Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 26

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U N I V E R S I T Y

C A L I F O R N I A

O F


B E R K E L E Y

Managing Editors Nikki Gloudeman Adam Miller Juliana Yee Associate Editors Po-Wei Chen Marie Kent Irene ChuAbbey Campbell Emilkkanda

Cover art by Kenneth Ronquillo:

Copyright 2006 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication ofthe Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views ofthe ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored. Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, Berkeley CA 94720. 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 Matthew Artim Amanda Bao John Benutty Grace Blasco Claire Blide Michael Brautigan Rachel Brumit Bob Chandra Silvia Chang Tom Chapman Mui-Hai Chu Caitlin Craven Luna Dai Mariam Danielyan Kate Ferguson Kristine Gamboa Lauren Harrison Laura Holden Tinley Ireland Jillian Jones Carol Kim Bryce Kobrin Arthur Lee Stephen Leonard

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W

Assistant Editors Katy Cellers Gazelle Emani Sandy Lwi Bridget Soper Cover Art Kenneth Ronquillo Interior Art Michael Greenstein William E. Meyer, Jr. Kenneth Ronquillo Stephanie Ludwig Michael Manalang Kathleen Manis Hana Metzger Marissa Miller Victoria Miller Erin Mohney Sara Mumolo Daniel Navarro Jenelle Nelson Jeffrey Normann Sandra Nguyen Danise Olague Angela Pai Jaime A. Portillo Syria Purdom Dean Ramser Stephanie Reed Alison Rhodes Carole Rogers Jarrod Roland Colin Sage Sheena Simpson Anna Smith


B E R K E L E Y

Managing Editors Nikki Gloudeman Adam Miller Juliana Yee Associate Editors Po-Wei Chen Marie Kent Irene ChuAbbey Campbell Emilkkanda

Cover art by Kenneth Ronquillo:

Copyright 2006 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication ofthe Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views ofthe ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored. Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, Berkeley CA 94720. 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 Matthew Artim Amanda Bao John Benutty Grace Blasco Claire Blide Michael Brautigan Rachel Brumit Bob Chandra Silvia Chang Tom Chapman Mui-Hai Chu Caitlin Craven Luna Dai Mariam Danielyan Kate Ferguson Kristine Gamboa Lauren Harrison Laura Holden Tinley Ireland Jillian Jones Carol Kim Bryce Kobrin Arthur Lee Stephen Leonard

F I C T I O N

R E V I E W

Assistant Editors Katy Cellers Gazelle Emani Sandy Lwi Bridget Soper Cover Art Kenneth Ronquillo Interior Art Michael Greenstein William E. Meyer, Jr. Kenneth Ronquillo Stephanie Ludwig Michael Manalang Kathleen Manis Hana Metzger Marissa Miller Victoria Miller Erin Mohney Sara Mumolo Daniel Navarro Jenelle Nelson Jeffrey Normann Sandra Nguyen Danise Olague Angela Pai Jaime A. Portillo Syria Purdom Dean Ramser Stephanie Reed Alison Rhodes Carole Rogers Jarrod Roland Colin Sage Sheena Simpson Anna Smith


F O R E W O R D

Staff Cont. Christina Smolen Alexandra Stone JerTTakaki Luisa Terezon Storm Tiv Alissa Tong HauTran Sam Tsitrin James Umphrey ChadVogler Maureen Wiley Steven Wilson Sanaz Yamin Rebecca Zhou

A D V I S O R S

Faculty Stephen Booth

Publications Xavier Hernandez

Defying the popular saying, w e invite our readers to j u d g e this b o o k b y its cover. Like the red door burning on our cover, Berkeley Fiction Review aims to b e bold, bright, distinctive and daring. A c cordingly w e h a v e brough t together a collection of startling pieces: a dark piece about beauty, blindness and murde r (The Sunset), an angry b a b y that calls from the w o m b (The Baby), fatherly love from a d e a d m a n (Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was), a n d a vigilante b r e a d thief (Bread) - stories that shift b e t w e e n the mysterious and true, the heartbreaking and hilarious, and never settle for the mundane. This vibrancy thrives in our staff as well. 2 0 0 6 has b e e n a n energetic year for our publication, full of vision, debate, and a passion for progress. W e ' v e p r o d u c e d a n inventive n e w website, m a d e changes to our story selection process, and worked from the inside out to craft an image that reflects the colors of contemporary fiction; perhaps most importantly, w e finally cleaned out our atrophying office. A t the heart of it all has b e e n a dedication to the founding principles of our journal: create a v e n u e for talented writers to h a v e their voice be heard. T h a n k y o u to the authors and staff w h o h a v e m a d e our vision a reality. We h o p e y o u enjoy what lies b e y o n d the red door. Very best,

A l u m n a Sarah McClure Haufrect

N i k k i Gloudeman, A d a m Miller, and Juliana Yee


F O R E W O R D

Staff Cont. Christina Smolen Alexandra Stone JerTTakaki Luisa Terezon Storm Tiv Alissa Tong HauTran Sam Tsitrin James Umphrey ChadVogler Maureen Wiley Steven Wilson Sanaz Yamin Rebecca Zhou

A D V I S O R S

Faculty Stephen Booth

Publications Xavier Hernandez

Defying the popular saying, w e invite our readers to j u d g e this b o o k b y its cover. Like the red door burning on our cover, Berkeley Fiction Review aims to b e bold, bright, distinctive and daring. A c cordingly w e h a v e brough t together a collection of startling pieces: a dark piece about beauty, blindness and murde r (The Sunset), an angry b a b y that calls from the w o m b (The Baby), fatherly love from a d e a d m a n (Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was), a n d a vigilante b r e a d thief (Bread) - stories that shift b e t w e e n the mysterious and true, the heartbreaking and hilarious, and never settle for the mundane. This vibrancy thrives in our staff as well. 2 0 0 6 has b e e n a n energetic year for our publication, full of vision, debate, and a passion for progress. W e ' v e p r o d u c e d a n inventive n e w website, m a d e changes to our story selection process, and worked from the inside out to craft an image that reflects the colors of contemporary fiction; perhaps most importantly, w e finally cleaned out our atrophying office. A t the heart of it all has b e e n a dedication to the founding principles of our journal: create a v e n u e for talented writers to h a v e their voice be heard. T h a n k y o u to the authors and staff w h o h a v e m a d e our vision a reality. We h o p e y o u enjoy what lies b e y o n d the red door. Very best,

A l u m n a Sarah McClure Haufrect

N i k k i Gloudeman, A d a m Miller, and Juliana Yee


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

C o n t e n t s

Winners o f t h e Berkeley Fiction Review's Eigth A n n u al Sudden Fiction Contest First Place " L o n g and T h i n " Liz Prato Second Place "At Custer's Last Stand" Jose Garcia Third Place " T h e C o r n b i n" Edward Moore

i.

Bread Karin Lin-Greenberg

13

Cellar of Light Where The Dead Man Was Robert Vivian

IS

My Campaign Story Paul Hanstedt

27

The Cornbin Edward Moore Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

37

Hoffmeister Andrew Tomlinson

41

I Start Over Donald Ray Pollock

59

Long And Thin Liz Prato First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

67

The Baby Kyle Killen

70

The Best Damn Suicide Letter Ever Edward Kelsey Moore

81

At Custer's Last Stand Jose Garcia Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

89

Vacation Johanna Pirko

92


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

C o n t e n t s

Winners o f t h e Berkeley Fiction Review's Eigth A n n u al Sudden Fiction Contest First Place " L o n g and T h i n " Liz Prato Second Place "At Custer's Last Stand" Jose Garcia Third Place " T h e C o r n b i n" Edward Moore

i.

Bread Karin Lin-Greenberg

13

Cellar of Light Where The Dead Man Was Robert Vivian

IS

My Campaign Story Paul Hanstedt

27

The Cornbin Edward Moore Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

37

Hoffmeister Andrew Tomlinson

41

I Start Over Donald Ray Pollock

59

Long And Thin Liz Prato First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

67

The Baby Kyle Killen

70

The Best Damn Suicide Letter Ever Edward Kelsey Moore

81

At Custer's Last Stand Jose Garcia Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

89

Vacation Johanna Pirko

92


The Sunset Dustin Miller

102

There was a Fire Alarm, Like Before Kirsten Allen Major

117

a.


The Sunset Dustin Miller

102

There was a Fire Alarm, Like Before Kirsten Allen Major

117

a.


B r e a d

b y

K a r i n

L i n - G r e e n b e r g

ou may have seen my ex-boyfriend, Lenny, on TV a few weeks ago. He was the skinny guy, tall too, wearing clunky unlaced brown boots and a denim jacket with a painted skull on the back that his kid brother decorated for him, and he was tearing through grocery stores late at night squeezing the loaves of bread 'til they were twisted and unsellable. He did this for a few weeks before the supermarket managers caught on and informed the news people. That first night on the news there were just the grainy images captured on supermarket surveillance, but once they caught him, two nights later, they showed his senior portrait from high school where he looked all scrubbed down and innocent, his wavy brown hair hardened with so much gel and hairspray that I remember touching his hair on picture day and hearing a sound like knocking on a hollow Easter egg. During his bread squeezing spree, Lenny insisted that supermarkets didn't have surveillance cameras. "Lizzie," he said, "Who's going to steal chicken thighs or a can of peas?" After the third week of bread squeezing though, Ma and I were watching the local news and they showed the surveillance tapes of Lenny, who they'd dubbed the Bread Bandit. The newscaster said, "The Bread Bandit has hit local stores twelve times in the last three weeks," and Ma said, "Hey, I know that jacket!" and I said, "No, Ma," but she got up all close to the TV, her nose almost touching the screen, and said, "Oh that's Lenny all right with that goddamned Satan jacket and untied shoelaces." I could hear the excitement in her voice because Ma had never liked Lenny, said he was going nowhere, and wanted a good excuse to break us up. Ma got on the phone and called the police while I stood there wanting to hack through the phone cord while she spelled out Lenny's name nice and slow and made me give 13

14


B r e a d

b y

K a r i n

L i n - G r e e n b e r g

ou may have seen my ex-boyfriend, Lenny, on TV a few weeks ago. He was the skinny guy, tall too, wearing clunky unlaced brown boots and a denim jacket with a painted skull on the back that his kid brother decorated for him, and he was tearing through grocery stores late at night squeezing the loaves of bread 'til they were twisted and unsellable. He did this for a few weeks before the supermarket managers caught on and informed the news people. That first night on the news there were just the grainy images captured on supermarket surveillance, but once they caught him, two nights later, they showed his senior portrait from high school where he looked all scrubbed down and innocent, his wavy brown hair hardened with so much gel and hairspray that I remember touching his hair on picture day and hearing a sound like knocking on a hollow Easter egg. During his bread squeezing spree, Lenny insisted that supermarkets didn't have surveillance cameras. "Lizzie," he said, "Who's going to steal chicken thighs or a can of peas?" After the third week of bread squeezing though, Ma and I were watching the local news and they showed the surveillance tapes of Lenny, who they'd dubbed the Bread Bandit. The newscaster said, "The Bread Bandit has hit local stores twelve times in the last three weeks," and Ma said, "Hey, I know that jacket!" and I said, "No, Ma," but she got up all close to the TV, her nose almost touching the screen, and said, "Oh that's Lenny all right with that goddamned Satan jacket and untied shoelaces." I could hear the excitement in her voice because Ma had never liked Lenny, said he was going nowhere, and wanted a good excuse to break us up. Ma got on the phone and called the police while I stood there wanting to hack through the phone cord while she spelled out Lenny's name nice and slow and made me give 13

14


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

her his phone number and address. The next night, after he'd been caught, Ma couldn't take her eyes off the news, flipping from channel to channel to see their coverage of Lenny's story, and after each report shaking her head and saying, "Always knew the boy was a pervert," as if squeezing bread was something really dirty. And then she forbid me to see him, saying she didn't want people to see me riding in Lenny's battered Civic and wondering what sort of Bonnie and Clyde trouble the two of us were up to. What kind of man was Lenny, she said, nineteen years old, two years out of high school already, a good two years older than me, and spending his nights doing this? Two days after Ma squealed on him, Lenny was fired from his job, driving a delivery truck for Callendeli's Breads, and the new joblessness only made Ma think of him as more of a loser. It was Lenny's job that got him in the trouble in the first place, what with his learning about how the whole bread industry works. "There are these ties on the bread bags," Lenny told me, holding up five fingers. "Bread's delivered to stores five days a week, each day except for Wednesdays and Sundays. And each day has a different colored twist tie. Monday's blue and Tuesday's green and Thursday's red." By this point he'd folded down three fingers and he finished up by saying that Friday was white and Saturday yellow. "If you go in the store on Thursday and grab a bag with a white tie on it, you'll end up with bread from the Friday before, almost a week old." Lenny said that a lot ofthe stores in the area were keeping bread on the shelves far longer than they should, which was wrong. But short of buying up the old bread, all Lenny could think to do was ruin the old loaves so that no one would buy them. On the first night, he took me with him to an open-all-night supermarket and said, "Start squeezing." But I just couldn't ruin all that bread because I knew the loaves that Ma bought sometimes sat around for more than a week since there were just the two of us and we didn't go through bread that quickly and after a week the bread was still okay. If it tasted stale, we'd just toast it and make do. So I skulked down to the end ofthe aisle, looked hard at the orange juice containers, as if deciding on pulp or no pulp, from concentrate or not, with calcium or with extra vitamin C were all life or death decisions. A few minutes later, Lenny shouted, "Let's go!" like he'd just robbed a bank. I looked at the bread shelves and there were packages and packages of beaten up loaves of bread, bread that looked like drenched socks that you've worn all day in a storm and yanked off your feet, all twisted up and shapeless. We ran to the car and he drove quickly, right onto the highway, even though we had nowhere to go. On the highway, Lenny rolled down his window and let the breeze blow his hair back and he whooped loudly. And then, when he'd calmed down, he brought me home, and in the driveway he said, "Lizzie, we did some good tonight." I shook my head because I thought he was being nuts. A few days later, Lenny wanted to do it all again, said he'd found 15

Bread another supermarket that was selling old bread, and again he squeezed and I pretended to shop. Afterwards, he'd said, "Lizzie, you've got to try it. It's so simple and yet there's this rush of power and you get the sense that one person really can make a difference." "I don't know," I said. "Aren't the supermarkets losing money?" "I do this for the people," Lenny said, all serious, his eyebrows pushed together. And that's the thing: Lenny really believed in what he was doing, despite how stupid it was. I never explained his logic to Ma; it wouldn't have made any sense to her. And Lenny never did tell anyone that I was with him all those times - 1 guess I stayed far enough away and looked busy so that no one noticed me. But Lenny could have easily gotten me in trouble too and I would've been stuck with two hundred hours-of community service like he got, but he kept quiet. The last time I talked to him, he told me that he'd stay away, that he respected Ma's wishes, and he didn't want to get me in any trouble. The day after Ma ratted Lenny out, she slipped on a patch of ice outside the house. She hurt her back pretty good, but I didn't feel too bad for her because I suspected it was God's way of telling her she should've just minded her own business. It's been a month since she fell, and Ma's getting better, but she's not all the way there yet. Since she's at home all the time, she watches me like a hawk and makes sure that I don't call Lenny or go out to see him or anything. After the fall, she said that I had to go to the grocery store each week and pick up all that we needed since she wasn't about to haul bags of food out ofthe car with her aching back. So now at the supermarket, I linger in the bread aisle, breathe in real deep, inhale that dark, yeasty smell, and think of Lenny and his quest to right the wrongs of the world in his own small way. And I look at the bread - Ma always writes "One loaf whole wheat" on our list - and I run my hands over the smooth plastic packaging so gently that there isn't even a chance of denting the loaves. And then I check out the colored ties and look for the oldest loaf I can find, and that's the one I put in my cart. It's not something big that I'm doing, I know, it's something teeny tiny, but I tell myself that it's one loaf of old bread that someone else won't unknowingly take home, and I think that Lenny would be proud of me.

16


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

her his phone number and address. The next night, after he'd been caught, Ma couldn't take her eyes off the news, flipping from channel to channel to see their coverage of Lenny's story, and after each report shaking her head and saying, "Always knew the boy was a pervert," as if squeezing bread was something really dirty. And then she forbid me to see him, saying she didn't want people to see me riding in Lenny's battered Civic and wondering what sort of Bonnie and Clyde trouble the two of us were up to. What kind of man was Lenny, she said, nineteen years old, two years out of high school already, a good two years older than me, and spending his nights doing this? Two days after Ma squealed on him, Lenny was fired from his job, driving a delivery truck for Callendeli's Breads, and the new joblessness only made Ma think of him as more of a loser. It was Lenny's job that got him in the trouble in the first place, what with his learning about how the whole bread industry works. "There are these ties on the bread bags," Lenny told me, holding up five fingers. "Bread's delivered to stores five days a week, each day except for Wednesdays and Sundays. And each day has a different colored twist tie. Monday's blue and Tuesday's green and Thursday's red." By this point he'd folded down three fingers and he finished up by saying that Friday was white and Saturday yellow. "If you go in the store on Thursday and grab a bag with a white tie on it, you'll end up with bread from the Friday before, almost a week old." Lenny said that a lot ofthe stores in the area were keeping bread on the shelves far longer than they should, which was wrong. But short of buying up the old bread, all Lenny could think to do was ruin the old loaves so that no one would buy them. On the first night, he took me with him to an open-all-night supermarket and said, "Start squeezing." But I just couldn't ruin all that bread because I knew the loaves that Ma bought sometimes sat around for more than a week since there were just the two of us and we didn't go through bread that quickly and after a week the bread was still okay. If it tasted stale, we'd just toast it and make do. So I skulked down to the end ofthe aisle, looked hard at the orange juice containers, as if deciding on pulp or no pulp, from concentrate or not, with calcium or with extra vitamin C were all life or death decisions. A few minutes later, Lenny shouted, "Let's go!" like he'd just robbed a bank. I looked at the bread shelves and there were packages and packages of beaten up loaves of bread, bread that looked like drenched socks that you've worn all day in a storm and yanked off your feet, all twisted up and shapeless. We ran to the car and he drove quickly, right onto the highway, even though we had nowhere to go. On the highway, Lenny rolled down his window and let the breeze blow his hair back and he whooped loudly. And then, when he'd calmed down, he brought me home, and in the driveway he said, "Lizzie, we did some good tonight." I shook my head because I thought he was being nuts. A few days later, Lenny wanted to do it all again, said he'd found 15

Bread another supermarket that was selling old bread, and again he squeezed and I pretended to shop. Afterwards, he'd said, "Lizzie, you've got to try it. It's so simple and yet there's this rush of power and you get the sense that one person really can make a difference." "I don't know," I said. "Aren't the supermarkets losing money?" "I do this for the people," Lenny said, all serious, his eyebrows pushed together. And that's the thing: Lenny really believed in what he was doing, despite how stupid it was. I never explained his logic to Ma; it wouldn't have made any sense to her. And Lenny never did tell anyone that I was with him all those times - 1 guess I stayed far enough away and looked busy so that no one noticed me. But Lenny could have easily gotten me in trouble too and I would've been stuck with two hundred hours-of community service like he got, but he kept quiet. The last time I talked to him, he told me that he'd stay away, that he respected Ma's wishes, and he didn't want to get me in any trouble. The day after Ma ratted Lenny out, she slipped on a patch of ice outside the house. She hurt her back pretty good, but I didn't feel too bad for her because I suspected it was God's way of telling her she should've just minded her own business. It's been a month since she fell, and Ma's getting better, but she's not all the way there yet. Since she's at home all the time, she watches me like a hawk and makes sure that I don't call Lenny or go out to see him or anything. After the fall, she said that I had to go to the grocery store each week and pick up all that we needed since she wasn't about to haul bags of food out ofthe car with her aching back. So now at the supermarket, I linger in the bread aisle, breathe in real deep, inhale that dark, yeasty smell, and think of Lenny and his quest to right the wrongs of the world in his own small way. And I look at the bread - Ma always writes "One loaf whole wheat" on our list - and I run my hands over the smooth plastic packaging so gently that there isn't even a chance of denting the loaves. And then I check out the colored ties and look for the oldest loaf I can find, and that's the one I put in my cart. It's not something big that I'm doing, I know, it's something teeny tiny, but I tell myself that it's one loaf of old bread that someone else won't unknowingly take home, and I think that Lenny would be proud of me.

16


C e l l a r

t h e b y

o f

D e a d

R o b e r t

L i g h t

M

a

n

W h e r e

W a s

V i v i a n

hen we first moved into the house on Mechanic Street Mama said we had to go down into the cellar and touch the dead man because we I would be living on top of him. We didn't think nothing ofthe request, only that it made us a little scared. We went down into the cellar one by one and our fingertips filled up with awe as Mama's voice trailed after us saying, Go on, Go touch the dead man, He won't bite you, He's dead, This gonna be our home for a long, long time. I remember her eyes lifting up like bees before she said this, the dead man in the cellar listening with extra long bat ears that curved around every sound. So each of us went down into the cellar and touched him and paid our respects: Serena on the forehead, Buck on the arm, Tommy near his cardboard stomach, and me on the bridge of his nose. And our touches went Ooh, our touches went Aah when we touched the dead man, the impressions we left with our fingers slowly filling out to what they were before, like water seeping into low places. This was back in 1955 when a pretty single mother with three kids took what she could get and her children circled around her like pinwheels racing in the wind. The only house Mama could rent was one where a dead man lay, his cause of death unknown, his last hours a far-off mystery. The dead man died a long time ago and you could feel it in the walls, how they breathed back at you from dark, musty corners. We never asked, Why isn't the dead man buried in the cemetery like other folks? Because by then we were already rearranging him in our minds, setting him up around our hopes and fears of what we would become. The dead man was nothing much to look at, kind of lonely and woebegone with hairy hands one on top ofthe other. Serena liked to brush them with a comb. His 18


C e l l a r

t h e b y

o f

D e a d

R o b e r t

L i g h t

M

a

n

W h e r e

W a s

V i v i a n

hen we first moved into the house on Mechanic Street Mama said we had to go down into the cellar and touch the dead man because we I would be living on top of him. We didn't think nothing ofthe request, only that it made us a little scared. We went down into the cellar one by one and our fingertips filled up with awe as Mama's voice trailed after us saying, Go on, Go touch the dead man, He won't bite you, He's dead, This gonna be our home for a long, long time. I remember her eyes lifting up like bees before she said this, the dead man in the cellar listening with extra long bat ears that curved around every sound. So each of us went down into the cellar and touched him and paid our respects: Serena on the forehead, Buck on the arm, Tommy near his cardboard stomach, and me on the bridge of his nose. And our touches went Ooh, our touches went Aah when we touched the dead man, the impressions we left with our fingers slowly filling out to what they were before, like water seeping into low places. This was back in 1955 when a pretty single mother with three kids took what she could get and her children circled around her like pinwheels racing in the wind. The only house Mama could rent was one where a dead man lay, his cause of death unknown, his last hours a far-off mystery. The dead man died a long time ago and you could feel it in the walls, how they breathed back at you from dark, musty corners. We never asked, Why isn't the dead man buried in the cemetery like other folks? Because by then we were already rearranging him in our minds, setting him up around our hopes and fears of what we would become. The dead man was nothing much to look at, kind of lonely and woebegone with hairy hands one on top ofthe other. Serena liked to brush them with a comb. His 18


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

head was oval-shaped like any head, but even dead he looked sad, the circles under his eyes as big as a hound dog. I liked to put a penny or two under his eyes to see if they would shine. We grew to accept him as another part ofthe house where he'd lived and died before us, no explanation for his whereabouts, no need to trouble our minds about the cause. Some people get used to living on top of a dead man, even come to like it like a special kind of dark berry jam. It wasn't like he was going nowhere. And we liked the late night hours to talk about the dead man, to whisper in speculation just how and where he died and why it was he had to stay down in the cellar below us. Seemed like he'd be better off somewhere else. We grew quiet at night so we could try to hear how the dead man used to talk, his words filling up the empty space above our heads, like words spoken out of a holy book. Serena said his voice sounded like the wind sighing in the trees. Buck said his voice had locusts in it. Tommy crossed his arms and said he couldn't hear the dead man at all, but if he ever spoke he'd be the first one to claim it. And I always held out that he sounded like one of us playing or laughing and sometimes crying, one of us hollering at the other to get out ofthe other's way. But there was no way to see which one of us was right because he never said a peep when any of us were around. We'd dare each other to go to the cellar and touch him again by ourselves and report back what happened; but none of us got much further than the foot ofthe stairs, straining our ears to hear the dead man move. There was no movement, no sound to make us to think he was talking to us. During the day it was a different story, a whole new house and cellar, a world of brightness and possibility. After Mama left for work in the summer we'd go down to the cellar like it was no big deal, playing around the dead man and sometimes including him in our games. We dressed him up as an Indian once and once as a forest ranger, the cleft between his chin gave him just the authority over forest fires and bears, and people who threw beer cans out of the window of their passing cars. Serena kept a mason jar in the corner that she brought out on sunny days like it was a ceremony too deep for words, then put it on the floor where it filled up with sunlight. She never told us why she did it. She got a spoon from upstairs, breathed on it with her hot breath and polished it with the hem of her dress. Then she'd gently sup tablespoons of light from the jar into the dead man's mouth, nursing him like he was sick and holding his head back like a fragile egg, saying, Dead man needs his light, don't he? And at first we made fun of her, thinking she was crazy, that whatever she thought she was doing couldn't make a difference. But we started to look forward to seeing her feed him those tablespoons of light because she looked so calm and peaceful and me and the boys was won over. We sat in a little semi-circle on the floor. Only Serena could feed the dead man his light though, because she said we'd spill it or try to feed him too fast and then he would break open like a watermelon and 19

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was blind us with the light she'd been feeding him. We believed her. Her words cast a spell over us and we didn't doubt her. Mama never knew about the tablespoons of light, but I don't think she would have minded none: it was a careful and pretty thing to do. On Easter mornings Mama would tell us we had to go to the cellar and say something nice to the dead man in private for letting us live there: a secret only he could hear and know about, because death was like that, she said; a good listener with ears made of air. We'd prepare a little speech or prayer for the dead man, only for him. We weren't supposed to share it with anyone. So each of us went down twenty minutes apart and poured out our hearts to him, telling him how glad we were to be there and to get to know him, his death like a thing you get used to in your own private way, like living around an old friend with his mouth sewn shut. And the dead man soaked up our words because he had to, and later, as a man, I always felt bad about this, because we could just go on and on and he would have to listen to our foolishness, to our plans about the future that wouldn't come true. Then he was like some kind of bright listening sand, his flesh shining where the bones wanted to push through. His body was becoming like the stars at night, straining up against a waxy cloth pulled too tight at the edges. Mama said we owed it to the dead man, but she never said why: we just took it on faith as something that had to be. Our own daddy died before we were bom so maybe we had to have a dead man in the cellar to make up for it. Mama wouldn't talk about him though, said, Hush now, Quiet now, We won't talk about your father, and our tongues went bankrupt and slack in our mouths. Then the wooden apples ofthe dead man's cheeks, those spider veins slowly turning back into bone where the light shined through and I'd say to Serena, Tom or Buck, Let's go look at the dead man and he'd say, she'd say, All right, but don't tell Mama, and we'd sneak down there, pricking our ears for Mama's gospel singing coining up the walk after she got home from work cutting hair, but she never caught us and we spent long hours with the dead man, petting his nails and getting to know him better and every other odd, crawling thing that passed by his name, beetles and other things moving in the dark on their strange business trips, his polished expression getting leaner all the time, jaw jutting out close to the bone, skin pulled tight over the yellow-purple skull. We took the dead man with us on long walks to school in the back of our minds, into schoolyard fights and the first time Serena was ever kissed and the first time I ever had a wet dream; he was right there the whole time, didn't matter what we did or said, even the bad things, he just stayed in the basement like a hole full of water where nothing ever swam, hovering over our lives like the sad, sweet promise of rain. That's how it was in the cellar where the dead man was; I made sure his shoes were buffed and shined and Serena parted the few hairs growing out of his bald head. Tommy shooed the flies and spiders away and blew the dust from his crumbling face. Buck told him the latest news ofthe neighborhood in 20


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

head was oval-shaped like any head, but even dead he looked sad, the circles under his eyes as big as a hound dog. I liked to put a penny or two under his eyes to see if they would shine. We grew to accept him as another part ofthe house where he'd lived and died before us, no explanation for his whereabouts, no need to trouble our minds about the cause. Some people get used to living on top of a dead man, even come to like it like a special kind of dark berry jam. It wasn't like he was going nowhere. And we liked the late night hours to talk about the dead man, to whisper in speculation just how and where he died and why it was he had to stay down in the cellar below us. Seemed like he'd be better off somewhere else. We grew quiet at night so we could try to hear how the dead man used to talk, his words filling up the empty space above our heads, like words spoken out of a holy book. Serena said his voice sounded like the wind sighing in the trees. Buck said his voice had locusts in it. Tommy crossed his arms and said he couldn't hear the dead man at all, but if he ever spoke he'd be the first one to claim it. And I always held out that he sounded like one of us playing or laughing and sometimes crying, one of us hollering at the other to get out ofthe other's way. But there was no way to see which one of us was right because he never said a peep when any of us were around. We'd dare each other to go to the cellar and touch him again by ourselves and report back what happened; but none of us got much further than the foot ofthe stairs, straining our ears to hear the dead man move. There was no movement, no sound to make us to think he was talking to us. During the day it was a different story, a whole new house and cellar, a world of brightness and possibility. After Mama left for work in the summer we'd go down to the cellar like it was no big deal, playing around the dead man and sometimes including him in our games. We dressed him up as an Indian once and once as a forest ranger, the cleft between his chin gave him just the authority over forest fires and bears, and people who threw beer cans out of the window of their passing cars. Serena kept a mason jar in the corner that she brought out on sunny days like it was a ceremony too deep for words, then put it on the floor where it filled up with sunlight. She never told us why she did it. She got a spoon from upstairs, breathed on it with her hot breath and polished it with the hem of her dress. Then she'd gently sup tablespoons of light from the jar into the dead man's mouth, nursing him like he was sick and holding his head back like a fragile egg, saying, Dead man needs his light, don't he? And at first we made fun of her, thinking she was crazy, that whatever she thought she was doing couldn't make a difference. But we started to look forward to seeing her feed him those tablespoons of light because she looked so calm and peaceful and me and the boys was won over. We sat in a little semi-circle on the floor. Only Serena could feed the dead man his light though, because she said we'd spill it or try to feed him too fast and then he would break open like a watermelon and 19

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was blind us with the light she'd been feeding him. We believed her. Her words cast a spell over us and we didn't doubt her. Mama never knew about the tablespoons of light, but I don't think she would have minded none: it was a careful and pretty thing to do. On Easter mornings Mama would tell us we had to go to the cellar and say something nice to the dead man in private for letting us live there: a secret only he could hear and know about, because death was like that, she said; a good listener with ears made of air. We'd prepare a little speech or prayer for the dead man, only for him. We weren't supposed to share it with anyone. So each of us went down twenty minutes apart and poured out our hearts to him, telling him how glad we were to be there and to get to know him, his death like a thing you get used to in your own private way, like living around an old friend with his mouth sewn shut. And the dead man soaked up our words because he had to, and later, as a man, I always felt bad about this, because we could just go on and on and he would have to listen to our foolishness, to our plans about the future that wouldn't come true. Then he was like some kind of bright listening sand, his flesh shining where the bones wanted to push through. His body was becoming like the stars at night, straining up against a waxy cloth pulled too tight at the edges. Mama said we owed it to the dead man, but she never said why: we just took it on faith as something that had to be. Our own daddy died before we were bom so maybe we had to have a dead man in the cellar to make up for it. Mama wouldn't talk about him though, said, Hush now, Quiet now, We won't talk about your father, and our tongues went bankrupt and slack in our mouths. Then the wooden apples ofthe dead man's cheeks, those spider veins slowly turning back into bone where the light shined through and I'd say to Serena, Tom or Buck, Let's go look at the dead man and he'd say, she'd say, All right, but don't tell Mama, and we'd sneak down there, pricking our ears for Mama's gospel singing coining up the walk after she got home from work cutting hair, but she never caught us and we spent long hours with the dead man, petting his nails and getting to know him better and every other odd, crawling thing that passed by his name, beetles and other things moving in the dark on their strange business trips, his polished expression getting leaner all the time, jaw jutting out close to the bone, skin pulled tight over the yellow-purple skull. We took the dead man with us on long walks to school in the back of our minds, into schoolyard fights and the first time Serena was ever kissed and the first time I ever had a wet dream; he was right there the whole time, didn't matter what we did or said, even the bad things, he just stayed in the basement like a hole full of water where nothing ever swam, hovering over our lives like the sad, sweet promise of rain. That's how it was in the cellar where the dead man was; I made sure his shoes were buffed and shined and Serena parted the few hairs growing out of his bald head. Tommy shooed the flies and spiders away and blew the dust from his crumbling face. Buck told him the latest news ofthe neighborhood in 20


Berkeley Fiction

a voice he only used in the cellar, pacing back and forth on the balls of his feet like a nervous cat, sometimes squeaking out a tune to entertain us and the dead man and lighten up the seriousness ofthe situation. I've never seen light like I did in that cellar on Mechanic Street, the way Serena's jar would shine before she fed it to him one spoonful at a time, light to last a lifetime, to clean you out of your skin. The light didn't always come in, mostly dark and clammy down there like any other cellar, with maps of cobwebs everywhere, but some days the sun would pour in the windows and stir up the motes in their little sailboats of fire and eveiything was bright and burning then, hope filling my body and the dead man's, too, even before Serena fed him from the jar, like you feel when you close your eyes and stare at the sun without looking away and come to believe that something is coming for you and you want it to come and leave nothing left, not even your most precious thing or story, the most cherished memory of all time. I never could get over the feelings it made in me, the way the light came down into the cellar sweeping over the dead man one ray at a time, how peaceful and sorrowful he was, how perfectly intact. I never asked Serena, Tommy or Buck if they saw the cellar of light the same way I did because I didn't want to scramble their memories and get them all confused. Living poor and happy and scared above the dead man was all we could have asked for. Sometimes when Mama got talking about the dead man her face would mist up like a berry and she would say to us, Children, it's not like emptiness down there, it's like peace and so we have to be grateful to the dead man for showing us how it's done in this part ofthe world, Amen. We never thought to ask her what she meant, just swallowed it whole because we knew it came out of her generous love. Maybe something to do with Daddy, maybe something to do with grief, but we never knew. Didn't need to somehow, it wasn't important because it was the belief that was important, not the knowing. I never said, Go ahead and cry, Mama, I think I understand Mama didn't want to disturb him but she also didn't want to let him go, pretend he wasn't there. She didn't know how we stole down there in odd moments and shined his shoes, blew on his belt buckle and polished it, or combed his ever-growing hair, nor could she ever know about Serena's acts of saintliness, the way she fed him tablespoons of light whenever she could, like he was her own sorrowful and overgrown baby, the one who died at childbirth. Mama mused about the dead man sometimes at dinner with a jar of julip in her hand, humming and shaking her head in the sweet sorrow of recollection where there was hardly any more room. But she never made fun of him, always spoke of him as a gentleman and someone too good to be understood very much. Tell us about the dead man, Mama, and she'd say No, then she'd reverse herself and go back to tell us how it was, how she came to rent a house with a dead man in the cellar. It was like this, she said, sighing out the stream of smoke from her menthol cigarette. Then 21

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was

Review

she smoothed out her long, fan-like summer dress with her hand. People said her singing voice sounded like Aretha Franklin's. It was like this. You knew the dead man was down there, but you didn't know why. And when Mr. Jeffers said, Young lady, I have a house for you and your kids if you come up here, but there's one small hitch: there's a dead man in the cellar and he can't be moved because I promised him myself before he died. He won't bother you none, he's well-preserved and don't stink any, and you don't ever have to go down there if you don't want to. Close and bolt the door behind him and never look back. I knew he'd been down there awhile in his dusty blue suit and bald-acre head, laying there in the dark like he was waiting for someone to come along, patient like only a dead man can be. And I thought about it one night, thought it over real good during a time in my life when I didn't have much options, and came to the conclusion that a dead man can't have any bad intentions no more so we had nothing to lose. Maybe he would even bless the place where all you kids were gonna be raised. So we moved up here. Do you know a man died down there? A neighbor asked me once. I didn't tell her that I knew. I didn't tell her we didn't have no other place to go, no other options. Long and troubled road behind us, uncertainty up ahead: the dead man been through all of that before and he wouldn't hold it against us. The only thing I know about him is that he died of a broken heart; that all you need to know, children, no other fact than that. So because you know this now you have to do something nice for the dead man, appease him in some way. It will never hurt you none and it will make you a kinder person. Then Mama would cry and hum some more and shake her head before long, saying, No more, no more: I can't, tell you no more than that. The rest you gonna have to figure out on your own. But you could tell she wanted to tell us more. The dark growing moss in her eyes gave her away. We just got by the best way we knew how, Serena growing bright and beautiful into her blonde hair and her body swelling out to all the right places, the other boys and me picking lint and sawdust from our teeth after daydreaming all day at school and flunking out. We'd race to the movies on our bikes when Mama gave us nickels and dimes, or stop by the drugstore to get a piece of bubble gum. We played the^neighborhood fences with sticks walking home from school 'till the time Buck just said to me, To hell with school, I don't want to learn no more from books. Then he quit to work in a garage. And Mama cutting people's hair, standing on her feet all day and craving her cigarettes, humming her tunes, listening to her customers while she had far-off thoughts herself about ice cubes and pop corn and a warm salt bath for her feet. Every day at breakfast Mama had one of us read a chapter from the 22


Berkeley Fiction

a voice he only used in the cellar, pacing back and forth on the balls of his feet like a nervous cat, sometimes squeaking out a tune to entertain us and the dead man and lighten up the seriousness ofthe situation. I've never seen light like I did in that cellar on Mechanic Street, the way Serena's jar would shine before she fed it to him one spoonful at a time, light to last a lifetime, to clean you out of your skin. The light didn't always come in, mostly dark and clammy down there like any other cellar, with maps of cobwebs everywhere, but some days the sun would pour in the windows and stir up the motes in their little sailboats of fire and eveiything was bright and burning then, hope filling my body and the dead man's, too, even before Serena fed him from the jar, like you feel when you close your eyes and stare at the sun without looking away and come to believe that something is coming for you and you want it to come and leave nothing left, not even your most precious thing or story, the most cherished memory of all time. I never could get over the feelings it made in me, the way the light came down into the cellar sweeping over the dead man one ray at a time, how peaceful and sorrowful he was, how perfectly intact. I never asked Serena, Tommy or Buck if they saw the cellar of light the same way I did because I didn't want to scramble their memories and get them all confused. Living poor and happy and scared above the dead man was all we could have asked for. Sometimes when Mama got talking about the dead man her face would mist up like a berry and she would say to us, Children, it's not like emptiness down there, it's like peace and so we have to be grateful to the dead man for showing us how it's done in this part ofthe world, Amen. We never thought to ask her what she meant, just swallowed it whole because we knew it came out of her generous love. Maybe something to do with Daddy, maybe something to do with grief, but we never knew. Didn't need to somehow, it wasn't important because it was the belief that was important, not the knowing. I never said, Go ahead and cry, Mama, I think I understand Mama didn't want to disturb him but she also didn't want to let him go, pretend he wasn't there. She didn't know how we stole down there in odd moments and shined his shoes, blew on his belt buckle and polished it, or combed his ever-growing hair, nor could she ever know about Serena's acts of saintliness, the way she fed him tablespoons of light whenever she could, like he was her own sorrowful and overgrown baby, the one who died at childbirth. Mama mused about the dead man sometimes at dinner with a jar of julip in her hand, humming and shaking her head in the sweet sorrow of recollection where there was hardly any more room. But she never made fun of him, always spoke of him as a gentleman and someone too good to be understood very much. Tell us about the dead man, Mama, and she'd say No, then she'd reverse herself and go back to tell us how it was, how she came to rent a house with a dead man in the cellar. It was like this, she said, sighing out the stream of smoke from her menthol cigarette. Then 21

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was

Review

she smoothed out her long, fan-like summer dress with her hand. People said her singing voice sounded like Aretha Franklin's. It was like this. You knew the dead man was down there, but you didn't know why. And when Mr. Jeffers said, Young lady, I have a house for you and your kids if you come up here, but there's one small hitch: there's a dead man in the cellar and he can't be moved because I promised him myself before he died. He won't bother you none, he's well-preserved and don't stink any, and you don't ever have to go down there if you don't want to. Close and bolt the door behind him and never look back. I knew he'd been down there awhile in his dusty blue suit and bald-acre head, laying there in the dark like he was waiting for someone to come along, patient like only a dead man can be. And I thought about it one night, thought it over real good during a time in my life when I didn't have much options, and came to the conclusion that a dead man can't have any bad intentions no more so we had nothing to lose. Maybe he would even bless the place where all you kids were gonna be raised. So we moved up here. Do you know a man died down there? A neighbor asked me once. I didn't tell her that I knew. I didn't tell her we didn't have no other place to go, no other options. Long and troubled road behind us, uncertainty up ahead: the dead man been through all of that before and he wouldn't hold it against us. The only thing I know about him is that he died of a broken heart; that all you need to know, children, no other fact than that. So because you know this now you have to do something nice for the dead man, appease him in some way. It will never hurt you none and it will make you a kinder person. Then Mama would cry and hum some more and shake her head before long, saying, No more, no more: I can't, tell you no more than that. The rest you gonna have to figure out on your own. But you could tell she wanted to tell us more. The dark growing moss in her eyes gave her away. We just got by the best way we knew how, Serena growing bright and beautiful into her blonde hair and her body swelling out to all the right places, the other boys and me picking lint and sawdust from our teeth after daydreaming all day at school and flunking out. We'd race to the movies on our bikes when Mama gave us nickels and dimes, or stop by the drugstore to get a piece of bubble gum. We played the^neighborhood fences with sticks walking home from school 'till the time Buck just said to me, To hell with school, I don't want to learn no more from books. Then he quit to work in a garage. And Mama cutting people's hair, standing on her feet all day and craving her cigarettes, humming her tunes, listening to her customers while she had far-off thoughts herself about ice cubes and pop corn and a warm salt bath for her feet. Every day at breakfast Mama had one of us read a chapter from the 22


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Bible out loud at the table or she wouldn't let us out the door. Sometimes we'd complain about this and she'd say, Think of who's down in the cellar and hearing all your complaining; think about his broken heart and then try to complain like you really mean it and let's just see how far that gets you. And, you know, it always worked: our voices turned to honey then after that whoever was reading, the letters growing bright right there on the table while Mama hummed her sad, sweet song and the dead man listened in the cellar where the good light was. I never got over that, not then, not now; the pictures reeling back of how it really was, the dead and the living under one patched-up roof, the dead man lapping up our prayers at the kitchen table like it was his last crust of bread, hearing them with his whole dead self the size of a sickle moon; not able to turn away and block out his ears. Some nights I'd lay in the dark thinking about the dead man, wondering what happened to him before he died, what kinds of dreams and visions he had; cuss words and thank yous to fill up the spaces, never coming back next to the drip-drop ofthe walls running with cold clear tears. I loved the dead man, and I was afraid of him at the same time, but I couldn't say how or why. Just was, just is. He never stank and though his skin turned shades of Mother Earth, the sight of his decomposition never bothered me but lay across my boyhood mind like a veil of feeling that never went away. And Mama singing her gospel songs, sometimes hitting the high, extra high note was just the thing the dead man wanted, as it must have thrilled his whole dead body, you almost figured, though there was no way to prove it, just a deep down body ache you wouldn't never want to get rid of, knowing he was down there like something in the dark that wouldn't hatch. That's how we carried him into our lives. I drew a picture of him once, but got rid of it a few years ago. There was no need to record him, his stale breathing was everywhere like robes of dust, his ears cup-like and circular to pick up the sounds, all his dead senses doing what they were supposed to, getting sadder and quieter all the time till they went back to where they started. Came a time we each had to say goodbye to the dead man in our own personal way before he became nothing at all. We agreed upon it beforehand. Mama was in and out ofthe hospital and she couldn't hardly breathe. We had to move her out. So finally it came down to the last day, and I was the last one to see the dead man. When I walked down into cellar it was lit up and almost blinding. I went over to the dead man. I leaned over his threadbare suit. I did something I never done before, stuck my head real gentle-like against his chest. And I felt something inside his belt buckle, like a card or something. All these years and no one ever noticed it before; a stiff card the size of a book of stamps. I stuck my hand in there and took the card out. It had just one word on it, a word that must have been written in the dead man's own hand.

