box of chocolates, his usual contribution for ihQ hostess on the rare occasions he was invited to someone's house. With so many guests, they must have ample chocolate and wine by now. Some dark shapes came up behind him and he let them pass: two couples in dark but somehow highly reflective clothes. He pressed his face into the hedge, feeling the sharp points of the twigs there, but also the refreshing coolness of the dark leaves. He went through all of the steps he had rehearsed with his therapist over the past two years. He took slow, deep breaths, careful not to hyperventilate. He imagined his heartbeat slowing. Then he thought often positive things about himself expressed in the third-person, like a review. ("Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible and is concerned about the environment; Dan Epstein often gives money to homeless people..."). While he was continuing with his routine of calmatives and mental preparation, he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder. He whipped around, scaring an elderly couple, perhaps technically invalidating his first positive attribute. The man said tentatively, "Are you all right? Any problem?" The man sounded comforting and understanding, a bit like his therapist, Ms. Benicasa. "Just stumbled a little. I'm okay now. Almost dropped my candy," he said, and waved the white box to show he was fine. He went rapidly up the path to the house, walking quickly but cautiously. At the front door he was feeling weak again, however, because the security guards asked for his name and were going to check it on a clipboard. He had to repeat his name three times, since he said it so faintly, afraid that his name might not be on the list, that it was only an illusion that he had been invited. How catastrophic it would be to be sent back down the path, past the hedges, down the block, searching for his Honda among the Mercedes and Jaguars, driving back to his apartment with his unwanted wine and white box of candy! How

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thrilling it was when the guard found his name on the long list and checked it off! Inside it was worse than he pictured it from the street. He saw at least three maids rushing around, and to the first who approached him he handed the candy and bottle of wine. She looked confused but he supposed people usually gave their gifts directly to Mrs. Schulman. The music was fairly loud and there were dozens of guests. So this was "a little thing" for the Schulmans. He was directed though an archway into a sort of atrium. In the distance he could see French doors and people out on a patio, and there was a pool with swimmers. Some people were dancing in a ballroom off to the right. Men with short red jackets and women in black and white uniforms were serving drinks and small, unrecognizable foods. He just tried to stay out of everyone's way, turning down all offers of canapes. He nodded to people who glanced in his direction, but said nothing. In this way, the first ten minutes of his visit to chez Schulman passed without incident. A small blonde-haired woman in a low-cut green gown suddenly stood before him; her lips were moving but it took a moment for him to concentrate enough to understand her words through the party's din. "I'm Sylvia Schulman. I don't believe we've met." He tried to think of what to say and what to do. His tongue felt thick, as though injected with Novocain. He knew his forehead shone with sweat and he quickly thought, "Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible...". Mrs. Schulman's smile diminished and a line of concern crossed her forehead. "Are you all right?" she asked. "Epstein. Epstein, Dan. Okay, feeling fine," he managed to say, and for a moment he felt relieved and remembered he should shake her hand. But when he attempted this, something in his expression or the sudden movement of his arm startled her and somehow her drink was flung across her breasts and shoulders. He didn't quite follow what happened, but at least two maids came rushing over with napkins and then Mrs. Schulman was gone. Epstein felt like he could not breathe. A few people nearby looked at him as if he had just shot someone. He walked down an uncrowded hallway, seeking anonymity. When something like this happened normally, at work or in a store, Ms. Benicasa had him write down a full description of the episode, and then they analyzed it together at the next session. He would try to make light of it ("An amusing mishap occurred..."), but he could not fool her. He had settled on Ms. Benicasa after failing to feel comfortable with two other therapists. The first, Dr. Kirschbaum, looked and sounded exactly like his uncle Manny; the second, Mrs. Lieberman, was like one of his mother's friends.

93


Berkeley Fiction

Review

He kept imagining that they would call his parents and tell them everything he just said to them in confidence. The dark-skinned Ms. Benicasa, on the other hand, was thirty years old and spoke with a Spanish accent. She wore bright colors, thick red lipstick, and had been divorced twice. He never connected her with any of his relatives or neighbors, so he could speak freely. Ms. Benicasa would click her tongue when he told her about his failure to speak normally with Mrs. Schulman. Was he losing control of the situation? It was hot, and brightly dressed, stupidly grinning people kept rushing back and forth, brushing against him in the hallway, their perfumes and colognes, their beauty-parlor scent, trailing in the air. Outside a pride of men in black tuxedos, hairless heads gleaming in the moonlight, actually smoked cigars. His nose felt like it was thickening and turning crimson from the heady aromas. Not even Ms. Benicasa could accuse him of weakness in these circumstances. Maybe Mrs. Schulman didn't catch his name. It could be years before they met again and the incident would be forgotten. She might even feel she was the one at fault. He had better eat something and calm down. As a maid went by with a tray, he gamely took three hors d'oeuvres pinned with frilly toothpicks and gulped them down one after another without a glance. He knew if he looked, he would be unable to take a bite. It was something about the incredible ugliness of hors d'oeuvres, their unidentifiable contents, their unpredictable flavors, the sliminess, their mixture of incompletely baked pastry and almost raw meats, their greasy slickness, so, s o . . . . Unsurprisingly, as Epstein searched for le mot juste, the ghastliness hit him, what was it, some sun-dried tomatoes with goat cheese, a piece of torrid kim chee somehow mixed with avocado and jujubes. He felt with his tongue in some ofthe rear fastnesses of his teeth pate\ was it, or maybe a mashed bit of caviar.. .. And just thinking about what he had foolishly taken in set his glands welling sickening fluid into his mouth, and sweat poured down his face. He turned and opened a door in a dark room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust after the brightness ofthe hall, but he could see that it was a sort of sitting room with musical instruments, a cello, a baby grand piano, a few music stands. He knocked over one ofthe stands and the music went flying, the cello fell with an unfortunate crunch; he could hold back no longer, but went to the open grand and vomited out everything he had taken in along with the tuna noodle casserole he had hastily eaten before leaving his house. His stomach and head ached a bit with the effort, but he felt greatly relieved. If he lowered the top, perhaps no one would discover the mishap until the next time the piano was tuned. While Epstein was searching for the best way to do this, the door opened and a young couple came in giggling and holding a tray of drinks. Epstein dropped the lid with a crashing sound and ran out past them, and as he returned to the hall, he heard falling furniture and breaking glass 94

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behind him. He made his way as quickly as possible to the far end ofthe hall. All he wanted now was escape. He saw the Schulmans coming down the hall towards him and ran up the staircase he saw nearby. He was sure he was unfit for any talk about his new job and about settling in or how he found his apartment. He didn't slow down until he reached the top ofthe stairs. It was dark at the top, and narrow, and then he realized that he was in one ofthe areas ofthe house not meant for the guests at the party, a sort of private zone, perhaps for the poor relations and servants, perhaps for children. He sat down on the top steps and collected his thoughts. A light came from a room at the far end ofthe hall, but he couldn't hear anyone. Across the dark hallway from where he sat was a partially opened door with a dark room behind it. He could hide in there for awhile. He entered the room, closed the door quietly, and then switched on the light, only to be startled by the brightness and numerous reflections. It was a large bathroom. He locked the door and looked in the mirror. It was frightening. His face was slick with sweat and his nose was red while the rest of his skin was abnormally white; his glasses in their black frames were steamed and translucent, so that his eyes seemed like vague, gray dots. One collar was sticking up in the air and his dank shirt was loose and out of his pants. He wished he could at least telephone Ms. Benicasa and hear her throaty, reassuring "Que lastima, Sefior Epstein, lo siento." Instead he whispered, "Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible and is concerned about the environment..." For the first time since he left his car that evening, he began to feel happy and secure. He would have to tell mis discovery at his next session. With the door firmly locked, with complete privacy, he began to return to the selfconfidence he had been working on all afternoon. He knew it would be fatal to leave the bathroom. He loved its gleaming surfaces, its cleanliness, its potential for improving someone. He wondered if he always felt that way about bathrooms, or whether this was a new phase beginning. The bathroom, he decided after a brief inspection, was too nice to be meant for the staff. It was decorated with pink marble and much chrome, there were superfluous mirrors everywhere, and he noticed only two toothbrushes and one tube of toothpaste. There was a bidet near the toilet and the shower had weird, prickly brushes and many bottles of soaps and shampoos, and a little bench inside the glass. He realized from the many faucets and timers that it was meant to be some kind of steam bath or sauna. Not for the servants. He took off his soaked tweed jacket and hung it over the hook on back of the door. He would feel better after he washed and cooled himself off. He no sooner started washing than he got his shirtsleeve and watch wet. His new shirt and his only watch! After patting the watch with a towel (thick pink cloth with

95


Berkeley Fiction

Review

He kept imagining that they would call his parents and tell them everything he just said to them in confidence. The dark-skinned Ms. Benicasa, on the other hand, was thirty years old and spoke with a Spanish accent. She wore bright colors, thick red lipstick, and had been divorced twice. He never connected her with any of his relatives or neighbors, so he could speak freely. Ms. Benicasa would click her tongue when he told her about his failure to speak normally with Mrs. Schulman. Was he losing control of the situation? It was hot, and brightly dressed, stupidly grinning people kept rushing back and forth, brushing against him in the hallway, their perfumes and colognes, their beauty-parlor scent, trailing in the air. Outside a pride of men in black tuxedos, hairless heads gleaming in the moonlight, actually smoked cigars. His nose felt like it was thickening and turning crimson from the heady aromas. Not even Ms. Benicasa could accuse him of weakness in these circumstances. Maybe Mrs. Schulman didn't catch his name. It could be years before they met again and the incident would be forgotten. She might even feel she was the one at fault. He had better eat something and calm down. As a maid went by with a tray, he gamely took three hors d'oeuvres pinned with frilly toothpicks and gulped them down one after another without a glance. He knew if he looked, he would be unable to take a bite. It was something about the incredible ugliness of hors d'oeuvres, their unidentifiable contents, their unpredictable flavors, the sliminess, their mixture of incompletely baked pastry and almost raw meats, their greasy slickness, so, s o . . . . Unsurprisingly, as Epstein searched for le mot juste, the ghastliness hit him, what was it, some sun-dried tomatoes with goat cheese, a piece of torrid kim chee somehow mixed with avocado and jujubes. He felt with his tongue in some ofthe rear fastnesses of his teeth pate\ was it, or maybe a mashed bit of caviar.. .. And just thinking about what he had foolishly taken in set his glands welling sickening fluid into his mouth, and sweat poured down his face. He turned and opened a door in a dark room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust after the brightness ofthe hall, but he could see that it was a sort of sitting room with musical instruments, a cello, a baby grand piano, a few music stands. He knocked over one ofthe stands and the music went flying, the cello fell with an unfortunate crunch; he could hold back no longer, but went to the open grand and vomited out everything he had taken in along with the tuna noodle casserole he had hastily eaten before leaving his house. His stomach and head ached a bit with the effort, but he felt greatly relieved. If he lowered the top, perhaps no one would discover the mishap until the next time the piano was tuned. While Epstein was searching for the best way to do this, the door opened and a young couple came in giggling and holding a tray of drinks. Epstein dropped the lid with a crashing sound and ran out past them, and as he returned to the hall, he heard falling furniture and breaking glass 94

Flight

Instinct

behind him. He made his way as quickly as possible to the far end ofthe hall. All he wanted now was escape. He saw the Schulmans coming down the hall towards him and ran up the staircase he saw nearby. He was sure he was unfit for any talk about his new job and about settling in or how he found his apartment. He didn't slow down until he reached the top ofthe stairs. It was dark at the top, and narrow, and then he realized that he was in one ofthe areas ofthe house not meant for the guests at the party, a sort of private zone, perhaps for the poor relations and servants, perhaps for children. He sat down on the top steps and collected his thoughts. A light came from a room at the far end ofthe hall, but he couldn't hear anyone. Across the dark hallway from where he sat was a partially opened door with a dark room behind it. He could hide in there for awhile. He entered the room, closed the door quietly, and then switched on the light, only to be startled by the brightness and numerous reflections. It was a large bathroom. He locked the door and looked in the mirror. It was frightening. His face was slick with sweat and his nose was red while the rest of his skin was abnormally white; his glasses in their black frames were steamed and translucent, so that his eyes seemed like vague, gray dots. One collar was sticking up in the air and his dank shirt was loose and out of his pants. He wished he could at least telephone Ms. Benicasa and hear her throaty, reassuring "Que lastima, Sefior Epstein, lo siento." Instead he whispered, "Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible and is concerned about the environment..." For the first time since he left his car that evening, he began to feel happy and secure. He would have to tell mis discovery at his next session. With the door firmly locked, with complete privacy, he began to return to the selfconfidence he had been working on all afternoon. He knew it would be fatal to leave the bathroom. He loved its gleaming surfaces, its cleanliness, its potential for improving someone. He wondered if he always felt that way about bathrooms, or whether this was a new phase beginning. The bathroom, he decided after a brief inspection, was too nice to be meant for the staff. It was decorated with pink marble and much chrome, there were superfluous mirrors everywhere, and he noticed only two toothbrushes and one tube of toothpaste. There was a bidet near the toilet and the shower had weird, prickly brushes and many bottles of soaps and shampoos, and a little bench inside the glass. He realized from the many faucets and timers that it was meant to be some kind of steam bath or sauna. Not for the servants. He took off his soaked tweed jacket and hung it over the hook on back of the door. He would feel better after he washed and cooled himself off. He no sooner started washing than he got his shirtsleeve and watch wet. His new shirt and his only watch! After patting the watch with a towel (thick pink cloth with

95


Berkeley Fiction

Review

ornate Ss monogrammed at the top), he decided it would be safer to take off the watch and shirt as well. Epstein washed as though he had been months in the jungle. At first he scrubbed his face and hands, working the soap lather into all his pores on his face, trying to look less like a drunken zombie. He splashed the water vigorously into his face and swallowed some. This reminded him of what happened in the music room, so he squirted some toothpaste onto his finger and scrubbed his teeth and gums. He used the glass that was out to rinse his mouth again and again. In doing this, he dripped water on his bare chest and stomach, so he began washing there as well, but of course the water kept dripping and soap got on his belt and the top fringe of his pants. He realized he either had to stop washing or remove his clothes. The thought of stopping, of becoming only partially scrubbed and clean while remaining predominantly filthy and covered with icy sweat, was intolerable. Epstein sat on the floor and removed the rest of his clothes, neatly folding each item and stacking it on the hamper. Now he was free to wash as he pleased and where he would, enjoying the freedom ofthe bathroom. He washed some places several times just for the pleasure of being so thorough. He opened the drawer near the sink and found a long pair of scissors and he began trimming a few eyebrow hairs which now looked unruly, some hair near his ears and a few longer hairs in his nostrils. Yes, it seemed best to be thorough. He discovered dental floss in the drawer and used that, although it was cinnamon-flavored, patiently and even painstakingly, and then he rinsed his mouth with some really paralyzing mouthwash. He opened the medicine cabinet and took some aspirin while reading all the labels on the bottles and tubes. He always did that in people's bathrooms. There were three bottles of prescriptions made out to "Shari Schulman," so he decided it was her bathroom. Allergy medicines, antihistamine, cough medicine; a young person's medicine cabinet. He sniffed at the perfumes with the pompous French names and he studied the brushes and barrettes and ribbons in the drawer. Epstein tried to imagine the woman from these artifacts. While he was amusing himself by trimming his toenails and softly singing, someone knocked at the door. He rushed to the doorknob to check that it was locked and he leaned against it, squatting. He suddenly felt cold and vulnerable. Did someone open the grand piano? Were they searching the building? "You have to come out. I really need to go. I mean like now," a woman's voice said. When he didn't answer, just held his breath, she continued, "I know you're in there. I heard you singing. I heard the water. Open the door, please." "Please go away," he said hoarsely. "Fm not ready." He fell over as a fist, perhaps a foot, banged against the door. "You're ready! You must come out now. I checked this bathroom nearly twenty minutes ago and you were in there. I've gone around to all the other

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bathrooms and there are lines. Nobody else knows about this one. Please get out right now." "I can't. Go away!" "Are you sick? Are you okay? Should I call a doctor or a medic or something? What?" It wouldn't be good, Epstein knew, to call in an ambulance, to knock down the door and drag him out, or even to have a crowd from the party (including Mrs. Schulman!), standing around outside waiting for him to emerge. If only he had a phone now, he could call Ms. Benicasa and be comforted by her sympathy. "Listen," he said, "whoever you are, I am all right, at least much better, but I just can't come out and face people just now, maybe not for a few hours, who knows. But—" Now the woman definitely kicked the door very hard as if she was a former SWAT team member. She had a dangerous edge in her voice as she said, "Listen, right now I don't care what your problem is. One bathroom has backed up and broken because some idiot flushed a hat or something. One bathroom is being used strictly for drugs and sex. There were at least eight people in there. The respectable people are lined up near one bathroom but everyone seems to have been made ill from the guacamole or whatever. So I cannot wait another second. You open this door this second or I will run downstairs screaming for help. There are security guards who would probably be delighted to shoot you as you sit in there. Now I'm counting to three. ONE!... TWO! — " Epstein felt his spine liquify and then warmly recoalesce. He hated when people counted like that; his mother used to do it, his aunts did it to his cousins, his sister did it to his nephews; he could not withstand the count to three technique. / "Wait! Stop! I will unlock the door but you must wait about thirty seconds before you open it. Please do not call out or get security." "Deal. Thirty seconds." She sounded tough; Epstein knew she was looking at her watch. He silently raced to the sauna and clambered in, sliding the door shut. Then he realized his mistake in not first grabbing his clothes from their position on the hamper. He was beginning to sweat again, to undo all of that relaxation and washing. "Yoohoo, where are you? Is there another way out or what?" He heard her heels clicking on the tiled floor. He tried to be absolutely still and silent as the steps came closer. He gripped the handle and held it shut when she pulled on it. He could see her in a blurry way through the patterned glass, and he knew he could be seen despite his best efforts. She was short and wore a short blue dress; he could tell her shoulders were bare and her hair was blonde and short. She pulled a few times on the handle and then gave up. She said, "Listen, whatever your problem is, get out ofthe room. I need to use the bathroom now. 97


Berkeley Fiction

Review

ornate Ss monogrammed at the top), he decided it would be safer to take off the watch and shirt as well. Epstein washed as though he had been months in the jungle. At first he scrubbed his face and hands, working the soap lather into all his pores on his face, trying to look less like a drunken zombie. He splashed the water vigorously into his face and swallowed some. This reminded him of what happened in the music room, so he squirted some toothpaste onto his finger and scrubbed his teeth and gums. He used the glass that was out to rinse his mouth again and again. In doing this, he dripped water on his bare chest and stomach, so he began washing there as well, but of course the water kept dripping and soap got on his belt and the top fringe of his pants. He realized he either had to stop washing or remove his clothes. The thought of stopping, of becoming only partially scrubbed and clean while remaining predominantly filthy and covered with icy sweat, was intolerable. Epstein sat on the floor and removed the rest of his clothes, neatly folding each item and stacking it on the hamper. Now he was free to wash as he pleased and where he would, enjoying the freedom ofthe bathroom. He washed some places several times just for the pleasure of being so thorough. He opened the drawer near the sink and found a long pair of scissors and he began trimming a few eyebrow hairs which now looked unruly, some hair near his ears and a few longer hairs in his nostrils. Yes, it seemed best to be thorough. He discovered dental floss in the drawer and used that, although it was cinnamon-flavored, patiently and even painstakingly, and then he rinsed his mouth with some really paralyzing mouthwash. He opened the medicine cabinet and took some aspirin while reading all the labels on the bottles and tubes. He always did that in people's bathrooms. There were three bottles of prescriptions made out to "Shari Schulman," so he decided it was her bathroom. Allergy medicines, antihistamine, cough medicine; a young person's medicine cabinet. He sniffed at the perfumes with the pompous French names and he studied the brushes and barrettes and ribbons in the drawer. Epstein tried to imagine the woman from these artifacts. While he was amusing himself by trimming his toenails and softly singing, someone knocked at the door. He rushed to the doorknob to check that it was locked and he leaned against it, squatting. He suddenly felt cold and vulnerable. Did someone open the grand piano? Were they searching the building? "You have to come out. I really need to go. I mean like now," a woman's voice said. When he didn't answer, just held his breath, she continued, "I know you're in there. I heard you singing. I heard the water. Open the door, please." "Please go away," he said hoarsely. "Fm not ready." He fell over as a fist, perhaps a foot, banged against the door. "You're ready! You must come out now. I checked this bathroom nearly twenty minutes ago and you were in there. I've gone around to all the other

96

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bathrooms and there are lines. Nobody else knows about this one. Please get out right now." "I can't. Go away!" "Are you sick? Are you okay? Should I call a doctor or a medic or something? What?" It wouldn't be good, Epstein knew, to call in an ambulance, to knock down the door and drag him out, or even to have a crowd from the party (including Mrs. Schulman!), standing around outside waiting for him to emerge. If only he had a phone now, he could call Ms. Benicasa and be comforted by her sympathy. "Listen," he said, "whoever you are, I am all right, at least much better, but I just can't come out and face people just now, maybe not for a few hours, who knows. But—" Now the woman definitely kicked the door very hard as if she was a former SWAT team member. She had a dangerous edge in her voice as she said, "Listen, right now I don't care what your problem is. One bathroom has backed up and broken because some idiot flushed a hat or something. One bathroom is being used strictly for drugs and sex. There were at least eight people in there. The respectable people are lined up near one bathroom but everyone seems to have been made ill from the guacamole or whatever. So I cannot wait another second. You open this door this second or I will run downstairs screaming for help. There are security guards who would probably be delighted to shoot you as you sit in there. Now I'm counting to three. ONE!... TWO! — " Epstein felt his spine liquify and then warmly recoalesce. He hated when people counted like that; his mother used to do it, his aunts did it to his cousins, his sister did it to his nephews; he could not withstand the count to three technique. / "Wait! Stop! I will unlock the door but you must wait about thirty seconds before you open it. Please do not call out or get security." "Deal. Thirty seconds." She sounded tough; Epstein knew she was looking at her watch. He silently raced to the sauna and clambered in, sliding the door shut. Then he realized his mistake in not first grabbing his clothes from their position on the hamper. He was beginning to sweat again, to undo all of that relaxation and washing. "Yoohoo, where are you? Is there another way out or what?" He heard her heels clicking on the tiled floor. He tried to be absolutely still and silent as the steps came closer. He gripped the handle and held it shut when she pulled on it. He could see her in a blurry way through the patterned glass, and he knew he could be seen despite his best efforts. She was short and wore a short blue dress; he could tell her shoulders were bare and her hair was blonde and short. She pulled a few times on the handle and then gave up. She said, "Listen, whatever your problem is, get out ofthe room. I need to use the bathroom now. 97


Berkeley Fiction

Review

I've been standing with my legs together the last twenty minutes. I'm going to the bathroom whether you get out of here or not." "It's okay," he said in a friendly, reassuring way. "Really, just go right ahead. I promise I'll stay in here and won't look. I can't see anything. You have my word. Look, I left my clothes out there by accident. You see. My pants, my jacket, my wallet, everything. I trust you and I ask that you trust me. I just have this problem with crowds and parties." She didn't say anything. He half-expected her to run out screaming, but instead she just walked back to the other end ofthe bathroom and did whatever she needed to do with the toilet. He kept his word and did not look; he even covered his ears and tried not to listen. After the flush, the sink ran, and then her footsteps returned. He could see her kneeling directly opposite from where he sat on the floor ofthe sauna, trying to see him through the glass. Her voice was low and quiet. She said, "You have no idea how I needed that, or how good I feel at this moment. Tell me what you are doing hiding in the bathroom while women are using it." "I've never done this before. It's not habitual. I don't know what happened, but I just couldn't stay another moment where there were any people." Then he went on and told her about the evening. He told her about how he was invited and his confusion when he arrived, his fear of security guards (now that was habitual!) and how he began to feel ill, and how he had knocked the drink onto Mrs. Schulman's dress, and how he foolishly ate those hors d'oeuvres and vomited into the grand piano. When he finished his story, which she didn't interrupt at all, he felt that he was talking with Ms. Benicasa. He felt relaxed and ready to keep making progress. The woman was holding something black which he didn't recognize until she said, "And your name is Daniel Epstein, brown eyes, corrective lenses, organ donor?" She was looking through his wallet. Well, that seemed fair, since he was naked in the bathroom with her against her wishes. She asked him questions about the contents of his wallet, every picture, every card; she used the wallet as he used medicine cabinets. She found the card from the video place near his house and questioned him about his favorite films and actresses, and she seemed to know every movie he mentioned. She found the card from Ms. Benicasa so he gave a full history of his different therapists and their treatments and how his ailments kept changing over the years so there was always something new to deal with and he was never completely cured. Overcome his difficulty flying and there was suddenly the fear of using elevators; overcome the problem with elevators, and there was the fear of white foods (milk, cream cheese, whip cream, marshmallows). Now there was this problem with parties and crowds, especially where there's music and hors d'oeuvres. When he paused, she pleaded with him to open the door just a few inches so she could see his face. She regarded him closely and said, "I'm Joni 98

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Rosenberg. I hate crowds and parties as well." She talked for about fifteen minutes in a continuous stream about how she always sneaked off during weddings and Fourth of July picnics and office parties. She usually found some quiet place where she could read or just think until the music stopped and she could hear cars pulling away. She knew it was ridiculous, but she could neither gather courage to decline the invitations or leave early once she arrived. She sometimes felt dizzy or faint and in fact she collapsed at more than one party. Her therapist has taught her to think ofthe positive things about herself, twelve secret positive values that no one else needs to be told. This was really coincidental, because Epstein thought this therapy was completely the invention ofthe brilliant Ms. Benicasa. He startled Joni by moving the door open a few more inches and grasping her arm to say, "Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible and is concerned about the environment; Dan Epstein often gives money to homeless people; Dan Epstein has unusually good posture for such a tall man...," and Joni ecstatically began her mantra, "Joni Rosenberg has a warm, generous spirit; Joni Rosenberg does her job more efficiently and more uncomplainingly than anyone in her office; Joni Rosenberg has rescued many waterfowl caught in oil slicks..." At ten o'clock she left the bathroom to sneak back some food for they were starved by the tension and hours of talk. She returned with a tray with two turkey sandwiches on rye, two bottles of champagne, and two glasses. He opened the door ofthe sauna about ten inches and they could see each other easily now, though he kept a towel on below his waist. They kept talking as they ate. She took off her shoes and then saying she was so uncomfortable removed her pantyhose and tossed it with his pile of clothes. After they finished their sandwiches, she took the plates away and opened the champagne, filling the tall glasses. It was almost eleven when she took off the rest of her clothes, just because Epstein looked so relaxed and comfortable in the sauna with just a towel. Joni said she loved saunas and Epstein did not resist when she opened the door and joined him in the snug hideaway he had discovered away from the party's chaos. They stayed in the sauna with it turned as high as they could stand it, then they took a cold shower together trying to be as quiet as possible. She said, "Dr. Francisco will be astonished about this; I've always been so shy about parties," and he said, "What till I tell Ms. Benicasa; she won't believe it." They laughed with shared guile, made love, brushed their teeth, and fell asleep on piles of towels they placed on the floor ofthe sauna. At three in the morning, Shari Shuhnan, dropped off by her fiancee, arrived at the bathroom door. She wore a short T-shirt for sleeping and she had furry slippers on her feet. She felt exhausted and grumpy, becoming especially annoyed when it seemed someone had locked the door from the inside. She 99