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was Sanctified it said. I breathed the word out loud again and again in the cellar. Sanctified. Sanctified. Sanctified. I was almost a man then, nearly eighteen years old, restless to move on with my life even as Mama was dying. I got a little impatient with the dead man, a little upset. Sanctified for what? I said, but he wouldn't tell me. But the word has haunted me with its many messages ever since, like electrical wires that wave up around your head. The dead man was a father figure to me, the only one I ever had. But he wasn't a very good one. I spat on him but regretted it almost immediately, but not before I rubbed my spit around his forward like a watery paste. A dead man was all he ever was to us, all he'd ever be; he wouldn't come out of dark and troubled times to save us. He couldn't even save himself. He was no good at anything but patience and calm breathing in the dark that was no breathing at all, his last breath preceding our growing lives by a thousand years. Sanctified? What was sanctified? How would the dead man let us know what he meant? All we knew about him was that he'd died of a broken heart. That's it, as if it explained the long nothingness of his habitation ever since. All we knew was that he smelled like old paper, like dry bones nudging upstream in the sand. All we knew was that he was there the whole time we was growing up, laying under our plans and daydreams like a bottom-feeding fish, fights we had with each other and arguments we had with ourselves and the secret discoveries of our bodies that made us feel like we were animals that the world had never seen. That's how it come down to it, the poetry and the meaning, the words that don't make sense that you have to say because you're running out of space. Serena's married now to a rich doctor and lives with three kids of her own in a big house on the other side ofthe river. She doesn't talk about feeding the dead man light anymore. It's almost like she refuses to admit (hat she knew and loved the dead man at all.'Buck is still at the same garage and trying to lick his drinking problem. But he hasn't done it yet. Tommy went out west to sell insurance and get himself a new wife after the first one didn't work out. And I live in town by myself, doing survey work for the county. I like to drive around the countryside with my window down, looking at the cornrows pass by, kicking up dust and listening to the radio. But to this day, I don't know what I'm looking for or how to measure it. I thought I knew once when I spent some alone time with the dead man, who seemed to know everything and nothing at all; a quiet kind of peace that apparently only death can bring. We went our separate ways after Mama died. We don't talk about the dead man anymore since we've lost the meaning we used to have, how it bonded us together so that our days were filled with hope corning into the basement in all those slanted beams of light that slowly worked their way over the dead man's body. But I won't ever forget how the light filled the cellar sometimes until

23

24


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Bible out loud at the table or she wouldn't let us out the door. Sometimes we'd complain about this and she'd say, Think of who's down in the cellar and hearing all your complaining; think about his broken heart and then try to complain like you really mean it and let's just see how far that gets you. And, you know, it always worked: our voices turned to honey then after that whoever was reading, the letters growing bright right there on the table while Mama hummed her sad, sweet song and the dead man listened in the cellar where the good light was. I never got over that, not then, not now; the pictures reeling back of how it really was, the dead and the living under one patched-up roof, the dead man lapping up our prayers at the kitchen table like it was his last crust of bread, hearing them with his whole dead self the size of a sickle moon; not able to turn away and block out his ears. Some nights I'd lay in the dark thinking about the dead man, wondering what happened to him before he died, what kinds of dreams and visions he had; cuss words and thank yous to fill up the spaces, never coming back next to the drip-drop ofthe walls running with cold clear tears. I loved the dead man, and I was afraid of him at the same time, but I couldn't say how or why. Just was, just is. He never stank and though his skin turned shades of Mother Earth, the sight of his decomposition never bothered me but lay across my boyhood mind like a veil of feeling that never went away. And Mama singing her gospel songs, sometimes hitting the high, extra high note was just the thing the dead man wanted, as it must have thrilled his whole dead body, you almost figured, though there was no way to prove it, just a deep down body ache you wouldn't never want to get rid of, knowing he was down there like something in the dark that wouldn't hatch. That's how we carried him into our lives. I drew a picture of him once, but got rid of it a few years ago. There was no need to record him, his stale breathing was everywhere like robes of dust, his ears cup-like and circular to pick up the sounds, all his dead senses doing what they were supposed to, getting sadder and quieter all the time till they went back to where they started. Came a time we each had to say goodbye to the dead man in our own personal way before he became nothing at all. We agreed upon it beforehand. Mama was in and out ofthe hospital and she couldn't hardly breathe. We had to move her out. So finally it came down to the last day, and I was the last one to see the dead man. When I walked down into cellar it was lit up and almost blinding. I went over to the dead man. I leaned over his threadbare suit. I did something I never done before, stuck my head real gentle-like against his chest. And I felt something inside his belt buckle, like a card or something. All these years and no one ever noticed it before; a stiff card the size of a book of stamps. I stuck my hand in there and took the card out. It had just one word on it, a word that must have been written in the dead man's own hand.

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was Sanctified it said. I breathed the word out loud again and again in the cellar. Sanctified. Sanctified. Sanctified. I was almost a man then, nearly eighteen years old, restless to move on with my life even as Mama was dying. I got a little impatient with the dead man, a little upset. Sanctified for what? I said, but he wouldn't tell me. But the word has haunted me with its many messages ever since, like electrical wires that wave up around your head. The dead man was a father figure to me, the only one I ever had. But he wasn't a very good one. I spat on him but regretted it almost immediately, but not before I rubbed my spit around his forward like a watery paste. A dead man was all he ever was to us, all he'd ever be; he wouldn't come out of dark and troubled times to save us. He couldn't even save himself. He was no good at anything but patience and calm breathing in the dark that was no breathing at all, his last breath preceding our growing lives by a thousand years. Sanctified? What was sanctified? How would the dead man let us know what he meant? All we knew about him was that he'd died of a broken heart. That's it, as if it explained the long nothingness of his habitation ever since. All we knew was that he smelled like old paper, like dry bones nudging upstream in the sand. All we knew was that he was there the whole time we was growing up, laying under our plans and daydreams like a bottom-feeding fish, fights we had with each other and arguments we had with ourselves and the secret discoveries of our bodies that made us feel like we were animals that the world had never seen. That's how it come down to it, the poetry and the meaning, the words that don't make sense that you have to say because you're running out of space. Serena's married now to a rich doctor and lives with three kids of her own in a big house on the other side ofthe river. She doesn't talk about feeding the dead man light anymore. It's almost like she refuses to admit (hat she knew and loved the dead man at all.'Buck is still at the same garage and trying to lick his drinking problem. But he hasn't done it yet. Tommy went out west to sell insurance and get himself a new wife after the first one didn't work out. And I live in town by myself, doing survey work for the county. I like to drive around the countryside with my window down, looking at the cornrows pass by, kicking up dust and listening to the radio. But to this day, I don't know what I'm looking for or how to measure it. I thought I knew once when I spent some alone time with the dead man, who seemed to know everything and nothing at all; a quiet kind of peace that apparently only death can bring. We went our separate ways after Mama died. We don't talk about the dead man anymore since we've lost the meaning we used to have, how it bonded us together so that our days were filled with hope corning into the basement in all those slanted beams of light that slowly worked their way over the dead man's body. But I won't ever forget how the light filled the cellar sometimes until

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Berkeley Fiction

Review

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was

it brimmed over with brightness, until you almost wanted to be blind and swept up inside it so nothing was left of you, not bone, skin or the x-rays of your hands. I drive by the old house sometimes, which is gonna be bulldozed for a new parking lot, and I can almost hear Mama's humming on the rocking swing ofthe porch. Where does the past go when you're no longer yourself? Where does it go? What do you do with the dead you bump up against as lifelong companions? And was the dead man bitter before he died? The questions swim around inside my head like dolphins, but their fins are sharp and can cut you up if you get too close. Mama's fanning herself with a piece of cardboard with the sun going down, fireflies off and on near the big locust tree, like lights that have minds of their own. They get brighter and softer, brighter and softer, like they're feeling out the air, touching and holding it with their wings that can hardly bear the beauty of it. War and suffering are a long way off, troubling rumors in the distance that want to matter so much in their own minds, but next to Mama humming and the dead man in the cellar they just don't seem very important at all. Mama cut enough hair in one day to weave an acre of waving grass, she liked to say. The dead man's in the cellar growing straw out of his mouth. You want to touch the roots coming off his tongue. Earlier that day long ago in June, you stood next to his body when the light came flooding in like it was going to melt the windows. You dared to place your hand under the dead man's head and tilt it up toward the windows and tried to keep the shock and the joy in, saying over and over, See, I told you mister, I told you: you don't have to have a broken heart no more because the light is coming and it's gonna heal up your heart pure and clean even if it takes forever.

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Berkeley Fiction

Review

Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was

it brimmed over with brightness, until you almost wanted to be blind and swept up inside it so nothing was left of you, not bone, skin or the x-rays of your hands. I drive by the old house sometimes, which is gonna be bulldozed for a new parking lot, and I can almost hear Mama's humming on the rocking swing ofthe porch. Where does the past go when you're no longer yourself? Where does it go? What do you do with the dead you bump up against as lifelong companions? And was the dead man bitter before he died? The questions swim around inside my head like dolphins, but their fins are sharp and can cut you up if you get too close. Mama's fanning herself with a piece of cardboard with the sun going down, fireflies off and on near the big locust tree, like lights that have minds of their own. They get brighter and softer, brighter and softer, like they're feeling out the air, touching and holding it with their wings that can hardly bear the beauty of it. War and suffering are a long way off, troubling rumors in the distance that want to matter so much in their own minds, but next to Mama humming and the dead man in the cellar they just don't seem very important at all. Mama cut enough hair in one day to weave an acre of waving grass, she liked to say. The dead man's in the cellar growing straw out of his mouth. You want to touch the roots coming off his tongue. Earlier that day long ago in June, you stood next to his body when the light came flooding in like it was going to melt the windows. You dared to place your hand under the dead man's head and tilt it up toward the windows and tried to keep the shock and the joy in, saying over and over, See, I told you mister, I told you: you don't have to have a broken heart no more because the light is coming and it's gonna heal up your heart pure and clean even if it takes forever.

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My Campaign

M

b y

;

y

C a m p a i g n

Paul

S t o r y

H a n s t e d t

wo days after he blows the re-election, I find the governor alone in the staff kitchen, baking french fries. "The damnedest thing," he says, shoveling frozen potato onto a cookie

sheet. "They hoard these things down here. Nothing else, just sacks of OreIda piled high in the freezer." "Huh," I say. A Heineken stands on one ofthe tables, beside a torn-up napkin. Reaching into the fridge, he grabs another, waves it at me. I glance at the door, wondering if there's any way out of this. Saxophones roll down the hall, the tsk-tsk of a high hat dusting the air. His own party—farewell to the pollsters, the donors, the other speech-geeks~and here he is, in a big dark kitchen, offering drinks to a man he doesn't like. I shrug, reach for a chair. "You know," he says when the fries are done and we're scooping them ketchup to mouth, "I deserved to win." I know I should say something, should agree, but I'm not sure I can, so I just grunt, keep my head down. His fingers work the label of his bottle and I hear him take a swig. "I hope the son-of-a-bitch who leaked this is happy. Now we get to see what four years of bullshit can do to a state." He could be right: scandal or no, the economy's good, taxes are under control. Even the lumber-heads and tree huggers have been getting along. We sit for a while, munching. Voices drift from the ballroom, the walls in the mansion notoriously thin. He gets up, bangs around the cupboards, finds a saltshaker. Pausing mid-pour, he looks at me. He doesn't have to, of course, and I'm a little surprised. I nod and he lets loose. We dig in. Finally he takes a pull of his beer and pops his lips. "What's the worst 27

Story

thing you've ever done?" The paleness of his eyes surprises me; I don't look at them very often. I see, too, the red creasing his cheeks, thepuffinessofhisjaw. I don't know what to say. In college, I was the guy who always took dare instead of truth. "You mean morally?" He leans back, raises those shoulders of his. He hasn't paid me this much attention since he first hired me as the main speech man, halfway through his term. "I lied once during a diving competition," I say. "In high school." "That's not bad." "I was having my best meet. My last dive was a reverse full somersault, full twist. I overshot and was going to lose points." Another slug ofthe beer.* He eyes me. "What'd you do?" "Told them a baby cried. That it distracted me. There were some kids there, one that was squawking on and off, so they had to let me go again. I won the meet." His left eye almost disappears, he's considering that hard. "Not so bad," he says again. My turn to shrug. "No one else got hurt. It's not like cheating on your wife or anything." "Some guy lost when he shouldn't have." "Still." So I'm not as bad-ass as him. Even so, my cheeks go red. "Once, in Portugal, there was this stripper--" "Strippers don't count. Or whores." "Well," I say, "what about you?" He gives me a look like I asked him to chew glass. "No way, Hanstedt," he says. "What do you think, I want to be a highlight in your memoirs? Hell, you're probably taping this right now." My chair squeaks as I get up. I'm as aw-shucksed by power as the next guy, but even so. He puts out a hand. His face is drawn, his eyes genuinely apologetic. I can see how 48% ofthe voters believe him when he says he's sorry. "Listen," he says. "I'm a little wired. I apologize. Really. Have another beer." He even waits after that, looking me in the face. When I nod and draw up my chair again, he bounces like a clown to the double-sized fridge. He's always had a weight problem, but since being lame-ducked into oblivion, the pounds seem drawn to him. When we're settled back in, another pan of fries sizzling away, he picks at the label of his beer. "Let me give you an example, purely fictional, of course. Back in high school I ran track with Phil Newman, this biker-dude with a leather jacket, cigs behind the ear, the whole bucket of lard. We all liked him, used to 28


My Campaign

M

b y

;

y

C a m p a i g n

Paul

S t o r y

H a n s t e d t

wo days after he blows the re-election, I find the governor alone in the staff kitchen, baking french fries. "The damnedest thing," he says, shoveling frozen potato onto a cookie

sheet. "They hoard these things down here. Nothing else, just sacks of OreIda piled high in the freezer." "Huh," I say. A Heineken stands on one ofthe tables, beside a torn-up napkin. Reaching into the fridge, he grabs another, waves it at me. I glance at the door, wondering if there's any way out of this. Saxophones roll down the hall, the tsk-tsk of a high hat dusting the air. His own party—farewell to the pollsters, the donors, the other speech-geeks~and here he is, in a big dark kitchen, offering drinks to a man he doesn't like. I shrug, reach for a chair. "You know," he says when the fries are done and we're scooping them ketchup to mouth, "I deserved to win." I know I should say something, should agree, but I'm not sure I can, so I just grunt, keep my head down. His fingers work the label of his bottle and I hear him take a swig. "I hope the son-of-a-bitch who leaked this is happy. Now we get to see what four years of bullshit can do to a state." He could be right: scandal or no, the economy's good, taxes are under control. Even the lumber-heads and tree huggers have been getting along. We sit for a while, munching. Voices drift from the ballroom, the walls in the mansion notoriously thin. He gets up, bangs around the cupboards, finds a saltshaker. Pausing mid-pour, he looks at me. He doesn't have to, of course, and I'm a little surprised. I nod and he lets loose. We dig in. Finally he takes a pull of his beer and pops his lips. "What's the worst 27

Story

thing you've ever done?" The paleness of his eyes surprises me; I don't look at them very often. I see, too, the red creasing his cheeks, thepuffinessofhisjaw. I don't know what to say. In college, I was the guy who always took dare instead of truth. "You mean morally?" He leans back, raises those shoulders of his. He hasn't paid me this much attention since he first hired me as the main speech man, halfway through his term. "I lied once during a diving competition," I say. "In high school." "That's not bad." "I was having my best meet. My last dive was a reverse full somersault, full twist. I overshot and was going to lose points." Another slug ofthe beer.* He eyes me. "What'd you do?" "Told them a baby cried. That it distracted me. There were some kids there, one that was squawking on and off, so they had to let me go again. I won the meet." His left eye almost disappears, he's considering that hard. "Not so bad," he says again. My turn to shrug. "No one else got hurt. It's not like cheating on your wife or anything." "Some guy lost when he shouldn't have." "Still." So I'm not as bad-ass as him. Even so, my cheeks go red. "Once, in Portugal, there was this stripper--" "Strippers don't count. Or whores." "Well," I say, "what about you?" He gives me a look like I asked him to chew glass. "No way, Hanstedt," he says. "What do you think, I want to be a highlight in your memoirs? Hell, you're probably taping this right now." My chair squeaks as I get up. I'm as aw-shucksed by power as the next guy, but even so. He puts out a hand. His face is drawn, his eyes genuinely apologetic. I can see how 48% ofthe voters believe him when he says he's sorry. "Listen," he says. "I'm a little wired. I apologize. Really. Have another beer." He even waits after that, looking me in the face. When I nod and draw up my chair again, he bounces like a clown to the double-sized fridge. He's always had a weight problem, but since being lame-ducked into oblivion, the pounds seem drawn to him. When we're settled back in, another pan of fries sizzling away, he picks at the label of his beer. "Let me give you an example, purely fictional, of course. Back in high school I ran track with Phil Newman, this biker-dude with a leather jacket, cigs behind the ear, the whole bucket of lard. We all liked him, used to 28


Berkeley

Fiction

My Campaign

Review

Story

you here. Fries tasty as ever?" "Mr. Prescott," says the governor, "tell Handslap here the worst thing you've ever done." Daniel bends into his chair like a coat hanger, hair and glasses molded to his skull. Splitting tequila into three glasses the governor lays out, he says, "Where to start?" "Politics don't count," says the governor. "I mean real stuff." "Politics are real," I say. Daniel gives me a look like I'm eight. Scribblers aren't really inner circle; we're the polish, adverbs and adjectives to actions and things. "Cruelty," Daniel murmurs. He downs his tequila. "Made love to a girlfriend's mother once." The governor whoops. "Was she h o t ? " Daniel's jaw rises, falls. "And lonely. Husband was in the commodities market, always on the road." The governor gives me a look as if to say, See how it's done? Listen to the pro. He sips his liquor, wrinkles his jowls. Raising his glass, he eyes it happily. "That's the stuff. I swear Heineken is made of piss." Daniel's still flunking, eyes glittering. "One night, back at prep-school, some associates and I visited a teacher's house. A psychology proctor, name of Benson. Nice fellow, like a duck someone beat and left for dead. Sneeze too loud and he'd likely fall over. Lonely. Fifty-some. Never married, if you catch my drift. Then one evening his bell chimes and it's six strapping lads, all in shorts and polos. 'Mr. Benson,' we say, 'we came for a study session. Social deviance is giving us problems. Can you help?' Poor guy. You'd think the gravy train just pulled in and someone told him he could soak his biscuit." "Woah, Yankee," the governor says. He's pouring another round of shots. I couldn't tell you when I drank mine. "Don't be getting southern on us." Daniel arches his brows, gets back to the story: "We pull out our pens, our pads, begin taking notes, dutiful little scholars that we are. Sure enough, sooner or later conversation rolls to other topics—'My, is that a tennis trophy on your shelf? But of course you play, a fit gentleman like yourself!' He looks surprised, happy, excited in a fuzzy duck kind of way. Eventually one of us draws out a bottle of Jack Daniels. 'What's this?'we say. 'Whiskey? Let's have some!' And before you can hum Vivaldi, glasses are being passed and ice is clinking. Next thing you know, Mr. Benson is in absentia, snoring gaily in a puddle of his own drool. We carry him upstairs, lay him down, pull off his khakis, remove his drawers, and put the trousers back on. Everything else, we clean up. Come nine a.m., we stroll into his class, none of us speaking a word, all avoiding that nervous little baby duck smile of his. Throughout the morning, we keep our heads down, gaze out the window, anything but meet his eyes. This continues all semester. Come finals, he's stuttering like a schoolgirl. None of us

buy liquor from him and borrow his car on weeknights when we had dates and wanted to trade hickies out county way. But Phil was bad news, a troublemaker, couldn't keep his nose clean with a sandblaster. One day, him and me are on the bus to this meet next town over. In front of us is this Swedish exchange student, Catherine Johannahanson or something like that. You know the type: pouty lips, blue eyes, hair you want to crawl in. And she's kind of nice to me, you know, friendly in a way that makes a seventeen-year-old sweat. And for some reason, as we're bouncing along in that bus, I lean over and tell Phil Newman that he should date her. 'She puts out,'I say. 'Quick. Louis Alden says he did her last week, and Mitch Burrows the week before that. I'm thinking about getting a little something myself.' "Now, I'm talking out of my butt, of course. Never seen a chick naked outside of a National Geographic, and even then my Uncle Damon mostly ripped out the good stuff. Couldn't tell you what 'did her' meant, to be honest. Worse, what I don't know is that Phil's gone and found Jesus. Not in a give-upyour-Camels sort of way, but bad enough that he decides this isn't right. Next day, he tells Catherine. Day after that, she tells the principal. The principal, he walks circles all night. I mean, here's this kid, the mayor's son, straight-friggin'-A student, probably going to Westpoint, and he's going to nail my hide to the wall? Not likely. He sets me down, sighs, sort of rubs his eyes real nervous like. You can tell he's been thinking about this. 'Did you?'he says, and then tells me the whole story. I listen, nod politely, southern boy and all, then look him straight in the eye and say, "No sir, I did not.'" The old me, I suppose, would nod. Anything to stay one ofthe boys— or get to be one ofthe boys, whatever. But now, the situation, the beer, the 23 districts that went the other way~I shake my head. He eyes me through a squint, scrapes his chair closer to the table, puts his hand on my wrist. His fingers are cold from the beer. "See, when I tell old man Hudson that Phil must be lying, his head about snaps off he's so relieved. He stands, opens the door, tells me I can go. All but pats me on the ass he's so damn happy. Next afternoon, Phil's in detention, 10 days, two hours a pop. Kat the Swede's in there too, or would be if she didn't cry for eighty minutes straight and get Hudson to let her off with a stern warning. A week later, she drops out, jumps on a plane, heads back to the land of pickled herring." He pats my hand, rises, straightens his belt. I smell fries burning. "And that, my friend, is a nasty story." I'm still sitting there, trying to figure out why his is worse than minemaybe it's a southern thing, something in the way it's told-when Daniel from policy saunters in. Lean as a stick, he looks dapper even carrying a bottle of Cuervo. "Gentleman," he says, with that uppity Amherst accent. Eyeing me, he nods, maybe a little surprised, then glances at the governor. "Thought I'd find

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29 J L .


Berkeley

Fiction

My Campaign

Review

Story

you here. Fries tasty as ever?" "Mr. Prescott," says the governor, "tell Handslap here the worst thing you've ever done." Daniel bends into his chair like a coat hanger, hair and glasses molded to his skull. Splitting tequila into three glasses the governor lays out, he says, "Where to start?" "Politics don't count," says the governor. "I mean real stuff." "Politics are real," I say. Daniel gives me a look like I'm eight. Scribblers aren't really inner circle; we're the polish, adverbs and adjectives to actions and things. "Cruelty," Daniel murmurs. He downs his tequila. "Made love to a girlfriend's mother once." The governor whoops. "Was she h o t ? " Daniel's jaw rises, falls. "And lonely. Husband was in the commodities market, always on the road." The governor gives me a look as if to say, See how it's done? Listen to the pro. He sips his liquor, wrinkles his jowls. Raising his glass, he eyes it happily. "That's the stuff. I swear Heineken is made of piss." Daniel's still flunking, eyes glittering. "One night, back at prep-school, some associates and I visited a teacher's house. A psychology proctor, name of Benson. Nice fellow, like a duck someone beat and left for dead. Sneeze too loud and he'd likely fall over. Lonely. Fifty-some. Never married, if you catch my drift. Then one evening his bell chimes and it's six strapping lads, all in shorts and polos. 'Mr. Benson,' we say, 'we came for a study session. Social deviance is giving us problems. Can you help?' Poor guy. You'd think the gravy train just pulled in and someone told him he could soak his biscuit." "Woah, Yankee," the governor says. He's pouring another round of shots. I couldn't tell you when I drank mine. "Don't be getting southern on us." Daniel arches his brows, gets back to the story: "We pull out our pens, our pads, begin taking notes, dutiful little scholars that we are. Sure enough, sooner or later conversation rolls to other topics—'My, is that a tennis trophy on your shelf? But of course you play, a fit gentleman like yourself!' He looks surprised, happy, excited in a fuzzy duck kind of way. Eventually one of us draws out a bottle of Jack Daniels. 'What's this?'we say. 'Whiskey? Let's have some!' And before you can hum Vivaldi, glasses are being passed and ice is clinking. Next thing you know, Mr. Benson is in absentia, snoring gaily in a puddle of his own drool. We carry him upstairs, lay him down, pull off his khakis, remove his drawers, and put the trousers back on. Everything else, we clean up. Come nine a.m., we stroll into his class, none of us speaking a word, all avoiding that nervous little baby duck smile of his. Throughout the morning, we keep our heads down, gaze out the window, anything but meet his eyes. This continues all semester. Come finals, he's stuttering like a schoolgirl. None of us

buy liquor from him and borrow his car on weeknights when we had dates and wanted to trade hickies out county way. But Phil was bad news, a troublemaker, couldn't keep his nose clean with a sandblaster. One day, him and me are on the bus to this meet next town over. In front of us is this Swedish exchange student, Catherine Johannahanson or something like that. You know the type: pouty lips, blue eyes, hair you want to crawl in. And she's kind of nice to me, you know, friendly in a way that makes a seventeen-year-old sweat. And for some reason, as we're bouncing along in that bus, I lean over and tell Phil Newman that he should date her. 'She puts out,'I say. 'Quick. Louis Alden says he did her last week, and Mitch Burrows the week before that. I'm thinking about getting a little something myself.' "Now, I'm talking out of my butt, of course. Never seen a chick naked outside of a National Geographic, and even then my Uncle Damon mostly ripped out the good stuff. Couldn't tell you what 'did her' meant, to be honest. Worse, what I don't know is that Phil's gone and found Jesus. Not in a give-upyour-Camels sort of way, but bad enough that he decides this isn't right. Next day, he tells Catherine. Day after that, she tells the principal. The principal, he walks circles all night. I mean, here's this kid, the mayor's son, straight-friggin'-A student, probably going to Westpoint, and he's going to nail my hide to the wall? Not likely. He sets me down, sighs, sort of rubs his eyes real nervous like. You can tell he's been thinking about this. 'Did you?'he says, and then tells me the whole story. I listen, nod politely, southern boy and all, then look him straight in the eye and say, "No sir, I did not.'" The old me, I suppose, would nod. Anything to stay one ofthe boys— or get to be one ofthe boys, whatever. But now, the situation, the beer, the 23 districts that went the other way~I shake my head. He eyes me through a squint, scrapes his chair closer to the table, puts his hand on my wrist. His fingers are cold from the beer. "See, when I tell old man Hudson that Phil must be lying, his head about snaps off he's so relieved. He stands, opens the door, tells me I can go. All but pats me on the ass he's so damn happy. Next afternoon, Phil's in detention, 10 days, two hours a pop. Kat the Swede's in there too, or would be if she didn't cry for eighty minutes straight and get Hudson to let her off with a stern warning. A week later, she drops out, jumps on a plane, heads back to the land of pickled herring." He pats my hand, rises, straightens his belt. I smell fries burning. "And that, my friend, is a nasty story." I'm still sitting there, trying to figure out why his is worse than minemaybe it's a southern thing, something in the way it's told-when Daniel from policy saunters in. Lean as a stick, he looks dapper even carrying a bottle of Cuervo. "Gentleman," he says, with that uppity Amherst accent. Eyeing me, he nods, maybe a little surprised, then glances at the governor. "Thought I'd find

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29 J L .


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

takes the exam. All of us get 'A's." The governor hollers. Daniel grins. "Okay," I say. I want to stop myself, even as I open my mouth, but I can't My belly feels like a radiator. "I have another one. When I was a kid, there was this girl named Liddie Giesenkirch—" "Hold it, hold it," the governor says. "Liddie what?" He's pouring more tequila. There's a nest of bees where my lips used to be. "Giesenkirch," I say. "Wisconsin. Ever heard of it? It's full of Germans. Anyway, we're like, best friends, growing up—running through sprinklers, sleepovers, making s'mores, that kind of stuff." "Now this is good." Daniel's eyes glow. "More details, please, regarding the sleepovers." "Shut up," the governor says. "The thing is, Liddie's mom is nuts, I mean certifiable: glow-in-the-dark frisbee eyes, frizzy hair she'd wrap in a turban for walks around the blockconstitutionals, she called them. 'Jesus loves you,' she'd say whenever we did something wrong, unplugged the Lite-Brite or poured Kool-Aid on the cat. 'Remember: He watches you even in the dark.'" I take a sip of my tequila. I can feel the hangover coming. They're both watching, eyes focused. It makes me feel good, like back in college, on debate, when I knew I could pummel a guy if I wanted. "Worst of all, Mrs. G has this cross, this four-foot lacquered deal full of knots, like something from a thorn tree. She keeps it in her bedroom in the corner beside her dresser. Whenever Liddie does something wrong—I mean, really wrong, getting caught swearing or in a lie about where she got a comic book she shouldn't have—whenever something like that happens, Mrs. Giesenkirch hauls out that cross and makes her pound a nail in it. And not just a little tack, either: this huge, four-inch penny nail, the kind you use to build houses and stuff." "Been there," the gov says. "I know those people. Grew up with them." Daniel frowns. "But why? To what end?" "Sinning-" "Because," the governor says, "every time you commit a sin, it's like pounding a nail in the palm of Christ." His pale blues swing my way. "Right?" His look is so intense, I'm almost certain he knows. If, just then, he'd reached into his pocket and pulled out a half-dozen penny-longs, I wouldn't have been surprised. All I can do is nod. "Good lord," Daniel says. The governor grins. "Exactly." Daniel's silent for a minute, spinning his glass on the table. I'm pleased; I've never shut him up before. "You're learning," the governor says to me. "We'll make you a man yet." Daniel looks up. "But how does this relate to you? How is this the worst 31

My Campaign

Story

thing you've ever done?" "She was so ashamed. Liddie, I mean. It's her mother and everything, and she loves her, but she knows it's weird. She made me swear—" Then Lauren and Coop blast in, dragging the ballroom with them, chatter and music and the smell of sweat and dancing and the liquor we'd hoped to drink two nights earlier, under better circumstances. They're holding hands and both drunk, Lauren in a black gown with sequins and bare shoulders, Cooper in a tux that makes him look even more the Hollywood stuntman than usual. "Hell's bells," says Lauren, sloshing champagne in our direction. "There's Jackal Numero Uno. Governor, we've been rem—we've remissed—it appears, sir, we fucked up." "Protect and serve," Cooper says. He's less drunk, those boyish eyes maybe a little worried that Daniel will send word of this back to the state bureau chief. Losing sight of a candidate—an ex even—is the sort of thing that can get a guy back in the mailroom. "That's the boy scouts," Lauren says. "Screw them. We're looking for the John. Coop here says he's got something to show me." He blushes and we know she's lying. There's a story about Lauren's first day in the capital, how Daniel might have said the wrong thing, maybe touched the wrong body part. Two weeks later, he's still pouring Bactine over a rugburned forehead; apparently she had him face down, shoulder dislocated, faster than you can say "Anita Hill." "Have a seat." The governor uses his I-Have-A-Dream voice, the one, some said, that'd take him to the White House someday. No longer. Sliding out a chair, he gives a wave. "Drink tequila. Eat fries. For tomorrow we die." "Or," says Lauren, "go back to teaching D.A.R.E." "I like D.A.R.E.," says Coop. Daniel rolls his eyes; blushing, Coop looks away. Lauren sprawls in a chair beside the former Jackal, puts an arm over his shoulder. There's another story, about Lauren, about him, about some hotel near the state line, but she doesn't seem the type. "Hamspread, here," the governor says, "was just telling us the worst thing he's ever done." Lauren's gray-green eyes turn my way. I don't think she even knows who I am. "Hell," she says, "that's easy. Give me some tequila, asshole." "Charming," says Daniel. "I love it when you talk sexy." Lauren props her elbows on the table. Her muscles are long and tan and out of place in that sequined gown. She doesn't hesitate. "My freshman roommate was this sweet little thing from Kansas, Maria Jean O'Reilly, but everyone called her Dorothy. See, she's got this corn-bred sort of upbringing, Jesus and 4-H and freckles like some Green Gables nightmare, the sort of stuff that makes a Jersey girl like yours truly want to grab a bat and play street ball with her head. 32


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

takes the exam. All of us get 'A's." The governor hollers. Daniel grins. "Okay," I say. I want to stop myself, even as I open my mouth, but I can't My belly feels like a radiator. "I have another one. When I was a kid, there was this girl named Liddie Giesenkirch—" "Hold it, hold it," the governor says. "Liddie what?" He's pouring more tequila. There's a nest of bees where my lips used to be. "Giesenkirch," I say. "Wisconsin. Ever heard of it? It's full of Germans. Anyway, we're like, best friends, growing up—running through sprinklers, sleepovers, making s'mores, that kind of stuff." "Now this is good." Daniel's eyes glow. "More details, please, regarding the sleepovers." "Shut up," the governor says. "The thing is, Liddie's mom is nuts, I mean certifiable: glow-in-the-dark frisbee eyes, frizzy hair she'd wrap in a turban for walks around the blockconstitutionals, she called them. 'Jesus loves you,' she'd say whenever we did something wrong, unplugged the Lite-Brite or poured Kool-Aid on the cat. 'Remember: He watches you even in the dark.'" I take a sip of my tequila. I can feel the hangover coming. They're both watching, eyes focused. It makes me feel good, like back in college, on debate, when I knew I could pummel a guy if I wanted. "Worst of all, Mrs. G has this cross, this four-foot lacquered deal full of knots, like something from a thorn tree. She keeps it in her bedroom in the corner beside her dresser. Whenever Liddie does something wrong—I mean, really wrong, getting caught swearing or in a lie about where she got a comic book she shouldn't have—whenever something like that happens, Mrs. Giesenkirch hauls out that cross and makes her pound a nail in it. And not just a little tack, either: this huge, four-inch penny nail, the kind you use to build houses and stuff." "Been there," the gov says. "I know those people. Grew up with them." Daniel frowns. "But why? To what end?" "Sinning-" "Because," the governor says, "every time you commit a sin, it's like pounding a nail in the palm of Christ." His pale blues swing my way. "Right?" His look is so intense, I'm almost certain he knows. If, just then, he'd reached into his pocket and pulled out a half-dozen penny-longs, I wouldn't have been surprised. All I can do is nod. "Good lord," Daniel says. The governor grins. "Exactly." Daniel's silent for a minute, spinning his glass on the table. I'm pleased; I've never shut him up before. "You're learning," the governor says to me. "We'll make you a man yet." Daniel looks up. "But how does this relate to you? How is this the worst 31

My Campaign

Story

thing you've ever done?" "She was so ashamed. Liddie, I mean. It's her mother and everything, and she loves her, but she knows it's weird. She made me swear—" Then Lauren and Coop blast in, dragging the ballroom with them, chatter and music and the smell of sweat and dancing and the liquor we'd hoped to drink two nights earlier, under better circumstances. They're holding hands and both drunk, Lauren in a black gown with sequins and bare shoulders, Cooper in a tux that makes him look even more the Hollywood stuntman than usual. "Hell's bells," says Lauren, sloshing champagne in our direction. "There's Jackal Numero Uno. Governor, we've been rem—we've remissed—it appears, sir, we fucked up." "Protect and serve," Cooper says. He's less drunk, those boyish eyes maybe a little worried that Daniel will send word of this back to the state bureau chief. Losing sight of a candidate—an ex even—is the sort of thing that can get a guy back in the mailroom. "That's the boy scouts," Lauren says. "Screw them. We're looking for the John. Coop here says he's got something to show me." He blushes and we know she's lying. There's a story about Lauren's first day in the capital, how Daniel might have said the wrong thing, maybe touched the wrong body part. Two weeks later, he's still pouring Bactine over a rugburned forehead; apparently she had him face down, shoulder dislocated, faster than you can say "Anita Hill." "Have a seat." The governor uses his I-Have-A-Dream voice, the one, some said, that'd take him to the White House someday. No longer. Sliding out a chair, he gives a wave. "Drink tequila. Eat fries. For tomorrow we die." "Or," says Lauren, "go back to teaching D.A.R.E." "I like D.A.R.E.," says Coop. Daniel rolls his eyes; blushing, Coop looks away. Lauren sprawls in a chair beside the former Jackal, puts an arm over his shoulder. There's another story, about Lauren, about him, about some hotel near the state line, but she doesn't seem the type. "Hamspread, here," the governor says, "was just telling us the worst thing he's ever done." Lauren's gray-green eyes turn my way. I don't think she even knows who I am. "Hell," she says, "that's easy. Give me some tequila, asshole." "Charming," says Daniel. "I love it when you talk sexy." Lauren props her elbows on the table. Her muscles are long and tan and out of place in that sequined gown. She doesn't hesitate. "My freshman roommate was this sweet little thing from Kansas, Maria Jean O'Reilly, but everyone called her Dorothy. See, she's got this corn-bred sort of upbringing, Jesus and 4-H and freckles like some Green Gables nightmare, the sort of stuff that makes a Jersey girl like yours truly want to grab a bat and play street ball with her head. 32