Berkeley Fiction

Review

I've been standing with my legs together the last twenty minutes. I'm going to the bathroom whether you get out of here or not." "It's okay," he said in a friendly, reassuring way. "Really, just go right ahead. I promise I'll stay in here and won't look. I can't see anything. You have my word. Look, I left my clothes out there by accident. You see. My pants, my jacket, my wallet, everything. I trust you and I ask that you trust me. I just have this problem with crowds and parties." She didn't say anything. He half-expected her to run out screaming, but instead she just walked back to the other end ofthe bathroom and did whatever she needed to do with the toilet. He kept his word and did not look; he even covered his ears and tried not to listen. After the flush, the sink ran, and then her footsteps returned. He could see her kneeling directly opposite from where he sat on the floor ofthe sauna, trying to see him through the glass. Her voice was low and quiet. She said, "You have no idea how I needed that, or how good I feel at this moment. Tell me what you are doing hiding in the bathroom while women are using it." "I've never done this before. It's not habitual. I don't know what happened, but I just couldn't stay another moment where there were any people." Then he went on and told her about the evening. He told her about how he was invited and his confusion when he arrived, his fear of security guards (now that was habitual!) and how he began to feel ill, and how he had knocked the drink onto Mrs. Schulman's dress, and how he foolishly ate those hors d'oeuvres and vomited into the grand piano. When he finished his story, which she didn't interrupt at all, he felt that he was talking with Ms. Benicasa. He felt relaxed and ready to keep making progress. The woman was holding something black which he didn't recognize until she said, "And your name is Daniel Epstein, brown eyes, corrective lenses, organ donor?" She was looking through his wallet. Well, that seemed fair, since he was naked in the bathroom with her against her wishes. She asked him questions about the contents of his wallet, every picture, every card; she used the wallet as he used medicine cabinets. She found the card from the video place near his house and questioned him about his favorite films and actresses, and she seemed to know every movie he mentioned. She found the card from Ms. Benicasa so he gave a full history of his different therapists and their treatments and how his ailments kept changing over the years so there was always something new to deal with and he was never completely cured. Overcome his difficulty flying and there was suddenly the fear of using elevators; overcome the problem with elevators, and there was the fear of white foods (milk, cream cheese, whip cream, marshmallows). Now there was this problem with parties and crowds, especially where there's music and hors d'oeuvres. When he paused, she pleaded with him to open the door just a few inches so she could see his face. She regarded him closely and said, "I'm Joni 98

Flight

Instinct

Rosenberg. I hate crowds and parties as well." She talked for about fifteen minutes in a continuous stream about how she always sneaked off during weddings and Fourth of July picnics and office parties. She usually found some quiet place where she could read or just think until the music stopped and she could hear cars pulling away. She knew it was ridiculous, but she could neither gather courage to decline the invitations or leave early once she arrived. She sometimes felt dizzy or faint and in fact she collapsed at more than one party. Her therapist has taught her to think ofthe positive things about herself, twelve secret positive values that no one else needs to be told. This was really coincidental, because Epstein thought this therapy was completely the invention ofthe brilliant Ms. Benicasa. He startled Joni by moving the door open a few more inches and grasping her arm to say, "Dan Epstein does not intimidate people; Dan Epstein recycles wherever possible and is concerned about the environment; Dan Epstein often gives money to homeless people; Dan Epstein has unusually good posture for such a tall man...," and Joni ecstatically began her mantra, "Joni Rosenberg has a warm, generous spirit; Joni Rosenberg does her job more efficiently and more uncomplainingly than anyone in her office; Joni Rosenberg has rescued many waterfowl caught in oil slicks..." At ten o'clock she left the bathroom to sneak back some food for they were starved by the tension and hours of talk. She returned with a tray with two turkey sandwiches on rye, two bottles of champagne, and two glasses. He opened the door ofthe sauna about ten inches and they could see each other easily now, though he kept a towel on below his waist. They kept talking as they ate. She took off her shoes and then saying she was so uncomfortable removed her pantyhose and tossed it with his pile of clothes. After they finished their sandwiches, she took the plates away and opened the champagne, filling the tall glasses. It was almost eleven when she took off the rest of her clothes, just because Epstein looked so relaxed and comfortable in the sauna with just a towel. Joni said she loved saunas and Epstein did not resist when she opened the door and joined him in the snug hideaway he had discovered away from the party's chaos. They stayed in the sauna with it turned as high as they could stand it, then they took a cold shower together trying to be as quiet as possible. She said, "Dr. Francisco will be astonished about this; I've always been so shy about parties," and he said, "What till I tell Ms. Benicasa; she won't believe it." They laughed with shared guile, made love, brushed their teeth, and fell asleep on piles of towels they placed on the floor ofthe sauna. At three in the morning, Shari Shuhnan, dropped off by her fiancee, arrived at the bathroom door. She wore a short T-shirt for sleeping and she had furry slippers on her feet. She felt exhausted and grumpy, becoming especially annoyed when it seemed someone had locked the door from the inside. She 99


Berkeley Fiction

Review

shook the lock up and down until it gave, as she knew it would, and she kicked it open. She was standing before the sink looking at the foam in her mouth as she brushed when she saw two naked people, like pale angels, fly from the back ofthe room through the open door and down the small staircase. She ran to the window in her room and saw the two figures run, stumbling, laughing, across the vast lawn and backyard and disappear through some bushes.

100


Berkeley Fiction

Review

shook the lock up and down until it gave, as she knew it would, and she kicked it open. She was standing before the sink looking at the foam in her mouth as she brushed when she saw two naked people, like pale angels, fly from the back ofthe room through the open door and down the small staircase. She ran to the window in her room and saw the two figures run, stumbling, laughing, across the vast lawn and backyard and disappear through some bushes.

100


Oh, Baby

O

H

,

B

A

B

Y

, 1 b y

Teresa

B u r n s

G u n t h e r

arah comes to the park everyday. She tells her husband it's what good mothers do. He just shakes his head. It helps if she keeps moving. I She's afraid that if she doesn't, she'll forget to breathe. She loves the ordered red and yellow flowers that border the blanket of grass. She brings her book and tries to read, pushing her baby carriage gently, back and forth. She looks inside and smiles and thinks the baby is beautiful; she keeps reading the same page, over and over, day after day. There are always a few mothers with their children at the park. They keep to the green grass or the sunny side of the sandbox. Another group of women cluster together on the opposite end, under the crook-limbed oak tree, gossiping or complaining in different languages—French, Spanish, and an African language Sarah thinks is Swahili. They are nannies, a diaspora of mothers who've come to America leaving their children behind. Everyday these women sit together in a knot, a circle of mothers loving other women's babies. Sarah's been coming to the park for the past five months. She never talks with these women. Though just the other day, one of them asked, "Why don't you take your baby out?" Her English was foreign and hard for Sarah to understand. The baby doesn't want to get out of the carriage, Sarah told her. The baby likes to look at the sky and the trees and hold a graham cracker in her tiny hand. What do these women know? she wonders. They aren't even real Americans like her, like the baby. Today she is sitting with her book when a little child they are supposed to be watching comes over and peeks in the carriage. Sarah covers the baby. The child has blonde hair and blue eyes, too. One ofthe nannies has just finished making a French braid of her hair. Sarah turns to get her water—takes her eyes 102

away for just one minute—and the little girl pushes the carriage away from her. Sarah lurches out to stop her, but trips on the little girl's pink tricycle, falling hard to her knees on the pebble path. "Look, I walking a baby," the girl cries out, laughing. Sarah yells for her to stop, but the girl just runs faster on short, chubby legs, pushing the carriage down the sloping path. Sarah jumps up, unaware of the cut that reddens with tiny beads of blood as she chases after the child, yelling for her to stop. The other women turn and call out with concern, "Abby! No! Abby, stop." They gather round the arrested carriage with their hands, or a baby, on their hips. The child, Jennifer, hides behind her nanny, who softly scolds her. "You should watch your children better," Sarah says, and then flushes at the sharpness in her voice. "She sa crazy girl," says Jennifer's tall nanny, her skin the color of caramel. She smiles and dimples form in her cheeks. She strokes the girl's golden head. "Well, just keep an eye on her," Sarah mutters softly, head down as she pulls the navy blue carriage to her. Even the children are quiet, weighing Sarah. A large woman in a tent-like dress frowns and grumbles under her breath from where she sits on the steps of the sandbox. Another woman, short and round, moves closer to the carriage. "Is your baby okay?" "The baby is fine." Up close they seem so strange to Sarah, with their shawls they carry the babies in, and their bare feet with cracked, white soles. Sarah tucks the soft blanket around the baby and tries to back away, but the women are in her way, blocking the carriage and one of them is speaking softly to the others. The one who spoke before says, "You never take your baby out. We worry for you." They all look to one another and nod. A woman in tight jeans and red high heels points to the frowning woman and says, "She tink maybe you have no baby! Maybe you come to take one of ours." "That's a horrible thing to say!" Sarah yells, pulling on the carriage as one of them lifts up the blanket. They are all chattering and trying to get a look. They are surprised and one ofthe women laughs. Someone lifts it up by the foot. It says, "Mama. Mama." "Give me the baby," Sarah screams. They are all staring from wide brown eyes. Then the short round woman points at Sarah and says something in Spanish to another woman. Another puts her hand on Sarah's arm and says, "It's okay, lady. Don worry, lady." v "Give me the baby." Everyone is touching the baby, trying to hurry it back to Sarah. She grabs for it and everyone lets go at once and the baby falls to the ground and her head smacks like an egg. 103


Oh, Baby

O

H

,

B

A

B

Y

, 1 b y

Teresa

B u r n s

G u n t h e r

arah comes to the park everyday. She tells her husband it's what good mothers do. He just shakes his head. It helps if she keeps moving. I She's afraid that if she doesn't, she'll forget to breathe. She loves the ordered red and yellow flowers that border the blanket of grass. She brings her book and tries to read, pushing her baby carriage gently, back and forth. She looks inside and smiles and thinks the baby is beautiful; she keeps reading the same page, over and over, day after day. There are always a few mothers with their children at the park. They keep to the green grass or the sunny side of the sandbox. Another group of women cluster together on the opposite end, under the crook-limbed oak tree, gossiping or complaining in different languages—French, Spanish, and an African language Sarah thinks is Swahili. They are nannies, a diaspora of mothers who've come to America leaving their children behind. Everyday these women sit together in a knot, a circle of mothers loving other women's babies. Sarah's been coming to the park for the past five months. She never talks with these women. Though just the other day, one of them asked, "Why don't you take your baby out?" Her English was foreign and hard for Sarah to understand. The baby doesn't want to get out of the carriage, Sarah told her. The baby likes to look at the sky and the trees and hold a graham cracker in her tiny hand. What do these women know? she wonders. They aren't even real Americans like her, like the baby. Today she is sitting with her book when a little child they are supposed to be watching comes over and peeks in the carriage. Sarah covers the baby. The child has blonde hair and blue eyes, too. One ofthe nannies has just finished making a French braid of her hair. Sarah turns to get her water—takes her eyes 102

away for just one minute—and the little girl pushes the carriage away from her. Sarah lurches out to stop her, but trips on the little girl's pink tricycle, falling hard to her knees on the pebble path. "Look, I walking a baby," the girl cries out, laughing. Sarah yells for her to stop, but the girl just runs faster on short, chubby legs, pushing the carriage down the sloping path. Sarah jumps up, unaware of the cut that reddens with tiny beads of blood as she chases after the child, yelling for her to stop. The other women turn and call out with concern, "Abby! No! Abby, stop." They gather round the arrested carriage with their hands, or a baby, on their hips. The child, Jennifer, hides behind her nanny, who softly scolds her. "You should watch your children better," Sarah says, and then flushes at the sharpness in her voice. "She sa crazy girl," says Jennifer's tall nanny, her skin the color of caramel. She smiles and dimples form in her cheeks. She strokes the girl's golden head. "Well, just keep an eye on her," Sarah mutters softly, head down as she pulls the navy blue carriage to her. Even the children are quiet, weighing Sarah. A large woman in a tent-like dress frowns and grumbles under her breath from where she sits on the steps of the sandbox. Another woman, short and round, moves closer to the carriage. "Is your baby okay?" "The baby is fine." Up close they seem so strange to Sarah, with their shawls they carry the babies in, and their bare feet with cracked, white soles. Sarah tucks the soft blanket around the baby and tries to back away, but the women are in her way, blocking the carriage and one of them is speaking softly to the others. The one who spoke before says, "You never take your baby out. We worry for you." They all look to one another and nod. A woman in tight jeans and red high heels points to the frowning woman and says, "She tink maybe you have no baby! Maybe you come to take one of ours." "That's a horrible thing to say!" Sarah yells, pulling on the carriage as one of them lifts up the blanket. They are all chattering and trying to get a look. They are surprised and one ofthe women laughs. Someone lifts it up by the foot. It says, "Mama. Mama." "Give me the baby," Sarah screams. They are all staring from wide brown eyes. Then the short round woman points at Sarah and says something in Spanish to another woman. Another puts her hand on Sarah's arm and says, "It's okay, lady. Don worry, lady." v "Give me the baby." Everyone is touching the baby, trying to hurry it back to Sarah. She grabs for it and everyone lets go at once and the baby falls to the ground and her head smacks like an egg. 103


Berkeley Fiction Review Sarah screams. High and loud. Her screaming shivers the tops ofthe tallest sheltering trees. "My baby, my beautiful baby." And then she is crying in silent, shaking sobs. Everyone is quiet. They look at one another, a circle of sad faces, Sarah in the middle of these women whose babies live a world away. These women who can't bring their own children to the park; they are left behind in Senegal, Jamaica or Peru. Sarah has watched them passing pictures; once or twice she's seen them cry. Sarah never cried. Not after Daniel. One ofthe women, so black she's blue, her hair in tiny beaded braids, stoops down and picks up the baby. Sarah can see scars down her back as the woman wraps the baby in the blanket Sarah made, when she was waiting, during the bad time, when he was only twelve days old. She never got to bring him home. The woman brings it back to Sarah. "S'OK... s'OK..." she murmurs, softly. Her face is creased. She pulls Sarah into her long thin arms. Sarah can feel the woman's heart—bah bum, bah bum, bah bum. She closes her eyes. She wants to stay like this forever, in this circle. No one speaks.

U

b y

P

M a t t h e w

M a i n

ou wouldn't believe it to look at me, but my mother had small feet. She had a walk-in wardrobe full of shoes for them, lined up in neat little rows I along the carpet and stacked in boxes in the back. Along with the countless petite dresses hanging tightly packed above like upright layers of sedimentary stratification, she never threw a pair away. As a little girl, this closet was my favorite place to play. I never really liked being young; the grown-up world, which I caught in gleaming fragments through the hushes of my mother's telephone gossip, the hair styles and candor of news anchors, the bronzed "Z)JDS" attached to my dentist's name outside his office, was, to me, the stuff of fairy tales. I would sneak into my mother's wardrobe and slip on an outdated evening gown with a pair of heels, or one of my father's old suits and polished leather shoes. Standing before the full-length mirror, I could see in my round face and flow of orange hair the way I would appear in distant years to come, and I was whisked away into the glamorous fantasy of adulthood. And of course, even as a child, every glass slipper fit. My dreams were coming true even before I began to hope for them. At eight my mother's shoes slipped on with a snug assurance, at nine they required a shoe horn, and by twelve I was using my father's old tennis shoes for gym. I'd always beeatall for my age, but not exceptionally so until even most of the other girls shot up above the slower-tomature opposite sex. But during my own puberty, a tiny, benign tumor I'd been carrying since birth within my pituitary gland began squeezing my acidophilic cells into the vast overproduction of growth hormone. So at junior high dances, while boys gleefully swayed at breast level with my friends, my own partners, having to reach upwards to place their hands at my waist, found themselves gazing at an even more desirable location. 104

105 L


Berkeley Fiction Review Sarah screams. High and loud. Her screaming shivers the tops ofthe tallest sheltering trees. "My baby, my beautiful baby." And then she is crying in silent, shaking sobs. Everyone is quiet. They look at one another, a circle of sad faces, Sarah in the middle of these women whose babies live a world away. These women who can't bring their own children to the park; they are left behind in Senegal, Jamaica or Peru. Sarah has watched them passing pictures; once or twice she's seen them cry. Sarah never cried. Not after Daniel. One ofthe women, so black she's blue, her hair in tiny beaded braids, stoops down and picks up the baby. Sarah can see scars down her back as the woman wraps the baby in the blanket Sarah made, when she was waiting, during the bad time, when he was only twelve days old. She never got to bring him home. The woman brings it back to Sarah. "S'OK... s'OK..." she murmurs, softly. Her face is creased. She pulls Sarah into her long thin arms. Sarah can feel the woman's heart—bah bum, bah bum, bah bum. She closes her eyes. She wants to stay like this forever, in this circle. No one speaks.

U

b y

P

M a t t h e w

M a i n

ou wouldn't believe it to look at me, but my mother had small feet. She had a walk-in wardrobe full of shoes for them, lined up in neat little rows I along the carpet and stacked in boxes in the back. Along with the countless petite dresses hanging tightly packed above like upright layers of sedimentary stratification, she never threw a pair away. As a little girl, this closet was my favorite place to play. I never really liked being young; the grown-up world, which I caught in gleaming fragments through the hushes of my mother's telephone gossip, the hair styles and candor of news anchors, the bronzed "Z)JDS" attached to my dentist's name outside his office, was, to me, the stuff of fairy tales. I would sneak into my mother's wardrobe and slip on an outdated evening gown with a pair of heels, or one of my father's old suits and polished leather shoes. Standing before the full-length mirror, I could see in my round face and flow of orange hair the way I would appear in distant years to come, and I was whisked away into the glamorous fantasy of adulthood. And of course, even as a child, every glass slipper fit. My dreams were coming true even before I began to hope for them. At eight my mother's shoes slipped on with a snug assurance, at nine they required a shoe horn, and by twelve I was using my father's old tennis shoes for gym. I'd always beeatall for my age, but not exceptionally so until even most of the other girls shot up above the slower-tomature opposite sex. But during my own puberty, a tiny, benign tumor I'd been carrying since birth within my pituitary gland began squeezing my acidophilic cells into the vast overproduction of growth hormone. So at junior high dances, while boys gleefully swayed at breast level with my friends, my own partners, having to reach upwards to place their hands at my waist, found themselves gazing at an even more desirable location. 104

105 L


Berkeley Fiction Review And as I discovered to my surprise, desirable I was. My case of multiple endocrine neoplasia skipped out on its usual side effects of extra large hands and over-prominent facial bones. Instead, the seductive prettiness and gentle eyes I inherited from my mother grew in proportion with the rest of my filled out body. I developed long, arcing hips and massive breasts—which appear, on my frame, simply full. And right along with everything else my sexuality expanded too. It was as if the flooding hormones that propelled me into womanhood, having filled my body to its raging brim, began spilling out into the air and into the minds of males everywhere. I began to inspire in boys a kind of amazonian delirium. The more I wanted them, the more it seemed they wanted me. Even the most sought-after begged me for dates or back-seat rendezvous. I found heartpouring love letters slipped between the cracks of my locker; sometimes two or three would fall to the floor as I reached for my books. I even shaped the way many ofthe men I knew as boys fundamentally perceive attractiveness in women. Before they were able to be influenced by popular television or Playboy, my presence inadvertently schooled their developing minds on the parameters of feminine beauty: even still they are drawn to tall and buxom women. As I grew older, my mother's single-mother concerns that I would be socially chastised by the most popular girls were replaced by those that I would be all-toowillingly accepted by men. My father had spent the years of my youth growing distant and withdrawn, and just before my big spurt he left us for a business venture in Taipei with no explanation but a perpetual look of meek confusion whenever he was at home. Afterwards, "Taiwan" was never uttered within the walls of our alimony-funded Brentwood home, and the inevitably disloyal nature of men became a constant topic of one-sided conversation: "They're not all as bad as your father, Margaret," my mother would say. "Some of them stick around and seem happy enough in public. But even they're really miserable inside, honey, and they take it out horribly on their wives and children when no one else is around. They're only happy when they leave, even if it hurts us, and when they get stuck they just get bitter about it. If you knew your grandfather, you'd understand. Believe me darling, we're the lucky ones." Then she would hold my wrists and look up into my eyes and nod until I nodded back. So there was a fear that paralleled the thrill ofthe unexpected attention I received. I hid amid the comfort of easily made female friends, admitting the dizzying intensity of secret crushes on certain boys only within the safety of slumber parties, terrified of pursuing them any further. But my elusiveness only fueled my desirability. And it was impossible simply to blend in. My head, draped with locks of waist-length, flaming ochre hair, rose up out of every crowd. At just over seven feet, eight inches, and nearly three hundred forty pounds, I broke every heart I passed, tremulously beating far below. By the time I started high school I avoided public appearances whenever I could. I pushed burning thoughts of boys from my mind in favor of good, hard 106

Up hours of study. My relationships with friends, who were by then dating and quietly losing themselves in hot upstairs bedrooms, grew distant and vague. But even my withdrawal didn't quell my mother's paranoia. Eventually, she took me out of high school to teach me at home. By then I didn't even protest; I saw it as an opportunity to bury myself in books without distraction and earn myself admittance into any college I wanted to attend. I constantly focused my thoughts on the exciting careers and lifestyle a high-caliber education would ensure. A lawyer or a biotechnician. An economist or a stockbroker. It didn't matter—I would open every door. But meanwhile my mother began occupying more and more of my time. She'd once led a vibrant social life on the arm of my father, but after his bolt across the Pacific she couldn't help but coyly step from his old circles. The few loose friendships she'd kept before she knew him had long since dissipated, and her new single existence became a frenzy revolving around my own. By the time I was eighteen she had a hand in everything I did. One evening I came downstairs and found her surrounded by a storm of college application materials. Informational booklets from universities all over the country covered sofas and end tables, internet articles were stuck up everywhere on the walls. She had her glasses on, furiously writing in a notepad balanced on her knee. "Margaret! Wonderful news!" she sung out, shuffling through her mess and paging through a heavily dog-eared course catalogue. "I've been reading up on some colleges for you. Now, have a look at this. It really does look like UCLA has by far the best program for you, after all. Every one ofthe majors you're interested in is highly ranked. Doesn't that work out nicely, dear?" She always became ecstatically chipper amid these frenetic spells. "And here," she said, beaming way up at me, head tilted back, tiny white neck elongated, eyelashes fluttering away over the rims of her reading glasses, "I've already started filling out the application." UCLA was practically in our back yard. It was on my list of potential colleges, but she knew it wasn't at the top. She'd been making little stands like this ever since my father left. When he finally called from a business trip to tell her he was leaving, she had all the locks on the doors changed by the next day. He came home to find himself barred from his house and divorce papers pinned up on its front door. It was how she avoided being too let down; instead of waging a futile battle, she would at least surrender on her own terms. This time, the catastrophe was my going to college. I would be taking long strides back out before the public's lascivious eye, and, even more frighteningly, leaving her alone with her loneliness, frantically scurrying between the brief respites of Christmas and summer breaks. If she'd had her way, I wouldn't have gone to college at all. "What's the point?" she always asked, widening her eyes then turning her head to whisper out that final, forlorn, point. But to be fair, her question wasn't as bad as it sounds. Like the little tumor embedded in my brain, my mother always carried with her a panicking, fatal fact about my condition that provided a somewhat reasonable 107


Berkeley Fiction Review And as I discovered to my surprise, desirable I was. My case of multiple endocrine neoplasia skipped out on its usual side effects of extra large hands and over-prominent facial bones. Instead, the seductive prettiness and gentle eyes I inherited from my mother grew in proportion with the rest of my filled out body. I developed long, arcing hips and massive breasts—which appear, on my frame, simply full. And right along with everything else my sexuality expanded too. It was as if the flooding hormones that propelled me into womanhood, having filled my body to its raging brim, began spilling out into the air and into the minds of males everywhere. I began to inspire in boys a kind of amazonian delirium. The more I wanted them, the more it seemed they wanted me. Even the most sought-after begged me for dates or back-seat rendezvous. I found heartpouring love letters slipped between the cracks of my locker; sometimes two or three would fall to the floor as I reached for my books. I even shaped the way many ofthe men I knew as boys fundamentally perceive attractiveness in women. Before they were able to be influenced by popular television or Playboy, my presence inadvertently schooled their developing minds on the parameters of feminine beauty: even still they are drawn to tall and buxom women. As I grew older, my mother's single-mother concerns that I would be socially chastised by the most popular girls were replaced by those that I would be all-toowillingly accepted by men. My father had spent the years of my youth growing distant and withdrawn, and just before my big spurt he left us for a business venture in Taipei with no explanation but a perpetual look of meek confusion whenever he was at home. Afterwards, "Taiwan" was never uttered within the walls of our alimony-funded Brentwood home, and the inevitably disloyal nature of men became a constant topic of one-sided conversation: "They're not all as bad as your father, Margaret," my mother would say. "Some of them stick around and seem happy enough in public. But even they're really miserable inside, honey, and they take it out horribly on their wives and children when no one else is around. They're only happy when they leave, even if it hurts us, and when they get stuck they just get bitter about it. If you knew your grandfather, you'd understand. Believe me darling, we're the lucky ones." Then she would hold my wrists and look up into my eyes and nod until I nodded back. So there was a fear that paralleled the thrill ofthe unexpected attention I received. I hid amid the comfort of easily made female friends, admitting the dizzying intensity of secret crushes on certain boys only within the safety of slumber parties, terrified of pursuing them any further. But my elusiveness only fueled my desirability. And it was impossible simply to blend in. My head, draped with locks of waist-length, flaming ochre hair, rose up out of every crowd. At just over seven feet, eight inches, and nearly three hundred forty pounds, I broke every heart I passed, tremulously beating far below. By the time I started high school I avoided public appearances whenever I could. I pushed burning thoughts of boys from my mind in favor of good, hard 106