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

I mean, she drove me nuts: cross-stitch this and cow-pie that, did you know the best breads have only three ingredients? You'd think she was dumb as a tank with all that crap, but her I.Q.'d make Mozart squeak." "Must've been a sore spot for you." Daniel smirks, mouth behind his glass. "Watch it," Lauren says. "I can kill with my bare hands." "Flirt." "Fairy." The governor snorts. His eyes are focused, no weave to his shoulders, no sway of the head. Lauren scratches her jaw. "The worst part is, as goody-two shoes as Dorothy is, she's got one big, whopper of a secret." We all stare, brows raised. She grins, tongue in her teeth, disco beat pumping down the hall on air thick as gnats. More folks have sloshed in, beer bottles bristling other tables. Someone's lit up and an ashtray makes the rounds. We're all, I realize, holding our breath. Finally, the governor lets his whistle. "I know," he says: "Fuck monster." Lauren grins. "Like some kind of energizer bunny. I mean, she's Stella, she's the groove, she's the back. Anytime, anywhere, anyone. All night long, tramping up and down the hall, into the bathroom, into the kitchen, down to the store for more condoms. In the mornings, Conan the Conqueror would be gone and I'd find her in the kitchen with a bowl of cornflakes, all weepy over some story she'd seen in the paper. 'Have you heard about the flamingoes?' she'd say, little Kansas tears trickling down that little Kansas nose of hers. 'Someone snuck into the zoo and threw rocks at their legs.'" Lauren tips her flute, drains the champagne, reaches for the tequila. Wiping her chin with the back of one hand, she looks at us. "The thing is," she says, "the little twink is nice to me. That just made it worse. I mean, what doesn't she have? Good grades, any man she wants, an ass that'd make the pope sweat. The nuns love her. How can you hate that?" "Ahh," says the governor, finger up like a wise man. "But you do." Lauren winks. "I want to chew her up, spit her out, and twirl her bones like batons." Someone says—I don't know who, but the voice sounds impressed—"So what'dyoudo?" The flick of her brows is so quick I almost miss it. "I took a pin, poked a hole in her condoms. Every damn one. When she ran out and bought a new pack, I'd wait 'til she left for class, then visit the medicine cabinet and prickprick-prick." "Jesus Christ," Coop says. He's pale. She gives him a look, three quarters regret, one-eighth contempt, the rest something I don't know. For the last maybe two minutes I've been feeling funny, like somehow Liddie's there with me, hands on my shoulders, two-dollar grin on those lips of hers. Or maybe it's me, 33

My Campaign

Story

maybe I'm gone, floating back to the woods of Wisconsin, tearing up fern with a stick, plucking ticks from Toby, Liddie's yellow-eyed retriever. Either way, it's a creepy feeling, like the clench in your throat just before a lie. "What happened?" I ask. Lauren gives me a look. Someone's handed her a cigar, and she pulls on it expertly, pinching it between thumb and crooked finger. "Four months later, she's showing. 'Who is it?' I ask, but she just cries." "Did she keep it?" Daniel says. Lauren shakes her head. "Some things even I won't tell." The kitchen is packed now, lights on full blast, three or four groups at other tables, swapping stories or telling jokes. A few are playing the newest parlor game, Spot-the-Leak. I try not to listen. Cooper says something about his brother and a friend shooting up frogs withxrap from a chemistry set. "They all died," he says, looking sheepish for a guy with a gun strapped to his waist. "Bloated to the size of apples, turned blue, and croaked, so to speak." Daniel tells about a college girlfriend he discovered two-timing, how he told her he'd tested positive, that she'd probably die before reaching thirty. The governor listens to it all, laughs, swigs tequila, patting shoulders and grinning. A half-eaten pile of fries sits in front of him, soaked in salt and watery ketchup. His skin seems less papery and gray, more alive somehow. I haven't seen him this happy since 5 November. Or before that, even. Conversation stings my ears. Someone's brought a harmonica or something, maybe an accordion, I can't tell, my eyes spinning around my head, and they're playing it, slow and sad but happy at the same time, like one of those Greek songs where you know you're going to dance, you just haven't figured out when. A girl from polling is up on a table, arms open, lipsticked mouth wide as she tells a joke from some movie, acting out the parts. Liddie's not there anymore, no one is, and I feel like you do crawling out of a dream, like something lovely and soft is hanging from the back of your skull, just out of sight. "What happened?" the president says. I must have been sitting there for half an hour, forty-five minutes. The room seems emptier, the whir of talk and clinking bottles now trickling like a fountain. I'm going to be in pain come morning. "Happen?" My tongue feels glued to my teeth. He nods. He's got one hand on my shoulder, the other squared, his manof-the-people pose. I don't think he's ever touched me before today. "Did you tell on her?" he says. "To her mother? You guys fooled around, right?" The words take a long time to sink through my skull. Somehow under all that gunk I manage to wonder what the hell kind of place this is, where everyone assumes the obvious and the worst and the obviously worst. I manage to shake my head. "Marty Denk," I say. "She kissed him. One day. Behind the util34


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

I mean, she drove me nuts: cross-stitch this and cow-pie that, did you know the best breads have only three ingredients? You'd think she was dumb as a tank with all that crap, but her I.Q.'d make Mozart squeak." "Must've been a sore spot for you." Daniel smirks, mouth behind his glass. "Watch it," Lauren says. "I can kill with my bare hands." "Flirt." "Fairy." The governor snorts. His eyes are focused, no weave to his shoulders, no sway of the head. Lauren scratches her jaw. "The worst part is, as goody-two shoes as Dorothy is, she's got one big, whopper of a secret." We all stare, brows raised. She grins, tongue in her teeth, disco beat pumping down the hall on air thick as gnats. More folks have sloshed in, beer bottles bristling other tables. Someone's lit up and an ashtray makes the rounds. We're all, I realize, holding our breath. Finally, the governor lets his whistle. "I know," he says: "Fuck monster." Lauren grins. "Like some kind of energizer bunny. I mean, she's Stella, she's the groove, she's the back. Anytime, anywhere, anyone. All night long, tramping up and down the hall, into the bathroom, into the kitchen, down to the store for more condoms. In the mornings, Conan the Conqueror would be gone and I'd find her in the kitchen with a bowl of cornflakes, all weepy over some story she'd seen in the paper. 'Have you heard about the flamingoes?' she'd say, little Kansas tears trickling down that little Kansas nose of hers. 'Someone snuck into the zoo and threw rocks at their legs.'" Lauren tips her flute, drains the champagne, reaches for the tequila. Wiping her chin with the back of one hand, she looks at us. "The thing is," she says, "the little twink is nice to me. That just made it worse. I mean, what doesn't she have? Good grades, any man she wants, an ass that'd make the pope sweat. The nuns love her. How can you hate that?" "Ahh," says the governor, finger up like a wise man. "But you do." Lauren winks. "I want to chew her up, spit her out, and twirl her bones like batons." Someone says—I don't know who, but the voice sounds impressed—"So what'dyoudo?" The flick of her brows is so quick I almost miss it. "I took a pin, poked a hole in her condoms. Every damn one. When she ran out and bought a new pack, I'd wait 'til she left for class, then visit the medicine cabinet and prickprick-prick." "Jesus Christ," Coop says. He's pale. She gives him a look, three quarters regret, one-eighth contempt, the rest something I don't know. For the last maybe two minutes I've been feeling funny, like somehow Liddie's there with me, hands on my shoulders, two-dollar grin on those lips of hers. Or maybe it's me, 33

My Campaign

Story

maybe I'm gone, floating back to the woods of Wisconsin, tearing up fern with a stick, plucking ticks from Toby, Liddie's yellow-eyed retriever. Either way, it's a creepy feeling, like the clench in your throat just before a lie. "What happened?" I ask. Lauren gives me a look. Someone's handed her a cigar, and she pulls on it expertly, pinching it between thumb and crooked finger. "Four months later, she's showing. 'Who is it?' I ask, but she just cries." "Did she keep it?" Daniel says. Lauren shakes her head. "Some things even I won't tell." The kitchen is packed now, lights on full blast, three or four groups at other tables, swapping stories or telling jokes. A few are playing the newest parlor game, Spot-the-Leak. I try not to listen. Cooper says something about his brother and a friend shooting up frogs withxrap from a chemistry set. "They all died," he says, looking sheepish for a guy with a gun strapped to his waist. "Bloated to the size of apples, turned blue, and croaked, so to speak." Daniel tells about a college girlfriend he discovered two-timing, how he told her he'd tested positive, that she'd probably die before reaching thirty. The governor listens to it all, laughs, swigs tequila, patting shoulders and grinning. A half-eaten pile of fries sits in front of him, soaked in salt and watery ketchup. His skin seems less papery and gray, more alive somehow. I haven't seen him this happy since 5 November. Or before that, even. Conversation stings my ears. Someone's brought a harmonica or something, maybe an accordion, I can't tell, my eyes spinning around my head, and they're playing it, slow and sad but happy at the same time, like one of those Greek songs where you know you're going to dance, you just haven't figured out when. A girl from polling is up on a table, arms open, lipsticked mouth wide as she tells a joke from some movie, acting out the parts. Liddie's not there anymore, no one is, and I feel like you do crawling out of a dream, like something lovely and soft is hanging from the back of your skull, just out of sight. "What happened?" the president says. I must have been sitting there for half an hour, forty-five minutes. The room seems emptier, the whir of talk and clinking bottles now trickling like a fountain. I'm going to be in pain come morning. "Happen?" My tongue feels glued to my teeth. He nods. He's got one hand on my shoulder, the other squared, his manof-the-people pose. I don't think he's ever touched me before today. "Did you tell on her?" he says. "To her mother? You guys fooled around, right?" The words take a long time to sink through my skull. Somehow under all that gunk I manage to wonder what the hell kind of place this is, where everyone assumes the obvious and the worst and the obviously worst. I manage to shake my head. "Marty Denk," I say. "She kissed him. One day. Behind the util34


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

My Campaign

Story

ityshed. She had her hand on the back of his neck. Like this." I try to show on myself, but can't seem to work my arm right. Almost on its own, my hand swings around his neck. Clumsily, I finger the hairs of his nape. We must sit there like that for five seconds, maybe more. A picture not unlike this came out on the front pages ofthe Times not too long after the scandal broke, the candidate with his hand on his daughter's shoulder, her eyes watching him, searching his face. "I told them," I say. "Marty. Frank. Everyone. We're in gym class, and Liddie's climbing the rope. I'm on the mat, below her; she asked me to hold on, but I told her no, told her maybe she should go ask Marty. She gave me a look like I'd bit her. So when she's half-way up, far enough so she can't stop me but I know she can hear, I tell them everything: about her mom, about the cross, about the nails. How Jesus sees you in the dark." He twists his lips, considering. "What'd she do?" I think about her face, white against the wood ofthe gymnasium ceiling, blue eyes bent at the comers. There were scabs on her knees, I remember, and her calves looked soft and pale. I remember the feel of those legs, the muscles loose beneath the skin, her toenails sharp when she'd kick me under the table at McDonald's. "Nothing." He nods. "That's not so bad. I figured maybe she killed herself. Or ran off or something." "No," I say. "Nothing like that." I can still see her eyes, staring down at me, her knuckles red from gripping the rope. I don't know what I'd hoped for from telling, if I'd really wanted to hurt her. Maybe I thought she'd go nuts like her mother, sooner or later, but after she slid down and rubbed her face with an arm, I knew it wouldn't happen. "Nah," says the governor, sitting beside me, hands on his glass. He must know, I think. He must know it was me. "That's not mat bad."

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Berkeley

Fiction

Review

My Campaign

Story

ityshed. She had her hand on the back of his neck. Like this." I try to show on myself, but can't seem to work my arm right. Almost on its own, my hand swings around his neck. Clumsily, I finger the hairs of his nape. We must sit there like that for five seconds, maybe more. A picture not unlike this came out on the front pages ofthe Times not too long after the scandal broke, the candidate with his hand on his daughter's shoulder, her eyes watching him, searching his face. "I told them," I say. "Marty. Frank. Everyone. We're in gym class, and Liddie's climbing the rope. I'm on the mat, below her; she asked me to hold on, but I told her no, told her maybe she should go ask Marty. She gave me a look like I'd bit her. So when she's half-way up, far enough so she can't stop me but I know she can hear, I tell them everything: about her mom, about the cross, about the nails. How Jesus sees you in the dark." He twists his lips, considering. "What'd she do?" I think about her face, white against the wood ofthe gymnasium ceiling, blue eyes bent at the comers. There were scabs on her knees, I remember, and her calves looked soft and pale. I remember the feel of those legs, the muscles loose beneath the skin, her toenails sharp when she'd kick me under the table at McDonald's. "Nothing." He nods. "That's not so bad. I figured maybe she killed herself. Or ran off or something." "No," I say. "Nothing like that." I can still see her eyes, staring down at me, her knuckles red from gripping the rope. I don't know what I'd hoped for from telling, if I'd really wanted to hurt her. Maybe I thought she'd go nuts like her mother, sooner or later, but after she slid down and rubbed her face with an arm, I knew it wouldn't happen. "Nah," says the governor, sitting beside me, hands on his glass. He must know, I think. He must know it was me. "That's not mat bad."

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The

T h e

C o r n b i n

b y E d w a r d

M o o r e

very summer my brother and I stayed with our grandfather on his farm near Alton, Illinois. We'd play in the fields, snag catfish from the Mississippi, and swim in the bin. The bin was a huge metal shell that hung over the alleyway of his corncrib. Ten deep and ten round, it looked like the biggest bowl of cereal you'd ever see. Along with some ofthe local kids, we loved diving into it, letting it sting our hands and faces. Imagining it was quicksand we'd sway back and forth, slowly sinking to our armpits until someone threw us a rope, bringing a conclusion to our great pretend rescue mission. We never believed any of this was dangerous, but my grandfather always told us not to play in the bin whenever it was being emptied. "You'd get sucked down in a whirlpool of corn and buried so deep you might not be able to get out," he told us, "You could be under four feet of corn before that chute closed." Every summer we heard how one almost got him; that nobody would've known what happened to him; how people might first look in the wells and creeks to see if he'd fallen into one of them. Nobody would've thought of looking in the middle of a cornbin. "By the time they'd found me I'd have been half eaten by rats." I'm a city kid, and one rule of city life you always followed was, don't get caught doing what grown folks told you not to do, 'specially around someone older than you. That's because if something goes wrong that someone will always tell - and blame you. Being the youngest they'd say it was your idea; that it wasn't their fault; that they tried to stop you but they couldn't. One muggy afternoon a corn wagon arrived and parked beneath the bin. I loved it. This was my chance to do something my chicken brother wouldn't 37

Cornbin

do. After creeping around the barn to make sure no one was around I climbed to the top ofthe bin. Those flowing kernels looked like a golden funnel growing a small dent in its middle; it was the most seductive thing I'd ever seen. I drooled imagining the feeling of those kernels flowing around and against my body. With my grandfather's words dimly echoing in my head, I watched the com begin to swirl. I mouth a silent prayer, closed my eyes, sucked in my breath and jumped into the middle ofthe growing whirlpool. The immediate sensation was pure nirvana; like someone rubbing my entire body with a backscratcher, gently scratching all over my body while constantly rotating me over and over again. Closing my eyes I began moving my arms as if I were doing the backstroke, those flowing kernels acting like millions of tiny fingers - tip tapping across my body, tingling every inch of it. My bliss was terminated when a loud metallic boom echoed through the bin, and something grabbed my feet and started pulling me down. Frantically, I started pumping my arms and legs like an Olympic sprinter, but the pull from the chute wouldn't let go of me. Thrashing and grasping at anything, I tried swimming against the kernels, but now those fingers of pleasure were working against me. Cora dust was pinching tears from my eyes, clogging my ears and nose; and now those beautiful kernels were biting my face. With the light above me disappearing there was an intense pounding inside my head, and my body felt like jelly being squeezed through clenched teeth. With burning lungs and a body feeling it was about to collapse like some cheap inflatable doll, I heard an intense popping sound, followed by a sudden explosion of relief. Miraculously faint rays of light began touching my eyes. Pushing kernels away from my face I rolled along the dying remnants of my mini dust storm. Like a breaststroke swimmer, I cupped handfuls of corn near the side ofthe bin as I began pulling myself toward the light. Sometimes I would start to tumble over and over again like a log in the Mississippi, but I kept my arms moving, propelling me towards the light and against the dying suction. Finally the sucking died. Gasping for air I crawled out ofthe half empty bin and looked down at it. Yes, I did it! I survived. I wasn't dead, buried beneath four feet of corn, choked, drowned and half eaten by rats. I was so proud of myself. I started turning around and bowing like a stage performer acknowledging an applauding audience. I was the brave boy, who despite his grandfather's warnings; survived his duel with death. Then it dawned on me how happy I was that no one was around to see what I'd done and whip my tail for it. Like a field mouse I scampered from the barn to the basement so I could use the shower. Before showering I took a moment to stare at the monstrous stranger in the mirror. His clothes were ripped, torn and covered with corn dust; his arms and face tattooed and scissor crossed with blood from thousands of 38


The

T h e

C o r n b i n

b y E d w a r d

M o o r e

very summer my brother and I stayed with our grandfather on his farm near Alton, Illinois. We'd play in the fields, snag catfish from the Mississippi, and swim in the bin. The bin was a huge metal shell that hung over the alleyway of his corncrib. Ten deep and ten round, it looked like the biggest bowl of cereal you'd ever see. Along with some ofthe local kids, we loved diving into it, letting it sting our hands and faces. Imagining it was quicksand we'd sway back and forth, slowly sinking to our armpits until someone threw us a rope, bringing a conclusion to our great pretend rescue mission. We never believed any of this was dangerous, but my grandfather always told us not to play in the bin whenever it was being emptied. "You'd get sucked down in a whirlpool of corn and buried so deep you might not be able to get out," he told us, "You could be under four feet of corn before that chute closed." Every summer we heard how one almost got him; that nobody would've known what happened to him; how people might first look in the wells and creeks to see if he'd fallen into one of them. Nobody would've thought of looking in the middle of a cornbin. "By the time they'd found me I'd have been half eaten by rats." I'm a city kid, and one rule of city life you always followed was, don't get caught doing what grown folks told you not to do, 'specially around someone older than you. That's because if something goes wrong that someone will always tell - and blame you. Being the youngest they'd say it was your idea; that it wasn't their fault; that they tried to stop you but they couldn't. One muggy afternoon a corn wagon arrived and parked beneath the bin. I loved it. This was my chance to do something my chicken brother wouldn't 37

Cornbin

do. After creeping around the barn to make sure no one was around I climbed to the top ofthe bin. Those flowing kernels looked like a golden funnel growing a small dent in its middle; it was the most seductive thing I'd ever seen. I drooled imagining the feeling of those kernels flowing around and against my body. With my grandfather's words dimly echoing in my head, I watched the com begin to swirl. I mouth a silent prayer, closed my eyes, sucked in my breath and jumped into the middle ofthe growing whirlpool. The immediate sensation was pure nirvana; like someone rubbing my entire body with a backscratcher, gently scratching all over my body while constantly rotating me over and over again. Closing my eyes I began moving my arms as if I were doing the backstroke, those flowing kernels acting like millions of tiny fingers - tip tapping across my body, tingling every inch of it. My bliss was terminated when a loud metallic boom echoed through the bin, and something grabbed my feet and started pulling me down. Frantically, I started pumping my arms and legs like an Olympic sprinter, but the pull from the chute wouldn't let go of me. Thrashing and grasping at anything, I tried swimming against the kernels, but now those fingers of pleasure were working against me. Cora dust was pinching tears from my eyes, clogging my ears and nose; and now those beautiful kernels were biting my face. With the light above me disappearing there was an intense pounding inside my head, and my body felt like jelly being squeezed through clenched teeth. With burning lungs and a body feeling it was about to collapse like some cheap inflatable doll, I heard an intense popping sound, followed by a sudden explosion of relief. Miraculously faint rays of light began touching my eyes. Pushing kernels away from my face I rolled along the dying remnants of my mini dust storm. Like a breaststroke swimmer, I cupped handfuls of corn near the side ofthe bin as I began pulling myself toward the light. Sometimes I would start to tumble over and over again like a log in the Mississippi, but I kept my arms moving, propelling me towards the light and against the dying suction. Finally the sucking died. Gasping for air I crawled out ofthe half empty bin and looked down at it. Yes, I did it! I survived. I wasn't dead, buried beneath four feet of corn, choked, drowned and half eaten by rats. I was so proud of myself. I started turning around and bowing like a stage performer acknowledging an applauding audience. I was the brave boy, who despite his grandfather's warnings; survived his duel with death. Then it dawned on me how happy I was that no one was around to see what I'd done and whip my tail for it. Like a field mouse I scampered from the barn to the basement so I could use the shower. Before showering I took a moment to stare at the monstrous stranger in the mirror. His clothes were ripped, torn and covered with corn dust; his arms and face tattooed and scissor crossed with blood from thousands of 38


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

The

Cornbin

little cuts and scratches; his nose twitching in disgust from the smell of cornmeal in its damp, matted hair. Shamefully I showered, went to the levee and threw that monster's clothes into the Mississippi. During dinner my brother asked where all my scratches came from. Keeping my head down, I mumbled something about falling down the levee and rolling into some bushes. Again I felt shame as for the only time in my life, I lied in front of my grandfather. My grandfather gave me his puzzled look, leaned over, sniffed and said, "You sure?" Rubbing his fingers through my hair he smiled and continued, "Do you know your hair smells like damp cornmeal?"

39

40


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

The

Cornbin

little cuts and scratches; his nose twitching in disgust from the smell of cornmeal in its damp, matted hair. Shamefully I showered, went to the levee and threw that monster's clothes into the Mississippi. During dinner my brother asked where all my scratches came from. Keeping my head down, I mumbled something about falling down the levee and rolling into some bushes. Again I felt shame as for the only time in my life, I lied in front of my grandfather. My grandfather gave me his puzzled look, leaned over, sniffed and said, "You sure?" Rubbing his fingers through my hair he smiled and continued, "Do you know your hair smells like damp cornmeal?"

39

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Hoffmeister

H o f f m e i s t e r

b y A n d r e w

T o m l i n s o n

llost my house. lit wasn't a matter of drinking it away or not keeping up with the mort|gage payments or the wife wanting half. None of these apply, because I don't drink, mortgages are a distant memory, and my dear wife died eleven years ago. No, I mean I lost it. As you do your glasses. But I never lose my glasses. I'm all there. Every marble is in place. A sharp, clear fact, as sharp and clear as my own mind: I went to the shop on Sunday morning, and when I came back, my house was gone. I pulled the door to behind me and set off at just gone nine. The grass was wet with dew. My roses looked lovely. The birds sang as normal. In the night, someone had left an empty beer tin on my gate post, but that was neither here nor there. Perhaps this isn't very interesting for you. I'm no good at describing ordinary things, despite the ordinariness of my life; but I'm telling you nonetheless, because I want you to appreciate how un-extraordinary a morning it promised to be. It's a five minute walk down the road to the shop where, every Sunday, I buy the Telegraph. I passed Ellen Wattling putting out her laundry. We just nod to each other now. My Jenny thought she was a real bitch. That was a long time ago, and maybe Ellen has mellowed with age, but it's still no more than a nod from the two of us. Then I got a wave from Ryan Foley, heading off for bowls in his old Nissan. You see? Ordinary things. One Sunday no different from the Sunday before it. The road is steep and on the way back I take it slowly. The corner shop had sold out of Telegraphs. If I had known that, I could have gone to Ganston's 41

instead, and now, coming up the hill with the Observer under my arm, I felt annoyed. It's not the same. The wrong paper, the wrong crossword puts me out of sorts. I passed number 11, then 13, then 15,17, reached my own garden gate, opened it, closed it behind me, saw, stopped, and dropped my Observer. When I left Number 19, Wyedale Road, it was a three-up, four-down semi-detached house. My house. The house I had spent half my life in. When I returned, my house was gone, and another stood in its place. These things take a bit of time to absorb. Two children, a girl and a boy who had been playing on the front lawn (my front lawn, if you please), watched me. I looked at the house in a daze. It no longer adjoined number 17, but stood apart, a pretentious, red-brick, foursquare monstrosity. It seemed to fold its arms with self-satisfaction. A trumpedup portico sheltered a large front door, and it was through this that the children ran when I failed to return their shy hellos. I heard the boy calling out to his mother; the girl stopped and looked back at me from the doorway, as if this were some playground game, then she too disappeared inside, passing under a chandelier in the hallway. I didn't know what to think. My legs began to shake. I turned, and reached for something I didn't know I was reaching for, and found it. The tin of beer was still on the gatepost. So I must have looked a sight when the woman came out with her yellow rubber gloves on. Her hair had that prim haiidressered look, and her skirt and top were smart, Sunday smart, even though she must have been cleaning. She stood in the portico, the boy on her right, the girl on her left, and I stood by the gate, the empty beer tin in my hand, the newspaper on the grass by my feet. 'Can I help you?' she said, not coming any closer. I was unable to speak. After a long pause, I gestured at the monstrosity of pillar and brick, but the tin was in my hand and she probably took me for an old wino after a night on the town. 'Timmy, Rebecca,' she said. 'Inside.* She watched them as they sloped into the hallway with that hideous chandelier. When she faced me again, I had already gone. But where could I go in such a situation? It's like a power cut. The television switches itself off, and after the surprise you say, 'Well how about a nice cup of tea7' But of course that's out, because there's no electricity. So then you consider boiling some water on the hob. And so on. That's how it was. I walked away from what was my home, telling myself that I needed to go for a good lie down, then realising that there was nowhere to do it. I rounded the corner onto Baxter Street, where I thought I really must go home to think this over. And so on. And it was as I turned left onto Lower Wyedale Road, and once more caught myself thinking like this (that I should go home to phone 42


Hoffmeister

H o f f m e i s t e r

b y A n d r e w

T o m l i n s o n

llost my house. lit wasn't a matter of drinking it away or not keeping up with the mort|gage payments or the wife wanting half. None of these apply, because I don't drink, mortgages are a distant memory, and my dear wife died eleven years ago. No, I mean I lost it. As you do your glasses. But I never lose my glasses. I'm all there. Every marble is in place. A sharp, clear fact, as sharp and clear as my own mind: I went to the shop on Sunday morning, and when I came back, my house was gone. I pulled the door to behind me and set off at just gone nine. The grass was wet with dew. My roses looked lovely. The birds sang as normal. In the night, someone had left an empty beer tin on my gate post, but that was neither here nor there. Perhaps this isn't very interesting for you. I'm no good at describing ordinary things, despite the ordinariness of my life; but I'm telling you nonetheless, because I want you to appreciate how un-extraordinary a morning it promised to be. It's a five minute walk down the road to the shop where, every Sunday, I buy the Telegraph. I passed Ellen Wattling putting out her laundry. We just nod to each other now. My Jenny thought she was a real bitch. That was a long time ago, and maybe Ellen has mellowed with age, but it's still no more than a nod from the two of us. Then I got a wave from Ryan Foley, heading off for bowls in his old Nissan. You see? Ordinary things. One Sunday no different from the Sunday before it. The road is steep and on the way back I take it slowly. The corner shop had sold out of Telegraphs. If I had known that, I could have gone to Ganston's 41

instead, and now, coming up the hill with the Observer under my arm, I felt annoyed. It's not the same. The wrong paper, the wrong crossword puts me out of sorts. I passed number 11, then 13, then 15,17, reached my own garden gate, opened it, closed it behind me, saw, stopped, and dropped my Observer. When I left Number 19, Wyedale Road, it was a three-up, four-down semi-detached house. My house. The house I had spent half my life in. When I returned, my house was gone, and another stood in its place. These things take a bit of time to absorb. Two children, a girl and a boy who had been playing on the front lawn (my front lawn, if you please), watched me. I looked at the house in a daze. It no longer adjoined number 17, but stood apart, a pretentious, red-brick, foursquare monstrosity. It seemed to fold its arms with self-satisfaction. A trumpedup portico sheltered a large front door, and it was through this that the children ran when I failed to return their shy hellos. I heard the boy calling out to his mother; the girl stopped and looked back at me from the doorway, as if this were some playground game, then she too disappeared inside, passing under a chandelier in the hallway. I didn't know what to think. My legs began to shake. I turned, and reached for something I didn't know I was reaching for, and found it. The tin of beer was still on the gatepost. So I must have looked a sight when the woman came out with her yellow rubber gloves on. Her hair had that prim haiidressered look, and her skirt and top were smart, Sunday smart, even though she must have been cleaning. She stood in the portico, the boy on her right, the girl on her left, and I stood by the gate, the empty beer tin in my hand, the newspaper on the grass by my feet. 'Can I help you?' she said, not coming any closer. I was unable to speak. After a long pause, I gestured at the monstrosity of pillar and brick, but the tin was in my hand and she probably took me for an old wino after a night on the town. 'Timmy, Rebecca,' she said. 'Inside.* She watched them as they sloped into the hallway with that hideous chandelier. When she faced me again, I had already gone. But where could I go in such a situation? It's like a power cut. The television switches itself off, and after the surprise you say, 'Well how about a nice cup of tea7' But of course that's out, because there's no electricity. So then you consider boiling some water on the hob. And so on. That's how it was. I walked away from what was my home, telling myself that I needed to go for a good lie down, then realising that there was nowhere to do it. I rounded the corner onto Baxter Street, where I thought I really must go home to think this over. And so on. And it was as I turned left onto Lower Wyedale Road, and once more caught myself thinking like this (that I should go home to phone 42


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Hoffmeister

someone, anyone, my sister in Halifax, an old friend, anyone, a voice), that the shock of what had happened slapped into me like a huge wave. My God. I've got nowhere to go. If my mind led me in circles, so did my legs. They had, if you like, a mind of their own, for they had taken me down Baxter Street, along Lower Wyedale Road, Petrie Lane, and thus back onto Wyedale Road proper, my own street. My legs wanted me to take another look. So I did, passing the forties and thirties, holding my breath, praying that my old house would be waiting for me at number 19. I passed 29. Please, God, let it be so. I'm no believer, but please. 27, 25, and further on, 23 sticking out as it always does, hiding the rest from view. Past 23, and I didn't look up. I couldn't face it. 21. I recognised the base i of21's garden wall. And now my old gate. Number 19. I stopped. I looked up. And the new house was there, as solid, fulsome and real as the day around me. Oh, God, I thought. You are unkind. Through a window to the left of that horrible portico I saw the woman who had spoken to me earlier. She was washing up dishes, staring vacantly into my front garden. Then she saw me, and in her face I saw the impossibility of explaining anything. It was suddenly a territorial face, cross, tight-lipped. This was her house; the strange old man was back. She tore off her yellow gloves and disappeared. And I was off again, down my street for the third time that morning. I heard a man's voice behind me. I don't understand why I hunched my shoulders, why I cowered away. Though I had done nothing truly wrong in my life, committed no cardinal sins, never wilfully meant harm to anyone else, I felt as though an inscrutable justice were at work. 'Excuse me, mate?' the man called out. 'Excuse me?' Then,'0(7 Mate!' I just scuttled off, not looking back. And you see, still, still, I hurried away as though I were hurrying home, as though my old house were just around the next few comers. If you live in the same place for thirty-five years it becomes part of your body. I was like those amputees who swear they can still wriggle their fingers. Down the bottom end of my street again. I passed Ellen Wattling's laundry for the third time. Then left again onto Baxter Street. Then Lower Wyedale Road. Eveiything else was the same. It was the same orange towel on Ellen Wattling's line. It was the same minicab badly parked on Baxter Street. It was the same tatty Lower Wyedale Road. Only my house had changed. I realised I was still carrying the empty beer can, so I dropped it in a bin outside the dry cleaners, then remembered how I had reached for it on my gatepost. It now lay in a nest of greasy chip papers. I turned it to see the brand. Stella Artois. I walked on, more slowly than before. What had taken my house but spared the tin? If only tins could talk. It must have seen what happened while I was off getting the paper. You can compare miseries. Sometimes it helps. Though each has its

special taste, you can stand them side by side, judge this suffering from another. But I can't compare my Sunday to anything. I went for a coffee near the dry cleaners. When the waitress gave me my change, I summoned up a frantic sort of smile for her. As I drank, I watched the world outside go by as it always has. By the time I finished the coffee, it seemed that matters had somehow fallen back into place, that a correction had been made, and when I stepped out ofthe cafe I took a big breath and sensed that all would be well. Then I set off again, up Lower Wyedale Road, up Petrie Lane, and along my own street. And again, the redbrick house was there. This was how the day went. It was the pattern till nightfall. Another coffee or tea (each time in a different cafe), another walk, the same red-brick house. Hour after hour. It was indeed like losing your glasses. You can't believe they're not where you looked a minute ago. You look again and again. For the umpteenth time, you lift the same cushion. By six-thirty, it was dark. Car headlights guided lucky drivers from their work to their homes. Streetlamps came on. Buses stopped at bus stops. Sainsbury's glowed inside, and would be open till midnight. I knew that my house was gone. I sat on a bench in a park where I have often seen the homeless with their bottles in paper bags. The air was cold. I shrugged down into my coat and put my hands in my pockets. Cold feels different, picks more sharply at your skin, when it knows you have nowhere to run. I closed my eyes. It was too cold to sleep, but I tried. If I can sleep, I thought, even if it's only for a few seconds, I'll wake up to something else. I might open my eyes in my own bedroom and discover that this is the dream. The cold slithered around my ankles and clasped my shins. It felt down my collar for my back. I struggled to keep my eyes closed. The shivering began. I felt ashamed for having been seen walking down the same streets, drinking one coffee after another with no home to go to. People notice things like that. I had felt them watching. Each time I had confirmed that the red-brick house was still there, I felt like a trespasser on my own street. Everything about the woman, the children, the man's voice, smelt of ownership. They lived there. It was their home. And I had slunk by, unseen. Except for the little girl. She saw me. The seventh time I passed, she was sitting on the steps under the portico. The eighth time, the last, I had looked up, and she had looked down from a bedroom window, her head turned on one side with blank curiosity, as if I were a creature in a zoo whose name she should be able to recall. What possessed me to go to Ellen Wattling's? The cold drove me out ofthe park, but I could have gone somewhere else: to Ryan's, for example, or 44

43 iL.


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Hoffmeister

someone, anyone, my sister in Halifax, an old friend, anyone, a voice), that the shock of what had happened slapped into me like a huge wave. My God. I've got nowhere to go. If my mind led me in circles, so did my legs. They had, if you like, a mind of their own, for they had taken me down Baxter Street, along Lower Wyedale Road, Petrie Lane, and thus back onto Wyedale Road proper, my own street. My legs wanted me to take another look. So I did, passing the forties and thirties, holding my breath, praying that my old house would be waiting for me at number 19. I passed 29. Please, God, let it be so. I'm no believer, but please. 27, 25, and further on, 23 sticking out as it always does, hiding the rest from view. Past 23, and I didn't look up. I couldn't face it. 21. I recognised the base i of21's garden wall. And now my old gate. Number 19. I stopped. I looked up. And the new house was there, as solid, fulsome and real as the day around me. Oh, God, I thought. You are unkind. Through a window to the left of that horrible portico I saw the woman who had spoken to me earlier. She was washing up dishes, staring vacantly into my front garden. Then she saw me, and in her face I saw the impossibility of explaining anything. It was suddenly a territorial face, cross, tight-lipped. This was her house; the strange old man was back. She tore off her yellow gloves and disappeared. And I was off again, down my street for the third time that morning. I heard a man's voice behind me. I don't understand why I hunched my shoulders, why I cowered away. Though I had done nothing truly wrong in my life, committed no cardinal sins, never wilfully meant harm to anyone else, I felt as though an inscrutable justice were at work. 'Excuse me, mate?' the man called out. 'Excuse me?' Then,'0(7 Mate!' I just scuttled off, not looking back. And you see, still, still, I hurried away as though I were hurrying home, as though my old house were just around the next few comers. If you live in the same place for thirty-five years it becomes part of your body. I was like those amputees who swear they can still wriggle their fingers. Down the bottom end of my street again. I passed Ellen Wattling's laundry for the third time. Then left again onto Baxter Street. Then Lower Wyedale Road. Eveiything else was the same. It was the same orange towel on Ellen Wattling's line. It was the same minicab badly parked on Baxter Street. It was the same tatty Lower Wyedale Road. Only my house had changed. I realised I was still carrying the empty beer can, so I dropped it in a bin outside the dry cleaners, then remembered how I had reached for it on my gatepost. It now lay in a nest of greasy chip papers. I turned it to see the brand. Stella Artois. I walked on, more slowly than before. What had taken my house but spared the tin? If only tins could talk. It must have seen what happened while I was off getting the paper. You can compare miseries. Sometimes it helps. Though each has its

special taste, you can stand them side by side, judge this suffering from another. But I can't compare my Sunday to anything. I went for a coffee near the dry cleaners. When the waitress gave me my change, I summoned up a frantic sort of smile for her. As I drank, I watched the world outside go by as it always has. By the time I finished the coffee, it seemed that matters had somehow fallen back into place, that a correction had been made, and when I stepped out ofthe cafe I took a big breath and sensed that all would be well. Then I set off again, up Lower Wyedale Road, up Petrie Lane, and along my own street. And again, the redbrick house was there. This was how the day went. It was the pattern till nightfall. Another coffee or tea (each time in a different cafe), another walk, the same red-brick house. Hour after hour. It was indeed like losing your glasses. You can't believe they're not where you looked a minute ago. You look again and again. For the umpteenth time, you lift the same cushion. By six-thirty, it was dark. Car headlights guided lucky drivers from their work to their homes. Streetlamps came on. Buses stopped at bus stops. Sainsbury's glowed inside, and would be open till midnight. I knew that my house was gone. I sat on a bench in a park where I have often seen the homeless with their bottles in paper bags. The air was cold. I shrugged down into my coat and put my hands in my pockets. Cold feels different, picks more sharply at your skin, when it knows you have nowhere to run. I closed my eyes. It was too cold to sleep, but I tried. If I can sleep, I thought, even if it's only for a few seconds, I'll wake up to something else. I might open my eyes in my own bedroom and discover that this is the dream. The cold slithered around my ankles and clasped my shins. It felt down my collar for my back. I struggled to keep my eyes closed. The shivering began. I felt ashamed for having been seen walking down the same streets, drinking one coffee after another with no home to go to. People notice things like that. I had felt them watching. Each time I had confirmed that the red-brick house was still there, I felt like a trespasser on my own street. Everything about the woman, the children, the man's voice, smelt of ownership. They lived there. It was their home. And I had slunk by, unseen. Except for the little girl. She saw me. The seventh time I passed, she was sitting on the steps under the portico. The eighth time, the last, I had looked up, and she had looked down from a bedroom window, her head turned on one side with blank curiosity, as if I were a creature in a zoo whose name she should be able to recall. What possessed me to go to Ellen Wattling's? The cold drove me out ofthe park, but I could have gone somewhere else: to Ryan's, for example, or 44

43 iL.