Up hours of study. My relationships with friends, who were by then dating and quietly losing themselves in hot upstairs bedrooms, grew distant and vague. But even my withdrawal didn't quell my mother's paranoia. Eventually, she took me out of high school to teach me at home. By then I didn't even protest; I saw it as an opportunity to bury myself in books without distraction and earn myself admittance into any college I wanted to attend. I constantly focused my thoughts on the exciting careers and lifestyle a high-caliber education would ensure. A lawyer or a biotechnician. An economist or a stockbroker. It didn't matter—I would open every door. But meanwhile my mother began occupying more and more of my time. She'd once led a vibrant social life on the arm of my father, but after his bolt across the Pacific she couldn't help but coyly step from his old circles. The few loose friendships she'd kept before she knew him had long since dissipated, and her new single existence became a frenzy revolving around my own. By the time I was eighteen she had a hand in everything I did. One evening I came downstairs and found her surrounded by a storm of college application materials. Informational booklets from universities all over the country covered sofas and end tables, internet articles were stuck up everywhere on the walls. She had her glasses on, furiously writing in a notepad balanced on her knee. "Margaret! Wonderful news!" she sung out, shuffling through her mess and paging through a heavily dog-eared course catalogue. "I've been reading up on some colleges for you. Now, have a look at this. It really does look like UCLA has by far the best program for you, after all. Every one ofthe majors you're interested in is highly ranked. Doesn't that work out nicely, dear?" She always became ecstatically chipper amid these frenetic spells. "And here," she said, beaming way up at me, head tilted back, tiny white neck elongated, eyelashes fluttering away over the rims of her reading glasses, "I've already started filling out the application." UCLA was practically in our back yard. It was on my list of potential colleges, but she knew it wasn't at the top. She'd been making little stands like this ever since my father left. When he finally called from a business trip to tell her he was leaving, she had all the locks on the doors changed by the next day. He came home to find himself barred from his house and divorce papers pinned up on its front door. It was how she avoided being too let down; instead of waging a futile battle, she would at least surrender on her own terms. This time, the catastrophe was my going to college. I would be taking long strides back out before the public's lascivious eye, and, even more frighteningly, leaving her alone with her loneliness, frantically scurrying between the brief respites of Christmas and summer breaks. If she'd had her way, I wouldn't have gone to college at all. "What's the point?" she always asked, widening her eyes then turning her head to whisper out that final, forlorn, point. But to be fair, her question wasn't as bad as it sounds. Like the little tumor embedded in my brain, my mother always carried with her a panicking, fatal fact about my condition that provided a somewhat reasonable 107


Berkeley Fiction Review reason for posing it. Though I was the one directly affected by that fact, I couldn't ever really believe it to be real. And because I remained unconcerned, my mother was forced into an uncertain acceptance that I was, for now, immune to that looming thing, unmentioned for years, almost forgotten by me, that terrified her constantly. But in her mind a lethal countdown ticked away every day I grew older, and the louder and faster the ticking became, the more tightly she clung to me. When I insisted that there was indeed a point, many points, for going to college, her conciliatory hope was that if she could at least convince me to stay close, then she could still keep an eye on me (and on any men who would be doing the same), and I could still give her my abundant company on a limited basis. Maybe, I knew she was hoping, pleading, I would even continue to live at home; because she knew, beneath the glassy surface of things, that my simply continuing to live at all was becoming more and more to hope for. But my own personal nightmares built themselves up around an inability to believe that she could ever really accept terms of living which included living alone, and the consideration of those on which she would finally choose to surrender was terrifying. So when she extended that local application way up above her head, whiteknuckled from the stretch and lashes fanning me furiously in a motherly plea, the spirit in which I reached down to take it was one of compassion more than complaisance. "Oh... thanks," I mumbled, and began glancing over an embellished list of extracurricular activities. "But you didn't have to do this," I said carefully, thumbing the sheets, "I've already filled one out. And a few for some ofthe other schools we talked about too..." "I know dear. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't late." She started gathering up her scattered papers and notes, singsong sentences continuing in their direction, "It really does look like the perfect place for you to study, in a lot of ways, honey. . . . You'll be sorry if you pass it up, Margaret. You don't want to be making any big mistakes." You have to understand that I rarely fought with my mother. We'd developed the camaraderie ofthe abandoned, and besides that I sensed a fragility in her that I could protect because whatever it was that was breakable in her I knew was solid in me. With the same nervous tenderness I used when holding kittens or china in my wide palms, I rarely opposed her whims or did anything to make her worry. But while she looked up at me hopefully, rubbing a perpetually sore neck and fluttering her lashes in perfect sync with her resounding inner ticking—as I flipped to the last page ofthe application, with my signature brazenly forged on it—I started to feel, for the first time, taken in, used, cheated. But before I could invent a way to stand up for myself, she'd slipped off the couch and was flitting away to answer the door, whose halcyon-noted bell was ringing, I realized, now for the second time. "That'll be Johnston's," my mother was saying behind my back. "Isn't it nice that they agreed to come out to the house? I told them how busy you've been and 108

Up they said they'd send someone out to take your measurements." My mother had taken it upon herself, as soon as I outgrew the standard clothing sizes available in department stores, to employ L.A.'s finest tailors to reproduce copies ofthe latest styles in plus-plus sizes. Johnston's had been stitching together my ever-lengthening shoes (size 22 last visit) for years. My mother used to take me out shopping—she loved it—and then we'd bring everything in our bags to the specialty tailors where they'd use the clothes as models for the bigger sizes they'd make for me. And I loved it too; my shopping trips with my mother had become my only excuse to get out ofthe house, to be around crowds of other people, even to show myself off a little. But apparently my mother picked up on this (though she pretended not to notice, she was always acutely aware of my wake of heartbroken gawkers), because now it seemed she'd finally nipped one more social opportunity in the bud by inviting only the safe side of the process into the serenity of our home. I found out not long after that she'd been hoarding mail-order catalogues for me too. But her plans didn't include what she found on our doorstep. "Yes, but the woman I spoke with on the phone," she was saying through a slim crack while I seethed over the application behind her, "Tenesha? Where is she? She said she'd come out herself to take the measurements." And from behind the door: "Yes ma'am. That's my aunt, but she's already gone home today. I'm the one comes out if someone can't come in." My mother sighed and turned around to look at me. I did my best to glare at her. I was furious. I was trying to build up the nerve to tear up the application and tell whoever it was outside to get the hell off our fucking doorstep. "Well," my mother said into the darkness, "Let's just make it quick." And enter that would-be shoemaker, whose name I never caught—momentarily sensitive, sympathetically unwitting, shamelessly used and shamefully fleeing, a thin young man with a cotton tie and wiry mahogany arms (already visibly intimidated by my mother)—stepping stiffly inside. Before even crossing the threshold he squinted way up to get a good look at me from behind his wire glasses. Everything about his presence annoyed me. I rolled my eyes at the usual male reaction about to come. But it didn't. After the initial start at my size, the only reason his face didn't have a look of disgust that matched mine was a forced politeness that held most of his back. And after my mother led us into the living room where I sullenly sat for him to measure my feet, his mildly pimpled face, for a brief moment, actually winced at the prospect of dealing with my massive extremities. I'd never seen anyone react to me this way. I didn't really feel hurt, just curious. It almost overrode the anger I was still firing out towards everything. Almost, but not quite. Behind him, my mother stood, arms folded, watching like a hawk. In her hand she clutched the application I'd dropped on the coffee table, and it stuck out of her armpit like a broken wing. Just before the kneeling young 109


Berkeley Fiction Review reason for posing it. Though I was the one directly affected by that fact, I couldn't ever really believe it to be real. And because I remained unconcerned, my mother was forced into an uncertain acceptance that I was, for now, immune to that looming thing, unmentioned for years, almost forgotten by me, that terrified her constantly. But in her mind a lethal countdown ticked away every day I grew older, and the louder and faster the ticking became, the more tightly she clung to me. When I insisted that there was indeed a point, many points, for going to college, her conciliatory hope was that if she could at least convince me to stay close, then she could still keep an eye on me (and on any men who would be doing the same), and I could still give her my abundant company on a limited basis. Maybe, I knew she was hoping, pleading, I would even continue to live at home; because she knew, beneath the glassy surface of things, that my simply continuing to live at all was becoming more and more to hope for. But my own personal nightmares built themselves up around an inability to believe that she could ever really accept terms of living which included living alone, and the consideration of those on which she would finally choose to surrender was terrifying. So when she extended that local application way up above her head, whiteknuckled from the stretch and lashes fanning me furiously in a motherly plea, the spirit in which I reached down to take it was one of compassion more than complaisance. "Oh... thanks," I mumbled, and began glancing over an embellished list of extracurricular activities. "But you didn't have to do this," I said carefully, thumbing the sheets, "I've already filled one out. And a few for some ofthe other schools we talked about too..." "I know dear. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't late." She started gathering up her scattered papers and notes, singsong sentences continuing in their direction, "It really does look like the perfect place for you to study, in a lot of ways, honey. . . . You'll be sorry if you pass it up, Margaret. You don't want to be making any big mistakes." You have to understand that I rarely fought with my mother. We'd developed the camaraderie ofthe abandoned, and besides that I sensed a fragility in her that I could protect because whatever it was that was breakable in her I knew was solid in me. With the same nervous tenderness I used when holding kittens or china in my wide palms, I rarely opposed her whims or did anything to make her worry. But while she looked up at me hopefully, rubbing a perpetually sore neck and fluttering her lashes in perfect sync with her resounding inner ticking—as I flipped to the last page ofthe application, with my signature brazenly forged on it—I started to feel, for the first time, taken in, used, cheated. But before I could invent a way to stand up for myself, she'd slipped off the couch and was flitting away to answer the door, whose halcyon-noted bell was ringing, I realized, now for the second time. "That'll be Johnston's," my mother was saying behind my back. "Isn't it nice that they agreed to come out to the house? I told them how busy you've been and 108

Up they said they'd send someone out to take your measurements." My mother had taken it upon herself, as soon as I outgrew the standard clothing sizes available in department stores, to employ L.A.'s finest tailors to reproduce copies ofthe latest styles in plus-plus sizes. Johnston's had been stitching together my ever-lengthening shoes (size 22 last visit) for years. My mother used to take me out shopping—she loved it—and then we'd bring everything in our bags to the specialty tailors where they'd use the clothes as models for the bigger sizes they'd make for me. And I loved it too; my shopping trips with my mother had become my only excuse to get out ofthe house, to be around crowds of other people, even to show myself off a little. But apparently my mother picked up on this (though she pretended not to notice, she was always acutely aware of my wake of heartbroken gawkers), because now it seemed she'd finally nipped one more social opportunity in the bud by inviting only the safe side of the process into the serenity of our home. I found out not long after that she'd been hoarding mail-order catalogues for me too. But her plans didn't include what she found on our doorstep. "Yes, but the woman I spoke with on the phone," she was saying through a slim crack while I seethed over the application behind her, "Tenesha? Where is she? She said she'd come out herself to take the measurements." And from behind the door: "Yes ma'am. That's my aunt, but she's already gone home today. I'm the one comes out if someone can't come in." My mother sighed and turned around to look at me. I did my best to glare at her. I was furious. I was trying to build up the nerve to tear up the application and tell whoever it was outside to get the hell off our fucking doorstep. "Well," my mother said into the darkness, "Let's just make it quick." And enter that would-be shoemaker, whose name I never caught—momentarily sensitive, sympathetically unwitting, shamelessly used and shamefully fleeing, a thin young man with a cotton tie and wiry mahogany arms (already visibly intimidated by my mother)—stepping stiffly inside. Before even crossing the threshold he squinted way up to get a good look at me from behind his wire glasses. Everything about his presence annoyed me. I rolled my eyes at the usual male reaction about to come. But it didn't. After the initial start at my size, the only reason his face didn't have a look of disgust that matched mine was a forced politeness that held most of his back. And after my mother led us into the living room where I sullenly sat for him to measure my feet, his mildly pimpled face, for a brief moment, actually winced at the prospect of dealing with my massive extremities. I'd never seen anyone react to me this way. I didn't really feel hurt, just curious. It almost overrode the anger I was still firing out towards everything. Almost, but not quite. Behind him, my mother stood, arms folded, watching like a hawk. In her hand she clutched the application I'd dropped on the coffee table, and it stuck out of her armpit like a broken wing. Just before the kneeling young 109


Berkeley Fiction Review man's spool of yellow measuring tape and reaching hands took hold of my foot, I realized the tragically comedic significance of her tight stance and intent stare: I couldn't believe it, but she was actually worried that the two of us might get up to something! I'd never been so insulted. With a nun's iron will I'd denied chiseled gods, meltingly confident and exuding irresistible charm—and she was concerned about the flimsy hands of this gaunt kid? And suddenly I saw something that could be neatly slipped right under my mother's tight skin; and my great idea leapt into my head. Fueled purely by spite for my mother, I became more attracted to the boy kneeling before me than I had ever been to anyone. It only took a nudge of willpower to see past his awkward countenance, and then my bottled-up hormones finally erupted. It was easier than I thought, and there was no turning back. The floodgates had been opened. At that moment I would have flung myself at any male who happened to be nearby, even one as perfectly unattractive as the boy before me: I wanted to fold myself around him and roll his eyes back into his astonished head. And, just like magic, that's all it took to do the trick. Like I said, the more I want them, they more they want me; somehow I always get whatever I want, and more. The shoemaker's hands, suddenly trembling, made contact with my skin, and he let out a dazed little whimper of pleasure. I rotated my ankle just a little, so the top of my foot slid across his palm. He dared one deep, wide-eyed glance up at my reclined body, confused at his sudden change of emotion, and swallowed hard. He cleared his throat, and my mother cleared her throat—and inside of me, after being touched for the first time by any male since the probing hands of pediatricians, anger and pleasure leapt together into a feeling so sugary it was everything I could do to keep from passing out. But I forced myself to be patient. The shoemaker breathlessly took his ecstatic measurements. Heel to toe, various widths, around the ankle, arch and face, everything necessary for a perfect fit; and then, head swimming, trying to quiet his deepened breaths, he dared to do the whole hot process all over again, apparently, to make sure he got everything just right. He finally tore himself away, jotted in a quaking notepad, and left in a daze. As my mother closed the door behind him he turned to get one last glimpse of me, this time with a look of desire and tender gratitude. According to the hasty plan I'd just constructed, I slunk back up to my bedroom as quickly as I could, and, just in time, without really thinking anything through, I opened the window and whisper-yelled out to him as he stepped dreamily into his car, "Hey! Hey you!" He turned up to me with a hopeful start. "Do you want to come back? I mean, later this week? Come back Tuesday, at two o' clock. Okay?" My mother, without fail, kept an appointment with her hair dresser every Tuesday at two. It was one of the only times she left the house anymore. The shoemaker, way down below, smiled like a lottery winner and nodded perplexedly okay. 110

Up I began to reel with determination and independence. Ideas came to me about my future like hail. I felt suddenly allowed to consider schemes which extended far beyond even the undercover date I'd just set up. In the space ofthe moment it took me to rush back downstairs, an idea about college that I'd once only dreamily entertained became a full-fledged decision; until whispering out the window a few seconds before, it was the only thing I'd really kept from my mother. In the momentum of my rebellion big plans were already crystallizing. Downstairs, oblivious to the revolution in my mind, my mother sat at the kitchen table, happy with herself and her handling ofthe previous situation, and putting the last touches on her UCLA application. "Mom," I said to her, evenly, hands on my hips, without a second of hesitation, "I've decided to go to college in England." I'd kidded about this months before, but neither of us had taken it seriously, until now. What I hadn't told her was the other offhand steps I'd taken, like sending in an application. At the time it wasn't a serious pursuit. I was mostly just curious to see of I could get in. And now I set my sights so seriously on it because it was the farthest away place I could think of. "I've already sent off an application to Oxford," I said. "And I think I may have a chance of getting in." She turned around in her chair. Her lashes ceased. "Margaret, that's not funny." She'd never heard me speak that way to her. I found myself using the same tone I'd practiced and perfected on overzealous boys. And when it was clear I wasn't laughing, she finally realized that something she didn't even know was precariously balanced had been tipped. "Margaret? But—what? Wait, what are you talking about?" Her eyes glossed over when I didn't respond."... There are plenty of good schools near here. What are—England?" I just loomed way up over her when she stood as tall as she could and shouted up at me with a reddening face, "Margaret, I've had enough! You're eighteen! For God's sake, grow up! There are just some things you're not going to be able to do. Maybe UCLA isn't what you want, that's fine. You liked USC, right? Or even Berkeley? But Oxford! You've never even been on a plane!" Then, she whispered, between tears now and her teeth, "You'd have to fly Margaret You know you can't fly!" I never knew how to react whenever someone hinted around at asking what it's like knowing you'll only live to be maybe twenty-five at the latest. I usually tried to explain by saying something about everyone knowing they're going to die eventually anyway and that it's not any more terrifying than that. But that wasn't really why I wasn't ever afraid. Though I think I believed the prognosis to be accurate, I just didn't buy into it. I'd already decided that I'd live as long as I wanted and never questioned the validity of my decision. Even before my doctor, momentarily taking the place of my father, sat me down with a solemn look to explain the gravity of my condition, my mind had already been made up. "Oh," I just said, "Okay." As if I didn't want to hurt his feelings for being wrong. While he braced himself for my reaction I only admired his stethoscope, softly drum-patted 111


Berkeley Fiction Review man's spool of yellow measuring tape and reaching hands took hold of my foot, I realized the tragically comedic significance of her tight stance and intent stare: I couldn't believe it, but she was actually worried that the two of us might get up to something! I'd never been so insulted. With a nun's iron will I'd denied chiseled gods, meltingly confident and exuding irresistible charm—and she was concerned about the flimsy hands of this gaunt kid? And suddenly I saw something that could be neatly slipped right under my mother's tight skin; and my great idea leapt into my head. Fueled purely by spite for my mother, I became more attracted to the boy kneeling before me than I had ever been to anyone. It only took a nudge of willpower to see past his awkward countenance, and then my bottled-up hormones finally erupted. It was easier than I thought, and there was no turning back. The floodgates had been opened. At that moment I would have flung myself at any male who happened to be nearby, even one as perfectly unattractive as the boy before me: I wanted to fold myself around him and roll his eyes back into his astonished head. And, just like magic, that's all it took to do the trick. Like I said, the more I want them, they more they want me; somehow I always get whatever I want, and more. The shoemaker's hands, suddenly trembling, made contact with my skin, and he let out a dazed little whimper of pleasure. I rotated my ankle just a little, so the top of my foot slid across his palm. He dared one deep, wide-eyed glance up at my reclined body, confused at his sudden change of emotion, and swallowed hard. He cleared his throat, and my mother cleared her throat—and inside of me, after being touched for the first time by any male since the probing hands of pediatricians, anger and pleasure leapt together into a feeling so sugary it was everything I could do to keep from passing out. But I forced myself to be patient. The shoemaker breathlessly took his ecstatic measurements. Heel to toe, various widths, around the ankle, arch and face, everything necessary for a perfect fit; and then, head swimming, trying to quiet his deepened breaths, he dared to do the whole hot process all over again, apparently, to make sure he got everything just right. He finally tore himself away, jotted in a quaking notepad, and left in a daze. As my mother closed the door behind him he turned to get one last glimpse of me, this time with a look of desire and tender gratitude. According to the hasty plan I'd just constructed, I slunk back up to my bedroom as quickly as I could, and, just in time, without really thinking anything through, I opened the window and whisper-yelled out to him as he stepped dreamily into his car, "Hey! Hey you!" He turned up to me with a hopeful start. "Do you want to come back? I mean, later this week? Come back Tuesday, at two o' clock. Okay?" My mother, without fail, kept an appointment with her hair dresser every Tuesday at two. It was one of the only times she left the house anymore. The shoemaker, way down below, smiled like a lottery winner and nodded perplexedly okay. 110

Up I began to reel with determination and independence. Ideas came to me about my future like hail. I felt suddenly allowed to consider schemes which extended far beyond even the undercover date I'd just set up. In the space ofthe moment it took me to rush back downstairs, an idea about college that I'd once only dreamily entertained became a full-fledged decision; until whispering out the window a few seconds before, it was the only thing I'd really kept from my mother. In the momentum of my rebellion big plans were already crystallizing. Downstairs, oblivious to the revolution in my mind, my mother sat at the kitchen table, happy with herself and her handling ofthe previous situation, and putting the last touches on her UCLA application. "Mom," I said to her, evenly, hands on my hips, without a second of hesitation, "I've decided to go to college in England." I'd kidded about this months before, but neither of us had taken it seriously, until now. What I hadn't told her was the other offhand steps I'd taken, like sending in an application. At the time it wasn't a serious pursuit. I was mostly just curious to see of I could get in. And now I set my sights so seriously on it because it was the farthest away place I could think of. "I've already sent off an application to Oxford," I said. "And I think I may have a chance of getting in." She turned around in her chair. Her lashes ceased. "Margaret, that's not funny." She'd never heard me speak that way to her. I found myself using the same tone I'd practiced and perfected on overzealous boys. And when it was clear I wasn't laughing, she finally realized that something she didn't even know was precariously balanced had been tipped. "Margaret? But—what? Wait, what are you talking about?" Her eyes glossed over when I didn't respond."... There are plenty of good schools near here. What are—England?" I just loomed way up over her when she stood as tall as she could and shouted up at me with a reddening face, "Margaret, I've had enough! You're eighteen! For God's sake, grow up! There are just some things you're not going to be able to do. Maybe UCLA isn't what you want, that's fine. You liked USC, right? Or even Berkeley? But Oxford! You've never even been on a plane!" Then, she whispered, between tears now and her teeth, "You'd have to fly Margaret You know you can't fly!" I never knew how to react whenever someone hinted around at asking what it's like knowing you'll only live to be maybe twenty-five at the latest. I usually tried to explain by saying something about everyone knowing they're going to die eventually anyway and that it's not any more terrifying than that. But that wasn't really why I wasn't ever afraid. Though I think I believed the prognosis to be accurate, I just didn't buy into it. I'd already decided that I'd live as long as I wanted and never questioned the validity of my decision. Even before my doctor, momentarily taking the place of my father, sat me down with a solemn look to explain the gravity of my condition, my mind had already been made up. "Oh," I just said, "Okay." As if I didn't want to hurt his feelings for being wrong. While he braced himself for my reaction I only admired his stethoscope, softly drum-patted 111


Berkeley Fiction Review my legs in boredom, and looked down at him as if to say, "So, can I go now?" Even later that night I wasn't once haunted by fear. In fact, I went to bed and considered becoming a doctor in the same way I'd wanted to be a museum curator after visiting the Getty for the first time. My mind was truly only filled with thoughts of how nice it would be to wear a white coat and peer into x-rays and have the gentle authority of an educated palpation. I was so absorbed with the idea of being an adult that I simply knew I'd spend a long time being one. But my mother was shipwrecked. Coming on the heels of my father's departure, she was inconsolable. You'd think it would have made her want me to live more fully with the time I had, but it was really what drove her to shelter me so vigorously. In her reasoning she decided that if my life had to be so short it should be painless, and that hard life lessons would be an unnecessary waste. When my doctor told her that I wouldn't ever stop growing, that surgery wasn't an option because my tumor was so deeply embedded, that eventually my heart wouldn't be able to supply the girth of my body with blood, and that one day it would just take an overexertion—or even, among a long list of other things, something as slight as a pressure dip in an airplane cabin—to seize that vital organ, her suddenly ticking mind became crowded with thoughts ofthe medical profession too. But hers came in images of paramedics ducking around her blue-faced daughter, hopelessly brandishing the undersized conductors of an ineffective defibrillator like buttons over my shapely breasts. In the days following my declaration to study overseas, my mother was either completely withdrawn or gushingly pleasant. She couldn't accept how serious I was. She kept doing things like making me tea and folding my laundry as if to prove to me how nice it was to live at home. But I hardly noticed. I couldn't even study. I kept imagining the spires of Oxford and stimulating conversations with new college friends—and then my newfound liberation would remind me of my sexual frustration, churning up my insides in anticipation for Tuesday at two. I even seemed to be immune to all ofthe old fears my mother had instilled in me; the kid who'd held my feet in his trembling hands was so clearly no masculine predator, and my firm control over the situation so obviously negated the possibility of becoming emotionally entrapped, that any apprehension I felt was mild enough to be easily overcome. And once done, I was freed to look forward to his visit with a giddy anticipation and a flock of butterflies. There was something tender about this shoemaker too, I realized as I looked back to our brief encounter again and again, that was becoming endearingly attractive—at least that's what I told myself when I started feeling guilty about how I was using him. By the time Tuesday morning rolled around, and my mother finally pulled out of our driveway, I was ready to boil over. "I shouldn't have come," he kept saying after showing up almost a half hour late. He seemed another person in baggy jeans and no tie, innocent still, but a little less helpless. "What am I doing? I'm about to get myself in trouble. I just know it. You're still in high school aren't you?" he said, 112

Up glancing back at the door, "...but how'dyou get so—God, you're like a dream... I can't do this. I can't be doing this, you understand?" But he couldn't keep his eyes off me. I could tell he wasn't used to anyone being interested in him. And when I led him upstairs, reaching way down to take his slender hand in mine, he didn't protest. My mother was right: in the end they couldn't say no to anything. I took him up to my mother's wardrobe. I thought maybe we could talk about shoes for a while, to get comfortable. There was an old pair that I'd always especially liked, and I wanted to ask him if he could have them made in my size. It relaxed him a little. He put his fingers on his chin. "Maybe," he said, "let me have a look." We stood together and let our eyes adjust to the darkness in the closet. As his pupils widened to the rows and rows of my mother's extravagant shoes, he started nodding. I knew he'd be impressed. "Look at all these. Your mom sure does like her shoes." He turned around to take it all in and saw what my father had left behind. "And these!" he said, kneeling down and taking hold of up an old pair of basketball shoes, probably worn once or twice if ever. "These are classics, and in perfect condition." "Do you want them?" I asked. "Try them on." I sat on the carpet and reached over to unlace the pair he was wearing. When I pulled them off I could almost close my palms entirely around their soles. And I didn't stop with his shoes. I just kept going. For a quick second I felt a pang like walking into a burning house; but, through all of my mother's concerns, I knew there were rites of passage that simply couldn't be skipped on the way to womanhood. And by then the momentum I was moving on couldn't allow me to pass up the chance. My first sexual experience wasn't like most. I didn't have the same kind of fear about pain or performance or the vulnerability of an uncertain love. And I'd seen enough movies not to be too surprised. But all ofthe rules were different for me. We didn't even kiss, not after we got started; we couldn't reach. His silence surprised me, and the way he grappled for something to hold on to, and the coldness ofthe skin on his back. Of course I didn't feel much, but it was the idea that turned me on anyway. After a while I led everything, and he let me. I crossed my legs behind him and held his head in my hands between my breasts. When my mother walked in on us I could see her blinking in the darkness. It took a while before she realized what was going on. She was supposed to find us; that was the plan after all. To break her heart and force her to give me a little breathing room, to demand a little freedom. But when it all sunk in she didn't even really react. While my date was grabbing up his clothes and darting from the closet, slick and bobbing with each step, my mother just turned around. She didn't do anything else, she didn't make a sound. She just made a fluid, deliberate rotation and stood with her back to me as the shoemaker brushed past her and ran from her bedroom and the house for good.