Berkeley Fiction

Review

the Owens', or even Maxy Davidson's. It was the least suitable, least likely place for me to fetch up. Yet it felt inevitable. Maybe I was telling myself how low I had come, how bad things must now be to cross to Jenny's old enemy. I walked up her short garden path, past the bare washing line, and, after a good minute and a hairs hesitation, knocked on her door with my faithless hand. As I waited, it seemed that since morning I had spun like a ball in a funnel, round and round, and that gravity had at last worked me into the spout. The set of her mouth, the pause before she spoke, showed that she was as surprised as I was, but she was civil nonetheless. All that trouble with her and Jenny, all those short nods and not talking since then, and here I was on her doorstep. After the pause we each said hello, then I said her garden looked nice, and she said she'd passed mine and seen how well my roses were coming along. I thanked her, and added that she had always had greener fingers than I, my words sounding odd, twisted by the identity of their addressee. She was polite enough not to ask what had brought me to her door after such a long time. Inanely, I said, 'I see you've brought your laundry in.' She replied that it was an unusually cold evening, and it was only when she said this, folding her arms to fend off the chill, that I started crying. So I ended up in Ellen Wattling's living room, with a cup of tea in my hand, a plate of biscuits on the coffee table between us, and her sitting bolt upright on the edge of her sofa, watching me. Eventually, I mastered myself enough to say, 'It's too terrible for words. You wouldn't believe.' 'Tell me.' 'I don't believe it myself* 'Jack,'she said. 'You're safe here.' When she said that, I saw Jenny, shaking her head, her mouth pinched in hatred for the woman whose teacup I now held in my hand. T don't know,' I said. 'Ellen. Maybe I shouldn't be here.* She waved her hand as though brushing crumbs off the table. "That's in the past. Jack, you knocked on my door. Please tell me what it is.' I felt very confused. She looked at me with such earnest, worried eyes. When she saw it, she said, *Oh my.' T know,' I said. She looked and looked at the red-brick house, by night a rniniature palace with its chandelier twinkling through the semicircle above the door, its spotlights in the lawn washing the front into pink and shadow. 'My oh my.' I felt such relief at her astonishment. It banished the park's chill with a last shiver. 'I simply don't understand.' 45

Hoffmeister 'You can imagine how I felt.' She looked at me. 'Is it real?' "The people seemed real enough.' She looked again at the house. She couldn't get over it. 'What am I going to do?' 'Well...* She chewed her lip. 'We're going to do something.* 'Oh, Ellen,' I said. 'I felt so alone.' She suggested that we return to her house to decide what to do. Ten minutes later we were drinking Ovaltine in her living room, with the biscuits between us on the coffee table. I ate four of them, one after another. 'When did you last eat?' I thought as I chewed,vthen said, 'Today?* 'Yes.* I stuffed another biscuit into my mouth and through it said, 'I haven't.' She dashed into the kitchen. Saucepans clattered, cupboards banged. Very soon I heard a sizzle. The smell of bacon reached me and my stomach growled. She shouted from the kitchen,'It's a disgrace!' I nodded, though she was out of view. 'It's disgraceful! They can't go around treating people like that.' I had to listen hard because she had just flipped the bacon over. 'Don't you worry, Jack. We'll find out what's going on.* 'Now,' she said, when at last she put the plate of bacon, egg, tomato and beans before me. 'We have to think.' She sat facing me at the dining-room table. 'We've got to work it out.' She stared up as I ate, her chin in the palm of her hand, the tip of her little finger in her mouth, her eyes moving from one patch of ceiling to another as thoughts came to her. 'And you didn't see any builders?' I stopped chewing. 'When you left for the shop. You didn't see any big lorries, or men in hard hats, that sort of thing?' I chewed a bit more, swallowed, then said, 'You mean, waiting around?' 'Yes.' I had the good sense to look thoughtful about this myself, and said, 'No. 'Fraid not.' I stuffed my face with a hunk ofthe unbuttered white bread. 'It's a real mystery, isn't i t ' I nodded. 'We have to think.' She frowned at the salt cellar. 'We have to really, really think.' We had to think, but as soon as I finished my meal and soaked up the last globules of fat with bread, my eyes wouldn't stay open. Down I went, the tiredness from a whole day of pavements like the soft mudding of a cricket bat 46-


Berkeley Fiction

Review

the Owens', or even Maxy Davidson's. It was the least suitable, least likely place for me to fetch up. Yet it felt inevitable. Maybe I was telling myself how low I had come, how bad things must now be to cross to Jenny's old enemy. I walked up her short garden path, past the bare washing line, and, after a good minute and a hairs hesitation, knocked on her door with my faithless hand. As I waited, it seemed that since morning I had spun like a ball in a funnel, round and round, and that gravity had at last worked me into the spout. The set of her mouth, the pause before she spoke, showed that she was as surprised as I was, but she was civil nonetheless. All that trouble with her and Jenny, all those short nods and not talking since then, and here I was on her doorstep. After the pause we each said hello, then I said her garden looked nice, and she said she'd passed mine and seen how well my roses were coming along. I thanked her, and added that she had always had greener fingers than I, my words sounding odd, twisted by the identity of their addressee. She was polite enough not to ask what had brought me to her door after such a long time. Inanely, I said, 'I see you've brought your laundry in.' She replied that it was an unusually cold evening, and it was only when she said this, folding her arms to fend off the chill, that I started crying. So I ended up in Ellen Wattling's living room, with a cup of tea in my hand, a plate of biscuits on the coffee table between us, and her sitting bolt upright on the edge of her sofa, watching me. Eventually, I mastered myself enough to say, 'It's too terrible for words. You wouldn't believe.' 'Tell me.' 'I don't believe it myself* 'Jack,'she said. 'You're safe here.' When she said that, I saw Jenny, shaking her head, her mouth pinched in hatred for the woman whose teacup I now held in my hand. T don't know,' I said. 'Ellen. Maybe I shouldn't be here.* She waved her hand as though brushing crumbs off the table. "That's in the past. Jack, you knocked on my door. Please tell me what it is.' I felt very confused. She looked at me with such earnest, worried eyes. When she saw it, she said, *Oh my.' T know,' I said. She looked and looked at the red-brick house, by night a rniniature palace with its chandelier twinkling through the semicircle above the door, its spotlights in the lawn washing the front into pink and shadow. 'My oh my.' I felt such relief at her astonishment. It banished the park's chill with a last shiver. 'I simply don't understand.' 45

Hoffmeister 'You can imagine how I felt.' She looked at me. 'Is it real?' "The people seemed real enough.' She looked again at the house. She couldn't get over it. 'What am I going to do?' 'Well...* She chewed her lip. 'We're going to do something.* 'Oh, Ellen,' I said. 'I felt so alone.' She suggested that we return to her house to decide what to do. Ten minutes later we were drinking Ovaltine in her living room, with the biscuits between us on the coffee table. I ate four of them, one after another. 'When did you last eat?' I thought as I chewed,vthen said, 'Today?* 'Yes.* I stuffed another biscuit into my mouth and through it said, 'I haven't.' She dashed into the kitchen. Saucepans clattered, cupboards banged. Very soon I heard a sizzle. The smell of bacon reached me and my stomach growled. She shouted from the kitchen,'It's a disgrace!' I nodded, though she was out of view. 'It's disgraceful! They can't go around treating people like that.' I had to listen hard because she had just flipped the bacon over. 'Don't you worry, Jack. We'll find out what's going on.* 'Now,' she said, when at last she put the plate of bacon, egg, tomato and beans before me. 'We have to think.' She sat facing me at the dining-room table. 'We've got to work it out.' She stared up as I ate, her chin in the palm of her hand, the tip of her little finger in her mouth, her eyes moving from one patch of ceiling to another as thoughts came to her. 'And you didn't see any builders?' I stopped chewing. 'When you left for the shop. You didn't see any big lorries, or men in hard hats, that sort of thing?' I chewed a bit more, swallowed, then said, 'You mean, waiting around?' 'Yes.' I had the good sense to look thoughtful about this myself, and said, 'No. 'Fraid not.' I stuffed my face with a hunk ofthe unbuttered white bread. 'It's a real mystery, isn't i t ' I nodded. 'We have to think.' She frowned at the salt cellar. 'We have to really, really think.' We had to think, but as soon as I finished my meal and soaked up the last globules of fat with bread, my eyes wouldn't stay open. Down I went, the tiredness from a whole day of pavements like the soft mudding of a cricket bat 46-


Berkeley

Fiction

Hoffmeister

Review

on the crease.

'I hope you didn't mind me coming in to say that.' 'Not at all.' T felt it was important.' Ttis.' 'So that's that then.' I heard her move, and when she next spoke she was nearer the door. 'Well goodnight, Jack.' 'Goodnight, Ellen.' But she stayed there. I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. The sounds ofthe city at night came through the window like a soft fog. 'I get lonely, too, Jack.' Her voice was low, barely audible. 'Sometimes it's so difficult.' T can understand that,' I said. 'When Bill died . . . ' The words caught in her throat and the sentence died out. 'He was a good man, your Bill.' 1 Wasn't he. Oh, Jack, he was, wasn't he.' She came right up to the bed. She sounded desperate, as if she were straining to catch the echo of Bill's laughter. 'He was a lovely man. Don't you think?' 'Yes. Yes he was.' She put her hand on my shoulder. 'Please,' she said. 'Please, Jack.. . It's been so long. Forgive me.' She pulled up the edge of the sheet. 'Forgive me.' She slipped in beside me. We lay there without speaking. Then she pushed my shoulder and I turned on my side, facing away from her so that she could lie with her front against my back and her arm around my chest. 'We're doing nothing wrong,' she whispered. 'Nothing,' I replied. 'We can sleep like this. Sleep now. Just go to sleep.' A minute or so later she murmured, 'Promise you don't hate me.' 'Ofcourseldon't' 'Good. Then j u s t . . . Then j u s t . . . ' Her breathing deepened and slowed. She said 'just' once more. I closed my eyes. I opened them when her hand made a tiny, electrified jolt. She slept. I couldn't. I wanted to fold myself into my exhaustion, away from the world, if only for a night, but something was happening. I prayed that Ellen would not move her hand lower down. I had to think about something else. I thought about the horror I had been through since morning. I wondered, too, if it would be the same tomorrow. And I thought how appalled Jenny would be to see me now. But here is the truly strange part: it only made the problem worse. I can't explain it. What little I had was gone. Everything I held dear had been shattered. The fragments spun off into space, and here I was, feeling lecherous

'Come on, Jack.' I woke up. The plate was gone and the table had been wiped with a wet cloth. Ellen's hand was under my arm. 'I've got the front bedroom ready. Sleep now.' It's a tidy little bedroom. From the street, I must have seen through its window hundreds of times, but I'd never been inside. There was a dressing table, a pine cupboard, a wicker armchair, and a single bed, whose counterpane had been folded down a quarter to reveal fresh white sheets. 'Ellen. I'm so grateful.' She looked at me, then seemed to become embarrassed, her eyes darting away and over the room. 'I think you'll be comfortable, Jack. Do you need another pillow?' 'One's enough. Ellen: thank you.' 'Tomorrow we'll do something. But sleep now. We're not getting any younger, are we. You can't do anything without a good night's sleep.' I woke in the middle ofthe night. In a dream, a door had creaked, then the dream was over, my eyes were open, and I wondered if I had really heard it. I looked up at a ceiling I didn't know. The window was in the wrong place. The sheets were different. I lay still, searching for the reason. Then, as it came to me, I sensed that another person was in the room. 'Jack?' She was standing by my bed. 'Jack?' she whispered. 'Are you awake?' 'Ellen?' 'Jack.' 'Ellen.' I propped myself up on my elbow. 'Forgive me for mtruding.' 'Not at all.' 'I shouldn't have.* 'Ellen. It's your house.' And I no longer had one. It felt like lead running through my veins. 'Shhhh,' she went, softly, as though there were still someone alive in the next room. 'But I felt... if you were awake. I should say something.' I waited. 'I think we should go up there tomorrow. To number 19. We should go together and find out what's going on.' 'You're right.' 'Good. Then that's what we'll do. We've decided.' 'Yes.'

48

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Berkeley

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Hoffmeister

Review

on the crease.

'I hope you didn't mind me coming in to say that.' 'Not at all.' T felt it was important.' Ttis.' 'So that's that then.' I heard her move, and when she next spoke she was nearer the door. 'Well goodnight, Jack.' 'Goodnight, Ellen.' But she stayed there. I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. The sounds ofthe city at night came through the window like a soft fog. 'I get lonely, too, Jack.' Her voice was low, barely audible. 'Sometimes it's so difficult.' T can understand that,' I said. 'When Bill died . . . ' The words caught in her throat and the sentence died out. 'He was a good man, your Bill.' 1 Wasn't he. Oh, Jack, he was, wasn't he.' She came right up to the bed. She sounded desperate, as if she were straining to catch the echo of Bill's laughter. 'He was a lovely man. Don't you think?' 'Yes. Yes he was.' She put her hand on my shoulder. 'Please,' she said. 'Please, Jack.. . It's been so long. Forgive me.' She pulled up the edge of the sheet. 'Forgive me.' She slipped in beside me. We lay there without speaking. Then she pushed my shoulder and I turned on my side, facing away from her so that she could lie with her front against my back and her arm around my chest. 'We're doing nothing wrong,' she whispered. 'Nothing,' I replied. 'We can sleep like this. Sleep now. Just go to sleep.' A minute or so later she murmured, 'Promise you don't hate me.' 'Ofcourseldon't' 'Good. Then j u s t . . . Then j u s t . . . ' Her breathing deepened and slowed. She said 'just' once more. I closed my eyes. I opened them when her hand made a tiny, electrified jolt. She slept. I couldn't. I wanted to fold myself into my exhaustion, away from the world, if only for a night, but something was happening. I prayed that Ellen would not move her hand lower down. I had to think about something else. I thought about the horror I had been through since morning. I wondered, too, if it would be the same tomorrow. And I thought how appalled Jenny would be to see me now. But here is the truly strange part: it only made the problem worse. I can't explain it. What little I had was gone. Everything I held dear had been shattered. The fragments spun off into space, and here I was, feeling lecherous

'Come on, Jack.' I woke up. The plate was gone and the table had been wiped with a wet cloth. Ellen's hand was under my arm. 'I've got the front bedroom ready. Sleep now.' It's a tidy little bedroom. From the street, I must have seen through its window hundreds of times, but I'd never been inside. There was a dressing table, a pine cupboard, a wicker armchair, and a single bed, whose counterpane had been folded down a quarter to reveal fresh white sheets. 'Ellen. I'm so grateful.' She looked at me, then seemed to become embarrassed, her eyes darting away and over the room. 'I think you'll be comfortable, Jack. Do you need another pillow?' 'One's enough. Ellen: thank you.' 'Tomorrow we'll do something. But sleep now. We're not getting any younger, are we. You can't do anything without a good night's sleep.' I woke in the middle ofthe night. In a dream, a door had creaked, then the dream was over, my eyes were open, and I wondered if I had really heard it. I looked up at a ceiling I didn't know. The window was in the wrong place. The sheets were different. I lay still, searching for the reason. Then, as it came to me, I sensed that another person was in the room. 'Jack?' She was standing by my bed. 'Jack?' she whispered. 'Are you awake?' 'Ellen?' 'Jack.' 'Ellen.' I propped myself up on my elbow. 'Forgive me for mtruding.' 'Not at all.' 'I shouldn't have.* 'Ellen. It's your house.' And I no longer had one. It felt like lead running through my veins. 'Shhhh,' she went, softly, as though there were still someone alive in the next room. 'But I felt... if you were awake. I should say something.' I waited. 'I think we should go up there tomorrow. To number 19. We should go together and find out what's going on.' 'You're right.' 'Good. Then that's what we'll do. We've decided.' 'Yes.'

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Berkeley

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Review

for the first time in years.

Hoffmeister

I woke at dawn. Maybe a car had beeped on the street. Maybe Ellen had moved; her arm was still around my chest. I fell asleep again, but before I did, I saw a face in the fern-patterned wallpaper and it made me think about the little girl in the red-brick house, and how she had watched me from the upstairs window.

prefer me to be ill somewhere else. I put my hand on one ofthe portico pillars to stop the ground moving. Ellen's hand was around my back. I whispered hoarsely. 'Ellen. This is it. This is the end.' 'Is he all right?* Ellen said, 'Would it be possible for Mr Hoffmeister to sit down?' 'A glass of water,' I croaked.

We walked up to number 19 after breakfast. I was wearing one of Bill's old jackets. Before we left her place, Ellen had held both my hands and looked me up and down. 'Very smart,' she had said, then tucked the front of my shirt more neatly into my trousers. I pressed the doorbell, producing two deep tones inside the house. As we waited, Ellen straightened the back of my collar. The woman opened the door, recognised me, and her face became sullen, blotchy-cheeked. 'We're very sorry to bother you,' Ellen said. 'But we were wondering if it's possible to have a word?' The little girl was sitting on the stairs, watching us. I said, 'You see, what it is, Mrs . . . ? ' 'Burton,' she said, after a pause. 'Mrs Burton. What it is, is . . . ' It was difficult, even though Ellen and I had planned what we were going to say. Ellen said: "This is Mr Hoffmeister. This must sound a bit funny, Mrs Burton, but I think you saw him yesterday?* I glanced briefly at the girl on the stairs then said to her mother, T must apologise if I gave you the wrong impression.' 'What we were wondering, Mrs Burton, is if it's at all possible to have a look inside your house. Just a short one.' Mrs Burton's hand rose to her throat as though to protect it. 'You see, Mr Hoffmeister used to live here.' 'When? When was this?' Mrs Burton asked, her head twitching left, right, left like a bird's as she looked at Ellen and me. Ellen was quick. 'Well, it's for sentimental reasons, really.' She wrinkled her nose and smiled, as if the three of us were in on some conspiracy. 'You know how attached you get to a place.' This appeared not to do the trick. Mrs Burton kept her hand over her throat and stared at us, so Ellen said, 'You can trust us, Mrs Burton. I live at number 7. Ellen Wattling? You must have seen me passing now and then.' 'Mrs Burton,' I said. 'May I ask how long you've lived here?' 'Eight years this June.' The words went straight to my legs. I wobbled. 'Is he all right?' Mrs Burton asked, in a tone meaning that she would

That's how we ended up in the kitchen, and neither it, nor the hall through which we had passed, nor the stairs I had glimpsed up (to a half-landing lighted by a stained-glass window of red fishes in a stylised sea) bore the slightest resemblance to what had once stood on this ground. Ellen and Mrs Burton watched me as J sipped the water. The sweat on my forehead was sickly and cold. The girl stood in the kitchen doorway. Mrs Burton said: 'You go upstairs now. Go and play.' But the girl lingered, watching me. 'Rebecca, it's rude to stare.' 'What's wrong with the man?' 'Rebecca.' 'Is he sick?' Ellen put her hand on mine. 'No, love. He's just had a bit of a turn, that's all. He'll be fine in a minute.' 'Yes,* I said to Mrs Burton. 'I will. I'm fine. I'm sorry about all this.* I looked at Rebecca, who smiled at me (a touch ironically, for such a little girl) then left. We listened to her footsteps in the hall. 'You wanted to see the house,' Mrs Burton said. I looked at the stretch of kitchen behind her, the row of walnut doors, the double sink, the crayon drawings stuck to the fridge with magnets. I knew that the rest ofthe house would reveal nothing but this obliteration of my old world. 'No,'I said. 'But thank you, all the same.' 'Jack.' Ellen squeezed my hand, as though trying to wake me up. 'It's why we came.' 'But it isn't my old house, is it.' Ellen turned to Mrs Burton. 'And that's correct then, is it? You've lived here, in this house, in this very house, for eight years?' Mrs Burton nodded, still confused, but now cross as well. 'I don't know what I wanted. It sounds stupid, but somehow I thought my house might be, I don't know . . . inside this one.' Mrs Burton's face was a real picture. 'Yesterday morning, I left for the Sunday papers. I left this house.

49

50


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

for the first time in years.

Hoffmeister

I woke at dawn. Maybe a car had beeped on the street. Maybe Ellen had moved; her arm was still around my chest. I fell asleep again, but before I did, I saw a face in the fern-patterned wallpaper and it made me think about the little girl in the red-brick house, and how she had watched me from the upstairs window.

prefer me to be ill somewhere else. I put my hand on one ofthe portico pillars to stop the ground moving. Ellen's hand was around my back. I whispered hoarsely. 'Ellen. This is it. This is the end.' 'Is he all right?* Ellen said, 'Would it be possible for Mr Hoffmeister to sit down?' 'A glass of water,' I croaked.

We walked up to number 19 after breakfast. I was wearing one of Bill's old jackets. Before we left her place, Ellen had held both my hands and looked me up and down. 'Very smart,' she had said, then tucked the front of my shirt more neatly into my trousers. I pressed the doorbell, producing two deep tones inside the house. As we waited, Ellen straightened the back of my collar. The woman opened the door, recognised me, and her face became sullen, blotchy-cheeked. 'We're very sorry to bother you,' Ellen said. 'But we were wondering if it's possible to have a word?' The little girl was sitting on the stairs, watching us. I said, 'You see, what it is, Mrs . . . ? ' 'Burton,' she said, after a pause. 'Mrs Burton. What it is, is . . . ' It was difficult, even though Ellen and I had planned what we were going to say. Ellen said: "This is Mr Hoffmeister. This must sound a bit funny, Mrs Burton, but I think you saw him yesterday?* I glanced briefly at the girl on the stairs then said to her mother, T must apologise if I gave you the wrong impression.' 'What we were wondering, Mrs Burton, is if it's at all possible to have a look inside your house. Just a short one.' Mrs Burton's hand rose to her throat as though to protect it. 'You see, Mr Hoffmeister used to live here.' 'When? When was this?' Mrs Burton asked, her head twitching left, right, left like a bird's as she looked at Ellen and me. Ellen was quick. 'Well, it's for sentimental reasons, really.' She wrinkled her nose and smiled, as if the three of us were in on some conspiracy. 'You know how attached you get to a place.' This appeared not to do the trick. Mrs Burton kept her hand over her throat and stared at us, so Ellen said, 'You can trust us, Mrs Burton. I live at number 7. Ellen Wattling? You must have seen me passing now and then.' 'Mrs Burton,' I said. 'May I ask how long you've lived here?' 'Eight years this June.' The words went straight to my legs. I wobbled. 'Is he all right?' Mrs Burton asked, in a tone meaning that she would

That's how we ended up in the kitchen, and neither it, nor the hall through which we had passed, nor the stairs I had glimpsed up (to a half-landing lighted by a stained-glass window of red fishes in a stylised sea) bore the slightest resemblance to what had once stood on this ground. Ellen and Mrs Burton watched me as J sipped the water. The sweat on my forehead was sickly and cold. The girl stood in the kitchen doorway. Mrs Burton said: 'You go upstairs now. Go and play.' But the girl lingered, watching me. 'Rebecca, it's rude to stare.' 'What's wrong with the man?' 'Rebecca.' 'Is he sick?' Ellen put her hand on mine. 'No, love. He's just had a bit of a turn, that's all. He'll be fine in a minute.' 'Yes,* I said to Mrs Burton. 'I will. I'm fine. I'm sorry about all this.* I looked at Rebecca, who smiled at me (a touch ironically, for such a little girl) then left. We listened to her footsteps in the hall. 'You wanted to see the house,' Mrs Burton said. I looked at the stretch of kitchen behind her, the row of walnut doors, the double sink, the crayon drawings stuck to the fridge with magnets. I knew that the rest ofthe house would reveal nothing but this obliteration of my old world. 'No,'I said. 'But thank you, all the same.' 'Jack.' Ellen squeezed my hand, as though trying to wake me up. 'It's why we came.' 'But it isn't my old house, is it.' Ellen turned to Mrs Burton. 'And that's correct then, is it? You've lived here, in this house, in this very house, for eight years?' Mrs Burton nodded, still confused, but now cross as well. 'I don't know what I wanted. It sounds stupid, but somehow I thought my house might be, I don't know . . . inside this one.' Mrs Burton's face was a real picture. 'Yesterday morning, I left for the Sunday papers. I left this house.

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Review

What I mean to say is that I left my house, a three-up, four-down semi-detached. The real number 19. And when I got b a c k . . . ' I made a sweep with my arm. 'This was here.' She quickly stood up. 'You're mad.' 'No, Mrs Burton, I'm not. But you're a liar. And I want to know what's going on.' In my ear, Ellen said, 'Jack, this isn't helping.' 'We built this house eight years ago. This is our house.' 'Liar.'l hissed, even though I knew she was telling the truth. I don't know how I knew. It was a terrible feeling. 'I want you to leave.' 'Not untill you start telling the truth.' 'I'm calling my husband.' 'Good,' I said, barking it like a dog, adding, as she stomped out of her own kitchen, 'And you can tell him what a fucking monstrosity his house his. I mean, Jesus. Look at it.' By now she had already picked up the phone in the hall, so I said to Ellen, 'I mean Jesus, Ellen, look at it.' But Ellen was quiet, drawn, wide-eyed. 'Sorry,'I said. 'That didn't go very well, did i t ' 'We'd better leave, Jack.' In the hall, we saw Mrs Burton waiting for her husband to answer. Ellen said to me, 'Why don't I try to have a word?' 'Have a word? About what? I'm done for. There are no words.' 'My husband,' Mrs Burton said into the telephone, then, 'I don't care where he is. Just get him.' 'If I can get on the right side of her...'Ellen said. 'Please, Jack. Just wait outside. For a moment, please?' I waited on the other side of my old garden gate, scuffing at the pavement with my shoes. Then I heard a voice, but I didn't catch the words. I turned around: the little girl, Rebecca, was standing under the portico. 'What?' She said it again, but I still couldn't hear her properly. She came towards me, crossing the lawn. 'I said: are - you - better now.' 'Ah,'I said. I turned my back on her and the house. 'No.' She didn't take the hint and leaned over the wall by my side, so we watched the road together. 'That's a pity.' 'Isn't it. Thank you for your commiserations.' She began to hum. I was going to say something else to get rid of her, but then I had an idea. 'Do you like living here?' 'I think so.' 51

Hoffmeister 'Do you prefer it to the last place?' That puzzled her. T mean the house you lived in before. Was it nicer than this one?' 'I've always lived here. Apart from right at first, right at the hospital.* I stared at her. 'Where I was born/she said, making a dunce's face at me. I faced the road again. 'Why are you ill?' I didn't answer. 'Is it serious?' I focused on a chipping near the kerb. 'Did you catch it?' I turned on her. 'No. I didn't catch it. I didn't catch a bloody thing. I lost something. Now why don-'t you piss off?She didn't bat an eyelid. Perhaps her father always talked to her like that. 'There's no need to be rude. I was only being very nice.' I glowered at her, but she went on: 'If you lost something, I could help you find it. I'm very good at that. When Mummy loses things, I always find them first.' 'Ok, little Miss know-it-all. So what did I lose?' She squinted at me, as though she could guess the answer from my appearance. I heard voices behind us. Ellen and Mrs Burton were now just inside the front door. As Ellen spoke to her she caught my eye and flashed me a tense smile that was meant to be reassuring. T know what you lost* Rebecca was pointing at me. 'Rebecca?' Mrs Burton called. 'I've got to go.' 'No, wait; I said. 'What have I lost?' T can see what it is. I can help you. But you've been rude, so I don't see why I should even bloody well bother.' 'Rebecca,' her mother called again. 'I'm sorry I was rude,' I said. 'No you're n o t ' 'Oh yes I am.' Mrs Burton began walking towards us. Rebecca whispered quickly. 'Why don't you come for a cup of tea?' 'What?' I found I was whispering too. 'When Mummy goes out She goes at four, to pick up Tim from school.' 'What are you saying?' Mrs Burton was almost upon us. Rebecca said, 'But I'm not supposed to touch the kettle,' and then her 52


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

What I mean to say is that I left my house, a three-up, four-down semi-detached. The real number 19. And when I got b a c k . . . ' I made a sweep with my arm. 'This was here.' She quickly stood up. 'You're mad.' 'No, Mrs Burton, I'm not. But you're a liar. And I want to know what's going on.' In my ear, Ellen said, 'Jack, this isn't helping.' 'We built this house eight years ago. This is our house.' 'Liar.'l hissed, even though I knew she was telling the truth. I don't know how I knew. It was a terrible feeling. 'I want you to leave.' 'Not untill you start telling the truth.' 'I'm calling my husband.' 'Good,' I said, barking it like a dog, adding, as she stomped out of her own kitchen, 'And you can tell him what a fucking monstrosity his house his. I mean, Jesus. Look at it.' By now she had already picked up the phone in the hall, so I said to Ellen, 'I mean Jesus, Ellen, look at it.' But Ellen was quiet, drawn, wide-eyed. 'Sorry,'I said. 'That didn't go very well, did i t ' 'We'd better leave, Jack.' In the hall, we saw Mrs Burton waiting for her husband to answer. Ellen said to me, 'Why don't I try to have a word?' 'Have a word? About what? I'm done for. There are no words.' 'My husband,' Mrs Burton said into the telephone, then, 'I don't care where he is. Just get him.' 'If I can get on the right side of her...'Ellen said. 'Please, Jack. Just wait outside. For a moment, please?' I waited on the other side of my old garden gate, scuffing at the pavement with my shoes. Then I heard a voice, but I didn't catch the words. I turned around: the little girl, Rebecca, was standing under the portico. 'What?' She said it again, but I still couldn't hear her properly. She came towards me, crossing the lawn. 'I said: are - you - better now.' 'Ah,'I said. I turned my back on her and the house. 'No.' She didn't take the hint and leaned over the wall by my side, so we watched the road together. 'That's a pity.' 'Isn't it. Thank you for your commiserations.' She began to hum. I was going to say something else to get rid of her, but then I had an idea. 'Do you like living here?' 'I think so.' 51

Hoffmeister 'Do you prefer it to the last place?' That puzzled her. T mean the house you lived in before. Was it nicer than this one?' 'I've always lived here. Apart from right at first, right at the hospital.* I stared at her. 'Where I was born/she said, making a dunce's face at me. I faced the road again. 'Why are you ill?' I didn't answer. 'Is it serious?' I focused on a chipping near the kerb. 'Did you catch it?' I turned on her. 'No. I didn't catch it. I didn't catch a bloody thing. I lost something. Now why don-'t you piss off?She didn't bat an eyelid. Perhaps her father always talked to her like that. 'There's no need to be rude. I was only being very nice.' I glowered at her, but she went on: 'If you lost something, I could help you find it. I'm very good at that. When Mummy loses things, I always find them first.' 'Ok, little Miss know-it-all. So what did I lose?' She squinted at me, as though she could guess the answer from my appearance. I heard voices behind us. Ellen and Mrs Burton were now just inside the front door. As Ellen spoke to her she caught my eye and flashed me a tense smile that was meant to be reassuring. T know what you lost* Rebecca was pointing at me. 'Rebecca?' Mrs Burton called. 'I've got to go.' 'No, wait; I said. 'What have I lost?' T can see what it is. I can help you. But you've been rude, so I don't see why I should even bloody well bother.' 'Rebecca,' her mother called again. 'I'm sorry I was rude,' I said. 'No you're n o t ' 'Oh yes I am.' Mrs Burton began walking towards us. Rebecca whispered quickly. 'Why don't you come for a cup of tea?' 'What?' I found I was whispering too. 'When Mummy goes out She goes at four, to pick up Tim from school.' 'What are you saying?' Mrs Burton was almost upon us. Rebecca said, 'But I'm not supposed to touch the kettle,' and then her 52


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Hoffmeister

mother scooped her up into her arms and walked away, past Ellen, to the front door. Rebecca looked at me over her mother's shoulder with a cheeky expression and sang, 'Bye-eeeeee.'

hump, pressed cold into my body from the ocean floor; then it passed, leaving me to shudder in its trough. I got a tissue out of my pocket; Ellen blew her nose. I said, 'Don't tell me why, but I think not being frightened is part ofthe answer.' I didn't tell her what Rebecca had said to me over my old garden wall. Nor did I say how her sing-song goodbye had affected me, how it had reminded me so much of Jenny that it made the hair rise on the back of my neck.

It's a useful word, strain. You use it about yourself; after you've done something wrong, not before. Or others will use it for you as they sweep up the broken crockery. With an enunciated whisper, mouthed as if for the deaf, they say, 'You'll have to forgive him, but he has been under a lot of strain lately.' Which is what Ellen had said to Mrs Burton. When she told me, I came to a stop -just beyond the gate of Number 11, whose lawn, garden path, plastic windmill and house were just the same today as yesterday and last year. 'So what's Mrs Burton going to think now?' 'Jack, I'm trying to help.' 'Me or her?' 'Jack, please.' ' "Jack," ' I said. 'Jack this, Jack that. Yackety-yak. She's going to think I'm mad, that's what. Why did you say it?' She didn't answer. The skin under her eyes was a taut papery white. I said, 'So now you think I'm mad too.' She looked away, at Number 11 's hydrangeas scratching against the garden wall in a light breeze. 'Tell me. I'd rather know, thank you very much.' 'No, I don't think you're mad.' 'And do you agree that my house was there yesterday, and today it's not?' 'I do,' she said, yet to say it seemed to bewilder her. 'But what? 7e//me.' 'You weren't with me. You weren't there. You didn't see how she put her hand on the banister when we talked. She knew the shape without looking. Her hand knew.' Now it was my turn to say nothing. 'I'm telling you why I said it, even if it was the wrong thing. I saw the hand, and I knew there was no getting through to her. There was no point. Because it's not her. It's something behind her. Something else. Someone. I...' She calmed herself with a deep breath, her hand flat on her stomach like an opera singer's. 'Because if you want to know the truth, I'm so frightened by all this I think I'm the one going mad.' 'Then we can be frightened together, can't we.' Her eyes filled up. I held her arm, though only for a moment, then spoke quietly. 'We can't afford to be frightened. Being frightened is part of i t ' Then I felt it myself, fear like an offshore swell. It lifted me in its silent green

Number 19. Five past four. I pressed the doorbell and heard the two chimes inside. I had told Ellen that I couldn't think properly without some fresh air. She wanted to come with me; I assured her that I'd be back within an hour. When I left, she watched me through her living room window, so I headed-down Wyedale Road, not up, taking the long route so she wouldn't know where I was going. It would have been easy to turn back. I could feel it pulling me, slowing me down, like a husky's traces. A widow, a widower. Another night in the same bed (and, for all /knew, many more). Arms that wanted to wrap around me, the warmth that I had not felt for so very long. Meals without the rut of flavours I have fallen into since Jenny's death. To turn back would have been the easiest thing in the world. But that is the point: in this world. I had lost my own. Now, under a sun too weak to break the thin cloud, in streets turned monochrome by the foxed daylight, now it seemed that had I turned the other way in the night, lain front to front with Ellen, I would have made a compact with that loss. I would have drowned for good. I rang the bell for the second time and put my ear to the door. Perhaps Mrs Burton had taken Rebecca with her to pick up her son. It would make sense with a strange old man hanging around. But then I heard a squeaky laugh. The lock was rumbled from the inside, the door opened. 'I was watching you,' Rebecca said. "Through the little window.' Behind her was the chair on which she had stood to see through a spyhole in the door. 'You were there all the time?' 'You looked really funny. Your nose was huge.' She spread out her arms, as though she were holding a vast balloon. 'It's big anyway. Don't you think?' I showed my profile. She became serious. 'Yes. It is, isn't it I'm sorry.' 'No need to be. You see, it's a magic nose. I can smell things from miles away.' 'No you can't' 'Oh yes I can. You've got an ordinary nose, which is a very good thing to have. But with this . . . ' I tapped my nose. 'I can tell if someone's buttering hot toast on the other side of town.' You can be smart when you're desperate, an 54

53 J L


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Hoffmeister

mother scooped her up into her arms and walked away, past Ellen, to the front door. Rebecca looked at me over her mother's shoulder with a cheeky expression and sang, 'Bye-eeeeee.'

hump, pressed cold into my body from the ocean floor; then it passed, leaving me to shudder in its trough. I got a tissue out of my pocket; Ellen blew her nose. I said, 'Don't tell me why, but I think not being frightened is part ofthe answer.' I didn't tell her what Rebecca had said to me over my old garden wall. Nor did I say how her sing-song goodbye had affected me, how it had reminded me so much of Jenny that it made the hair rise on the back of my neck.

It's a useful word, strain. You use it about yourself; after you've done something wrong, not before. Or others will use it for you as they sweep up the broken crockery. With an enunciated whisper, mouthed as if for the deaf, they say, 'You'll have to forgive him, but he has been under a lot of strain lately.' Which is what Ellen had said to Mrs Burton. When she told me, I came to a stop -just beyond the gate of Number 11, whose lawn, garden path, plastic windmill and house were just the same today as yesterday and last year. 'So what's Mrs Burton going to think now?' 'Jack, I'm trying to help.' 'Me or her?' 'Jack, please.' ' "Jack," ' I said. 'Jack this, Jack that. Yackety-yak. She's going to think I'm mad, that's what. Why did you say it?' She didn't answer. The skin under her eyes was a taut papery white. I said, 'So now you think I'm mad too.' She looked away, at Number 11 's hydrangeas scratching against the garden wall in a light breeze. 'Tell me. I'd rather know, thank you very much.' 'No, I don't think you're mad.' 'And do you agree that my house was there yesterday, and today it's not?' 'I do,' she said, yet to say it seemed to bewilder her. 'But what? 7e//me.' 'You weren't with me. You weren't there. You didn't see how she put her hand on the banister when we talked. She knew the shape without looking. Her hand knew.' Now it was my turn to say nothing. 'I'm telling you why I said it, even if it was the wrong thing. I saw the hand, and I knew there was no getting through to her. There was no point. Because it's not her. It's something behind her. Something else. Someone. I...' She calmed herself with a deep breath, her hand flat on her stomach like an opera singer's. 'Because if you want to know the truth, I'm so frightened by all this I think I'm the one going mad.' 'Then we can be frightened together, can't we.' Her eyes filled up. I held her arm, though only for a moment, then spoke quietly. 'We can't afford to be frightened. Being frightened is part of i t ' Then I felt it myself, fear like an offshore swell. It lifted me in its silent green

Number 19. Five past four. I pressed the doorbell and heard the two chimes inside. I had told Ellen that I couldn't think properly without some fresh air. She wanted to come with me; I assured her that I'd be back within an hour. When I left, she watched me through her living room window, so I headed-down Wyedale Road, not up, taking the long route so she wouldn't know where I was going. It would have been easy to turn back. I could feel it pulling me, slowing me down, like a husky's traces. A widow, a widower. Another night in the same bed (and, for all /knew, many more). Arms that wanted to wrap around me, the warmth that I had not felt for so very long. Meals without the rut of flavours I have fallen into since Jenny's death. To turn back would have been the easiest thing in the world. But that is the point: in this world. I had lost my own. Now, under a sun too weak to break the thin cloud, in streets turned monochrome by the foxed daylight, now it seemed that had I turned the other way in the night, lain front to front with Ellen, I would have made a compact with that loss. I would have drowned for good. I rang the bell for the second time and put my ear to the door. Perhaps Mrs Burton had taken Rebecca with her to pick up her son. It would make sense with a strange old man hanging around. But then I heard a squeaky laugh. The lock was rumbled from the inside, the door opened. 'I was watching you,' Rebecca said. "Through the little window.' Behind her was the chair on which she had stood to see through a spyhole in the door. 'You were there all the time?' 'You looked really funny. Your nose was huge.' She spread out her arms, as though she were holding a vast balloon. 'It's big anyway. Don't you think?' I showed my profile. She became serious. 'Yes. It is, isn't it I'm sorry.' 'No need to be. You see, it's a magic nose. I can smell things from miles away.' 'No you can't' 'Oh yes I can. You've got an ordinary nose, which is a very good thing to have. But with this . . . ' I tapped my nose. 'I can tell if someone's buttering hot toast on the other side of town.' You can be smart when you're desperate, an 54

53 J L


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

animal pulling all the right strings of your self. Her face was now moody and suspicious, like her mother's. 'Truly,' I said. She narrowed her eyes. 'Rebecca. Do you remember what you said to me over the garden wall?' She nodded. 'You said you knew what I'd lost.. .Do you?' She nodded again. Her thumb went to her mouth, which reminded me that I was dealing with a little girl. 'And do you want to tell me what it is?' She rocked from side to side, then took her thumb from her mouth. 'Your house.' It was like a punch in the stomach. I crouched down, out of breath. My face was level with hers. 'Your Mummy told you. Didn't she.' She shook her head. 'I don't believe you. After I left, she told you, didn't she. Didn 't she.' She was scared. I found that I was holding her by the shoulders. 'It's the truth,'she said. 'I don't tell lies. Ever.' I stood up. T believe you, Rebecca. I'm very sorry. You s e e . . . You see yesterday, I thought my house was here, just where your house is now. It was quite a shock for an old man like me.' 'So your house has gone somewhere else?' 'Yes. Maybe that's what it is.' Mimicking her mother or her father, she nodded thoughtfully to herself. A car went down the road. I didn't have much time before Mrs Burton got back. 'I know your house used to be here. I can tell. There's a special room. Daddy's room.' It was foolish. I admit it. I should not have followed Rebecca up the stairs. We passed that stained glass window with the red fishes and came to a wide landing with wainscotted walls. To the left were two open doors, one of which revealed a child's mobile hanging from the ceiling. To the right, all the doors were closed. Though Rebecca led, I was trespassing, and perhaps that is why the landing had a disturbing smell, clean and private, the smell ofthe Burtons at home. The smell warned me, it told me to keep out. 'Daddy's room.' Rebecca pointed to the last door on the right It looked like the others, but as we approached it those smells grew stronger. She opened the door. It was a study. One wall was lined with shelves, which bore a miscellany of ring binders, box files, loose papers, novels and old biscuit tins. There was a desk and a computer. There was a swivel chair, a waste paper bin, and a large steel cupboard. A complicated business-type calen55

Hoffmeister dar hung from the cupboard's side, facing the desk. 'How can you tell my house used to be here?' 'You have to find out. You're supposed to look harder.' I looked at the ceiling, the walls, the windowsill, the shape ofthe room itself. There was nothing to remind me of my old home. As I looked at the east wall she said, 'Cold!' So I looked at the west wall, and she said 'Hotter!' But when I approached the wall, she said, 'Colder!,' then broke into giggles. I looked at her sternly - very sternly, fighting back tears. She stopped giggling. I said, 'Would you like to tell me why this is a special room?* 'Because it's haunted.' 'And what makes you think that?' 'Because ofthe noises.' 'Noises your daddy makes?' 'No. When he's out, silly. And Mummy's gone to pick up Tim.' 'What sort of noises?' She made a long face and raised her arms as though they were floating. 'Whooooooo,' she went. A child's impression of a ghost. 'Rebecca. Are you playing games with me?' She dropped her arms to her side. 'Because if you are, it's a very cruel game.' "That's what I heard.' 'A scary noise like that?' 'Yes.' 'So how come you're not scared now?' She thought for a moment. 'Because I'm here with you.' 'Very clever,' I said. I tried to contain my anger, but it was difficult. 'How do you know I'm not a ghost?' She took a step back. 'I could be, couldn't I. How would you know? For all you know, I'm already dead.' Another step back. 'Whoooooo,' I went. I raised my arms as she had. She took another step back, which was a far as she could go. A book fell from the shelf to the floor. "That'll teach you,' I said. 'That'll teach you to play childish games with me.' I kept my arms in the air. Her eyes were now so wide you could see them as orbs in a skull. I lowered my arms. 'But I'm no ghost. I'm nothing ofthe sort.' I smiled weakly. 'I'm an ordinary person, just like you.' She stayed as she was, her back against the shelves, her eyes popping out of their sockets. 'Rebecca? Rebecca, I'm sorry.' She didn't move. 56


Berkeley

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Review

animal pulling all the right strings of your self. Her face was now moody and suspicious, like her mother's. 'Truly,' I said. She narrowed her eyes. 'Rebecca. Do you remember what you said to me over the garden wall?' She nodded. 'You said you knew what I'd lost.. .Do you?' She nodded again. Her thumb went to her mouth, which reminded me that I was dealing with a little girl. 'And do you want to tell me what it is?' She rocked from side to side, then took her thumb from her mouth. 'Your house.' It was like a punch in the stomach. I crouched down, out of breath. My face was level with hers. 'Your Mummy told you. Didn't she.' She shook her head. 'I don't believe you. After I left, she told you, didn't she. Didn 't she.' She was scared. I found that I was holding her by the shoulders. 'It's the truth,'she said. 'I don't tell lies. Ever.' I stood up. T believe you, Rebecca. I'm very sorry. You s e e . . . You see yesterday, I thought my house was here, just where your house is now. It was quite a shock for an old man like me.' 'So your house has gone somewhere else?' 'Yes. Maybe that's what it is.' Mimicking her mother or her father, she nodded thoughtfully to herself. A car went down the road. I didn't have much time before Mrs Burton got back. 'I know your house used to be here. I can tell. There's a special room. Daddy's room.' It was foolish. I admit it. I should not have followed Rebecca up the stairs. We passed that stained glass window with the red fishes and came to a wide landing with wainscotted walls. To the left were two open doors, one of which revealed a child's mobile hanging from the ceiling. To the right, all the doors were closed. Though Rebecca led, I was trespassing, and perhaps that is why the landing had a disturbing smell, clean and private, the smell ofthe Burtons at home. The smell warned me, it told me to keep out. 'Daddy's room.' Rebecca pointed to the last door on the right It looked like the others, but as we approached it those smells grew stronger. She opened the door. It was a study. One wall was lined with shelves, which bore a miscellany of ring binders, box files, loose papers, novels and old biscuit tins. There was a desk and a computer. There was a swivel chair, a waste paper bin, and a large steel cupboard. A complicated business-type calen55

Hoffmeister dar hung from the cupboard's side, facing the desk. 'How can you tell my house used to be here?' 'You have to find out. You're supposed to look harder.' I looked at the ceiling, the walls, the windowsill, the shape ofthe room itself. There was nothing to remind me of my old home. As I looked at the east wall she said, 'Cold!' So I looked at the west wall, and she said 'Hotter!' But when I approached the wall, she said, 'Colder!,' then broke into giggles. I looked at her sternly - very sternly, fighting back tears. She stopped giggling. I said, 'Would you like to tell me why this is a special room?* 'Because it's haunted.' 'And what makes you think that?' 'Because ofthe noises.' 'Noises your daddy makes?' 'No. When he's out, silly. And Mummy's gone to pick up Tim.' 'What sort of noises?' She made a long face and raised her arms as though they were floating. 'Whooooooo,' she went. A child's impression of a ghost. 'Rebecca. Are you playing games with me?' She dropped her arms to her side. 'Because if you are, it's a very cruel game.' "That's what I heard.' 'A scary noise like that?' 'Yes.' 'So how come you're not scared now?' She thought for a moment. 'Because I'm here with you.' 'Very clever,' I said. I tried to contain my anger, but it was difficult. 'How do you know I'm not a ghost?' She took a step back. 'I could be, couldn't I. How would you know? For all you know, I'm already dead.' Another step back. 'Whoooooo,' I went. I raised my arms as she had. She took another step back, which was a far as she could go. A book fell from the shelf to the floor. "That'll teach you,' I said. 'That'll teach you to play childish games with me.' I kept my arms in the air. Her eyes were now so wide you could see them as orbs in a skull. I lowered my arms. 'But I'm no ghost. I'm nothing ofthe sort.' I smiled weakly. 'I'm an ordinary person, just like you.' She stayed as she was, her back against the shelves, her eyes popping out of their sockets. 'Rebecca? Rebecca, I'm sorry.' She didn't move. 56


Berkeley

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Review

'If I were a ghost, could I do this?' I clapped my hands together. 'Would I be able to make a noise like that?' She didn't seem to hear me. Her face was white. 'Rebecca,'I said. 'Rebecca.' I walked towards her. I should have stayed where I was. Before I could put my hand on her shoulder to calm her, she collapsed, folding herself into a small heap on the floor. I stumbled to my knees. Her head lolled grotesquely on her thin neck as I sat her against the shelf. A cord of saliva ran from her mouth. I pushed her hair out of her eyes, tried to get that little head to stay upright. Rebecca, I said. Wake up, I said Wake up, wake up, over and over again, like a chant. Then the worst thing occurred to me, and the chant became a whimper. I laid her flat and listened for her heart, pressing my ear against her ribs. As I did so I prayed. All I could hear was myself, my own heart, my bronchial, fluted gasps. So I began to pump on her chest with both hands. This is the worst part: the more I pumped, the more lifeless she looked. Pump, wait, pump, wait. It was how they did it on television. Please, God, may I be doing this right. Then the kiss of life from my foul mouth: no breath back. Kiss again, holding her nose, pressing after on her stomach, and the air she breathed out, mine and her's mixed, wasn't human. I dug my thumb into her wrist: no pulse. I worked at her heart again, and with each thrust her lips retracted until her teeth were bared in a rictus. I saw dead creatures when I was a child. Squirrels that we sometimes managed to hit with our catapaults in the woods. A rabbit once, limp and hot in the long grass, stood over by a farmer and his smoking shotgun. And I saw Jenny in her cocoon of hospital curtain. I know how it looks.