113


Berkeley Fiction Review my legs in boredom, and looked down at him as if to say, "So, can I go now?" Even later that night I wasn't once haunted by fear. In fact, I went to bed and considered becoming a doctor in the same way I'd wanted to be a museum curator after visiting the Getty for the first time. My mind was truly only filled with thoughts of how nice it would be to wear a white coat and peer into x-rays and have the gentle authority of an educated palpation. I was so absorbed with the idea of being an adult that I simply knew I'd spend a long time being one. But my mother was shipwrecked. Coming on the heels of my father's departure, she was inconsolable. You'd think it would have made her want me to live more fully with the time I had, but it was really what drove her to shelter me so vigorously. In her reasoning she decided that if my life had to be so short it should be painless, and that hard life lessons would be an unnecessary waste. When my doctor told her that I wouldn't ever stop growing, that surgery wasn't an option because my tumor was so deeply embedded, that eventually my heart wouldn't be able to supply the girth of my body with blood, and that one day it would just take an overexertion—or even, among a long list of other things, something as slight as a pressure dip in an airplane cabin—to seize that vital organ, her suddenly ticking mind became crowded with thoughts ofthe medical profession too. But hers came in images of paramedics ducking around her blue-faced daughter, hopelessly brandishing the undersized conductors of an ineffective defibrillator like buttons over my shapely breasts. In the days following my declaration to study overseas, my mother was either completely withdrawn or gushingly pleasant. She couldn't accept how serious I was. She kept doing things like making me tea and folding my laundry as if to prove to me how nice it was to live at home. But I hardly noticed. I couldn't even study. I kept imagining the spires of Oxford and stimulating conversations with new college friends—and then my newfound liberation would remind me of my sexual frustration, churning up my insides in anticipation for Tuesday at two. I even seemed to be immune to all ofthe old fears my mother had instilled in me; the kid who'd held my feet in his trembling hands was so clearly no masculine predator, and my firm control over the situation so obviously negated the possibility of becoming emotionally entrapped, that any apprehension I felt was mild enough to be easily overcome. And once done, I was freed to look forward to his visit with a giddy anticipation and a flock of butterflies. There was something tender about this shoemaker too, I realized as I looked back to our brief encounter again and again, that was becoming endearingly attractive—at least that's what I told myself when I started feeling guilty about how I was using him. By the time Tuesday morning rolled around, and my mother finally pulled out of our driveway, I was ready to boil over. "I shouldn't have come," he kept saying after showing up almost a half hour late. He seemed another person in baggy jeans and no tie, innocent still, but a little less helpless. "What am I doing? I'm about to get myself in trouble. I just know it. You're still in high school aren't you?" he said, 112

Up glancing back at the door, "...but how'dyou get so—God, you're like a dream... I can't do this. I can't be doing this, you understand?" But he couldn't keep his eyes off me. I could tell he wasn't used to anyone being interested in him. And when I led him upstairs, reaching way down to take his slender hand in mine, he didn't protest. My mother was right: in the end they couldn't say no to anything. I took him up to my mother's wardrobe. I thought maybe we could talk about shoes for a while, to get comfortable. There was an old pair that I'd always especially liked, and I wanted to ask him if he could have them made in my size. It relaxed him a little. He put his fingers on his chin. "Maybe," he said, "let me have a look." We stood together and let our eyes adjust to the darkness in the closet. As his pupils widened to the rows and rows of my mother's extravagant shoes, he started nodding. I knew he'd be impressed. "Look at all these. Your mom sure does like her shoes." He turned around to take it all in and saw what my father had left behind. "And these!" he said, kneeling down and taking hold of up an old pair of basketball shoes, probably worn once or twice if ever. "These are classics, and in perfect condition." "Do you want them?" I asked. "Try them on." I sat on the carpet and reached over to unlace the pair he was wearing. When I pulled them off I could almost close my palms entirely around their soles. And I didn't stop with his shoes. I just kept going. For a quick second I felt a pang like walking into a burning house; but, through all of my mother's concerns, I knew there were rites of passage that simply couldn't be skipped on the way to womanhood. And by then the momentum I was moving on couldn't allow me to pass up the chance. My first sexual experience wasn't like most. I didn't have the same kind of fear about pain or performance or the vulnerability of an uncertain love. And I'd seen enough movies not to be too surprised. But all ofthe rules were different for me. We didn't even kiss, not after we got started; we couldn't reach. His silence surprised me, and the way he grappled for something to hold on to, and the coldness ofthe skin on his back. Of course I didn't feel much, but it was the idea that turned me on anyway. After a while I led everything, and he let me. I crossed my legs behind him and held his head in my hands between my breasts. When my mother walked in on us I could see her blinking in the darkness. It took a while before she realized what was going on. She was supposed to find us; that was the plan after all. To break her heart and force her to give me a little breathing room, to demand a little freedom. But when it all sunk in she didn't even really react. While my date was grabbing up his clothes and darting from the closet, slick and bobbing with each step, my mother just turned around. She didn't do anything else, she didn't make a sound. She just made a fluid, deliberate rotation and stood with her back to me as the shoemaker brushed past her and ran from her bedroom and the house for good.

113


Berkeley Fiction Review As I lay there naked and cold, staring up at my mother's narrow shoulders, everything hot in me bubbled down first to remorse, and then to a shivering fear. I thought I'd discover some kind of confident triumph when she bumbled through the closet door, but there was only the sensation of a widening hollowness. As though I'd dropped that I couldn't ever pick up, and, in doing so, severing something vital between myself and her. Suddenly I wanted nothing to do with college or men or anything at all but the safety of my mother's incompletely encompassing arms. Her lack of expression and the slow movement she used to assume her backwards stance sent a ripping through my chest. I began to say, over and over, "I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." as the closet dimmed and closed around me, and my fragile heart raced so fast it became still. When I awoke in the hospital my mother had turned towards me again, her face leaning over my bed. Her eyes were red and when she saw that I'd opened mine she put her hand on what it could cover of my cheek. I learned later that I'd been unconscious for almost three days. "I have to tell you this first," she said. "You can't stand up. You have to lay very still. You had a heart attack, sweetheart. The doctor said you're lucky to be alive, but your heart can't take any more stress. He said that, with the rate of your growth, he's surprised it didn't happen sooner. You're not going to be able to stand up, Margaret. Not ever. I'm so sorry. Do you understand?" And then she put her arms around me and buried her face away from everything into my side. "I know, Mom. I know," was all I could say. I could hear the echoes of her ticking countdown through her crying, quietly, but built up now to a rapid frenzy. Would I live for a few months? A few weeks? She warned me not to stand, but I knew I didn't have the strength. I felt wrung out, wound down. Of course my mother rarely left my side at the hospital. We never said a word about the boy and the closet. Something about her had changed too. She was quiet. She' d sit in the same position, looking out my room's window sometimes for two or three hours. And then she'd jump as if to a loud noise that no one else could hear, and look at me in bed to see if my chest was still rising and falling. She was beaten down by the thought of that moment when she'd finally look to me and find herself left behind, all alone. So she tiptoed through every minute as if it were her last with me. Sometimes she'd wake me up in the middle ofthe night with a soft nudge, just in case my heart were about to stop in my sleep, and she could have one last look into my eyes. In bed at the hospital I started to grow even more rapidly. Whether it was the lack of gravity from never standing or a sudden spike in growth hormone production I don't know, but I reached the eight foot mark after a month and a half of bed rest. A nurse would come to measure me and record my height on a clipboard every other day. Even my hair grew almost two inches a week. But the more I grew, the better I felt. I began to feel less horrible about what I'd done, and less of a need to cling to my mother. By the time I reached 8'4" my old skepticism about dying 114

Up young was returning. But now I didn't know what to do about my mother if I did somehow recover. I knew I couldn't leave her. She would be more than miserable, and I knew I'd always be worrying about her whenever I was away. And day after day I continued to feel much better, more energized, bored. I woke up one morning, and in my mail, delivered to the hospital now for me and placed on a table across the room beside a vase of daffodils, was a large white envelope with a UK return address. My mother had stepped into the bathroom, and the room was empty. I felt a surge of excitement and pride. I'd been accepted at Oxford. My doctor had assured my mother and me that if I were to stand up, my heart would stop, and, without a doubt, within a few minutes, I would die. But it wasn't another reckless act of rebellion when I flipped off my covers and planted a bare foot on the hospital's cold tile floor. You'd be surprised how powerful the habit of mobility is; in my excitement the fatal danger of standing was forgotten. I stood and took one, then another quick step towards the beautifully bulging acceptance packet. And just as I clipped its corner between my fingers, my mother returned. She jumped violently when she saw me looking down at her, standing up even higher then ever before, and she knew that her dreaded moment, my last, the one that marked the point when she would have nothing left for which to live, had finally come. The ticking in her head roared audibly now, so quickly that the sound of each tick was inseparable from any other, like a jet engine, echoingfromthe doorway through the hospital's white corridors. But when the countdown finally lurched to a silence, after years of maintaining its steadily quickening pace, the heart that burst was not the melon-sized mass of muscle smoothly humming in my chest. My mother's lashes gave a few last flutters as the whites of her eyes scrolled up between them, and with a soft, twisting motion she crumpled down and collapsed onto the cold tile floor. I still miss my mother incredibly. Even now, years after her death, I find myself every once in a while curled up in a corner of my apartment, wracked with a latenight emptiness that doesn't really subside in the morning. In spite of everything, for years we didn't have anyone but each other. We were best friends really. Until she died, our lives had become so enmeshed it was difficult to tell where one left off and the other began. I would have liked to have known her on her own. I would have liked to have learned what she really would have done after I, in the end, inevitably would have gone off to college in another city. I'd like to think that she would have rediscovered a strength she'd let herself forget about at the end of her life. Did she die because of me? Maybe she did. But she left me with a memory that's attached to every thought of her, and it makes me wonder: in the front of a spottily attended church at her funeral, she lay, with stilled lashes and a smooth brow, within the silky cushions of a ten-foot casket. The uppermost lid was propped 115


Berkeley Fiction Review As I lay there naked and cold, staring up at my mother's narrow shoulders, everything hot in me bubbled down first to remorse, and then to a shivering fear. I thought I'd discover some kind of confident triumph when she bumbled through the closet door, but there was only the sensation of a widening hollowness. As though I'd dropped that I couldn't ever pick up, and, in doing so, severing something vital between myself and her. Suddenly I wanted nothing to do with college or men or anything at all but the safety of my mother's incompletely encompassing arms. Her lack of expression and the slow movement she used to assume her backwards stance sent a ripping through my chest. I began to say, over and over, "I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." as the closet dimmed and closed around me, and my fragile heart raced so fast it became still. When I awoke in the hospital my mother had turned towards me again, her face leaning over my bed. Her eyes were red and when she saw that I'd opened mine she put her hand on what it could cover of my cheek. I learned later that I'd been unconscious for almost three days. "I have to tell you this first," she said. "You can't stand up. You have to lay very still. You had a heart attack, sweetheart. The doctor said you're lucky to be alive, but your heart can't take any more stress. He said that, with the rate of your growth, he's surprised it didn't happen sooner. You're not going to be able to stand up, Margaret. Not ever. I'm so sorry. Do you understand?" And then she put her arms around me and buried her face away from everything into my side. "I know, Mom. I know," was all I could say. I could hear the echoes of her ticking countdown through her crying, quietly, but built up now to a rapid frenzy. Would I live for a few months? A few weeks? She warned me not to stand, but I knew I didn't have the strength. I felt wrung out, wound down. Of course my mother rarely left my side at the hospital. We never said a word about the boy and the closet. Something about her had changed too. She was quiet. She' d sit in the same position, looking out my room's window sometimes for two or three hours. And then she'd jump as if to a loud noise that no one else could hear, and look at me in bed to see if my chest was still rising and falling. She was beaten down by the thought of that moment when she'd finally look to me and find herself left behind, all alone. So she tiptoed through every minute as if it were her last with me. Sometimes she'd wake me up in the middle ofthe night with a soft nudge, just in case my heart were about to stop in my sleep, and she could have one last look into my eyes. In bed at the hospital I started to grow even more rapidly. Whether it was the lack of gravity from never standing or a sudden spike in growth hormone production I don't know, but I reached the eight foot mark after a month and a half of bed rest. A nurse would come to measure me and record my height on a clipboard every other day. Even my hair grew almost two inches a week. But the more I grew, the better I felt. I began to feel less horrible about what I'd done, and less of a need to cling to my mother. By the time I reached 8'4" my old skepticism about dying 114

Up young was returning. But now I didn't know what to do about my mother if I did somehow recover. I knew I couldn't leave her. She would be more than miserable, and I knew I'd always be worrying about her whenever I was away. And day after day I continued to feel much better, more energized, bored. I woke up one morning, and in my mail, delivered to the hospital now for me and placed on a table across the room beside a vase of daffodils, was a large white envelope with a UK return address. My mother had stepped into the bathroom, and the room was empty. I felt a surge of excitement and pride. I'd been accepted at Oxford. My doctor had assured my mother and me that if I were to stand up, my heart would stop, and, without a doubt, within a few minutes, I would die. But it wasn't another reckless act of rebellion when I flipped off my covers and planted a bare foot on the hospital's cold tile floor. You'd be surprised how powerful the habit of mobility is; in my excitement the fatal danger of standing was forgotten. I stood and took one, then another quick step towards the beautifully bulging acceptance packet. And just as I clipped its corner between my fingers, my mother returned. She jumped violently when she saw me looking down at her, standing up even higher then ever before, and she knew that her dreaded moment, my last, the one that marked the point when she would have nothing left for which to live, had finally come. The ticking in her head roared audibly now, so quickly that the sound of each tick was inseparable from any other, like a jet engine, echoingfromthe doorway through the hospital's white corridors. But when the countdown finally lurched to a silence, after years of maintaining its steadily quickening pace, the heart that burst was not the melon-sized mass of muscle smoothly humming in my chest. My mother's lashes gave a few last flutters as the whites of her eyes scrolled up between them, and with a soft, twisting motion she crumpled down and collapsed onto the cold tile floor. I still miss my mother incredibly. Even now, years after her death, I find myself every once in a while curled up in a corner of my apartment, wracked with a latenight emptiness that doesn't really subside in the morning. In spite of everything, for years we didn't have anyone but each other. We were best friends really. Until she died, our lives had become so enmeshed it was difficult to tell where one left off and the other began. I would have liked to have known her on her own. I would have liked to have learned what she really would have done after I, in the end, inevitably would have gone off to college in another city. I'd like to think that she would have rediscovered a strength she'd let herself forget about at the end of her life. Did she die because of me? Maybe she did. But she left me with a memory that's attached to every thought of her, and it makes me wonder: in the front of a spottily attended church at her funeral, she lay, with stilled lashes and a smooth brow, within the silky cushions of a ten-foot casket. The uppermost lid was propped 115


Berkeley Fiction Review open, as usual, and her head rested on a pillow against the giant casket's upper end. Nearly her entire body lay exposed. The lower lid closed just over her ankles and the emptiness below her tiny out-turned feet. When my mother was preparing for my death, while 1 still lay in bed with a weak heart, she had arranged ahead of time for everything to be ready when I died. But she had given the funeral home only her last name. When her body arrived, its name matched the one attached to my specially constructed casket, and in deference to the dead no questions were asked. I only discovered the mistake on the morning ofthe funeral. No one said a word but the gravedigger whom I overheard grumbling about his extra work. Now even that behemoth of a resting place wouldn't accommodate me. Just last week I measured in at ten feet, two and a half inches. But my growth has slowed considerably. I'm down to only about an inch a year. My doctor at King's College Hospital tells me he doesn't know when I'll stop growing altogether, but that my heart, just as it's always done, is still keeping up right along with everything else. I can feel it chugging away peacefully, right now. I told him I don't know when I'll stop growing either, but that I'd let him know when I decide.

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Berkeley Fiction Review open, as usual, and her head rested on a pillow against the giant casket's upper end. Nearly her entire body lay exposed. The lower lid closed just over her ankles and the emptiness below her tiny out-turned feet. When my mother was preparing for my death, while 1 still lay in bed with a weak heart, she had arranged ahead of time for everything to be ready when I died. But she had given the funeral home only her last name. When her body arrived, its name matched the one attached to my specially constructed casket, and in deference to the dead no questions were asked. I only discovered the mistake on the morning ofthe funeral. No one said a word but the gravedigger whom I overheard grumbling about his extra work. Now even that behemoth of a resting place wouldn't accommodate me. Just last week I measured in at ten feet, two and a half inches. But my growth has slowed considerably. I'm down to only about an inch a year. My doctor at King's College Hospital tells me he doesn't know when I'll stop growing altogether, but that my heart, just as it's always done, is still keeping up right along with everything else. I can feel it chugging away peacefully, right now. I told him I don't know when I'll stop growing either, but that I'd let him know when I decide.

116


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

Justin Courier's (April Fool) work has appeared in Pleiades, Northwest Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Literary Review, Fugue, and several other magazines. He lives in New York City. Andrew Farkas (The Physics ofthe Bottomless Pit) is originally from Akron,Ohio, and currently attends the University of Alabama, where he is in the MFA fiction program, where he is an assistant editor for Black Warrior Review, where he imparts knowledge on freshman via the English 101 and 102 sequence, and where he eats barbeque (for that is all Tuscaloosa has to offer). He holds a Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Tennessee. His work has also appeared in Circle Magazine. Bernard Hafeli (Guerilla Marketing) has worked as a copywriter and Creative Director in advertising agencies for twenty-five years. Bernie started writing stories two years ago when he lost his job and found himself with some free time. "Guerilla Marketing" will be his second published story. A story called "Big Jim" is appearing in The Rejected Quarterly. Bernie has just been accepted into the University of San Francisco MFA Writing Program and will start this summer. Michael Greenstein (Distracted, Pensive, Tin Tan Alley interior art) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His ink drawings appear in a number of fine literary magazines. Teresa Burns Gunther (Oh, Baby) earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary's College of California. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Lynx Eye, Mary, and The Mag. Her story, "Magic Fingers," was a finalist in the 2004 Phoebe Winter Fiction Contest and she was a featured writer in the Summer 2004 issue of August Highlands minimagazine. Certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, Teresa leads writing workshops through Lakeshore Writers in Oakland, California. She is currently at work on her first novel, Shadow Lake.

Emi Ikkanda (cover art) is currently studying Art and English at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. Her work has been shown at the Zeum in San Francisco, the Berkeley Art Museum, and at the Worth Ryder Gallery. Fran Kaplan (Less Than Perfect) has published essays and short stories in The Chicago Tribune, Mature Living, The South Carolina Review, Orange Willow Review, and Riversedge, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Press. He is a board member of The Palm Springs Writers Guild, and his first novel, The Prettier Sister is completed. Matthew Main (Up) grew up in California's remote northeastern corner, in the small farming town of Pitville. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, currently lives in New York city, and is enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia. Kirsten Allen Major (There Was the Fire Alarm, Like Before) is a graduate of the MFA program at Cornell University and has previously published fiction in Chelsea. She lives in New York City. William E. Meyer, Jr. (Dallas's -photo) is a freelance artist and writer living in Beaumont, Texas. His graphics, poems, stories and essays have appeared in the U.S., Canada, England, Germany and Australia. Edward Moore (Evening Shifts) is an environmental professional currently working for an automotive assembly plant in Fremont, California. A short mystery story titled, "Victorian Shoplifter" is scheduled for publication in the April 2005 issue of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine. This will be his first printed publication. Leonard Orr (Flight Instinct) is a professor of literature and creative writing at Washington State University. His work has appeared in many journals including Black Warrior Review, Poetry International, Poetry East, and Rosebud. He was a finalist for the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and recently published a collection of poems, Daytime Moon (FootHills, 2005). Jimmy J. Pack Jr. (Lily) is a native of Connecticut who resides in Philadelphia, PA. He teaches writing at Penn State University, Abington, and writes for the Chestnut Hill Local newspaper. At present he is working on his first novel, an On the Road for the new millennium.


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

Justin Courier's (April Fool) work has appeared in Pleiades, Northwest Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Literary Review, Fugue, and several other magazines. He lives in New York City. Andrew Farkas (The Physics ofthe Bottomless Pit) is originally from Akron,Ohio, and currently attends the University of Alabama, where he is in the MFA fiction program, where he is an assistant editor for Black Warrior Review, where he imparts knowledge on freshman via the English 101 and 102 sequence, and where he eats barbeque (for that is all Tuscaloosa has to offer). He holds a Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Tennessee. His work has also appeared in Circle Magazine. Bernard Hafeli (Guerilla Marketing) has worked as a copywriter and Creative Director in advertising agencies for twenty-five years. Bernie started writing stories two years ago when he lost his job and found himself with some free time. "Guerilla Marketing" will be his second published story. A story called "Big Jim" is appearing in The Rejected Quarterly. Bernie has just been accepted into the University of San Francisco MFA Writing Program and will start this summer. Michael Greenstein (Distracted, Pensive, Tin Tan Alley interior art) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His ink drawings appear in a number of fine literary magazines. Teresa Burns Gunther (Oh, Baby) earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary's College of California. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Lynx Eye, Mary, and The Mag. Her story, "Magic Fingers," was a finalist in the 2004 Phoebe Winter Fiction Contest and she was a featured writer in the Summer 2004 issue of August Highlands minimagazine. Certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, Teresa leads writing workshops through Lakeshore Writers in Oakland, California. She is currently at work on her first novel, Shadow Lake.

Emi Ikkanda (cover art) is currently studying Art and English at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. Her work has been shown at the Zeum in San Francisco, the Berkeley Art Museum, and at the Worth Ryder Gallery. Fran Kaplan (Less Than Perfect) has published essays and short stories in The Chicago Tribune, Mature Living, The South Carolina Review, Orange Willow Review, and Riversedge, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Press. He is a board member of The Palm Springs Writers Guild, and his first novel, The Prettier Sister is completed. Matthew Main (Up) grew up in California's remote northeastern corner, in the small farming town of Pitville. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, currently lives in New York city, and is enrolled in the MFA program at Columbia. Kirsten Allen Major (There Was the Fire Alarm, Like Before) is a graduate of the MFA program at Cornell University and has previously published fiction in Chelsea. She lives in New York City. William E. Meyer, Jr. (Dallas's -photo) is a freelance artist and writer living in Beaumont, Texas. His graphics, poems, stories and essays have appeared in the U.S., Canada, England, Germany and Australia. Edward Moore (Evening Shifts) is an environmental professional currently working for an automotive assembly plant in Fremont, California. A short mystery story titled, "Victorian Shoplifter" is scheduled for publication in the April 2005 issue of Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine. This will be his first printed publication. Leonard Orr (Flight Instinct) is a professor of literature and creative writing at Washington State University. His work has appeared in many journals including Black Warrior Review, Poetry International, Poetry East, and Rosebud. He was a finalist for the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry and recently published a collection of poems, Daytime Moon (FootHills, 2005). Jimmy J. Pack Jr. (Lily) is a native of Connecticut who resides in Philadelphia, PA. He teaches writing at Penn State University, Abington, and writes for the Chestnut Hill Local newspaper. At present he is working on his first novel, an On the Road for the new millennium.


Jeff Percifield (Etudefor Suicide with Audio) is a writer & former USAF serviceman living in Oakland, California. His stories have been published in the Santa Monica Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Minnesota Review, Caribbean Writer, and Barbaric Yawp. His website is www.beautifiilatrocities.com. David J. Popiel (Assignation) is a lawyer. He works for the Community Health Law Project, a private, nonprofit, public interest firm that represents indigent people with disabilities. Anna Waterhouse (Apples Thinks Again) has sold screenplays to Worldwide Pictures and Columbia/ Tristar and served as a script consultant at Paramount. She has won several awards for nonfiction writing and a PRISM award for a public relations documentary. She currently teaches English and Screenwriting at Orange Coast College in Costa, Mesa, California.

S u d d e n

F i c t i o n

C o n t e s t

$ 2 0 0 Prize for First Place

Winner

First, S e c o n d , and Thir d P l a c e will be published in Issue 2 6 • $ 6 entry fee + $ 4 e a c h additional entry • M a k e c h e c k or m o n e y order p a y a b l e to "BFR Sudden Fiction Contest/ASUC" • 1 0 0 0 w o r d s or l e s s • Typed, double-spaced • I n c l u d e a b r i e f c o v e r letter & S A S E f o r l i s t o f w i n n e r s • S u b m i s s i o n s w i l l not b e returned

Send submissions Sudden Fiction Berkeley Fiction 10B Eshleman University of Berkeley, C A

to:

Contest Review Hall

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is O c t o b e r

3 1 , 2 0 0 5

W i n n e r s w i l l b e notified b y the e n d o f January 2 0 0 6


Jeff Percifield (Etudefor Suicide with Audio) is a writer & former USAF serviceman living in Oakland, California. His stories have been published in the Santa Monica Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Minnesota Review, Caribbean Writer, and Barbaric Yawp. His website is www.beautifiilatrocities.com. David J. Popiel (Assignation) is a lawyer. He works for the Community Health Law Project, a private, nonprofit, public interest firm that represents indigent people with disabilities. Anna Waterhouse (Apples Thinks Again) has sold screenplays to Worldwide Pictures and Columbia/ Tristar and served as a script consultant at Paramount. She has won several awards for nonfiction writing and a PRISM award for a public relations documentary. She currently teaches English and Screenwriting at Orange Coast College in Costa, Mesa, California.

S u d d e n

F i c t i o n

C o n t e s t

$ 2 0 0 Prize for First Place

Winner

First, S e c o n d , and Thir d P l a c e will be published in Issue 2 6 • $ 6 entry fee + $ 4 e a c h additional entry • M a k e c h e c k or m o n e y order p a y a b l e to "BFR Sudden Fiction Contest/ASUC" • 1 0 0 0 w o r d s or l e s s • Typed, double-spaced • I n c l u d e a b r i e f c o v e r letter & S A S E f o r l i s t o f w i n n e r s • S u b m i s s i o n s w i l l not b e returned

Send submissions Sudden Fiction Berkeley Fiction 10B Eshleman University of Berkeley, C A

to:

Contest Review Hall

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is O c t o b e r

3 1 , 2 0 0 5

W i n n e r s w i l l b e notified b y the e n d o f January 2 0 0 6


Holts Bargain 04/2 W 500335 OH/27/2003

-i n n r r ! l W Fiction by: Justin Courter Andrew Farkas Bernard Hafeli Teresa Burns Guntner Fran Kaplan Matthew Main Kirsten Allen Major Edward Moore Leonard Orr Jimmy J. Pack, Jr. JeffPercifield David J. Popiel Anna Wateihouse Cover Art by: Emi Ikkanda

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Interior Art by. Michael Greenstein William Meyer

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