Hoffmeister As I moved forward, Rebecca's foot touched the door and it swung closed. I had only seconds left to see the crayon drawing taped to its back. A house, through a child's eye. Four windows. Two window boxes. A porch to the side. The H-shaped chimney cowl. The pipe that struck a diagonal from the guttering to the ground. The tiles, the light outside the porch, the blue burglar alarm, everything. My house. Except that it was set not in a garden but a vast plain. And there was a man, a simplified figure of circle and line, standing on the roof. He was waving and smiling at me. It seemed that he was the captain ofthe house, and that the house was sailing away, towards the horizon through the endless sea of grass.

I was lying by her side when the front door opened; a rise in air pressure, then a soft thump as it closed. Urgent voices downstairs. A man called to Rebecca. Ellen called to me. They were looking for us. 'Rebecca?' 'Becky!' 'Jack?' I heard Mrs Burton and Ellen conferring. Mrs Burton sounded weepy. Ellen's voice was different now: authoritative, steely, and stripped (I could tell; even though I could not hear her words, I could tell) of any kindness for me, as if she already knew what had happened, and had judged me. I picked up Rebecca; something in my shoulder snapped. Footsteps pounded up the stairs. I got ready. I would hold out their daughter to them. It would surely be better to do that than let them find her on the floor. As if it made a difference. The footsteps were on the landing, then they hunted from room to room. 57

58


Berkeley

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Review

'If I were a ghost, could I do this?' I clapped my hands together. 'Would I be able to make a noise like that?' She didn't seem to hear me. Her face was white. 'Rebecca,'I said. 'Rebecca.' I walked towards her. I should have stayed where I was. Before I could put my hand on her shoulder to calm her, she collapsed, folding herself into a small heap on the floor. I stumbled to my knees. Her head lolled grotesquely on her thin neck as I sat her against the shelf. A cord of saliva ran from her mouth. I pushed her hair out of her eyes, tried to get that little head to stay upright. Rebecca, I said. Wake up, I said Wake up, wake up, over and over again, like a chant. Then the worst thing occurred to me, and the chant became a whimper. I laid her flat and listened for her heart, pressing my ear against her ribs. As I did so I prayed. All I could hear was myself, my own heart, my bronchial, fluted gasps. So I began to pump on her chest with both hands. This is the worst part: the more I pumped, the more lifeless she looked. Pump, wait, pump, wait. It was how they did it on television. Please, God, may I be doing this right. Then the kiss of life from my foul mouth: no breath back. Kiss again, holding her nose, pressing after on her stomach, and the air she breathed out, mine and her's mixed, wasn't human. I dug my thumb into her wrist: no pulse. I worked at her heart again, and with each thrust her lips retracted until her teeth were bared in a rictus. I saw dead creatures when I was a child. Squirrels that we sometimes managed to hit with our catapaults in the woods. A rabbit once, limp and hot in the long grass, stood over by a farmer and his smoking shotgun. And I saw Jenny in her cocoon of hospital curtain. I know how it looks.

Hoffmeister As I moved forward, Rebecca's foot touched the door and it swung closed. I had only seconds left to see the crayon drawing taped to its back. A house, through a child's eye. Four windows. Two window boxes. A porch to the side. The H-shaped chimney cowl. The pipe that struck a diagonal from the guttering to the ground. The tiles, the light outside the porch, the blue burglar alarm, everything. My house. Except that it was set not in a garden but a vast plain. And there was a man, a simplified figure of circle and line, standing on the roof. He was waving and smiling at me. It seemed that he was the captain ofthe house, and that the house was sailing away, towards the horizon through the endless sea of grass.

I was lying by her side when the front door opened; a rise in air pressure, then a soft thump as it closed. Urgent voices downstairs. A man called to Rebecca. Ellen called to me. They were looking for us. 'Rebecca?' 'Becky!' 'Jack?' I heard Mrs Burton and Ellen conferring. Mrs Burton sounded weepy. Ellen's voice was different now: authoritative, steely, and stripped (I could tell; even though I could not hear her words, I could tell) of any kindness for me, as if she already knew what had happened, and had judged me. I picked up Rebecca; something in my shoulder snapped. Footsteps pounded up the stairs. I got ready. I would hold out their daughter to them. It would surely be better to do that than let them find her on the floor. As if it made a difference. The footsteps were on the landing, then they hunted from room to room. 57

58


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verybody's seen it, the commercial where the old man is running along the moonlit beach with the beautiful pink-haired starlet clad in I the silver thong; the one that says it's never too late to start over. This guy's bounding along like a fucking gazelle, his feet barely touching the sand, a bulge the size of a sledge hammer knocking around inside his plaid swimsuit; and then this young girl, she can barely keep up he's moving so fast. It's bullshit, another lie they tease you with, hoping you'll fall for the special effects; dial the toll-free number with a credit card clenched between your false teeth. And it's like all those other artsy commercials nowadays, where they don't actually tell you what they're selling. I mean, they might have a little drama going on about an elephant and a sunflower, but then someone figures out that's it's just an ad for sanitary napkins, that sort of thing. But still, they suck you in, this new way they tell a story. The bastards prey on your regrets, divine all your little sorrows. Take me for example, Big Bobby Givens. I'm fifty-six-years old and sloppy fat and stuck in South Ohio like the smile on a dead clown's ass. My wife shudders every time I mention the sex act My grown son eats the dead stuff that collects on windowsills. I must watch that damn commercial twenty times a day. I dream about it at night, about starting over. I wake up with that background music knocking holes in my heart. Like I said, it's bullshit. "What's those things where they burn your dead body," I ask my wife. We're inching forward in the drive-thru line at Fedder's Dairy Queen, sucking car fumes and listening to Jerry thrash around in the backseat like an ape caught in a net. It's been the worst summer on record, just one massive heat stroke. 59

Over

My new white shirt is already stained the color of pus; my shades are fogged over with greasy vapors. The sun is everywhere. "Crematorium?" she yawns. "No, not that, like over in Asia," I say, wiping the sweat from my forehead. I should have gone ahead and driven the air-conditioned Mercury today, left the Chevy covered up in the garage. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I watch Jerry struggle against the plastic webbing we use to hold him down. Blue veins thick as fingers bulge in his scarlet neck. The poor bastard never lets up: "Shit, how should I know?" Jill says. She begins fanning herself with a wrinkled map of Ohio she's dug out of the glove box. "That's it. That's what it feels like." * Lately, I've been fucking up left and right. The other night on my way home, I even tried to pick up some young girl. She was walking along Third Street and I drove past first, checking her out. I could see that she was junior high, but I whipped around the block anyway, then pulled over to the curb. "Hey, you need a ride?" I asked. As soon as the words spilled out, my teeth started chattering, even though the sign on the bank said it was 92 degrees. The girl looked up and down the street, then edged closer to the car. "Where you going?" she asked. Her voice sounded like tin foil. Pictures of butterflies covered her pink shirt. She had the body of a woman, but the face of a little kid. Cow hormones have the young people all fucked up. It was still daylight; I was nervous about being seen. "Oh, I don't know," I said. "I'm just ridin' around." I could smell my sweat, taste the bologna sandwiches I'd had for lunch. She leaned in the window, looking the car over inside. She wore one of those necklaces strung with candy hearts. They were melting against her throat. I tried to suck in my gut, but it still rubbed the steering wheel. "I got to be home in two hours," she said. "Sure," I said. "No problem." For one brief moment, it was like that commercial come true, I swear to God. I was already picturing the stuff we'd do. But then, just as she opened the door to slide in beside me, someone began yelling from across the street. I looked over and saw a tall, stocky woman with curlers in her hair standing on the porch of a big red brick. "Oh, shit," the girl said. She stepped away from the car just as the woman leaped off the porch and began running towards us. I blew through two red lights, and then made a fast right out of town. That's the reason I didn't drive the Merc today. I figure every cop in Ross County has a description of Jill's car stuck in his sun visor. This afternoon we've been out to the mother-in-law's for another one of her Sunday dinners—a raw pink chicken stuffed with bits of blue grass that I swear the old bag foraged from an Easter basket—and now my ulcers are 60


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verybody's seen it, the commercial where the old man is running along the moonlit beach with the beautiful pink-haired starlet clad in I the silver thong; the one that says it's never too late to start over. This guy's bounding along like a fucking gazelle, his feet barely touching the sand, a bulge the size of a sledge hammer knocking around inside his plaid swimsuit; and then this young girl, she can barely keep up he's moving so fast. It's bullshit, another lie they tease you with, hoping you'll fall for the special effects; dial the toll-free number with a credit card clenched between your false teeth. And it's like all those other artsy commercials nowadays, where they don't actually tell you what they're selling. I mean, they might have a little drama going on about an elephant and a sunflower, but then someone figures out that's it's just an ad for sanitary napkins, that sort of thing. But still, they suck you in, this new way they tell a story. The bastards prey on your regrets, divine all your little sorrows. Take me for example, Big Bobby Givens. I'm fifty-six-years old and sloppy fat and stuck in South Ohio like the smile on a dead clown's ass. My wife shudders every time I mention the sex act My grown son eats the dead stuff that collects on windowsills. I must watch that damn commercial twenty times a day. I dream about it at night, about starting over. I wake up with that background music knocking holes in my heart. Like I said, it's bullshit. "What's those things where they burn your dead body," I ask my wife. We're inching forward in the drive-thru line at Fedder's Dairy Queen, sucking car fumes and listening to Jerry thrash around in the backseat like an ape caught in a net. It's been the worst summer on record, just one massive heat stroke. 59

Over

My new white shirt is already stained the color of pus; my shades are fogged over with greasy vapors. The sun is everywhere. "Crematorium?" she yawns. "No, not that, like over in Asia," I say, wiping the sweat from my forehead. I should have gone ahead and driven the air-conditioned Mercury today, left the Chevy covered up in the garage. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I watch Jerry struggle against the plastic webbing we use to hold him down. Blue veins thick as fingers bulge in his scarlet neck. The poor bastard never lets up: "Shit, how should I know?" Jill says. She begins fanning herself with a wrinkled map of Ohio she's dug out of the glove box. "That's it. That's what it feels like." * Lately, I've been fucking up left and right. The other night on my way home, I even tried to pick up some young girl. She was walking along Third Street and I drove past first, checking her out. I could see that she was junior high, but I whipped around the block anyway, then pulled over to the curb. "Hey, you need a ride?" I asked. As soon as the words spilled out, my teeth started chattering, even though the sign on the bank said it was 92 degrees. The girl looked up and down the street, then edged closer to the car. "Where you going?" she asked. Her voice sounded like tin foil. Pictures of butterflies covered her pink shirt. She had the body of a woman, but the face of a little kid. Cow hormones have the young people all fucked up. It was still daylight; I was nervous about being seen. "Oh, I don't know," I said. "I'm just ridin' around." I could smell my sweat, taste the bologna sandwiches I'd had for lunch. She leaned in the window, looking the car over inside. She wore one of those necklaces strung with candy hearts. They were melting against her throat. I tried to suck in my gut, but it still rubbed the steering wheel. "I got to be home in two hours," she said. "Sure," I said. "No problem." For one brief moment, it was like that commercial come true, I swear to God. I was already picturing the stuff we'd do. But then, just as she opened the door to slide in beside me, someone began yelling from across the street. I looked over and saw a tall, stocky woman with curlers in her hair standing on the porch of a big red brick. "Oh, shit," the girl said. She stepped away from the car just as the woman leaped off the porch and began running towards us. I blew through two red lights, and then made a fast right out of town. That's the reason I didn't drive the Merc today. I figure every cop in Ross County has a description of Jill's car stuck in his sun visor. This afternoon we've been out to the mother-in-law's for another one of her Sunday dinners—a raw pink chicken stuffed with bits of blue grass that I swear the old bag foraged from an Easter basket—and now my ulcers are 60


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screaming for long dogs with sauce and limp, greasy fries. Jill's always on me about my clogged pipes, but I'm a big guy—they don't call me Big Bobby for nothing—and I crave junk food like a baby craves the tit. Besides, I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it. As the row of cars creep forward, I drift back to one ofthe daydreams I've been having lately, the farewell one where I douse myself with gasoline, then hand Jill the gold-plated lighter the guys at work gave me when I opted for the early retirement. "Fire when ready," I say, standing at attention, flipping her a little salute. Fantasizing myself as a brave orange fireball is damn near the only thing that makes me hard anymore, but today, for some reason, I crank it up a notch and the flames in my mind leap across to Jill's hair, then on to the house, and finally to Jerry. Whoosh! In less time than it takes Larry Fedder's to burn a burger, the only thing left ofthe fucked-up family that lived at 124 Belmont is ashes. Not that I really would, but I can't help feeling the way I feel, even with the new combo Doc Webb prescribed the other day. I even told him about the commercial, but he dismissed it as post-retirement depression. "Just quit watching it," he said. "How's that?" I asked. He was standing by the window in his office, staring at the car dealership across the street. "It's like that anthrax scare," he muttered to himself. "Well, what about the Zippo?" I said. I hauled it out of my pocket and held it up, a final attempt to convince him that I'm a troubled man. He glanced over his glasses at the shiny lighter, then checked his watch. "Bob, you shouldn't smoke," he said. Then he handed me a little grab bag of samples and showed me out the door. I didn't understand what he was trying to say, but I do know my problem has nothing to do with powdered germs or free pills. The poor fuck didn't know what to do, so he was just trying to fluff it up and make the whole ordeal seem like it was happening to somebody else. Everything is too complicated when you're alive, even for the experts.

Over

ers, but fat is like your Aunt Gloria. So I've always wondered why they call you Big Bobby and not Fat Bobby?" I tear off three ofthe crumbly Rolaids and chomp them while staring at the little amplified speaker protruding between the giant photos ofthe Chocolate Rock and the Dilly Bars. Even if I ate everything on the menu, I'd still be hungry. White foam begins to bubble from my mouth. I look like the rabid dog in the horror movie that Jerry made us play over and over last winter until Jill finally rigged it to look like it broke in the VCR. "Maybe you better sleep in the other room tonight,*' Jill says, scooting over next to the door. A station wagon loaded with kids in bathing suits is ahead of us in the line. One little guy in the back keeps messing with us, making gestures with his tongue that little kids shouldn't know anything about. "Maybe we oughta take him home with us," I joke, making a feeble attempt to turn the lousy day around. I'm kicking myself in the ass now because I bitched so much about the motherin-law's half-dead chicken. "Many kids as that woman's got, she wouldn't even miss him." "I think he's eating his own shit," Jill says, and then sticks her big sunglasses on so nobody can see her. "Oh, Christ, Jill," I say, "what makes you say stuff like that? The kid's just playing around." I make a goofy face at the boy just as he turns around to grab his ice cream cone. I think back to when Jerry was that age. It makes me feel like shit, thinking it, but there are days when I'd give anything to just be able to prop him out on the curb like a broken appliance for the junk man to haul away. And almost like he can read my mind, Jerry starts making that hacking sound way down in his throat that he's been making all summer. It's the type of noise that makes you grit your teeth. "Not the kid, you idiot," she says. "Jerry." Whenever I figure it can't get any worse, it always gets worse. Because I try to follow the rule that we don't talk about Jerry in his presence, I decide not to say anything. Besides, I can't stand the thought of another argument. We've been at it for months. Her latest bitch has been over this old car I'm driving, a souped-up 1959 Chevrolet with big fins that I traded my pickup for so I'd have something to drive to the cruise-ins they put on around here in the fast-food parking lots. It's just an excuse to get out ofthe house, but Jill's always ragging me, pretending to be jealous ofthe skanky whores who hang out in the custom vans. As I pull up to the window, she starts in again about the car shows. "There's no reason you can't take Jerry with you," she says. I get so sick of explaining it. "Hell," I stutter, "what good's that gonna do you? I mean, even if I was screwing around, Jerry wouldn't know the difference between a piece of ass and your Mom's false teeth." I immediately hate myself for saying it, for breaking the rule, for even reacting to the crazy bitch at

I pull up to the speaker and go hog wild while grabbing for the sunbleached antacids I keep on the dash. I order enough junk to tear me up for the rest ofthe afternoon. The Chevy is missing a little, and my plan is to take it out on the highway and blow the carbon out of it after we put Jerry to bed this evening. "There is a difference," Jill says out ofthe blue. Though I know better, I ask her what the hell she's talking about. "Between big and fat," she says. "Big and fat," I repeat slowly, waiting for the goddamn punch line to smack me upside the head. "Yeah," she says, "I mean, the way I see it, big is like those body build61

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screaming for long dogs with sauce and limp, greasy fries. Jill's always on me about my clogged pipes, but I'm a big guy—they don't call me Big Bobby for nothing—and I crave junk food like a baby craves the tit. Besides, I'm beginning to believe that anything I do to extend my life is just going to be outweighed by the agony of living it. As the row of cars creep forward, I drift back to one ofthe daydreams I've been having lately, the farewell one where I douse myself with gasoline, then hand Jill the gold-plated lighter the guys at work gave me when I opted for the early retirement. "Fire when ready," I say, standing at attention, flipping her a little salute. Fantasizing myself as a brave orange fireball is damn near the only thing that makes me hard anymore, but today, for some reason, I crank it up a notch and the flames in my mind leap across to Jill's hair, then on to the house, and finally to Jerry. Whoosh! In less time than it takes Larry Fedder's to burn a burger, the only thing left ofthe fucked-up family that lived at 124 Belmont is ashes. Not that I really would, but I can't help feeling the way I feel, even with the new combo Doc Webb prescribed the other day. I even told him about the commercial, but he dismissed it as post-retirement depression. "Just quit watching it," he said. "How's that?" I asked. He was standing by the window in his office, staring at the car dealership across the street. "It's like that anthrax scare," he muttered to himself. "Well, what about the Zippo?" I said. I hauled it out of my pocket and held it up, a final attempt to convince him that I'm a troubled man. He glanced over his glasses at the shiny lighter, then checked his watch. "Bob, you shouldn't smoke," he said. Then he handed me a little grab bag of samples and showed me out the door. I didn't understand what he was trying to say, but I do know my problem has nothing to do with powdered germs or free pills. The poor fuck didn't know what to do, so he was just trying to fluff it up and make the whole ordeal seem like it was happening to somebody else. Everything is too complicated when you're alive, even for the experts.

Over

ers, but fat is like your Aunt Gloria. So I've always wondered why they call you Big Bobby and not Fat Bobby?" I tear off three ofthe crumbly Rolaids and chomp them while staring at the little amplified speaker protruding between the giant photos ofthe Chocolate Rock and the Dilly Bars. Even if I ate everything on the menu, I'd still be hungry. White foam begins to bubble from my mouth. I look like the rabid dog in the horror movie that Jerry made us play over and over last winter until Jill finally rigged it to look like it broke in the VCR. "Maybe you better sleep in the other room tonight,*' Jill says, scooting over next to the door. A station wagon loaded with kids in bathing suits is ahead of us in the line. One little guy in the back keeps messing with us, making gestures with his tongue that little kids shouldn't know anything about. "Maybe we oughta take him home with us," I joke, making a feeble attempt to turn the lousy day around. I'm kicking myself in the ass now because I bitched so much about the motherin-law's half-dead chicken. "Many kids as that woman's got, she wouldn't even miss him." "I think he's eating his own shit," Jill says, and then sticks her big sunglasses on so nobody can see her. "Oh, Christ, Jill," I say, "what makes you say stuff like that? The kid's just playing around." I make a goofy face at the boy just as he turns around to grab his ice cream cone. I think back to when Jerry was that age. It makes me feel like shit, thinking it, but there are days when I'd give anything to just be able to prop him out on the curb like a broken appliance for the junk man to haul away. And almost like he can read my mind, Jerry starts making that hacking sound way down in his throat that he's been making all summer. It's the type of noise that makes you grit your teeth. "Not the kid, you idiot," she says. "Jerry." Whenever I figure it can't get any worse, it always gets worse. Because I try to follow the rule that we don't talk about Jerry in his presence, I decide not to say anything. Besides, I can't stand the thought of another argument. We've been at it for months. Her latest bitch has been over this old car I'm driving, a souped-up 1959 Chevrolet with big fins that I traded my pickup for so I'd have something to drive to the cruise-ins they put on around here in the fast-food parking lots. It's just an excuse to get out ofthe house, but Jill's always ragging me, pretending to be jealous ofthe skanky whores who hang out in the custom vans. As I pull up to the window, she starts in again about the car shows. "There's no reason you can't take Jerry with you," she says. I get so sick of explaining it. "Hell," I stutter, "what good's that gonna do you? I mean, even if I was screwing around, Jerry wouldn't know the difference between a piece of ass and your Mom's false teeth." I immediately hate myself for saying it, for breaking the rule, for even reacting to the crazy bitch at

I pull up to the speaker and go hog wild while grabbing for the sunbleached antacids I keep on the dash. I order enough junk to tear me up for the rest ofthe afternoon. The Chevy is missing a little, and my plan is to take it out on the highway and blow the carbon out of it after we put Jerry to bed this evening. "There is a difference," Jill says out ofthe blue. Though I know better, I ask her what the hell she's talking about. "Between big and fat," she says. "Big and fat," I repeat slowly, waiting for the goddamn punch line to smack me upside the head. "Yeah," she says, "I mean, the way I see it, big is like those body build61

62 A*


Berkeley

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Review

I Start

Over

horn, and the blonde tells me to move on, that I'm holding up the line. "Sorry," I say, and pull forward without any catsup. In the rear view, I see one ofthe boys say something that makes the girl laugh; then I watch in disbelief as she raises her shirt to show her tits. "Holy shit," I say, stopping the car. "Jerry, damn boy, turn around and check that out." For a moment, the girl's breasts are framed in the window like some advertisement for a new double scoop sundae. They glow in the blazing sunlight, and I think of soft, precious metal. But even though they're beautiful, it's really her smile that takes my breath away. I'd give anything just to feel the way she feels right now. It's the kind of feeling that people never realize they've had until years later, when it's no longer possible to feel it. "Jerry," I say again, turning around to look at him; but all he does is curl up his lips and make that damn duck sound again. "Jesus Christ, Bobby, what are you doing?" Jill says. I don't answer. The boys in the Camaro have noticed me staring at the girl, and one of them starts imitating Jerry, squishing his face up and hanging his head on his chest. The girl is still laughing, but she's pulling her top back down. And though I know that two years ago Jerry would have been right there with them, making fun ofthe retard, I set the emergency brake and haul my fat ass out ofthe car. I stand there for a second, pulling my shirt down over my white belly, wondering what I'm supposed to do now; but just before I lose my nerve, one ofthe boys calls out Porky, then another squeals Oink, Oink. Taking a deep breath, I walk back to the car and start kicking the shit out ofthe side panel. Believe me, I'm just a big tub of lard, but when the driver jumps out, a tall boy with big teeth and barbed wire tattooed around his skinny arms, I knock him down with one punch. I've never hit anyone that hard in my life, not even Harry Fry. Then the world lights up, as if someone peeled the skin off my eyeballs. I look up at the sky, startled by the giant bloom of blue. But fuck, it's only my sunglasses. I'm so pumped it takes me a second to realize they've fallen off my face, and when I stoop over to pick them up, the boy tries to bite me. I reach down and grab the front of his shirt. My sweat splatters his shiny head like greasy rain. I pull him up off the pavement and smack him again, busting his lip open. By this time, the others are out ofthe car yelling shit, but keeping their distance. I realize then that they're afraid of me, and I run at them. I grab the one that was making the stupid faces and bang his head against the hood ofthe car. A wave of dizziness rushes over me and I let go of his skinny neck. Teeth marks burn my knuckles. There's a few drops of blood on my shirt. I wobble for a second in the heat, then head back to the Chevy and flop down behind the wheel. Jill's squished up in the corner like she's afraid I'm going to hammer her next, but I just sit there sucking the steamy air through my mouth. Jerry is

all. Still, there's no way I'm hauling Jerry to a car show, not even in handcuffs. I pull the car up and there's the girl that works the window, the one with the twisted chains of baby blonde hair and the perfectly calibrated gap between her white teeth. She's like that song about the angel that gives head, and I almost blurt out, Look, Jill, an angel at the Dairy Queen, but I catch myself. This girl can have any man who buys a milkshake. She's the type of girl that ends up in one of those damn commercials, tormenting the shit out of every old geezer with cable. The girl grabs my money in a huff before I can even ask her to sack up the Blizzards. This afternoon she's chewing purple gum, and the way she blows bubbles reminds me of Jill back when we were young and horny, before we lost the map that takes you to places like that. "Hey," I say, turning to Jill, "that girl is the spittin' image of you back when you carhopped at the Surnburger. Remember that?" But it's one of those memories that only makes the present lhat much more unbearable, and Jill just shakes her head, sinks lower into the seat. While we wait on the order, I listen to my son try to swallow his tongue and go over the whole fucking mess for the thousandth time. Two years ago, on the night before Jerry was supposed to board the bus for boot camp, he went to a party and never came home. Three days later someone threw him out of a car in front of a hospital in Portsmouth. The young doctor on duty tried to explain it by frying an egg on a heat plate, said it was how the stuff worked on the brain if you took too much. We were sitting in the day room ofthe wing where Jerry was transferred after he came out ofthe coma. "What about the Marines?" I asked. "Shit, he's already AWOL, and he don't even have his uniform yet." "Sorry," the doctor said, and then he turned and walked away, leaving the egg smoking and sputtering in the little tin skillet. I'd seen the same demonstration years ago on the TV commercials warning kids to stay off the shit I couldn't believe they still used it Sometimes I still wonder sometimes if Jerry ever watched one. "Look, they've got the same microwave we've got," Jill said that day at the hospital, her voice skipping like one of her old Wayne Newton records. She was trying to pick pork and beans out of Jerry's hair while he made another attempt to walk through the wall. We'd already planned our golden years—a new camper on Rocky Fork Lake, a hot tub in Jerry's old bedroom. Then three weeks later, poor little Harry Fry came to work blowing off about his perfect son, the one that built the telescope for the senior citizens, and I broke his jaw with my lunch bucket. The blonde hands me the Coneys, the fries, the melting Blizzards, but she doesn't see me no matter how big and stupid I smile. While I'm still checking the sacks, a jacked-up Camaro full of boys pulls up behind us. They all look like the same model: matching earrings, shaved heads, little goatees sprouted around their mouths like hair around a poodle's ass. They begin honking the

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horn, and the blonde tells me to move on, that I'm holding up the line. "Sorry," I say, and pull forward without any catsup. In the rear view, I see one ofthe boys say something that makes the girl laugh; then I watch in disbelief as she raises her shirt to show her tits. "Holy shit," I say, stopping the car. "Jerry, damn boy, turn around and check that out." For a moment, the girl's breasts are framed in the window like some advertisement for a new double scoop sundae. They glow in the blazing sunlight, and I think of soft, precious metal. But even though they're beautiful, it's really her smile that takes my breath away. I'd give anything just to feel the way she feels right now. It's the kind of feeling that people never realize they've had until years later, when it's no longer possible to feel it. "Jerry," I say again, turning around to look at him; but all he does is curl up his lips and make that damn duck sound again. "Jesus Christ, Bobby, what are you doing?" Jill says. I don't answer. The boys in the Camaro have noticed me staring at the girl, and one of them starts imitating Jerry, squishing his face up and hanging his head on his chest. The girl is still laughing, but she's pulling her top back down. And though I know that two years ago Jerry would have been right there with them, making fun ofthe retard, I set the emergency brake and haul my fat ass out ofthe car. I stand there for a second, pulling my shirt down over my white belly, wondering what I'm supposed to do now; but just before I lose my nerve, one ofthe boys calls out Porky, then another squeals Oink, Oink. Taking a deep breath, I walk back to the car and start kicking the shit out ofthe side panel. Believe me, I'm just a big tub of lard, but when the driver jumps out, a tall boy with big teeth and barbed wire tattooed around his skinny arms, I knock him down with one punch. I've never hit anyone that hard in my life, not even Harry Fry. Then the world lights up, as if someone peeled the skin off my eyeballs. I look up at the sky, startled by the giant bloom of blue. But fuck, it's only my sunglasses. I'm so pumped it takes me a second to realize they've fallen off my face, and when I stoop over to pick them up, the boy tries to bite me. I reach down and grab the front of his shirt. My sweat splatters his shiny head like greasy rain. I pull him up off the pavement and smack him again, busting his lip open. By this time, the others are out ofthe car yelling shit, but keeping their distance. I realize then that they're afraid of me, and I run at them. I grab the one that was making the stupid faces and bang his head against the hood ofthe car. A wave of dizziness rushes over me and I let go of his skinny neck. Teeth marks burn my knuckles. There's a few drops of blood on my shirt. I wobble for a second in the heat, then head back to the Chevy and flop down behind the wheel. Jill's squished up in the corner like she's afraid I'm going to hammer her next, but I just sit there sucking the steamy air through my mouth. Jerry is

all. Still, there's no way I'm hauling Jerry to a car show, not even in handcuffs. I pull the car up and there's the girl that works the window, the one with the twisted chains of baby blonde hair and the perfectly calibrated gap between her white teeth. She's like that song about the angel that gives head, and I almost blurt out, Look, Jill, an angel at the Dairy Queen, but I catch myself. This girl can have any man who buys a milkshake. She's the type of girl that ends up in one of those damn commercials, tormenting the shit out of every old geezer with cable. The girl grabs my money in a huff before I can even ask her to sack up the Blizzards. This afternoon she's chewing purple gum, and the way she blows bubbles reminds me of Jill back when we were young and horny, before we lost the map that takes you to places like that. "Hey," I say, turning to Jill, "that girl is the spittin' image of you back when you carhopped at the Surnburger. Remember that?" But it's one of those memories that only makes the present lhat much more unbearable, and Jill just shakes her head, sinks lower into the seat. While we wait on the order, I listen to my son try to swallow his tongue and go over the whole fucking mess for the thousandth time. Two years ago, on the night before Jerry was supposed to board the bus for boot camp, he went to a party and never came home. Three days later someone threw him out of a car in front of a hospital in Portsmouth. The young doctor on duty tried to explain it by frying an egg on a heat plate, said it was how the stuff worked on the brain if you took too much. We were sitting in the day room ofthe wing where Jerry was transferred after he came out ofthe coma. "What about the Marines?" I asked. "Shit, he's already AWOL, and he don't even have his uniform yet." "Sorry," the doctor said, and then he turned and walked away, leaving the egg smoking and sputtering in the little tin skillet. I'd seen the same demonstration years ago on the TV commercials warning kids to stay off the shit I couldn't believe they still used it Sometimes I still wonder sometimes if Jerry ever watched one. "Look, they've got the same microwave we've got," Jill said that day at the hospital, her voice skipping like one of her old Wayne Newton records. She was trying to pick pork and beans out of Jerry's hair while he made another attempt to walk through the wall. We'd already planned our golden years—a new camper on Rocky Fork Lake, a hot tub in Jerry's old bedroom. Then three weeks later, poor little Harry Fry came to work blowing off about his perfect son, the one that built the telescope for the senior citizens, and I broke his jaw with my lunch bucket. The blonde hands me the Coneys, the fries, the melting Blizzards, but she doesn't see me no matter how big and stupid I smile. While I'm still checking the sacks, a jacked-up Camaro full of boys pulls up behind us. They all look like the same model: matching earrings, shaved heads, little goatees sprouted around their mouths like hair around a poodle's ass. They begin honking the

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still making the duck sound and I finally turn around to look at him. Even after all this time, he's still got that angel dust glaze in his eyes, as if torching his brain is the only thing he'll ever remember. His face and neck are broken out in a bumpy red rash from where Jill tried to shave him this morning. His white t-shirt is soaked with slobbers, stained with his grandmother's watery gravy. Every time Jerry attempts the duck, his tongue pops out, and spit runs off his chin, down his neck. I fumble around, then pull a napkin from one ofthe sacks of food and wipe his face. When my hand brushes against his jaw, his eyes close like a puppy's. The other boys are helping the driver back up; they're talking big now, strutting around like they've got shit in their pants. I stick my head out the window and growl like a dog. Then I give them the finger. The girl in the window yells, "Fat motherfucker!" I turn back around and blast my horn, hold it down for a long minute. "My God," Jill says. "Oh, my God." She's holding her hands over her ears. "Hey, Jerry," I say, "you wanta drive?" I drop the Chevy into low, and rev the engine until the Dairy Queen's windows are rattling. The customers inside are staring at us and I wave at them. In my side mirror, I see the manager approaching cautiously from behind and talking on a cell phone. Suddenly, gunk breaks loose in the carburetor and a huge puff of black smoke shoots out of the tailpipe. "You're going to jail," Jill loudly proclaims. I laugh and pull out fast onto High Street, burning rubber, honking the horn. "Slow down!" Jill screams. "What the hell is wrong with you?" I slide the Zippo from my pocket and squeeze the small metal case, rub it between my fat sweaty fingers. It has two dates engraved on it, like a tombstone. I toss the lighter out the window and shift the Chevy into second gear, then stomp the gas pedal and squeal down the street. People hanging out on their porches point at us as we rocket past in third. An old lady grabs a little girl up off the sidewalk. A siren begins to whine in the distance. Suddenly, happiness rips through me like a sword. Reaching over, I grab Jill's knobby knee, but she shoves my hand away. "Kak, Kak!" Jerry squawks, as he bounces forward against his restraints. A police car is coming up behind us, all of its lights throbbing. The trees, the signs, the entire world, start to bend backwards as we race up the highway. "Kak, Kak!" Jerry goes again, and I almost grit my teeth. But then, sliding the gearshift into fourth, I start over.

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I Start

Over

still making the duck sound and I finally turn around to look at him. Even after all this time, he's still got that angel dust glaze in his eyes, as if torching his brain is the only thing he'll ever remember. His face and neck are broken out in a bumpy red rash from where Jill tried to shave him this morning. His white t-shirt is soaked with slobbers, stained with his grandmother's watery gravy. Every time Jerry attempts the duck, his tongue pops out, and spit runs off his chin, down his neck. I fumble around, then pull a napkin from one ofthe sacks of food and wipe his face. When my hand brushes against his jaw, his eyes close like a puppy's. The other boys are helping the driver back up; they're talking big now, strutting around like they've got shit in their pants. I stick my head out the window and growl like a dog. Then I give them the finger. The girl in the window yells, "Fat motherfucker!" I turn back around and blast my horn, hold it down for a long minute. "My God," Jill says. "Oh, my God." She's holding her hands over her ears. "Hey, Jerry," I say, "you wanta drive?" I drop the Chevy into low, and rev the engine until the Dairy Queen's windows are rattling. The customers inside are staring at us and I wave at them. In my side mirror, I see the manager approaching cautiously from behind and talking on a cell phone. Suddenly, gunk breaks loose in the carburetor and a huge puff of black smoke shoots out of the tailpipe. "You're going to jail," Jill loudly proclaims. I laugh and pull out fast onto High Street, burning rubber, honking the horn. "Slow down!" Jill screams. "What the hell is wrong with you?" I slide the Zippo from my pocket and squeeze the small metal case, rub it between my fat sweaty fingers. It has two dates engraved on it, like a tombstone. I toss the lighter out the window and shift the Chevy into second gear, then stomp the gas pedal and squeal down the street. People hanging out on their porches point at us as we rocket past in third. An old lady grabs a little girl up off the sidewalk. A siren begins to whine in the distance. Suddenly, happiness rips through me like a sword. Reaching over, I grab Jill's knobby knee, but she shoves my hand away. "Kak, Kak!" Jerry squawks, as he bounces forward against his restraints. A police car is coming up behind us, all of its lights throbbing. The trees, the signs, the entire world, start to bend backwards as we race up the highway. "Kak, Kak!" Jerry goes again, and I almost grit my teeth. But then, sliding the gearshift into fourth, I start over.

65

66


Long and Thin

L o n g

b y

L i z

a n d

T h i n

P r a t o

saffron, this child in his arms with lanky limbs the cheeks of a cherub and saffron hair, and printed beneath this picture was the date of his birth and the date ofthe day the long, thin metal pipe shot off the back of a truck in front of him on a mountain road, penetrating his dusty windshield like a bullet through his throat, oh how he wrapped long fingers around the cold steel and with his last jerky motion pulled the pipe out of his neck. He left a gaping hole. Danny was seventeen, leaning long and languid against the wall, my cheek pressed against his chest pulsing against my skin, his eyes—my eyes—his mind—my mind cloudy with drink, relaxed with weed, thin fingers grazing the nape of my neck lips near my ear speaking in a voice deep and throaty that we leave this room, these people, this party, find someplace private. We were alone.

anny was fifteen and tall and thin, with quick jerky motion in this body that had shot up around him too fast, long fingers wrapped | around the lacrosse stick's metal shaft snapped forward, his chocolate round eyes with lashes long like a girl watched the ball catapult downfield, curly brown bangs grazing cheeks like a cherub masking how promiscuous everyone said he was sleeping with the loosest girl in school and drinking beer and smoking pot with no responsibilities, no cares. I had no use for his kind. Danny was eighteen and long and lean, with a sinewy body that he moved like a ballet dancer aware ofthe space above and below him, but casual like a jungle cat stretched out on the bed next to me, against me, chestnut curls pushed past cloudy eyes lips ripe like an heirloom tomato musing over the beauty ofthe human body —my human body—a work of art, his words were true and the others' were false, his body was hard and introduced my mouth to new tastes, salty, ofthe earth. We never fell in love. Danny was twenty-two, denim-dressed knees pointing to the night sky ass on damp grass with Pomp and Circumstance behind us now, the moon shining quiet in his eyes - light so bright it washed out his skin, erased his features so he was ghostlike, dreamlike - his voice deep and throaty he wondered if he would ever find it, real love, was he too old or too young to know true happiness, to know who he would become. We went our separate ways. Danny was thirty-four, a sparse beard creeping across cheekbones now angled and defined, towering above his wife hair straight and long the color of 61

68


Long and Thin

L o n g

b y

L i z

a n d

T h i n

P r a t o

saffron, this child in his arms with lanky limbs the cheeks of a cherub and saffron hair, and printed beneath this picture was the date of his birth and the date ofthe day the long, thin metal pipe shot off the back of a truck in front of him on a mountain road, penetrating his dusty windshield like a bullet through his throat, oh how he wrapped long fingers around the cold steel and with his last jerky motion pulled the pipe out of his neck. He left a gaping hole. Danny was seventeen, leaning long and languid against the wall, my cheek pressed against his chest pulsing against my skin, his eyes—my eyes—his mind—my mind cloudy with drink, relaxed with weed, thin fingers grazing the nape of my neck lips near my ear speaking in a voice deep and throaty that we leave this room, these people, this party, find someplace private. We were alone.

anny was fifteen and tall and thin, with quick jerky motion in this body that had shot up around him too fast, long fingers wrapped | around the lacrosse stick's metal shaft snapped forward, his chocolate round eyes with lashes long like a girl watched the ball catapult downfield, curly brown bangs grazing cheeks like a cherub masking how promiscuous everyone said he was sleeping with the loosest girl in school and drinking beer and smoking pot with no responsibilities, no cares. I had no use for his kind. Danny was eighteen and long and lean, with a sinewy body that he moved like a ballet dancer aware ofthe space above and below him, but casual like a jungle cat stretched out on the bed next to me, against me, chestnut curls pushed past cloudy eyes lips ripe like an heirloom tomato musing over the beauty ofthe human body —my human body—a work of art, his words were true and the others' were false, his body was hard and introduced my mouth to new tastes, salty, ofthe earth. We never fell in love. Danny was twenty-two, denim-dressed knees pointing to the night sky ass on damp grass with Pomp and Circumstance behind us now, the moon shining quiet in his eyes - light so bright it washed out his skin, erased his features so he was ghostlike, dreamlike - his voice deep and throaty he wondered if he would ever find it, real love, was he too old or too young to know true happiness, to know who he would become. We went our separate ways. Danny was thirty-four, a sparse beard creeping across cheekbones now angled and defined, towering above his wife hair straight and long the color of 61

68


-*—"X_

T h e

b y

K y l e

B a b y

Kille n

y wife became pregnant very suddenly. One night she suggested I put some pickles on her Haagen-Dazs. The next morning she looked ready to pop. What's going on here, she asked upon noticing the basketballsized lump that had taken up residence in her belly. Did you do this? The doctor seemed unconvinced that the entire situation had sprung up overnight, and he looked at me more strangely each time I repeated the story. I asked if it might be a reaction to the pickles, or the ice cream, or the combination of both. He remained skeptical. It's not pickle related, he said. But I made a mental note to throw them out, along with the ice cream, just to be safe. The doctor checked and double checked his tests and scans and declared that we were no longer eligible to receive the traditional nine month preparation time. In fact, he said my wife could give birth at any minute. Well, she said, forcing a smile, that really doesn't give us much time does it? We did our best not to appear blindsided as we rushed out and began to collect all the tools required for proper child-rearing. While we were purchasing the crib, diapers, and high chair, my wife kept pulling up her shirt, studying her belly in disbelief, mourning the loss ofthe perfect abs she'd been religiously honing for an hour each morning before going to work. While we collected the mobiles, music boxes, and pacifiers, my wife consulted the detailed calendar she used to ensure a smooth and even flow to our lives. Normally she could say with certainty which cases I'd handle for a given week, or where we would dine on a Wednesday evening six months hence, but it 70


-*—"X_

T h e

b y

K y l e

B a b y

Kille n

y wife became pregnant very suddenly. One night she suggested I put some pickles on her Haagen-Dazs. The next morning she looked ready to pop. What's going on here, she asked upon noticing the basketballsized lump that had taken up residence in her belly. Did you do this? The doctor seemed unconvinced that the entire situation had sprung up overnight, and he looked at me more strangely each time I repeated the story. I asked if it might be a reaction to the pickles, or the ice cream, or the combination of both. He remained skeptical. It's not pickle related, he said. But I made a mental note to throw them out, along with the ice cream, just to be safe. The doctor checked and double checked his tests and scans and declared that we were no longer eligible to receive the traditional nine month preparation time. In fact, he said my wife could give birth at any minute. Well, she said, forcing a smile, that really doesn't give us much time does it? We did our best not to appear blindsided as we rushed out and began to collect all the tools required for proper child-rearing. While we were purchasing the crib, diapers, and high chair, my wife kept pulling up her shirt, studying her belly in disbelief, mourning the loss ofthe perfect abs she'd been religiously honing for an hour each morning before going to work. While we collected the mobiles, music boxes, and pacifiers, my wife consulted the detailed calendar she used to ensure a smooth and even flow to our lives. Normally she could say with certainty which cases I'd handle for a given week, or where we would dine on a Wednesday evening six months hence, but it 70


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

was clear the baby was going to put her plans in disarray. I'll have to throw this whole thing out, she said, holding the little calendar like a beloved pet someone had just run over. Yet by the time we gathered the rattles, rocking chair, and stroller, we'd managed a rally, convincing ourselves that certainly we could triumph over something so small and round. We completed the shopping with eight coordinated outfits to allow the baby to ease comfortably into our normal wash cycle and a new calendar for my wife in which she not only rewrote our itinerary to accommodate our unexpected guest, but made arrangements for its first birthday party, still a year away. We took everything home and unwrapped it, then folded some items and unfolded others, set some things out and put others away, and by late that night we looked at each other and smiled. Not bad, I said. For short notice, it's not bad at all, she agreed with a little pat on her roundball belly. We packed a little suitcase and set it by the door so we'd be ready when the moment came. And then we waited. A week later we were curious. Any minute, the doctor assured us. After a month, we were nervous. It could be any second, he said. Nine months later, we were confused. This, he said finally, is a head-scratcher. Again I brought up the mysterious pickles and again I was roundly dismissed. Everything looked proper he said. Everything was ready. In fact everything had looked proper and ready for nine months. So what's the problem, I asked. The baby... just doesn't seem to want to come out. My wife and I looked at one another. Well, can't we go get him, she asked. We could, the doctor explained, but because ofthe particulars of my wife's medical condition, any attempt to remove the baby could pose a serious threat to her health. It should only be a last resort, he cautioned. So what do we do? Well, as long as the situation remains stable, I guess we wait. So we kept the little suitcase by the door where it slowly collected dust, and the items trapped inside began to go out of style.

71

The

Baby

On the one-year anniversary ofthe pregnancy my wife had still not given birth, but the party had been planned for so long that we agreed canceling it might give the impression that something was wrong. So we pressed on. My wife bought a gorgeous new dress and cut a hole in the center to expose the guest of honor, and we strapped a party hat around her sideways so that it stuck out from her belly where we approximated the baby's head to be. Our parents came (anxious would-be grandparents) and co-workers and friends and neighbors and acquaintances and business contacts and clients and prospective clients. They came wearing perfection, driving cars we desired, saying things we wished we'd imagined. They patted my wife's stomach and ate our food and inspected our home for signs of bad taste or disorder. Occasionally someone mentioned that the child was lovely or incredibly well behaved. Those who had babies of their own, who had already emerged from the womb and were getting on with the business of utilizing all the tools their parents had purchased in order to raise them properly, began to compare notes. Some ofthe babies exhibited incredible musical ability, pounding out Beethoven on plastic xylophones. Others were reading various American and European classics. One ofthe babies could perform differential equations by merely shuffling brightly colored blocks around the floor. Another had begun fingerpaintings of such quality that her renderings had outgrown the family refrigerator and required a downtown gallery show of their own. The family was putting the proceeds away to fund her education at a prestigious pre-kindergarten art academy where it was virtually assured the baby would be accepted. Amid all this startling news, my wife eventually laid flat upon the kitchen table, and we inserted a single candle into her belly button. We lit it and everyone sang, and the musically gifted babies played along. By the time she blew out the candle protruding from her belly and swallowed the first piece of cake on behalf of our reluctant offspring, we were both painfully aware that we were allowing our child to fall behind. And after we'd smiled long enough to see our friends and their talented tots out the door, we looked at each other and felt ashamed. My wife took her maternity leave immediately and we began the process of helping our poor remedial child catch up to its peers. I read aloud from the encyclopedia on odd numbered evenings and from the dictionary on even ones (the dictionary was slightly drier and tolerable only in smaller doses). We enrolled the child in a pre-pre- kindergarten as well as music, dance, and swimming for babies. Our child's ability to perform many ofthe exercises was limited by its reluctance to leave my wife's womb, but we felt that, if nothing else, the experience of getting out ofthe house and being around its peers could only be good for the baby. This thinking was largely backed up by many ofthe self-help volumes we 72


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

was clear the baby was going to put her plans in disarray. I'll have to throw this whole thing out, she said, holding the little calendar like a beloved pet someone had just run over. Yet by the time we gathered the rattles, rocking chair, and stroller, we'd managed a rally, convincing ourselves that certainly we could triumph over something so small and round. We completed the shopping with eight coordinated outfits to allow the baby to ease comfortably into our normal wash cycle and a new calendar for my wife in which she not only rewrote our itinerary to accommodate our unexpected guest, but made arrangements for its first birthday party, still a year away. We took everything home and unwrapped it, then folded some items and unfolded others, set some things out and put others away, and by late that night we looked at each other and smiled. Not bad, I said. For short notice, it's not bad at all, she agreed with a little pat on her roundball belly. We packed a little suitcase and set it by the door so we'd be ready when the moment came. And then we waited. A week later we were curious. Any minute, the doctor assured us. After a month, we were nervous. It could be any second, he said. Nine months later, we were confused. This, he said finally, is a head-scratcher. Again I brought up the mysterious pickles and again I was roundly dismissed. Everything looked proper he said. Everything was ready. In fact everything had looked proper and ready for nine months. So what's the problem, I asked. The baby... just doesn't seem to want to come out. My wife and I looked at one another. Well, can't we go get him, she asked. We could, the doctor explained, but because ofthe particulars of my wife's medical condition, any attempt to remove the baby could pose a serious threat to her health. It should only be a last resort, he cautioned. So what do we do? Well, as long as the situation remains stable, I guess we wait. So we kept the little suitcase by the door where it slowly collected dust, and the items trapped inside began to go out of style.

71

The

Baby

On the one-year anniversary ofthe pregnancy my wife had still not given birth, but the party had been planned for so long that we agreed canceling it might give the impression that something was wrong. So we pressed on. My wife bought a gorgeous new dress and cut a hole in the center to expose the guest of honor, and we strapped a party hat around her sideways so that it stuck out from her belly where we approximated the baby's head to be. Our parents came (anxious would-be grandparents) and co-workers and friends and neighbors and acquaintances and business contacts and clients and prospective clients. They came wearing perfection, driving cars we desired, saying things we wished we'd imagined. They patted my wife's stomach and ate our food and inspected our home for signs of bad taste or disorder. Occasionally someone mentioned that the child was lovely or incredibly well behaved. Those who had babies of their own, who had already emerged from the womb and were getting on with the business of utilizing all the tools their parents had purchased in order to raise them properly, began to compare notes. Some ofthe babies exhibited incredible musical ability, pounding out Beethoven on plastic xylophones. Others were reading various American and European classics. One ofthe babies could perform differential equations by merely shuffling brightly colored blocks around the floor. Another had begun fingerpaintings of such quality that her renderings had outgrown the family refrigerator and required a downtown gallery show of their own. The family was putting the proceeds away to fund her education at a prestigious pre-kindergarten art academy where it was virtually assured the baby would be accepted. Amid all this startling news, my wife eventually laid flat upon the kitchen table, and we inserted a single candle into her belly button. We lit it and everyone sang, and the musically gifted babies played along. By the time she blew out the candle protruding from her belly and swallowed the first piece of cake on behalf of our reluctant offspring, we were both painfully aware that we were allowing our child to fall behind. And after we'd smiled long enough to see our friends and their talented tots out the door, we looked at each other and felt ashamed. My wife took her maternity leave immediately and we began the process of helping our poor remedial child catch up to its peers. I read aloud from the encyclopedia on odd numbered evenings and from the dictionary on even ones (the dictionary was slightly drier and tolerable only in smaller doses). We enrolled the child in a pre-pre- kindergarten as well as music, dance, and swimming for babies. Our child's ability to perform many ofthe exercises was limited by its reluctance to leave my wife's womb, but we felt that, if nothing else, the experience of getting out ofthe house and being around its peers could only be good for the baby. This thinking was largely backed up by many ofthe self-help volumes we 72


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

purchased in order to shape ourselves into better parents. We discovered what seemed a very promising section in the bookstore dedicated to dealing with your inner child. And though the books did not, as we had hoped, pertain to our exact situation, we felt that on the whole they were helpful. We were thankful to see that though many ofthe experts and authors themselves had run into troubles with divorce, or adultery, or estrangement from their children, or lacked children altogether, it didn't stop them from providing us with volume after volume of much needed advice. My wife and I each started to see experts independently as well as together for group counseling sessions once a week. But because we'd allowed ourselves to fall behind and were overwhelmed with the tasks of catching up, and because we were in need of so much counseling and advice, and because the baby was so limited in the things it could do independently, my wife and I began to get tired. After she'd run out of maternity leave, my wife was forced to resign in order to keep up with the baby's lessons and schooling. She'd always strived to demonstrate that gender had nothing to do with her abilities. So to leave her career because of a never-ending pregnancy was intensely disheartening. She began to walk with a pronounced slump, and if I asked after her she responded that everything was great, that this was a miracle. Though I never requested it, she started to make me lunches for work. Usually the sandwiches were smashed and dry, and occasionally the bag bore the imprint of one of her shoes. I did not complain. Her new job, taking the baby to vital classes and events, brought her little satisfaction. Being highly educated, she found many ofthe subjects simplistic and boring, but she was willing to endure it for the good ofthe baby. Though she was eventually asked not to answer any more questions on the baby's behalf (the teachers felt that my wife's mastery ofthe abc's was not necessarily representative of our child's), she did enjoy having a school-sanctioned nap built into her daily routine. She told one of the teachers she'd been to Yale. The teacher let her be water fountain monitor for a week. With my wife no longer working, I was forced to take extra cases in order to defray the costs of providing the right tools and environment in which to raise our shy, but otherwise healthy progeny. Good cases were fought over like meat, and quickly disappeared. Those of us in need, who had troubles, were forced to take the dregs. I had little interest in working till midnight on zoning cases or permit abuse, but I too understood that sacrifices had to be made. For the most part we managed to follow every rule and heed every suggestion, even the ones that seemed contradictory. We listened to every expert and authority and generally gave ourselves credit for being the best parents we could be with the circumstances as they were. But despite all the effort, despite all the advice, the baby did not come, and 73

The

Baby

though the books and the experts would never have tolerated it, we secretly began to blame one another. The staggering amount of work that went into keeping the baby healthy and competitive was like an all-consuming furnace, taking every scrap of energy we could give, and then demanding more. When we ran out of fuel, we powered ourselves with anger. We burned inside over long unanswered questions about how exactly we'd come to be in this mess, boiled at the way our plans had been rewritten, and seethed at the idea that as we drove ourselves relentlessly ahead, we might still be falling behind. The source of our power was invisible, because to show it would be to admit that something was wrong—that we'd encountered something that was somehow smaller and yet larger than us at the same time. Instead, we kept it to ourselves. For two years, eleven months, and six days of our child's gestation we quietly used that anger to wake, work, and provide for ourselves. It was this invisible anger that kept us in the race, our silent rage that kept us presentable. Then, one fateful Thursday, our couple's therapist canceled our session to deal with his own divorce, and the dams that had held back our contempt began to crumble. We'd agreed long ago never to argue in front ofthe baby, (all the books were against it) and since the baby was always present, our long festering marital meltdown was necessarily cordial. We let our words drip like honey and hoped they would land like punches. My wife explained how she'd come to believe that I was at fault for our difficult situation. I was always rushing, always in such a hurry. She cited the way I often failed to wait for her in parking lots, walking five to ten steps ahead in my haste to get to the movie or the grocery store or the mall. The way I darted through traffic, and pushed through crowds, and generally acted like we were always headed to or from a fire. She remembered how I claimed to be unable to help it, how I said the need to rush was in my blood. Not only was it in my blood, she said, but it extended all the way to my genes. My sperm, according to her, were as pushy as I was and had gone in and rushed things, just as one would expect my sperm to do. The baby had been spooked by all the pressure and hurrying, and was now simply afraid to appear. She concluded her case with an angry smile and stroked my hair softly as she repeated, this is all your fault, dear. But I had my own theory, which removed all blame from my shoulders and placed it back on my wife's, where, I said while offering her a massage, it truly belonged. I reminded her that she was an insatiable perfectionist, and asked her to recall our wedding day when she burst into tears over the fact that the bathroom floors had been paved with red rose petals instead of pink, and then again, upon discovering that the cake-cutter and the cake-dispenser had gotten confused and switched jobs. That these errors were invisible to everyone else was immaterial. Because the day did not match her abstract vision of perfection, it was considered a disaster. I then reminded her of her precious calendar on 74


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

purchased in order to shape ourselves into better parents. We discovered what seemed a very promising section in the bookstore dedicated to dealing with your inner child. And though the books did not, as we had hoped, pertain to our exact situation, we felt that on the whole they were helpful. We were thankful to see that though many ofthe experts and authors themselves had run into troubles with divorce, or adultery, or estrangement from their children, or lacked children altogether, it didn't stop them from providing us with volume after volume of much needed advice. My wife and I each started to see experts independently as well as together for group counseling sessions once a week. But because we'd allowed ourselves to fall behind and were overwhelmed with the tasks of catching up, and because we were in need of so much counseling and advice, and because the baby was so limited in the things it could do independently, my wife and I began to get tired. After she'd run out of maternity leave, my wife was forced to resign in order to keep up with the baby's lessons and schooling. She'd always strived to demonstrate that gender had nothing to do with her abilities. So to leave her career because of a never-ending pregnancy was intensely disheartening. She began to walk with a pronounced slump, and if I asked after her she responded that everything was great, that this was a miracle. Though I never requested it, she started to make me lunches for work. Usually the sandwiches were smashed and dry, and occasionally the bag bore the imprint of one of her shoes. I did not complain. Her new job, taking the baby to vital classes and events, brought her little satisfaction. Being highly educated, she found many ofthe subjects simplistic and boring, but she was willing to endure it for the good ofthe baby. Though she was eventually asked not to answer any more questions on the baby's behalf (the teachers felt that my wife's mastery ofthe abc's was not necessarily representative of our child's), she did enjoy having a school-sanctioned nap built into her daily routine. She told one of the teachers she'd been to Yale. The teacher let her be water fountain monitor for a week. With my wife no longer working, I was forced to take extra cases in order to defray the costs of providing the right tools and environment in which to raise our shy, but otherwise healthy progeny. Good cases were fought over like meat, and quickly disappeared. Those of us in need, who had troubles, were forced to take the dregs. I had little interest in working till midnight on zoning cases or permit abuse, but I too understood that sacrifices had to be made. For the most part we managed to follow every rule and heed every suggestion, even the ones that seemed contradictory. We listened to every expert and authority and generally gave ourselves credit for being the best parents we could be with the circumstances as they were. But despite all the effort, despite all the advice, the baby did not come, and 73

The

Baby

though the books and the experts would never have tolerated it, we secretly began to blame one another. The staggering amount of work that went into keeping the baby healthy and competitive was like an all-consuming furnace, taking every scrap of energy we could give, and then demanding more. When we ran out of fuel, we powered ourselves with anger. We burned inside over long unanswered questions about how exactly we'd come to be in this mess, boiled at the way our plans had been rewritten, and seethed at the idea that as we drove ourselves relentlessly ahead, we might still be falling behind. The source of our power was invisible, because to show it would be to admit that something was wrong—that we'd encountered something that was somehow smaller and yet larger than us at the same time. Instead, we kept it to ourselves. For two years, eleven months, and six days of our child's gestation we quietly used that anger to wake, work, and provide for ourselves. It was this invisible anger that kept us in the race, our silent rage that kept us presentable. Then, one fateful Thursday, our couple's therapist canceled our session to deal with his own divorce, and the dams that had held back our contempt began to crumble. We'd agreed long ago never to argue in front ofthe baby, (all the books were against it) and since the baby was always present, our long festering marital meltdown was necessarily cordial. We let our words drip like honey and hoped they would land like punches. My wife explained how she'd come to believe that I was at fault for our difficult situation. I was always rushing, always in such a hurry. She cited the way I often failed to wait for her in parking lots, walking five to ten steps ahead in my haste to get to the movie or the grocery store or the mall. The way I darted through traffic, and pushed through crowds, and generally acted like we were always headed to or from a fire. She remembered how I claimed to be unable to help it, how I said the need to rush was in my blood. Not only was it in my blood, she said, but it extended all the way to my genes. My sperm, according to her, were as pushy as I was and had gone in and rushed things, just as one would expect my sperm to do. The baby had been spooked by all the pressure and hurrying, and was now simply afraid to appear. She concluded her case with an angry smile and stroked my hair softly as she repeated, this is all your fault, dear. But I had my own theory, which removed all blame from my shoulders and placed it back on my wife's, where, I said while offering her a massage, it truly belonged. I reminded her that she was an insatiable perfectionist, and asked her to recall our wedding day when she burst into tears over the fact that the bathroom floors had been paved with red rose petals instead of pink, and then again, upon discovering that the cake-cutter and the cake-dispenser had gotten confused and switched jobs. That these errors were invisible to everyone else was immaterial. Because the day did not match her abstract vision of perfection, it was considered a disaster. I then reminded her of her precious calendar on 74


Berkeley Fiction

Review

The

which she'd organized, to the day, all ofthe major events ofthe next decade, the calendar she'd spoken about incessantly, the very calendar she'd had to toss out when we learned ofthe baby. According to her original vision, a baby was not to be conceived until Thursday, March 6th, four years from now, and not delivered until Tuesday, November 8th, of that same year. And though she claimed to have thrown her old calendar away, I'd seen her sobbing and clutching it on numerous occasions. And so, my theory went, because the baby had chosen its own days rather than those preordained by my wife, it seemed clear, though she'd never dare say it, that she viewed the whole situation as a disaster. This was why our baby had not arrived—either out of some incredible will to please its impossible mother, or through her own shocking determination to stick to her original visions of perfection. But certainly, I concluded giving her a kiss on her cheek, not through any fault of my own. We stared at each other in the yellow incandescence of our bedroom, both of us having finally glimpsed the fury that propelled our endless motion. But a glimpse was all we could betray because, as much as we wanted to be rid of it, we feared that without it we could not go on. Without it we would quit, would give in, would lose. So we swallowed what we hadn't shared and decided we should hug, for the baby's sake. With concrete grins we embraced, and each of us tried to squeeze all our anger into the other until we turned out the light and cuddled together in a big ball of hate.

Baby

due addition, while subsisting on our fury and the advice of people who'd failed in other situations, but knew best how we should handle ours. I kept up the work so my wife could keep up the classes. We put the baby in cub scouts where it attained the rank of Weebelo, and my wife spent at least three days a week at the park making sure the baby got its exercise and the opportunity to bond with its classmates. And on occasion, when our efforts to keep up and blend in appeared to find success, it seemed that things between us might soften, that my wife and I might reach an understanding, find some other way to fuel our persistence. But these moments were rare. It was disappointment that was in abundance. The play dates we arranged never seemed to work out. The other kids didn't like playing with the baby and the other mothers didn't like playing with my wife. Further, the burden of carrying a baby around for several years had not only robbed my wife ofthe graceful figure-she had worked to mold but had begun to severely tax her back. The doctors outfitted her with an outrageously comical specialized walker, which looked strangely like a rolling TV tray on which she could rest her belly as she moved. When she passed by, people indeed stopped and stared, but for all the wrong reasons. I felt for her, but could never find the words to say so. To preserve our veneer of marital and parental bliss, we'd learned to smile when we wanted to scream, to profess love with our mouths and hate with our eyes. We became trapped in our own happy lie, and neither of us had the courage to let the other out.

The Achilles' heel of my theory was that it was testable. If the November 8th my wife had selected were to come and go and the baby had not been released by my wife, or chosen to appear on its own, then my whole argument would be discredited and blame for the situation would be laid at the feet of my overzealous and pushy sperm. I spent many a night in the office reflecting on this very weakness in my attack. In the beginning this was merely another source of my anger. Anger at myself for offering a proper and experimentally fallible theory, and anger at my wife for doing just the opposite. But as the days outgrew their hours and blossomed into weeks and the weeks passed all their days and graduated into months, my anger turned to fear. Fear that in fact I might be to blame. Fear that I alone might end up with the knowledge that something I'd done, something latent and internal, might indeed be the reason for the pain and torment that we, including the silent but loveable baby, had all endured. This thought was too awful to consider, so instead I assured myself that I would be vindicated. That the baby would arrive and would already know the multiplication tables, the backstroke, and the meaning of quiescent without ever missing a beat. I would follow the rules. I would heed the advice. The baby would be fine. My wife would be to blame.

As the birthdays ticked by we kept up our ritual, inviting all our friends and family over to celebrate, begging them to pretend our situation was normal, that our efforts to keep up had at a minimum allowed us to stay in the race. But each year, as the number of candles in my wife's belly button grew, our wish as she extinguished them became that much more intense. Please, we prayed as the fire was transformed to wispy trails of smoke, please let this end. Years passed this way, the two of us doting on one another with unsatisfied rage as we broke our backs to keep our baby from falling behind, until finally we found ourselves perched on the edge of that special Tuesday, November 8th, the one hand- picked by my wife all those years ago as the date she would deliver her first born. I felt an odd confidence that somehow we were only hours away from meeting the child who hadn't left our sides in all these years. I dusted the little suitcase by the door and prepared my self for the impending drive to the hospital. Though she'd always disagreed with my theory, my wife seemed strangely full of hope. If indeed she'd been responsible, it was clear she was ready for it to be over. If the baby didn't come, it wouldn't be for spite on her part. Neither of us could sleep. We laid together in the bed and briefly dipped

Thus, we pressed on, trying to provide every advantage to our long over75

76 &.


Berkeley Fiction

Review

The

which she'd organized, to the day, all ofthe major events ofthe next decade, the calendar she'd spoken about incessantly, the very calendar she'd had to toss out when we learned ofthe baby. According to her original vision, a baby was not to be conceived until Thursday, March 6th, four years from now, and not delivered until Tuesday, November 8th, of that same year. And though she claimed to have thrown her old calendar away, I'd seen her sobbing and clutching it on numerous occasions. And so, my theory went, because the baby had chosen its own days rather than those preordained by my wife, it seemed clear, though she'd never dare say it, that she viewed the whole situation as a disaster. This was why our baby had not arrived—either out of some incredible will to please its impossible mother, or through her own shocking determination to stick to her original visions of perfection. But certainly, I concluded giving her a kiss on her cheek, not through any fault of my own. We stared at each other in the yellow incandescence of our bedroom, both of us having finally glimpsed the fury that propelled our endless motion. But a glimpse was all we could betray because, as much as we wanted to be rid of it, we feared that without it we could not go on. Without it we would quit, would give in, would lose. So we swallowed what we hadn't shared and decided we should hug, for the baby's sake. With concrete grins we embraced, and each of us tried to squeeze all our anger into the other until we turned out the light and cuddled together in a big ball of hate.

Baby

due addition, while subsisting on our fury and the advice of people who'd failed in other situations, but knew best how we should handle ours. I kept up the work so my wife could keep up the classes. We put the baby in cub scouts where it attained the rank of Weebelo, and my wife spent at least three days a week at the park making sure the baby got its exercise and the opportunity to bond with its classmates. And on occasion, when our efforts to keep up and blend in appeared to find success, it seemed that things between us might soften, that my wife and I might reach an understanding, find some other way to fuel our persistence. But these moments were rare. It was disappointment that was in abundance. The play dates we arranged never seemed to work out. The other kids didn't like playing with the baby and the other mothers didn't like playing with my wife. Further, the burden of carrying a baby around for several years had not only robbed my wife ofthe graceful figure-she had worked to mold but had begun to severely tax her back. The doctors outfitted her with an outrageously comical specialized walker, which looked strangely like a rolling TV tray on which she could rest her belly as she moved. When she passed by, people indeed stopped and stared, but for all the wrong reasons. I felt for her, but could never find the words to say so. To preserve our veneer of marital and parental bliss, we'd learned to smile when we wanted to scream, to profess love with our mouths and hate with our eyes. We became trapped in our own happy lie, and neither of us had the courage to let the other out.

The Achilles' heel of my theory was that it was testable. If the November 8th my wife had selected were to come and go and the baby had not been released by my wife, or chosen to appear on its own, then my whole argument would be discredited and blame for the situation would be laid at the feet of my overzealous and pushy sperm. I spent many a night in the office reflecting on this very weakness in my attack. In the beginning this was merely another source of my anger. Anger at myself for offering a proper and experimentally fallible theory, and anger at my wife for doing just the opposite. But as the days outgrew their hours and blossomed into weeks and the weeks passed all their days and graduated into months, my anger turned to fear. Fear that in fact I might be to blame. Fear that I alone might end up with the knowledge that something I'd done, something latent and internal, might indeed be the reason for the pain and torment that we, including the silent but loveable baby, had all endured. This thought was too awful to consider, so instead I assured myself that I would be vindicated. That the baby would arrive and would already know the multiplication tables, the backstroke, and the meaning of quiescent without ever missing a beat. I would follow the rules. I would heed the advice. The baby would be fine. My wife would be to blame.

As the birthdays ticked by we kept up our ritual, inviting all our friends and family over to celebrate, begging them to pretend our situation was normal, that our efforts to keep up had at a minimum allowed us to stay in the race. But each year, as the number of candles in my wife's belly button grew, our wish as she extinguished them became that much more intense. Please, we prayed as the fire was transformed to wispy trails of smoke, please let this end. Years passed this way, the two of us doting on one another with unsatisfied rage as we broke our backs to keep our baby from falling behind, until finally we found ourselves perched on the edge of that special Tuesday, November 8th, the one hand- picked by my wife all those years ago as the date she would deliver her first born. I felt an odd confidence that somehow we were only hours away from meeting the child who hadn't left our sides in all these years. I dusted the little suitcase by the door and prepared my self for the impending drive to the hospital. Though she'd always disagreed with my theory, my wife seemed strangely full of hope. If indeed she'd been responsible, it was clear she was ready for it to be over. If the baby didn't come, it wouldn't be for spite on her part. Neither of us could sleep. We laid together in the bed and briefly dipped

Thus, we pressed on, trying to provide every advantage to our long over75

76 &.


Berkeley Fiction

TheBaby

Review

our toes in dreams that the baby had come, only then to lie awake in the knowledge it had not. Day refused to break, sending only a lesser form of darkness in its place, a dull grayness that seemed poised to flatten us from above. The hope that had floated our spirits only hours before drained from the house with every passing hour. We waited in silence, until even the day got bored and went around to the other side ofthe world. Together we stared at the clock until midnight came and with it the assurance that if the baby was coming, it would not be this day. This day that my wife had selected long ago would be like all the others she had not. She was absolved of all wrongdoing. My fears were confirmed. Whatever had happened, it was surely my fault. With that realization, all my contempt for my wife disappeared like that 8* of November, just faded into the past and became nothing more than history. It's my fault, I said. You were right all along. My sperm must have rushed. I scared the baby. I told her she was a wonderful wife, and a wonderful mother, and I assured her that there was nothing wrong with wanting things to be perfect. It's not you, she said. It was never you. It just is what it is. For the first time in years we held each other close and refused to share our bed with thoughts of doing one another harm.

other in the morning. At 2:58 the phone erupted from my nightstand I grabbed it after a single ring and looked at my wife, who edged close to consciousness before slipping back into the comfort of her dreams. Hello, I whispered. Hello, came a voice from the other side. Who is this, I asked. It's me. The baby. I gasped for air, as if more oxygen were the key to understanding this information. Where are you? Where do you think I am? I looked over at my wife's inflated midsection and watched as it rose as fell with her easy breaths. You can make calls from in there? Yes. How? It's complicated. I see. Well, look, I was just calling to say that I've decided something. You're great people, both of you, wonderful parents, but I'm not coming out. I was really thinking about it, planning on it actually, and I figured tonight, after ten years and all, tonight would be as good as any. But I just can't do it. It's just not for me. Did you feel I rushed you? I never meant to rush you. Rushed me, are you crazy? I've felt quite welcome to take my time. I hope you don't think you mother didn't want— No, no, it's nothing like that. I told you, you're wonderful people, and I've been lucky to have you. So, is there any particular reason you never wanted to come out? It's really comfortable in here. The best. The funny thing is that no one really has to leave. It's sort of an unwritten rule that you get the nine months and then you're supposed to hit the road, but most kids do it and then immediately regret it. As soon as they realize what they've done, that there's no turning back, well, you've been there—they just start screaming and crying. Then why does anybody leave? Monkey see, monkey do, man. So why did you stay? Don't know. Guess I'm a little bit of a maverick. I like that, I said. I'm proud of you for that. Yeah, but it's bad for mom's back, no matter what she says. You guys need a break. It's time. So I'm going to be leaving.

After that we burned the books, deciding that we could certainly do no worse on our own. We withdrew the child from classes and dropped any pretense of being a normal family with a normal child and embraced the idea of being a special family with an extremely special child. My wife went back to exercising, concentrating not on her abs but her back, building her muscles to support the baby without the aid ofthe rolling TV tray. I took some time off from work and we took the baby to see the sights. We did Disney World and the Grand Canyon, a little camping, a little hiking, and stopped the car every time the baby kicked, and gave the child a few moments to examine whatever happened to surround us, wherever we happened to be. And pretty soon we just forgot to be waiting and moved onto enjoying our situation the way it seemed destined to stay. Our friends with incredible things and incredible children plowed ahead, but we never remembered to feel left behind. To others we were two people and a medical curiosity. To us, we were just a family, and that was enough. After a decade of pregnancy we held a quiet tenth birthday celebration at home, just the three of us. We each put five candles in our bellies and from our backs we blew them out wishing not for the baby's immediate delivery, but for its permanent well-being. We retired to bed and kissed our dodgeball shaped loved one good night, and promised that we looked forward to seeing one an-

78

11 A


Berkeley Fiction

TheBaby

Review

our toes in dreams that the baby had come, only then to lie awake in the knowledge it had not. Day refused to break, sending only a lesser form of darkness in its place, a dull grayness that seemed poised to flatten us from above. The hope that had floated our spirits only hours before drained from the house with every passing hour. We waited in silence, until even the day got bored and went around to the other side ofthe world. Together we stared at the clock until midnight came and with it the assurance that if the baby was coming, it would not be this day. This day that my wife had selected long ago would be like all the others she had not. She was absolved of all wrongdoing. My fears were confirmed. Whatever had happened, it was surely my fault. With that realization, all my contempt for my wife disappeared like that 8* of November, just faded into the past and became nothing more than history. It's my fault, I said. You were right all along. My sperm must have rushed. I scared the baby. I told her she was a wonderful wife, and a wonderful mother, and I assured her that there was nothing wrong with wanting things to be perfect. It's not you, she said. It was never you. It just is what it is. For the first time in years we held each other close and refused to share our bed with thoughts of doing one another harm.

other in the morning. At 2:58 the phone erupted from my nightstand I grabbed it after a single ring and looked at my wife, who edged close to consciousness before slipping back into the comfort of her dreams. Hello, I whispered. Hello, came a voice from the other side. Who is this, I asked. It's me. The baby. I gasped for air, as if more oxygen were the key to understanding this information. Where are you? Where do you think I am? I looked over at my wife's inflated midsection and watched as it rose as fell with her easy breaths. You can make calls from in there? Yes. How? It's complicated. I see. Well, look, I was just calling to say that I've decided something. You're great people, both of you, wonderful parents, but I'm not coming out. I was really thinking about it, planning on it actually, and I figured tonight, after ten years and all, tonight would be as good as any. But I just can't do it. It's just not for me. Did you feel I rushed you? I never meant to rush you. Rushed me, are you crazy? I've felt quite welcome to take my time. I hope you don't think you mother didn't want— No, no, it's nothing like that. I told you, you're wonderful people, and I've been lucky to have you. So, is there any particular reason you never wanted to come out? It's really comfortable in here. The best. The funny thing is that no one really has to leave. It's sort of an unwritten rule that you get the nine months and then you're supposed to hit the road, but most kids do it and then immediately regret it. As soon as they realize what they've done, that there's no turning back, well, you've been there—they just start screaming and crying. Then why does anybody leave? Monkey see, monkey do, man. So why did you stay? Don't know. Guess I'm a little bit of a maverick. I like that, I said. I'm proud of you for that. Yeah, but it's bad for mom's back, no matter what she says. You guys need a break. It's time. So I'm going to be leaving.

After that we burned the books, deciding that we could certainly do no worse on our own. We withdrew the child from classes and dropped any pretense of being a normal family with a normal child and embraced the idea of being a special family with an extremely special child. My wife went back to exercising, concentrating not on her abs but her back, building her muscles to support the baby without the aid ofthe rolling TV tray. I took some time off from work and we took the baby to see the sights. We did Disney World and the Grand Canyon, a little camping, a little hiking, and stopped the car every time the baby kicked, and gave the child a few moments to examine whatever happened to surround us, wherever we happened to be. And pretty soon we just forgot to be waiting and moved onto enjoying our situation the way it seemed destined to stay. Our friends with incredible things and incredible children plowed ahead, but we never remembered to feel left behind. To others we were two people and a medical curiosity. To us, we were just a family, and that was enough. After a decade of pregnancy we held a quiet tenth birthday celebration at home, just the three of us. We each put five candles in our bellies and from our backs we blew them out wishing not for the baby's immediate delivery, but for its permanent well-being. We retired to bed and kissed our dodgeball shaped loved one good night, and promised that we looked forward to seeing one an-

78

11 A


Berkeley Fiction

Review

The

Baby

Where are you going? Back where I came from. You can do that? Sure. How? It's complicated. But you guys are going to be fine, don't you worry, I'm sure of it. How do you know? Well, it's not like I have a crystal ball or anything. A telephone yes, crystal ball no. But I can tell. Please let mom know I love her and thank her for the ride. I'm going to miss you guys. We'll miss you. Very much. Will we ever see you again? Of course. When? Where? It's complicated. There was a pause and then, I love you dad. Good-bye. Good-bye. The line went dead and I held the phone to my ear and listened to the drone ofthe dial tone until the operator took it away. I dropped the phone in the cradle, and I went to bed. When we woke the next morning my wife was skinny as a rail and the mere idea of anything with pickles made her ill. I told her about the phone call and she seemed saddened, but somehow able to understand. For a while we weren't sure what to do. We decided that what was required was a send off of some sort, something better than a late night phone call to say goodbye. A funeral seemed too sad, so we decided on a graduation, though we didn't specify from what. We invited all our friends and the baby's now pre-teen contemporaries. My wife taped a mortarboard to her abdomen, and we opened the thoughtful gifts of Cross pens and personalized stationary that our visitors had brought. Everyone was careful not to mention that the guest of honor was absent, that the graduate, had in fact, already moved on. They just smiled politely and we smiled back. Six months later, among the thank yous and other mailed pleasantries from all our invited guests, we found a folded note with no postage. On the front was a crude drawing of a kite blowing in the wind and inside, the paper revealed itself to be a piece of graduation stationary. There was no signature, no letter, no explanation at all. Just two words, Thank You, that appeared to be written with a fountain tipped Cross Pen.

79

80


Berkeley Fiction

Review

The

Baby

Where are you going? Back where I came from. You can do that? Sure. How? It's complicated. But you guys are going to be fine, don't you worry, I'm sure of it. How do you know? Well, it's not like I have a crystal ball or anything. A telephone yes, crystal ball no. But I can tell. Please let mom know I love her and thank her for the ride. I'm going to miss you guys. We'll miss you. Very much. Will we ever see you again? Of course. When? Where? It's complicated. There was a pause and then, I love you dad. Good-bye. Good-bye. The line went dead and I held the phone to my ear and listened to the drone ofthe dial tone until the operator took it away. I dropped the phone in the cradle, and I went to bed. When we woke the next morning my wife was skinny as a rail and the mere idea of anything with pickles made her ill. I told her about the phone call and she seemed saddened, but somehow able to understand. For a while we weren't sure what to do. We decided that what was required was a send off of some sort, something better than a late night phone call to say goodbye. A funeral seemed too sad, so we decided on a graduation, though we didn't specify from what. We invited all our friends and the baby's now pre-teen contemporaries. My wife taped a mortarboard to her abdomen, and we opened the thoughtful gifts of Cross pens and personalized stationary that our visitors had brought. Everyone was careful not to mention that the guest of honor was absent, that the graduate, had in fact, already moved on. They just smiled politely and we smiled back. Six months later, among the thank yous and other mailed pleasantries from all our invited guests, we found a folded note with no postage. On the front was a crude drawing of a kite blowing in the wind and inside, the paper revealed itself to be a piece of graduation stationary. There was no signature, no letter, no explanation at all. Just two words, Thank You, that appeared to be written with a fountain tipped Cross Pen.

79

80


The Best Damn Suicide Letter

T h e

B e s t

L e t t e r

D

a

m

n

"I simply cannot bear this unhappiness" was also inaccurate. If nothing else I have shown an almost superhuman ability to bear misery. I mentioned my "Christ-like" tolerance for unjust suffering in my original letter but edited that out after my research showed that, even if one's grandeur is well-documented, referring to it in a suicide letter inevitably results in the writer being labeled delusional. It also made me sound depressed, and I definitely was not. I will admit that I was feeling a bit blue before I made up my mind to kill myself, but, once it was decided, all sadness vanished and a pleasant tranquility very nearly smothered my customary justifiable rage. A good suicide letter never includes the words "I'm sorry." I had to remove those words to avoid any possible misunderstanding. Less astute readers—and the people to whom my letter was addressed could all fall into that category—might have interpreted "I'm sorry" as some sort of confession of guilt and, letting themselves off the hook, stopped reading before getting to the part where I clearly assign the blame to them. I was the wronged party and my letter laid that out in concise detail. No apologies here. I was only sorry for whatever poor soul had the unfortunate job of cleaning up my mortal remains. I am a fellow of substantial girth and, because of my chosen method of self-elimination, I was anticipating particularly agonizing death throes and assumed I would be leaving behind quite a mess. Once the contents of my suicide letter were suitably refined, I had to decide upon the worthy recipients. I settled upon the final five not because they were the only ones to have persecuted me, but because, as an altruistic soul, I chose to send letters only to those in whom I detected some small capacity for change. Consequently, I did not address a letter to my brother. With his boring, sellout, corporate job and his castrating long-term relationship, he is too blindly self-content to evolve. In a just world, he'd be the one killing himself, perhaps leaping from a window of that soulless glass and steel tower where he works. But the world is not just and my brother lacks both the theatrical flair for jumping and the perspicacity to realize that he should. My therapist didn't make the final cut either. He's a pretty dim bulb if you ask me, educated well beyond the capacity of his intelligence. Of course that doesn't stop him from acting like he knows everything: "Dale, you're depressed." "Dale, you need medication." "Dale, you're a self-destructive borderline sociopath." Blah, blah, blah. God, how that idiot went on. No way I would waste valuable space in my suicide letter on him. I was only seeing him because of a court order after a misunderstanding involving myself, a couple of transvestites and a late-night tug-of-war over the last box of Little Debbie Snack Cakes in the Safeway (which I soundly won). I loved the thought of him reading about my suicide in the newspaper and eating his heart out that he didn't get a letter. I was going to send one letter to grandmother, but she was 91 years old and even if she came out of her coma, I knew she'd never change. This was

S u i c i d e

E v e r

b y E d w a r d K e l s e y

Ever

M o o r e

decided to delay my death for a few weeks while I embarked upon a research project in order to create the perfect suicide letter, a letter | with the precise wording and tone that would result in the addressees living out the rest of their lives under a crushing weight of guilt. Hundreds of hours of exhaustive study revealed to me that most suicide letters tended to be long-winded, dreary whinefests that just made everyone glad their authors were dead. I vowed to avoid the pitfalls that ruined the work of other suicidal writers and create the best damn suicide letter ever. Before my research, all drafts of my suicide letter had hovered around twenty pages in length. That was the first thing to change. Time spent at the library poring over the final goodbyes of countless suicides ofthe past proved to me that brevity was a must. Excessively long letters allow readers to feel justified in skimming. Since I was doing the whole thing for their benefit, I was determined that my readers not miss a word. So, I pared my letter down to two pithy pages. I also discovered throughout my early drafts an unfortunate, and entirely unintentional, tendency to rhyme. The original beginning read, "I can no longer face a world that will not return my embrace. I am sorry to cause strife and stress, but I simply cannot bear such unhappiness." Bad idea. Maybe it's all that nursery school training, but people tend to think rhymes are funny no matter how serious the writer is trying to be. Aside from the rhyming problem, my opening about "a world that will not return my embrace" had to go because it could be interpreted as a bit whiny. Besides, I have never desired an embrace from the world. I have merely requested that the world keep a respectful distance. It has not obliged.

82

81 &.


The Best Damn Suicide Letter

T h e

B e s t

L e t t e r

D

a

m

n

"I simply cannot bear this unhappiness" was also inaccurate. If nothing else I have shown an almost superhuman ability to bear misery. I mentioned my "Christ-like" tolerance for unjust suffering in my original letter but edited that out after my research showed that, even if one's grandeur is well-documented, referring to it in a suicide letter inevitably results in the writer being labeled delusional. It also made me sound depressed, and I definitely was not. I will admit that I was feeling a bit blue before I made up my mind to kill myself, but, once it was decided, all sadness vanished and a pleasant tranquility very nearly smothered my customary justifiable rage. A good suicide letter never includes the words "I'm sorry." I had to remove those words to avoid any possible misunderstanding. Less astute readers—and the people to whom my letter was addressed could all fall into that category—might have interpreted "I'm sorry" as some sort of confession of guilt and, letting themselves off the hook, stopped reading before getting to the part where I clearly assign the blame to them. I was the wronged party and my letter laid that out in concise detail. No apologies here. I was only sorry for whatever poor soul had the unfortunate job of cleaning up my mortal remains. I am a fellow of substantial girth and, because of my chosen method of self-elimination, I was anticipating particularly agonizing death throes and assumed I would be leaving behind quite a mess. Once the contents of my suicide letter were suitably refined, I had to decide upon the worthy recipients. I settled upon the final five not because they were the only ones to have persecuted me, but because, as an altruistic soul, I chose to send letters only to those in whom I detected some small capacity for change. Consequently, I did not address a letter to my brother. With his boring, sellout, corporate job and his castrating long-term relationship, he is too blindly self-content to evolve. In a just world, he'd be the one killing himself, perhaps leaping from a window of that soulless glass and steel tower where he works. But the world is not just and my brother lacks both the theatrical flair for jumping and the perspicacity to realize that he should. My therapist didn't make the final cut either. He's a pretty dim bulb if you ask me, educated well beyond the capacity of his intelligence. Of course that doesn't stop him from acting like he knows everything: "Dale, you're depressed." "Dale, you need medication." "Dale, you're a self-destructive borderline sociopath." Blah, blah, blah. God, how that idiot went on. No way I would waste valuable space in my suicide letter on him. I was only seeing him because of a court order after a misunderstanding involving myself, a couple of transvestites and a late-night tug-of-war over the last box of Little Debbie Snack Cakes in the Safeway (which I soundly won). I loved the thought of him reading about my suicide in the newspaper and eating his heart out that he didn't get a letter. I was going to send one letter to grandmother, but she was 91 years old and even if she came out of her coma, I knew she'd never change. This was

S u i c i d e

E v e r

b y E d w a r d K e l s e y

Ever

M o o r e

decided to delay my death for a few weeks while I embarked upon a research project in order to create the perfect suicide letter, a letter | with the precise wording and tone that would result in the addressees living out the rest of their lives under a crushing weight of guilt. Hundreds of hours of exhaustive study revealed to me that most suicide letters tended to be long-winded, dreary whinefests that just made everyone glad their authors were dead. I vowed to avoid the pitfalls that ruined the work of other suicidal writers and create the best damn suicide letter ever. Before my research, all drafts of my suicide letter had hovered around twenty pages in length. That was the first thing to change. Time spent at the library poring over the final goodbyes of countless suicides ofthe past proved to me that brevity was a must. Excessively long letters allow readers to feel justified in skimming. Since I was doing the whole thing for their benefit, I was determined that my readers not miss a word. So, I pared my letter down to two pithy pages. I also discovered throughout my early drafts an unfortunate, and entirely unintentional, tendency to rhyme. The original beginning read, "I can no longer face a world that will not return my embrace. I am sorry to cause strife and stress, but I simply cannot bear such unhappiness." Bad idea. Maybe it's all that nursery school training, but people tend to think rhymes are funny no matter how serious the writer is trying to be. Aside from the rhyming problem, my opening about "a world that will not return my embrace" had to go because it could be interpreted as a bit whiny. Besides, I have never desired an embrace from the world. I have merely requested that the world keep a respectful distance. It has not obliged.

82

81 &.


Berkeley Fiction

The Best Damn Suicide Letter

Review

Ever

meanness and your jealousy ofthe unique insights and freethinking that have made it impossible for me to maintain consistent employment in a world run by closed-minded buffoons always interfered with our relationship. When you talked our pathetically suggestible mother into demanding rent payments from me for my tiny basement apartment in the home we grew up in, I knew that you were beyond redemption. And don't you dare deny that it was your idea. I could hear every word spoken in this house through the heating duct in my ceiling and I heard you loud and clear. No one likes a busybody, Amy. Remember that. Now your cruel interventions into my life have killed me. I hope it was worth it.

a woman who, despite my constant reminders that it was my brother, not me, who had the cowboy obsession, persisted in giving me "Gunsmoke"-themed bed sheets and pillowcases for every birthday from ages 6 to 12. And/'mthe sociopath? I knew even then-that the insult was intentional. It would have been a pleasure to inform her that my first thoughts of suicide were conceived during nights of fitful tossing on those polyester sheets with thread counts so low that it was like lying on razor wire. But, I'm not the sort to hang on to grudges. No letter for Grandma. She'll have to work out her repentance on her own. This is how I started my letter: Hello Mom, Amy, Derek, Vanessa and Roger, I'm sure that by now you know that I am dead.

I knew that would hit Amy good and hard. She always thought she was so much better than me—with her charity work and environmentalism. Well, I thought, save all the runaways and reuse all the soda bottles you like, little missy, you murdered your brother. Although I didn't mention it in my letter I was also still steamed with Amy for her role in forcing me to alter my suicide arrangements. When I first made up my mind to do it, I had planned to gas myself in the garage with Mother's old Chrysler. On the day I finished my suicide letter research I arrived at my home from the library just in time to see Mother swerving into the driveway in a brand new electric hybrid automobile that she'd been persuaded by Amy to purchase. My asphyxiation arrangements went down the drain right then. Even the most sensitive canary in the mine couldn't be motivated to swoon from the minuscule amount of carbon monoxide produced by that car. But I am not easily defeated. Just hours after Mother and Amy ruined my original suicide plan with their trendy conservationism, I happened upon an even better way to kill myself while lying in bed enjoying a Little Debbie Snack Cake and a bottle of Dr Pepper. There was a movie on television in which the great Meryl Streep took a big gulp of Drano and proceeded to die an agonizing death. I trusted her training enough to know that all of her shrieking, sheet ripping and furniture toppling was ofthe highest verisimilitude. At the end ofthe movie, her abusive husband and distant, emotionally crippling family suffered even more than she had. I knew as soon as I saw it that I had found just the thing for me. Take that, Amy. My nephew Derek, at first I hesitated to include you with this pack of miscreants. It is not entirely your fault that you have turned out the way you have. You are, after all, my sister Amy's son and any fool could tell that she is unfit to raise a child. However, you should learn that there comes a time in life for every boy to accept responsibility for his selfishness and callous behavior if he wants to grow up to be a productive member of society. When I overheard you calling me "stupid, fat ol' Uncle Dale" the other day (please refer to the heating duct mentioned above) I knew you had crossed over to the dark side

When they reread it, as they would no doubt feel compelled to do, they would notice the lack of rhyming, self-pity or apology. Also, it has been statistically proven that "hello" is the best way to begin a lecture and this was as much lecture as letter. Human beings are conditioned from an early age to find "hello" disarming and to assume that it will be followed by the dissemination of pertinent information delivered in a friendly manner. As is typical in these sorts of situations, you are likely wondering whether or not there is something you could have done to prevent my untimely and tragic death. Let there be no confusion; the answer to that is yes. I could almost hear the shocked inhalations and the beginnings ofthe remorseful weeping. Mother, you could have saved me by not finding every possible way to crush my spirits. You perpetrated countless indignities upon me during my 42 years of life. But, as it is my goal here to be instructive, I shall only mention one thing. Your reaction to my simple request to host the first face-to-face meeting of my online Andre" Rieu fan club here in the basement of our house was outrageous. So what if it's a nude fan club? Everyone knows that the classic Viennese stylings of the legendary violinist and PBS superstar Andre" Rieu are best enjoyed without the unnatural distraction of clothing. The meeting would have been in my own apartment, after all—an apartment for which, had I lived, you'd have forced me to begin paying rent next month. And while I'm on that subject, what kind of mother charges her child rent? I'll tell you what kind, the greedy kind. I will take this opportunity to remind you once more, Mother, that avarice is a sin. Think about that the next time you are in church. You have my permission to mull it over during my memorial service. My mother likes to think of herself as very religious, so those last couple of sentences were meant to give her a much-needed jolt. My sister Amy, we could have been such good friends. But your

84

83 1


Berkeley Fiction

The Best Damn Suicide Letter

Review

Ever

meanness and your jealousy ofthe unique insights and freethinking that have made it impossible for me to maintain consistent employment in a world run by closed-minded buffoons always interfered with our relationship. When you talked our pathetically suggestible mother into demanding rent payments from me for my tiny basement apartment in the home we grew up in, I knew that you were beyond redemption. And don't you dare deny that it was your idea. I could hear every word spoken in this house through the heating duct in my ceiling and I heard you loud and clear. No one likes a busybody, Amy. Remember that. Now your cruel interventions into my life have killed me. I hope it was worth it.

a woman who, despite my constant reminders that it was my brother, not me, who had the cowboy obsession, persisted in giving me "Gunsmoke"-themed bed sheets and pillowcases for every birthday from ages 6 to 12. And/'mthe sociopath? I knew even then-that the insult was intentional. It would have been a pleasure to inform her that my first thoughts of suicide were conceived during nights of fitful tossing on those polyester sheets with thread counts so low that it was like lying on razor wire. But, I'm not the sort to hang on to grudges. No letter for Grandma. She'll have to work out her repentance on her own. This is how I started my letter: Hello Mom, Amy, Derek, Vanessa and Roger, I'm sure that by now you know that I am dead.

I knew that would hit Amy good and hard. She always thought she was so much better than me—with her charity work and environmentalism. Well, I thought, save all the runaways and reuse all the soda bottles you like, little missy, you murdered your brother. Although I didn't mention it in my letter I was also still steamed with Amy for her role in forcing me to alter my suicide arrangements. When I first made up my mind to do it, I had planned to gas myself in the garage with Mother's old Chrysler. On the day I finished my suicide letter research I arrived at my home from the library just in time to see Mother swerving into the driveway in a brand new electric hybrid automobile that she'd been persuaded by Amy to purchase. My asphyxiation arrangements went down the drain right then. Even the most sensitive canary in the mine couldn't be motivated to swoon from the minuscule amount of carbon monoxide produced by that car. But I am not easily defeated. Just hours after Mother and Amy ruined my original suicide plan with their trendy conservationism, I happened upon an even better way to kill myself while lying in bed enjoying a Little Debbie Snack Cake and a bottle of Dr Pepper. There was a movie on television in which the great Meryl Streep took a big gulp of Drano and proceeded to die an agonizing death. I trusted her training enough to know that all of her shrieking, sheet ripping and furniture toppling was ofthe highest verisimilitude. At the end ofthe movie, her abusive husband and distant, emotionally crippling family suffered even more than she had. I knew as soon as I saw it that I had found just the thing for me. Take that, Amy. My nephew Derek, at first I hesitated to include you with this pack of miscreants. It is not entirely your fault that you have turned out the way you have. You are, after all, my sister Amy's son and any fool could tell that she is unfit to raise a child. However, you should learn that there comes a time in life for every boy to accept responsibility for his selfishness and callous behavior if he wants to grow up to be a productive member of society. When I overheard you calling me "stupid, fat ol' Uncle Dale" the other day (please refer to the heating duct mentioned above) I knew you had crossed over to the dark side

When they reread it, as they would no doubt feel compelled to do, they would notice the lack of rhyming, self-pity or apology. Also, it has been statistically proven that "hello" is the best way to begin a lecture and this was as much lecture as letter. Human beings are conditioned from an early age to find "hello" disarming and to assume that it will be followed by the dissemination of pertinent information delivered in a friendly manner. As is typical in these sorts of situations, you are likely wondering whether or not there is something you could have done to prevent my untimely and tragic death. Let there be no confusion; the answer to that is yes. I could almost hear the shocked inhalations and the beginnings ofthe remorseful weeping. Mother, you could have saved me by not finding every possible way to crush my spirits. You perpetrated countless indignities upon me during my 42 years of life. But, as it is my goal here to be instructive, I shall only mention one thing. Your reaction to my simple request to host the first face-to-face meeting of my online Andre" Rieu fan club here in the basement of our house was outrageous. So what if it's a nude fan club? Everyone knows that the classic Viennese stylings of the legendary violinist and PBS superstar Andre" Rieu are best enjoyed without the unnatural distraction of clothing. The meeting would have been in my own apartment, after all—an apartment for which, had I lived, you'd have forced me to begin paying rent next month. And while I'm on that subject, what kind of mother charges her child rent? I'll tell you what kind, the greedy kind. I will take this opportunity to remind you once more, Mother, that avarice is a sin. Think about that the next time you are in church. You have my permission to mull it over during my memorial service. My mother likes to think of herself as very religious, so those last couple of sentences were meant to give her a much-needed jolt. My sister Amy, we could have been such good friends. But your

84

83 1


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

and needed intervention. Well, the next time you decide to indulge in a bit of gratuitous cruelty I hope you will remember that your unkind words killed your uncle. Also, no matter what Amy has led you to believe, you are not the center of the universe. It's time you accepted that. You're almost eight years old, for God's sake. Vanessa from Safeway, chatting with you as you so efficiently rang up my daily supply of snack cakes and Dr. Pepper at register 2 was a wonderful escape from my tyrannical family. What a shame you had to destroy our love just as it had begun to flower. I shall never understand what caused the peculiar and unwelcome change in your character. But, for future reference, please remember that the polite response when a perfectly respectable gentleman tells you that you are beautiful and issues a romantic invitation to share a box of wine and his famous Tater-Tots and fish sticks casserole in the basement of his mother's home is "thank you," not hysterical laughter. Roger, from Safeway register 3, ditto. As I wrote this I pictured Vanessa and Roger pressing their tear-streaked letters to their nametags and sobbing uncontrollably as the policemen who had delivered the envelopes to them looked on in disgust. The police, I am certain, always read the suicide letters, so the officer would have arrived at the Safeway with a clear picture of their black hearts. It is my hope that each of you will use the opportunity I have handed you to mend your ways before you find a bloody trail of kind-hearted, sensitive bodies in your wake. I ask for no tears or sympathy, merely the promise that you will try to rise above your morally deficient natures and make the world a better place for the other gentle people you are undoubtedly tormenting into early graves. As none of you are yet worthy of forgiveness, I will not offer it. However, should you heed this warning and make the necessary changes, I will consider forgiving you in my next life. Goodbye, Dale Peck. After checking my letter for errors, I printed five copies and addressed one to each ofthe people I had so beneficently chosen to nudge into better behavior through my personal sacrifice. Then I put my favorite Andre" Rieu disk on the stereo and adjusted the volume control to its loudest point to cover my screams in the event Mother came home early from the day spa. (Yes, the same woman who was so destitute that she had to charge her offspring rent had money to throw away on nail wraps and foot massages.) I picked up my poison from the bathroom and brought it to the living room, where I had previously constructed a small, tasteful memorial shrine containing some childhood memorabilia, several 85

The Best Damn Suicide Letter

Ever

autographed photos of Andr6, a couple of potted ferns and a stuffed raccoon that I picked up at a flea market—the raccoon was just there to add an air of mystery, the best suicides leave a few unanswered questions. Seated on my sofabed, I turned my head towards the ceiling and took a swig of Drano. I had read that many people weren't able to swallow enough of this type of poison to successfully do the job because of the unpleasant burning sensation produced by the caustic chemicals. I felt no burning at all—a result, I assumed, of my unusually high pain threshold. The drain opener just tasted awful, which I supposed I should've expected. Had the manufacturers given it a minty fresh flavor, the temptation to guzzle it down whenever the going got a little rough might prove overwhelming for too many people. In spite ofthe lack of immediate discomfort, I did a fair amount of Meryl Streep-like screaming, broke a few knickknacks, and knocked over a^chair or two before collapsing from exhaustion. Just as I had settled onto my sofabed to catch my breath and await the pain, my telephone rang. I had planned to disconnect it, but in the flurry of activity that preceded my suicide, I had let that one detail slip. After three rings, I heard my greeting, "Tell me what you want, and make it brief," followed by a beep, and then the voice of Emily Smith. Emily is a fellow naturalist and the president ofthe West Coast chapter of ARNO (Andre" Rieu Nude Online Fan Club). She was already talking when the beep ended. Unlike me, Emily is a genuine depressive. So, when I heard her sounding absolutely joyous, I turned off the stereo and paid attention. Her message went on and on—just like her e-mails, our usual mode of communication. She completely ignored the admonition contained in my greeting and talked for a full 10 minutes. Some people say that life is full of surprises. They are wrong. Life is replete with spectacular inconveniences. Here's proof. The gist of Emily's manic babbling was that she had just learned, through a friend who worked for a luxury bus rental company, that Andre" Rieu would' tour the United States that coming summer and that Andre's tour would open in my city. To be precise it would open in my city, four months from that very day, in an arena just one mile straight north ofthe cemetery which, if my mother followed family tradition, would house my mortal remains. That was so like Emily. She just loved having Andre" news before I had it. If I hadn't just quaffed down chemicals that had probably scorched my vocal cords and likely made my normally sonorous voice sound like a whistling teakettle, I'd have picked up the phone and told her that I had known about the tour for weeks—a big lie, but she'd deserve it. I could just see her sitting all naked and self-satisfied in her Mendocino cabin, sipping Chardonnay and glorying in the fact that she had scooped me, all the while listening to Andre's "Live at the Royal Albert Hall"—which everybody knows doesn't touch "The Vienna 86


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

and needed intervention. Well, the next time you decide to indulge in a bit of gratuitous cruelty I hope you will remember that your unkind words killed your uncle. Also, no matter what Amy has led you to believe, you are not the center of the universe. It's time you accepted that. You're almost eight years old, for God's sake. Vanessa from Safeway, chatting with you as you so efficiently rang up my daily supply of snack cakes and Dr. Pepper at register 2 was a wonderful escape from my tyrannical family. What a shame you had to destroy our love just as it had begun to flower. I shall never understand what caused the peculiar and unwelcome change in your character. But, for future reference, please remember that the polite response when a perfectly respectable gentleman tells you that you are beautiful and issues a romantic invitation to share a box of wine and his famous Tater-Tots and fish sticks casserole in the basement of his mother's home is "thank you," not hysterical laughter. Roger, from Safeway register 3, ditto. As I wrote this I pictured Vanessa and Roger pressing their tear-streaked letters to their nametags and sobbing uncontrollably as the policemen who had delivered the envelopes to them looked on in disgust. The police, I am certain, always read the suicide letters, so the officer would have arrived at the Safeway with a clear picture of their black hearts. It is my hope that each of you will use the opportunity I have handed you to mend your ways before you find a bloody trail of kind-hearted, sensitive bodies in your wake. I ask for no tears or sympathy, merely the promise that you will try to rise above your morally deficient natures and make the world a better place for the other gentle people you are undoubtedly tormenting into early graves. As none of you are yet worthy of forgiveness, I will not offer it. However, should you heed this warning and make the necessary changes, I will consider forgiving you in my next life. Goodbye, Dale Peck. After checking my letter for errors, I printed five copies and addressed one to each ofthe people I had so beneficently chosen to nudge into better behavior through my personal sacrifice. Then I put my favorite Andre" Rieu disk on the stereo and adjusted the volume control to its loudest point to cover my screams in the event Mother came home early from the day spa. (Yes, the same woman who was so destitute that she had to charge her offspring rent had money to throw away on nail wraps and foot massages.) I picked up my poison from the bathroom and brought it to the living room, where I had previously constructed a small, tasteful memorial shrine containing some childhood memorabilia, several 85

The Best Damn Suicide Letter

Ever

autographed photos of Andr6, a couple of potted ferns and a stuffed raccoon that I picked up at a flea market—the raccoon was just there to add an air of mystery, the best suicides leave a few unanswered questions. Seated on my sofabed, I turned my head towards the ceiling and took a swig of Drano. I had read that many people weren't able to swallow enough of this type of poison to successfully do the job because of the unpleasant burning sensation produced by the caustic chemicals. I felt no burning at all—a result, I assumed, of my unusually high pain threshold. The drain opener just tasted awful, which I supposed I should've expected. Had the manufacturers given it a minty fresh flavor, the temptation to guzzle it down whenever the going got a little rough might prove overwhelming for too many people. In spite ofthe lack of immediate discomfort, I did a fair amount of Meryl Streep-like screaming, broke a few knickknacks, and knocked over a^chair or two before collapsing from exhaustion. Just as I had settled onto my sofabed to catch my breath and await the pain, my telephone rang. I had planned to disconnect it, but in the flurry of activity that preceded my suicide, I had let that one detail slip. After three rings, I heard my greeting, "Tell me what you want, and make it brief," followed by a beep, and then the voice of Emily Smith. Emily is a fellow naturalist and the president ofthe West Coast chapter of ARNO (Andre" Rieu Nude Online Fan Club). She was already talking when the beep ended. Unlike me, Emily is a genuine depressive. So, when I heard her sounding absolutely joyous, I turned off the stereo and paid attention. Her message went on and on—just like her e-mails, our usual mode of communication. She completely ignored the admonition contained in my greeting and talked for a full 10 minutes. Some people say that life is full of surprises. They are wrong. Life is replete with spectacular inconveniences. Here's proof. The gist of Emily's manic babbling was that she had just learned, through a friend who worked for a luxury bus rental company, that Andre" Rieu would' tour the United States that coming summer and that Andre's tour would open in my city. To be precise it would open in my city, four months from that very day, in an arena just one mile straight north ofthe cemetery which, if my mother followed family tradition, would house my mortal remains. That was so like Emily. She just loved having Andre" news before I had it. If I hadn't just quaffed down chemicals that had probably scorched my vocal cords and likely made my normally sonorous voice sound like a whistling teakettle, I'd have picked up the phone and told her that I had known about the tour for weeks—a big lie, but she'd deserve it. I could just see her sitting all naked and self-satisfied in her Mendocino cabin, sipping Chardonnay and glorying in the fact that she had scooped me, all the while listening to Andre's "Live at the Royal Albert Hall"—which everybody knows doesn't touch "The Vienna 86


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

I Love." I immediately wished I'd thought to mention her in my suicide letter. She was just crying out for some character improvement. How quickly circumstances can change. Ten minutes earlier I'd been a peaceful, contented man with a plan to make the world a better place. Now I sat mulling over the fact that I'd neglected to mention Emily in my letter and would miss what was sure to be a historic Andre" Rieu performance. Emily's phone call transformed me into a frantic soul filled with regret.. .regret and drain opener. I knew from my research that I was far too agitated and remorseful for a successful suicide. I decided that I had no alternative but to live a while longer. I frantically dialed 911. Within minutes of placing the call I found myself reading the ingredients ofthe drain opener aloud to a woman at Poison Control. The fact that my voice was not the hideous rasp that I had expected was my first clue that something had gone wrong with my suicide preparations. When I got through the list of ingredients it became clear that my sister Amy's meddling had ruined yet another brilliantly conceived suicide plot. Amy, the Earth-protecting, environmental activist, had replaced my Drano with some natural, Earth-friendly, organic goop. According to the woman at Poison Control, while the concoction I drank might be perfectly effective for clearing hair from a drain, it packed no punch as a toxin. Thanks to my sister, my entire digestive tract now teemed with live cultures, healthy bacteria, and vital enzymes. If I'd followed the drain opener with a chaser of milk I could have churned out yogurt. Life is indeed full of spectacular inconveniences. But those inconveniences occasionally contain pleasant surprises. As I noted earlier, I am an unusually sensitive man. After I had recovered from the dual shocks of my disruptive desire to live and my discovery of yet another unpardonable act of interference on the part of my sister, I heard a hint of something special in the voice ofthe woman from Poison Control. In her inflections, I clearly detected the intonations of a waltz lover. Of course, I immediately told her all about ARNO and the upcoming concert. Due to the restrictions on her job—she is a consummate professional—she could not overtly express her interest. Her boss was likely leaning over her shoulder demanding that she follow some foolish script. But even as she repeatedly advised me to seek the advice of a mental health professional, she coquettishly telegraphed her true feelings toward me through a subtle, but clear, Viennese-y oom-pah-pah rhythm in her speech. After hanging up I made calculations ofthe number of bottles of poisonous liquids lying about the house. I figured that I could call my new friend at Poison Control once a week for two months claiming to have sipped from one of them without having to repeat toxins. If I was right about her interest in me, and I undoubtedly was, come July we'd be sitting hand and hand watching Andre" 87

The Best Damn Suicide Letter

Ever

Rieu lead a 100-piece orchestra. Every nerve ending my body tingled as I thought of all the things I now had to accomplish in an immediate future that I had assumed would not exist. I turned on the stereo again and danced around the room playing air violin while I made mental notes: catalog all poisons in the house; purchase tickets to the July Andre concert (Dared I dream about the fan club renting a skybox for concert viewing au nature??); dismantle the shrine; clean up this mess before Mother gets home; add Emily Smith to a new suicide letter recipient list—just in case.

88


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

I Love." I immediately wished I'd thought to mention her in my suicide letter. She was just crying out for some character improvement. How quickly circumstances can change. Ten minutes earlier I'd been a peaceful, contented man with a plan to make the world a better place. Now I sat mulling over the fact that I'd neglected to mention Emily in my letter and would miss what was sure to be a historic Andre" Rieu performance. Emily's phone call transformed me into a frantic soul filled with regret.. .regret and drain opener. I knew from my research that I was far too agitated and remorseful for a successful suicide. I decided that I had no alternative but to live a while longer. I frantically dialed 911. Within minutes of placing the call I found myself reading the ingredients ofthe drain opener aloud to a woman at Poison Control. The fact that my voice was not the hideous rasp that I had expected was my first clue that something had gone wrong with my suicide preparations. When I got through the list of ingredients it became clear that my sister Amy's meddling had ruined yet another brilliantly conceived suicide plot. Amy, the Earth-protecting, environmental activist, had replaced my Drano with some natural, Earth-friendly, organic goop. According to the woman at Poison Control, while the concoction I drank might be perfectly effective for clearing hair from a drain, it packed no punch as a toxin. Thanks to my sister, my entire digestive tract now teemed with live cultures, healthy bacteria, and vital enzymes. If I'd followed the drain opener with a chaser of milk I could have churned out yogurt. Life is indeed full of spectacular inconveniences. But those inconveniences occasionally contain pleasant surprises. As I noted earlier, I am an unusually sensitive man. After I had recovered from the dual shocks of my disruptive desire to live and my discovery of yet another unpardonable act of interference on the part of my sister, I heard a hint of something special in the voice ofthe woman from Poison Control. In her inflections, I clearly detected the intonations of a waltz lover. Of course, I immediately told her all about ARNO and the upcoming concert. Due to the restrictions on her job—she is a consummate professional—she could not overtly express her interest. Her boss was likely leaning over her shoulder demanding that she follow some foolish script. But even as she repeatedly advised me to seek the advice of a mental health professional, she coquettishly telegraphed her true feelings toward me through a subtle, but clear, Viennese-y oom-pah-pah rhythm in her speech. After hanging up I made calculations ofthe number of bottles of poisonous liquids lying about the house. I figured that I could call my new friend at Poison Control once a week for two months claiming to have sipped from one of them without having to repeat toxins. If I was right about her interest in me, and I undoubtedly was, come July we'd be sitting hand and hand watching Andre" 87

The Best Damn Suicide Letter

Ever

Rieu lead a 100-piece orchestra. Every nerve ending my body tingled as I thought of all the things I now had to accomplish in an immediate future that I had assumed would not exist. I turned on the stereo again and danced around the room playing air violin while I made mental notes: catalog all poisons in the house; purchase tickets to the July Andre concert (Dared I dream about the fan club renting a skybox for concert viewing au nature??); dismantle the shrine; clean up this mess before Mother gets home; add Emily Smith to a new suicide letter recipient list—just in case.

88


At Custer's Last

A t

b y

C u s t e r ' s

J o s e

L a s t

S t a n d

G a r c i a

give Sugy the ring, hoping that she has forgotten that it is really hers to begin with. She's gotten up to hang her sweater on the hook and | I'm faking that I need a drink. I'm also hoping that she will be overwhelmed by my token of love, which I have extended to her while the others are in a circle at the rug. But she has not forgotten. She sits one row over from me in class and she lives two rows down from my house. From my living room window, I sometimes see her running around her yard in her little flip flops, chasing after her dog, Nixon. Her big sister, Sarah, told me Sugy's dog's name is Nixon. Kind of sly of her to name it that, I think. It's a little mixed breed boxer with hanging jowls they got from the pound. Between the houses sliver I watch Sugy, Nixon and a green tennis ball dart around like actors on a stage, silently running from one curtain to the other.

Stand

We're drawing this big butcher paper scene of Custer's Last Stand in class and that means that we get to work in partners on different parts ofthe scene. When Ms. Court's partnering everybody up, you know who I'm hoping for. But, of course, it doesn't work out that way. I end up shading the prairie with Richard. Richard's OK, but he's not Sugy. Sugy gets Custer all to herself. That's what Ms. Court's decided. Sugy's good at detail and Custer's buckskins and curls will need Sugy's fine motor skills. I'm thinking Ms. Court's thought all this out, kinda like a Michelangelo parting out the Sistine Chapel ceiling work. Little Bighorn has Custer in the middle, aiming and shooting his pistols at the mounted braves. The braves have already been shot and they're falling off their ponies. There are braves and soldiers and civilians shooting and dying all around the central figure. The painter has hope that this moment will reveal the bravery that one should muster up in the face of impossible odds. Our ten-yearold hands keep working, making it come alive in our limited way. Sugy has not forgotten that another boy gave her this ring. She accepted it, demonstrated dizzying gratitude, and wore it for weeks before schoolyard scuffle knocked the fake stone off its prongs. In this moment, she yells out that this is the ring that Jim gave her. I am backtracking, telling her that I simply found it lying on the floor, am returning it to her. I do not know whether I convince her, convince the listening circle. Back at the butcher paper I am remembering the other Custer, the one I saw in the Kicking Bear painting done maybe twenty years after it happened by a surviving brave, the one I have read about on my own, the one no one in this room knows about. In that one, the soldiers and horses are all floating around dead in a great white space, two-dimensional, as childlike as me, in a circle of death. A ghost dance. The chiefs are presiding in the center over the carnage, plumed, painted, spears at rest, unable to summon the dead back to life. Custer lays off to the left, in buckskin, disarmed, in no apparent glory.

Sarah is friends with my big sister, Marcela. Sarah comes over to my house all the time, but Sugy doesn't. Sugy's just all I think about. I'm thinking about her the whole time I'm in class, through recess, walking home. No one knows, though. The only sign I give is writing "Sugy + Pablo = Love" on the back of my three ring binder. She seems unreachable, though. Like the angels in my catechism bible. They hang right above our heads trying to get us to do the right thing and we don't even know they're there. Those angels seem powerless over what we do. They're just there kinda hoping in a powerful and floaty way, but they seem to not be able to just bend down and whisper what to do in our ear. I think it's a shame to let that mess of sword they got just go to waste. 90

89 AÂť_


At Custer's Last

A t

b y

C u s t e r ' s

J o s e

L a s t

S t a n d

G a r c i a

give Sugy the ring, hoping that she has forgotten that it is really hers to begin with. She's gotten up to hang her sweater on the hook and | I'm faking that I need a drink. I'm also hoping that she will be overwhelmed by my token of love, which I have extended to her while the others are in a circle at the rug. But she has not forgotten. She sits one row over from me in class and she lives two rows down from my house. From my living room window, I sometimes see her running around her yard in her little flip flops, chasing after her dog, Nixon. Her big sister, Sarah, told me Sugy's dog's name is Nixon. Kind of sly of her to name it that, I think. It's a little mixed breed boxer with hanging jowls they got from the pound. Between the houses sliver I watch Sugy, Nixon and a green tennis ball dart around like actors on a stage, silently running from one curtain to the other.

Stand

We're drawing this big butcher paper scene of Custer's Last Stand in class and that means that we get to work in partners on different parts ofthe scene. When Ms. Court's partnering everybody up, you know who I'm hoping for. But, of course, it doesn't work out that way. I end up shading the prairie with Richard. Richard's OK, but he's not Sugy. Sugy gets Custer all to herself. That's what Ms. Court's decided. Sugy's good at detail and Custer's buckskins and curls will need Sugy's fine motor skills. I'm thinking Ms. Court's thought all this out, kinda like a Michelangelo parting out the Sistine Chapel ceiling work. Little Bighorn has Custer in the middle, aiming and shooting his pistols at the mounted braves. The braves have already been shot and they're falling off their ponies. There are braves and soldiers and civilians shooting and dying all around the central figure. The painter has hope that this moment will reveal the bravery that one should muster up in the face of impossible odds. Our ten-yearold hands keep working, making it come alive in our limited way. Sugy has not forgotten that another boy gave her this ring. She accepted it, demonstrated dizzying gratitude, and wore it for weeks before schoolyard scuffle knocked the fake stone off its prongs. In this moment, she yells out that this is the ring that Jim gave her. I am backtracking, telling her that I simply found it lying on the floor, am returning it to her. I do not know whether I convince her, convince the listening circle. Back at the butcher paper I am remembering the other Custer, the one I saw in the Kicking Bear painting done maybe twenty years after it happened by a surviving brave, the one I have read about on my own, the one no one in this room knows about. In that one, the soldiers and horses are all floating around dead in a great white space, two-dimensional, as childlike as me, in a circle of death. A ghost dance. The chiefs are presiding in the center over the carnage, plumed, painted, spears at rest, unable to summon the dead back to life. Custer lays off to the left, in buckskin, disarmed, in no apparent glory.

Sarah is friends with my big sister, Marcela. Sarah comes over to my house all the time, but Sugy doesn't. Sugy's just all I think about. I'm thinking about her the whole time I'm in class, through recess, walking home. No one knows, though. The only sign I give is writing "Sugy + Pablo = Love" on the back of my three ring binder. She seems unreachable, though. Like the angels in my catechism bible. They hang right above our heads trying to get us to do the right thing and we don't even know they're there. Those angels seem powerless over what we do. They're just there kinda hoping in a powerful and floaty way, but they seem to not be able to just bend down and whisper what to do in our ear. I think it's a shame to let that mess of sword they got just go to waste. 90

89 AÂť_


V a c a t i o n

b y

J o h a n n a

Pirko

i. ^ t f l f l h c sun doesn't hide itself in Mexico along the Sea of Cortez. It I screams from the sky, abrasive and demanding. Burning the skin off Bher white toes, changing the shape of her eyes to almond slits. She is not nearly brown enough. There is only one highway here. The 1. It goes from Tijuana all the way south, pushing deeper into unforgiving space. Cacti line this road. Strange purple growths towering over the dust, monstrous and spindly. Living off the heat and the decomposing insects. She rolls down the window and lets her head fall softly into the sky. The heavy summer wind empties her brain. This was his idea, Mexico. She wrote him a poem one day about the concrete world she inhabited. About the incessant buzzing of computers, talk of shoes, dreams of tract housing. A poem about mediocrity. She wrote him this poem, and he suggested escape. She didn't really know him but she knew she wanted out. The ceilings were getting lower by the minute, the air dryer. Her lungs were drowning in Freon, making her breaths short and her vision small. They started at the top, or at the bottom. She wasn't sure. The bottom of California, the top of Baja. When the line is crossed, there is the smell. He said people shit in the streets, right there in the streets. So maybe the smell of shit. Dogs combing for food, muzzles lifted, grasping for oxygen perhaps. The dogs smell. Dogs always smell, she thinks, but Mexican dogs smell the worst. She can 92


V a c a t i o n

b y

J o h a n n a

Pirko

i. ^ t f l f l h c sun doesn't hide itself in Mexico along the Sea of Cortez. It I screams from the sky, abrasive and demanding. Burning the skin off Bher white toes, changing the shape of her eyes to almond slits. She is not nearly brown enough. There is only one highway here. The 1. It goes from Tijuana all the way south, pushing deeper into unforgiving space. Cacti line this road. Strange purple growths towering over the dust, monstrous and spindly. Living off the heat and the decomposing insects. She rolls down the window and lets her head fall softly into the sky. The heavy summer wind empties her brain. This was his idea, Mexico. She wrote him a poem one day about the concrete world she inhabited. About the incessant buzzing of computers, talk of shoes, dreams of tract housing. A poem about mediocrity. She wrote him this poem, and he suggested escape. She didn't really know him but she knew she wanted out. The ceilings were getting lower by the minute, the air dryer. Her lungs were drowning in Freon, making her breaths short and her vision small. They started at the top, or at the bottom. She wasn't sure. The bottom of California, the top of Baja. When the line is crossed, there is the smell. He said people shit in the streets, right there in the streets. So maybe the smell of shit. Dogs combing for food, muzzles lifted, grasping for oxygen perhaps. The dogs smell. Dogs always smell, she thinks, but Mexican dogs smell the worst. She can 92


T Berkeley

Fiction

Review

feel them on her hands. They will not stop here though, in Tijuana. She remembers Ensenada. Has lived in LA all her life and only been to Mexico once. With her mother and her sister when she was eight: She remembers the ocean bright and accepting, the sun soft and soothing. Her mother on the patio, her sister all covered in sand. She remembers only because she has seen photographs. Perhaps she was never here, she can't say for sure. If she was here, it was Ensenada. Ensenada is different, Ensenada is clean. We will go to Ensenada, she says. Ensenada smells like college boys. Girls with hiked up skirts and visible thongs. House margaritas sucked dry by unaware 18-year-old mouths, pharmacies dealing codeine in hundred caplet bottles to nervous sorority girls. There is a beach, Rosarito. There they sell trinkets. Plastic Batman flip-flops and wind up chihuahuas not meant for the sand. There is white skin all around. <Fat layered against pink spandex bikinis, fleshy palms wrapped around cold Coronas. Big mouths and heavy babble. He has no shoes. Came with one pair of Nikes, recently purchased, proud of them. Liberal talk and South African Nikes, but he was poor so she understood. Their first Mexican beach; he wanted to swim. Across the bay was a small island. He wanted to swim there. He had been a lake swimmer, he told her. A boy in Tennessee who played with bugs in swamps and dove from tree limbs. A boy with feet always dirty and hair always displaced. She smoked a pack of cigarettes a day; her lungs stained, woven with tar. She was a solid swimmer once. A hard breaststroke, long arms and long legs. Fingers gripping concrete, raised voices proclaiming her victory. A long time ago, though. Different now. She saw the island. It was not so far away. Her feet already in the water, warm and soothing like a bath. The sun all around, a slight wind. She dove her head under. Strong. Impressive. Soaked her face before he dipped his. She moved deeper along the ocean floor, her toes slipping comfortably into the sandy bottom. Smiling, wriggling, shaking her wet hair. Feeling cute and slightly competitive. She looked behind her and smiled at him. He was smiling too. Deeply. He had a nice smile, she thought. Very pure, very free. He was not in good shape. Eating whatever he pleased whenever he found it. No money for food usually, but when the money was there, he ate. Ate like she hadn't seen LA people eat. He cooked with joy and ate with joy. Became fully satiated and peaceful. They'd 93

Vacation lie under the ceiling fan on her wide bed wrapped around each other. Long drugged daytime naps sleepy and sexualized; naked like new babies. So, she didn't mind his form, she liked his form. Pleased with food and fullness, with warm afternoons and soft bodies. She liked this about him. She began to swim. At first, so comfortably. The sea embraced her. Her hands cupped powerfully against the water, propelling her easily forward. He lingered behind her taking it slow. Adapting to his pace, to the new tightening of his muscles, the sun warm on his neck. We're not in a hurry, she thought, we're peaceful. She wished they could be naked. Peace for a moment. But the tide was starting to pull, her arms were beginning to give. The calm was draining from her head, shifting to worry and the completion of her mission. She looked again at the island. Farther than she first thought, very far in fact. She had noticed no one around them and felt, at first, blessed for this space, for this reprieve. But now. Now she was afraid. Her muscles were failing her. Like her dreams of running to escape the attacker. Limbs frenetic but atrophied. She looked behind her. He was not there. To the side, not there. Ahead. There. He had moved far ahead. Slipping gracefully against the current, owning the water, demanding the island. He was much stronger. He turned back to her to measure her progress. He had told her before that he didn't like her weakness, how it drained him. "Tears bring me down," he said. She knew she could not let this defeat take her. "You alright?" he yelled. "Yeah!" she screamed. "Fine!" She was not fine, she was terrified. People die in Mexico all the time. She hadn't even bought car insurance. She could die here in this dirty Rosarito sea. Another stupid American on Mexican news. They would assume she'd been drinking because she was in Rosarito and the signs (the signs later seen) warned of strong riptides, of seasonal deaths by the dozens. The signs all in English of course, targeting the only potentially relevant audience. Behind her she heard an engine revving through the water. The sea becoming more buoyant as the sound neared her. Saviors. She was shocked they had lifeguards here, not to mention lifeguards on jet skis. She could explain to him later that the dark bodies with the broken English demanded that she join them. She was a woman after all, transplanted to a paternalistic culture. He heard them coming. Slowed his rapid pace to turn around and meet their approach. "We're fine!" he screamed. "Leave us alone!" He was mad. 94


T Berkeley

Fiction

Review

feel them on her hands. They will not stop here though, in Tijuana. She remembers Ensenada. Has lived in LA all her life and only been to Mexico once. With her mother and her sister when she was eight: She remembers the ocean bright and accepting, the sun soft and soothing. Her mother on the patio, her sister all covered in sand. She remembers only because she has seen photographs. Perhaps she was never here, she can't say for sure. If she was here, it was Ensenada. Ensenada is different, Ensenada is clean. We will go to Ensenada, she says. Ensenada smells like college boys. Girls with hiked up skirts and visible thongs. House margaritas sucked dry by unaware 18-year-old mouths, pharmacies dealing codeine in hundred caplet bottles to nervous sorority girls. There is a beach, Rosarito. There they sell trinkets. Plastic Batman flip-flops and wind up chihuahuas not meant for the sand. There is white skin all around. <Fat layered against pink spandex bikinis, fleshy palms wrapped around cold Coronas. Big mouths and heavy babble. He has no shoes. Came with one pair of Nikes, recently purchased, proud of them. Liberal talk and South African Nikes, but he was poor so she understood. Their first Mexican beach; he wanted to swim. Across the bay was a small island. He wanted to swim there. He had been a lake swimmer, he told her. A boy in Tennessee who played with bugs in swamps and dove from tree limbs. A boy with feet always dirty and hair always displaced. She smoked a pack of cigarettes a day; her lungs stained, woven with tar. She was a solid swimmer once. A hard breaststroke, long arms and long legs. Fingers gripping concrete, raised voices proclaiming her victory. A long time ago, though. Different now. She saw the island. It was not so far away. Her feet already in the water, warm and soothing like a bath. The sun all around, a slight wind. She dove her head under. Strong. Impressive. Soaked her face before he dipped his. She moved deeper along the ocean floor, her toes slipping comfortably into the sandy bottom. Smiling, wriggling, shaking her wet hair. Feeling cute and slightly competitive. She looked behind her and smiled at him. He was smiling too. Deeply. He had a nice smile, she thought. Very pure, very free. He was not in good shape. Eating whatever he pleased whenever he found it. No money for food usually, but when the money was there, he ate. Ate like she hadn't seen LA people eat. He cooked with joy and ate with joy. Became fully satiated and peaceful. They'd 93

Vacation lie under the ceiling fan on her wide bed wrapped around each other. Long drugged daytime naps sleepy and sexualized; naked like new babies. So, she didn't mind his form, she liked his form. Pleased with food and fullness, with warm afternoons and soft bodies. She liked this about him. She began to swim. At first, so comfortably. The sea embraced her. Her hands cupped powerfully against the water, propelling her easily forward. He lingered behind her taking it slow. Adapting to his pace, to the new tightening of his muscles, the sun warm on his neck. We're not in a hurry, she thought, we're peaceful. She wished they could be naked. Peace for a moment. But the tide was starting to pull, her arms were beginning to give. The calm was draining from her head, shifting to worry and the completion of her mission. She looked again at the island. Farther than she first thought, very far in fact. She had noticed no one around them and felt, at first, blessed for this space, for this reprieve. But now. Now she was afraid. Her muscles were failing her. Like her dreams of running to escape the attacker. Limbs frenetic but atrophied. She looked behind her. He was not there. To the side, not there. Ahead. There. He had moved far ahead. Slipping gracefully against the current, owning the water, demanding the island. He was much stronger. He turned back to her to measure her progress. He had told her before that he didn't like her weakness, how it drained him. "Tears bring me down," he said. She knew she could not let this defeat take her. "You alright?" he yelled. "Yeah!" she screamed. "Fine!" She was not fine, she was terrified. People die in Mexico all the time. She hadn't even bought car insurance. She could die here in this dirty Rosarito sea. Another stupid American on Mexican news. They would assume she'd been drinking because she was in Rosarito and the signs (the signs later seen) warned of strong riptides, of seasonal deaths by the dozens. The signs all in English of course, targeting the only potentially relevant audience. Behind her she heard an engine revving through the water. The sea becoming more buoyant as the sound neared her. Saviors. She was shocked they had lifeguards here, not to mention lifeguards on jet skis. She could explain to him later that the dark bodies with the broken English demanded that she join them. She was a woman after all, transplanted to a paternalistic culture. He heard them coming. Slowed his rapid pace to turn around and meet their approach. "We're fine!" he screamed. "Leave us alone!" He was mad. 94


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Vacation

Intrusion. He spoke often of intrusion, of people feigning empathy only to save, then abandon. "You ok?" the young lifeguard asked her. "Help?" He hears them asking if she needs help. They are not demanding to save her, not citing compliance with Mexican riptide law. All her. It's on her. "Yes, I'm fine. We're fine. Thank you. You can go." Gone. The water stopped its unnatural churning, the natural churning resumed. Stuck again. Unable to move, unable to be saved. Alone.

son, a son to fill with himself. But, as a child he could not be this. He could not sustain thought. Education escaped him, he was placed in special classes. He was smart, though, he tells her. Very very smart. This was it. Special classes, parental expectations, a slight case of ADD. Nothing more. No yelling, no bruises, no nightly hushed bedroom visits. She didn't understand such silence emerging from this. She brought herself here of course. A needy woman, a woman looking to be filled. By men, always by men. Burdened so much by herself. In the midst of this, he emerged. Challenging her, contesting her needs. Looking to help, to talk, to cleanse. To maybe, she thought, inspire. Now here they were. A month into it. A motel deep in Mexico. Strangers in a bed.

A deep breath, another look at the island. Adrenalin, determination. She would take that island, that island was hers. Fucking rock. Hers. Began to swim again. Closed her eyes and imagined death on the other side of failure. Sinking deep into the sea, unnoticed by him for several minutes. A life ended in dishonesty.

II. Arms, legs, feet. She dissected the pieces of her body in her head. Broke them down and analyzed their proper functions. The arms would do this, the legs would do that, the feet would trail and pick up the slack. Her water, her sea, her fucking island. She moved along, eyes closed, crying, pushing, thinking, then not thinking. When thoughts came, she returned to biology, functionality. Muscles, blood and oxygen. A perfect system that she owned. When she opened her eyes finally, she saw him. Lying on the sand, hands propped against his belly. Eyes closed, breathing softly. Completely unaware. "Those fucking Mexicans," she said, "should have left us alone." He smiled, agreed. Agreed, of course, as these were his thoughts not hers. Bajia San Quentin. A French built town, a Triple-A recommended bakery. Another motel with shiny flowered bedspreads she was afraid to touch. Paintings of bullfights above the TV, a deposit for the remote. Here he informed her he was a Nihilist. No good, no bad. Meaning was impossible. Kierkegaard, a Nihilist maybe? She didn't really know, she didn't really understand. Resurrecting a Nihilist. How to resurrect a Nihilist? The world must be divided into small pieces, she thought. Blades of grass, Whitman. Babies, mother's eyes, warm milk. Desert flowers turned to the sun. She spoke of these things while he stared at the ceiling. At the beads of stucco gathered like wet sand squeezed from a child's fist. She moved her body farther from him, turned on her side and stared at his eyes. Trying to look inside and understand the source of his silence. They had discussed his life, his childhood, his anger. His father had gone away when he was two. Been replaced by another man who wanted a pliable

The 1 was getting tired. The road always the same. They were trapped in a visual loop of gutted Monte Carlos and decorative gravesites. Days were flowing too seamlessly into each other. It was becoming impossible to tell yesterday from tomorrow. She was beginning to bore him. A simple girl, a needy girl, a girl with words that always matched his own. Searching for attention in all things. Receptive to crumbs dropped at her feet. Will bend down to collect them, in fact. At times, she amuses him. So easy. So easy to bend, so easy to shame. Smart, granted. But so weak and so easy. Feigning ignorance at every turn. Easy to fuck whenever he wants. She'll never refuse. He can flip her over on the bed and have her any which way he pleases. He knows her eyes are clenched. She admitted once, in a moment of rare honesty, that it made her cry. "I don't know why, it just does," she said, "makes me feel bad, ashamed." Thus, he took her from behind. Regularly. It was hot here. He liked so much to sweat. Born and raised in Tennessee, comforted by humidity. Liked to tell her of his dreams of returning home. How he imagined old age sitting next to her on a wooden porch drinking tall glasses of cold iced tea; holding her hand throughout long slow days. She liked this very much. Received this very well. These visions. Bullshit, of course. He was now a city boy, never would return to Tennessee. Disgusted by the thought of growing old on a porch, holding a sagging female hand, sitting for hours sipping over-sweetened Liptons. He stole this image from Pirates ofthe Caribbean, the restaurant inside the ride. Plastic lights dimmed low, the even chirp of electric crickets, Goofy eating mozzarella sticks

95

96 >


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Vacation

Intrusion. He spoke often of intrusion, of people feigning empathy only to save, then abandon. "You ok?" the young lifeguard asked her. "Help?" He hears them asking if she needs help. They are not demanding to save her, not citing compliance with Mexican riptide law. All her. It's on her. "Yes, I'm fine. We're fine. Thank you. You can go." Gone. The water stopped its unnatural churning, the natural churning resumed. Stuck again. Unable to move, unable to be saved. Alone.

son, a son to fill with himself. But, as a child he could not be this. He could not sustain thought. Education escaped him, he was placed in special classes. He was smart, though, he tells her. Very very smart. This was it. Special classes, parental expectations, a slight case of ADD. Nothing more. No yelling, no bruises, no nightly hushed bedroom visits. She didn't understand such silence emerging from this. She brought herself here of course. A needy woman, a woman looking to be filled. By men, always by men. Burdened so much by herself. In the midst of this, he emerged. Challenging her, contesting her needs. Looking to help, to talk, to cleanse. To maybe, she thought, inspire. Now here they were. A month into it. A motel deep in Mexico. Strangers in a bed.

A deep breath, another look at the island. Adrenalin, determination. She would take that island, that island was hers. Fucking rock. Hers. Began to swim again. Closed her eyes and imagined death on the other side of failure. Sinking deep into the sea, unnoticed by him for several minutes. A life ended in dishonesty.

II. Arms, legs, feet. She dissected the pieces of her body in her head. Broke them down and analyzed their proper functions. The arms would do this, the legs would do that, the feet would trail and pick up the slack. Her water, her sea, her fucking island. She moved along, eyes closed, crying, pushing, thinking, then not thinking. When thoughts came, she returned to biology, functionality. Muscles, blood and oxygen. A perfect system that she owned. When she opened her eyes finally, she saw him. Lying on the sand, hands propped against his belly. Eyes closed, breathing softly. Completely unaware. "Those fucking Mexicans," she said, "should have left us alone." He smiled, agreed. Agreed, of course, as these were his thoughts not hers. Bajia San Quentin. A French built town, a Triple-A recommended bakery. Another motel with shiny flowered bedspreads she was afraid to touch. Paintings of bullfights above the TV, a deposit for the remote. Here he informed her he was a Nihilist. No good, no bad. Meaning was impossible. Kierkegaard, a Nihilist maybe? She didn't really know, she didn't really understand. Resurrecting a Nihilist. How to resurrect a Nihilist? The world must be divided into small pieces, she thought. Blades of grass, Whitman. Babies, mother's eyes, warm milk. Desert flowers turned to the sun. She spoke of these things while he stared at the ceiling. At the beads of stucco gathered like wet sand squeezed from a child's fist. She moved her body farther from him, turned on her side and stared at his eyes. Trying to look inside and understand the source of his silence. They had discussed his life, his childhood, his anger. His father had gone away when he was two. Been replaced by another man who wanted a pliable

The 1 was getting tired. The road always the same. They were trapped in a visual loop of gutted Monte Carlos and decorative gravesites. Days were flowing too seamlessly into each other. It was becoming impossible to tell yesterday from tomorrow. She was beginning to bore him. A simple girl, a needy girl, a girl with words that always matched his own. Searching for attention in all things. Receptive to crumbs dropped at her feet. Will bend down to collect them, in fact. At times, she amuses him. So easy. So easy to bend, so easy to shame. Smart, granted. But so weak and so easy. Feigning ignorance at every turn. Easy to fuck whenever he wants. She'll never refuse. He can flip her over on the bed and have her any which way he pleases. He knows her eyes are clenched. She admitted once, in a moment of rare honesty, that it made her cry. "I don't know why, it just does," she said, "makes me feel bad, ashamed." Thus, he took her from behind. Regularly. It was hot here. He liked so much to sweat. Born and raised in Tennessee, comforted by humidity. Liked to tell her of his dreams of returning home. How he imagined old age sitting next to her on a wooden porch drinking tall glasses of cold iced tea; holding her hand throughout long slow days. She liked this very much. Received this very well. These visions. Bullshit, of course. He was now a city boy, never would return to Tennessee. Disgusted by the thought of growing old on a porch, holding a sagging female hand, sitting for hours sipping over-sweetened Liptons. He stole this image from Pirates ofthe Caribbean, the restaurant inside the ride. Plastic lights dimmed low, the even chirp of electric crickets, Goofy eating mozzarella sticks

95

96 >


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

at the next table. An old man sits on a small porch, a straw hat and a pipe, rocking back and forth. This was the image for her. He removed the pipe because, really, she was not a stupid woman. Could only go so far. When they left, he imagined things would be different. He wanted to rent a cabin in Arizona. To chop wood and eat canned meat. He thought the silence would improve her, wanted to see her squirm in it. Her head was a buzzing head. She moved around life in a frenetic daze. He wanted to take her somewhere where she could go blank. She'd be like a junkie coming down for four or five days, fiddling and talking and filling the space with meaningless words. She'd try to seduce him to amuse herself, to return some measure of power to her life. He would not let her. He wanted to weaken her, to drain her, and then to rebuild her. Nothing but a project to him, a project better suited for the emptiness ofthe forest. She had this thing for water though, for the sea. Talk of warmth and nurturing, wombs. Silly chatter. But, the sea. She wanted to return to the sea. Her car. Ok, the sea. They hit a hurricane on their eighth day. Had gone just as far south as they had time to go. It would be a long drive back to LA. They'd go it straight, though, so no more than two days would be consumed. He was ready. He accepted, as he had to, that he had nothing calling him in the city. No family, only two friends, one being his ex. Living in a downtown hotel month to month. He had signed up at LACC for a couple classes, psychology and English. Piano. Just enough units to merit a financial aid check. Sixteen hundred a semester. Enough to pay the room, buy the old black guys at Charlie O's a beer or two, get from here to there on the subway. Not a lot to get back to really. They heard about the hurricane from the fat Hemingway character renting kayaks to the cabana dwellers. He said it would hit in five days. That was six days ago. Six days ago she was excited by the prospect. Wanted to find it at its starting point and trail it down the Baja coast. Never losing track ofthe rain, being blown around by the violent wind. But her talk quickly went from being one with the hurricane to trying to escape its grasp. Things were getting tense. The conversations between them were now nothing but morning hellos interspersed with loaded debates about the value of human life. "People are not unique," he liked to tell her. "You are not unique. Look at your life, your walk, the way you dress. Look at your fucking hair. You're so repressed." She told him the sound of raised male voices scared her. Summer days 97

Vacation spent balled up and sweating in the corner of a musty closet. Fear of her father. Her arms and thighs wounded by self-inflicted scars. "I know I'm repressed," she sighs. He notices a new cut on her leg and laughs. He has made her six years old. They were in a small fishing town when it hit. It was not tourist season there. In August, the daily temperature in central Baja averages 110. The locals refuse to brave the heat and hide in their small homes. The streets are empty and quiet, restaurants and motels all boarded up. It's difficult to even get a margarita. She was getting restless. Had told him that morning that she thought of leaving in the night. Not to strand him she explained, but just to make herself "better." Last night, she left for an hour without saying a word. Such a tiny town, nowhere to go. She gets lost even among the streets she grew up in. Lives in perpetual fear of misdirection. He knew, therefore, that she wouldn't have strayed beyond the town limits. Must have driven back and forth the one mile stretch of road for the whole hour. Returned with an ice cream bar in a brown paper bag, horribly melted. Any attempt to escape was useless. Vast puddles of hurricane water blocked the town's outer limits. They sat along the edge of one of these puddles in the morning, joined by several truckloads of teenage boys drinking Tecate and laughing. As the hours passed and the sky grew darker, more and more boys arrived. One truck made it through. A man and his son. The son waded out deep into the water, walked until his torso was soaked, raised a hand to his father. The truck moved slowly forward, inching along but not sinking. A long journey across, a spectacle for the drunken onlookers. "Can't we do that?" she asked. "My car's tough." She owned a 1984 Honda Civic hatchback. The front bumper was attached by large swatches of duct tape and rapidly loosening screws. The bumper has held like this, she tells him, for over three years since that bastard joy-rider slammed into her in the middle ofthe night. Left her car for dead. The engine wasn't sounding good. They had been stuck twice so far on Mexican roads. Not the 1. Roads marked "poor road" on the Triple-A map. A "poor road" in Mexico, they discovered, is equivalent to no road. "No way your car's making it through that." Her eyes were sad, she wanted out. If he wasn't here she might swim that new river. Find some frisky Mexicans to drive her all the way north in exchange for seductions to be fulfilled once they reached the border. He had once heard the story ofthe fox that chewed off its own leg to escape the trap. 98


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Review

at the next table. An old man sits on a small porch, a straw hat and a pipe, rocking back and forth. This was the image for her. He removed the pipe because, really, she was not a stupid woman. Could only go so far. When they left, he imagined things would be different. He wanted to rent a cabin in Arizona. To chop wood and eat canned meat. He thought the silence would improve her, wanted to see her squirm in it. Her head was a buzzing head. She moved around life in a frenetic daze. He wanted to take her somewhere where she could go blank. She'd be like a junkie coming down for four or five days, fiddling and talking and filling the space with meaningless words. She'd try to seduce him to amuse herself, to return some measure of power to her life. He would not let her. He wanted to weaken her, to drain her, and then to rebuild her. Nothing but a project to him, a project better suited for the emptiness ofthe forest. She had this thing for water though, for the sea. Talk of warmth and nurturing, wombs. Silly chatter. But, the sea. She wanted to return to the sea. Her car. Ok, the sea. They hit a hurricane on their eighth day. Had gone just as far south as they had time to go. It would be a long drive back to LA. They'd go it straight, though, so no more than two days would be consumed. He was ready. He accepted, as he had to, that he had nothing calling him in the city. No family, only two friends, one being his ex. Living in a downtown hotel month to month. He had signed up at LACC for a couple classes, psychology and English. Piano. Just enough units to merit a financial aid check. Sixteen hundred a semester. Enough to pay the room, buy the old black guys at Charlie O's a beer or two, get from here to there on the subway. Not a lot to get back to really. They heard about the hurricane from the fat Hemingway character renting kayaks to the cabana dwellers. He said it would hit in five days. That was six days ago. Six days ago she was excited by the prospect. Wanted to find it at its starting point and trail it down the Baja coast. Never losing track ofthe rain, being blown around by the violent wind. But her talk quickly went from being one with the hurricane to trying to escape its grasp. Things were getting tense. The conversations between them were now nothing but morning hellos interspersed with loaded debates about the value of human life. "People are not unique," he liked to tell her. "You are not unique. Look at your life, your walk, the way you dress. Look at your fucking hair. You're so repressed." She told him the sound of raised male voices scared her. Summer days 97

Vacation spent balled up and sweating in the corner of a musty closet. Fear of her father. Her arms and thighs wounded by self-inflicted scars. "I know I'm repressed," she sighs. He notices a new cut on her leg and laughs. He has made her six years old. They were in a small fishing town when it hit. It was not tourist season there. In August, the daily temperature in central Baja averages 110. The locals refuse to brave the heat and hide in their small homes. The streets are empty and quiet, restaurants and motels all boarded up. It's difficult to even get a margarita. She was getting restless. Had told him that morning that she thought of leaving in the night. Not to strand him she explained, but just to make herself "better." Last night, she left for an hour without saying a word. Such a tiny town, nowhere to go. She gets lost even among the streets she grew up in. Lives in perpetual fear of misdirection. He knew, therefore, that she wouldn't have strayed beyond the town limits. Must have driven back and forth the one mile stretch of road for the whole hour. Returned with an ice cream bar in a brown paper bag, horribly melted. Any attempt to escape was useless. Vast puddles of hurricane water blocked the town's outer limits. They sat along the edge of one of these puddles in the morning, joined by several truckloads of teenage boys drinking Tecate and laughing. As the hours passed and the sky grew darker, more and more boys arrived. One truck made it through. A man and his son. The son waded out deep into the water, walked until his torso was soaked, raised a hand to his father. The truck moved slowly forward, inching along but not sinking. A long journey across, a spectacle for the drunken onlookers. "Can't we do that?" she asked. "My car's tough." She owned a 1984 Honda Civic hatchback. The front bumper was attached by large swatches of duct tape and rapidly loosening screws. The bumper has held like this, she tells him, for over three years since that bastard joy-rider slammed into her in the middle ofthe night. Left her car for dead. The engine wasn't sounding good. They had been stuck twice so far on Mexican roads. Not the 1. Roads marked "poor road" on the Triple-A map. A "poor road" in Mexico, they discovered, is equivalent to no road. "No way your car's making it through that." Her eyes were sad, she wanted out. If he wasn't here she might swim that new river. Find some frisky Mexicans to drive her all the way north in exchange for seductions to be fulfilled once they reached the border. He had once heard the story ofthe fox that chewed off its own leg to escape the trap. 98


Berkeley

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Not much to do in a hurricane. Sex was becoming old. It was too easy for her to talk with her body, silencing confrontation by using his lust. "I don't understand you," she said on trapped afternoon number two. "I don't understand why you behave the way you do, why you think the things you think." "I don't understand how you can be this simple," he replied. "No one can be this simple." Lately, she had ceased to meet his gaze when he spoke to her. He had done this to her, he knew. Felt pride in the way he had shaped her like warmed glass. Turning her into a purple swan, then opening his hand to let her slip from his fingertips and shatter on the floor. He had been studying Skinner in his intro psychology class. Had heard of Pavlov. Was impressed by how easily such concepts translated to human behavior. in. It is almost 3 a.m. He is sleeping in one of the beds. They have chosen a room with two beds as opposed to one. The feel of each other's skin is starting to burn. The wind outside is howling. She hears the rain spit against the Coke can she'd been ashing into. Worries about the cigarette dregs spilled soggy against the white concrete pavement. This is a non-smoking room, a non-smoking porch. She doesn't want to make trouble.

Vacation wears her black flip-flops with the rose sticking up from between her toes. Her nails are painted bright red from a pedicure in Ensenada; a luxury justified by the promise of adventure and new love. The polish has not chipped in the slightest. He is still sleeping. She is disgusted by the sounds from his open mouth, the crusted sleep formed in the comers of his eyes. His body bloated and naked wrapped half in half out ofthe bed sheet. The door doesn't squeak. She had worried about that. She thinks ofthe large lake blocking the north end of town. She is not afraid. If she sinks, if the loose casing on her car fails to shelter her, if her mouth fills with stagnant rain water, she will accept this fate. She will end it-in peace. She will be away from him. Seeing the open road in her mind, the safety of her bed, the purr of her cats on the pillow. Imagining him left alone with no way out. No money, no Spanish, no friends. She thinks of his waking to this realization. To her empty bed and the absent car. Places her keys into the ignition and turns on the headlights. She may not be better, she knows, but he will be worse. Of this she is sure. For this alone, she smiles.

She rises from her bed quietly so as not to wake him. They did not say goodnight. There was a fight, she doesn't know what about. Something she said, something she did, something she didn't do, the shift of her eyes in the yellowing light, the unattractive sunburn coating her shoulders, her breathing. Something. It will be a long journey home. She is roughly 850 miles from LA. Her car will not drive in a straight line. She must grasp the steering wheel firmly to control its wayward movements. Where it thinks it is going, she has no idea. If she leaves within the hour, she can be back home by Thursday's sunrise. If she goes it straight. She goes into the bathroom, decides to shower. The sun has taken her and used her up, leaving new scars on her shoulders and nose. The feel ofthe water hot against her back pains her. She has brought a loofah and her own soap. Scrubs the dead skin from her arms, her legs, her feet. Winces. She puts on the same pink flowered sundress she has worn for four days straight. It smells of suntan lotion, cigarettes and spilled beer. On her feet, she 99

100


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

Not much to do in a hurricane. Sex was becoming old. It was too easy for her to talk with her body, silencing confrontation by using his lust. "I don't understand you," she said on trapped afternoon number two. "I don't understand why you behave the way you do, why you think the things you think." "I don't understand how you can be this simple," he replied. "No one can be this simple." Lately, she had ceased to meet his gaze when he spoke to her. He had done this to her, he knew. Felt pride in the way he had shaped her like warmed glass. Turning her into a purple swan, then opening his hand to let her slip from his fingertips and shatter on the floor. He had been studying Skinner in his intro psychology class. Had heard of Pavlov. Was impressed by how easily such concepts translated to human behavior. in. It is almost 3 a.m. He is sleeping in one of the beds. They have chosen a room with two beds as opposed to one. The feel of each other's skin is starting to burn. The wind outside is howling. She hears the rain spit against the Coke can she'd been ashing into. Worries about the cigarette dregs spilled soggy against the white concrete pavement. This is a non-smoking room, a non-smoking porch. She doesn't want to make trouble.

Vacation wears her black flip-flops with the rose sticking up from between her toes. Her nails are painted bright red from a pedicure in Ensenada; a luxury justified by the promise of adventure and new love. The polish has not chipped in the slightest. He is still sleeping. She is disgusted by the sounds from his open mouth, the crusted sleep formed in the comers of his eyes. His body bloated and naked wrapped half in half out ofthe bed sheet. The door doesn't squeak. She had worried about that. She thinks ofthe large lake blocking the north end of town. She is not afraid. If she sinks, if the loose casing on her car fails to shelter her, if her mouth fills with stagnant rain water, she will accept this fate. She will end it-in peace. She will be away from him. Seeing the open road in her mind, the safety of her bed, the purr of her cats on the pillow. Imagining him left alone with no way out. No money, no Spanish, no friends. She thinks of his waking to this realization. To her empty bed and the absent car. Places her keys into the ignition and turns on the headlights. She may not be better, she knows, but he will be worse. Of this she is sure. For this alone, she smiles.

She rises from her bed quietly so as not to wake him. They did not say goodnight. There was a fight, she doesn't know what about. Something she said, something she did, something she didn't do, the shift of her eyes in the yellowing light, the unattractive sunburn coating her shoulders, her breathing. Something. It will be a long journey home. She is roughly 850 miles from LA. Her car will not drive in a straight line. She must grasp the steering wheel firmly to control its wayward movements. Where it thinks it is going, she has no idea. If she leaves within the hour, she can be back home by Thursday's sunrise. If she goes it straight. She goes into the bathroom, decides to shower. The sun has taken her and used her up, leaving new scars on her shoulders and nose. The feel ofthe water hot against her back pains her. She has brought a loofah and her own soap. Scrubs the dead skin from her arms, her legs, her feet. Winces. She puts on the same pink flowered sundress she has worn for four days straight. It smells of suntan lotion, cigarettes and spilled beer. On her feet, she 99

100


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T h e

b y

&' c* .«*»

f

S u n s e t

D u s t i n

Miller

didn't always hate the blind guy, and I certainly didn't always want to kill him. I suffered his pleasantries, his self-abasement, his near worship of me, his total willingness to embrace whatever philosophy was prevalent(he was a weak minded man), and many other little hells which he inevitably toted and, by proximity, cast upon me—but worst of all was his faithless greed, which he disguised to others as acceptance. His greed was uncommon, vicious, and well hidden; and to look at him it would not be immediately obvious—but OH, IT WAS THERE! I spent a great deal of time in his company, and though others constantly marveled at his uncanny abilities I began to see him as he was; as a truly mediocre if not somewhat inferior being. His sin was that he had an insatiable appetite for praise, and was not above using sympathy to get it. Sympathy was something most people offered him freely. I guess it made them feel better about themselves. Back to the amazement. I guess it's amazing to think that someone could, or would cross the street with their eyes closed, but that's only if you first consider the disability as some sort of noble handicap; like a golfer playing one—handedly to challenge himself, instead of considering it for what it was—a mistake made by God, or if not a mistake, then his wrath vented upon a creature which must have been somehow undeserving to begin with. No, I was not impressed that he could cross the street, though I did occasionally watch to see if he would get hit. Perhaps inside I was secretly hoping that he would. I don't know. As I said, I didn't always hate him. It's hard to know where to start. There are so many things to relate, and 102


(• <}

T h e

b y

&' c* .«*»

f

S u n s e t

D u s t i n

Miller

didn't always hate the blind guy, and I certainly didn't always want to kill him. I suffered his pleasantries, his self-abasement, his near worship of me, his total willingness to embrace whatever philosophy was prevalent(he was a weak minded man), and many other little hells which he inevitably toted and, by proximity, cast upon me—but worst of all was his faithless greed, which he disguised to others as acceptance. His greed was uncommon, vicious, and well hidden; and to look at him it would not be immediately obvious—but OH, IT WAS THERE! I spent a great deal of time in his company, and though others constantly marveled at his uncanny abilities I began to see him as he was; as a truly mediocre if not somewhat inferior being. His sin was that he had an insatiable appetite for praise, and was not above using sympathy to get it. Sympathy was something most people offered him freely. I guess it made them feel better about themselves. Back to the amazement. I guess it's amazing to think that someone could, or would cross the street with their eyes closed, but that's only if you first consider the disability as some sort of noble handicap; like a golfer playing one—handedly to challenge himself, instead of considering it for what it was—a mistake made by God, or if not a mistake, then his wrath vented upon a creature which must have been somehow undeserving to begin with. No, I was not impressed that he could cross the street, though I did occasionally watch to see if he would get hit. Perhaps inside I was secretly hoping that he would. I don't know. As I said, I didn't always hate him. It's hard to know where to start. There are so many things to relate, and 102


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

so much time to cover— but I only want to deal with the important ones. I want somebody to understand how much I eventually hated him; how awful he truly was. He had a name, but that's not important. "The Blind Guy" is a very appropriate moniker. That is, after all, what he was. All he was. He never made any attempt to live past that station. I guess that was the first thing to make me mad. In the beginning I really cared about him, or at least I thought I did. In retrospect I suppose I was just trying to make myself feel better like everybody else. It's easy to feel good in the presence of something inferior— especially something physically inferior. His weakness made me strong. If it makes you feel any better his name was Andy. Andrew DelCastillo, which means "ofthe castle." Apparently his ancestors had been kings. When I taught him about baseball we called him Blind—O Mc Q, "The only blind pitcher in the American League." He was also known as Maximillion Shalizar, then eventually as Max—-though I can't think of why, other than it seemed to suit him. Outside of "The Blind Guy," those are the things he was called. I won't reference them a g a i n . There's no point. Onward we progress...about the awful blind guy. ASIDE* I had pondered that he might eventually come to haunt me. There is nothing I can think of that is more annoying than a blind imbecile, except, possibly, the ghost of a blind imbecile. The thought of him born into the spirit world, freed from his defective corpse once and for all, to haunt me, has often troubled me. I will desist in this line of reasoning lest I tempt fate in that direction. I wonder if his ghost too would be blind. * Both of his parents were sighted; that is, they could see perfectly. They had two children. The blind guy had a little brother who was fat, and a religious geek. He always reminded me of an incompetent friar—You know?—the kind that make it into bad movies for comic relief. The little brother was also blind. I liked the blind guy a little better than his fat, religious little brother, but that was mostly because the little bastard was always telling on us for smoking dope, or anything else we decided to do that was exciting. He even told us once that if he caught us smoking dope he would have no choice but to call the police. Can you imagine? Anyway...I can see how the blind guy became selfish; I mean, his parents shot out one cripple and still had the audacity to try again. In a world full of war and starving people it hardly seems reasonable to people a nation with cripples. Right? The thing that struck me about his parents was that they didn't SEEM to feel badly about making sightless children. In fact, they were incredibly self—righteous people. CATHOLICS! I guess I'd be a Catholic too if I felt as guilty as they MUST have, inside, for being able to see and procreating a couple of blind nerds. I don't blame them. In that kind of situation I guess instant absolvement is absolutely necessary. Being a scumbag is nothing that a 103

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couple of Hail Mary's and well placed Our Father's wont fix. But seriously—if you had one blind kid, and knew that your genes were defective (and they did) wouldn't you get fixed or something? It was cruel. I desist. The blind guy was always smiling. It was as if there was nothing better in the world than being blind. He bore his disease with much nobility. He held his head high (partly because it helped him to hear) and didn't complain. He even told people that if an operation became possible that would restore his sight he would not undergo it unless it was reversible. He loved his blind life that much. Personally I always thought that he was bluffing; though it did occur to me that he was afraid of what he would see when he looked at himself. At first, as I have told you, I thought that I really cared; that I wanted to help him to realize boundaries that were outside the ones that society and he himself had established and accepted for him. I took him hunting (that was scary. Ever seen a blind guy with a gun?) We went mountain climbing, rock climbing, fishing; did acid, speed, heroin... It seemed to me that there was nothing he couldn't do—-nothing that I couldn't do through him. That, I felt, was my greatest accomplishment. Vanity is intoxicating. I began to feel like a messiah. Though I felt bigger then, I now realize that he was making me smaller like him— turning me into a monster. Like an asteroid he drew me into his decaying orbit. Like a tiny star crushed in the unfeeling vacuum of space I began blinking inwardly toward my own destruction. Sometimes the desire to self—destruct is so powerful it eclipses all the rest of our natural urges. We all eventually crave death, so it makes sense that we would want the experiences along the way to be as painful and pointless as possible. After all, there can only be one result. That they are occasionally disguised as virtues is an added bonus, enjoyed only by the exceptionally deluded, or the especially weak. II. There were endless conversations, but they were always the same. Someone would tactfully ask him a blind guy question (which would inevitably embarrass them a little) and he would answer seriously and politely. He must have answered the same questions a thousand times, though he never showed it in his demeanor. The most common blind guy question was, "Have you been blind all your life?" or, "Were you born blind?" depending on how a person wanted to ask it. Somehow the second question (while its content is the same as the first) implied some sort of guilt, whereas the first phrasing implied tragedy. One could assume that his good nature kept him from being annoyed, and maybe it did. He certainly seemed to be a good sport about it. Considering that the inquiries were largely generated out of selfish curiosity, and that they were asked at the potential expense of his pride...no, maybe that's not the right word...comfort? Well, what I mean was that they were basically pointing 104


Berkeley

Fiction

Review

so much time to cover— but I only want to deal with the important ones. I want somebody to understand how much I eventually hated him; how awful he truly was. He had a name, but that's not important. "The Blind Guy" is a very appropriate moniker. That is, after all, what he was. All he was. He never made any attempt to live past that station. I guess that was the first thing to make me mad. In the beginning I really cared about him, or at least I thought I did. In retrospect I suppose I was just trying to make myself feel better like everybody else. It's easy to feel good in the presence of something inferior— especially something physically inferior. His weakness made me strong. If it makes you feel any better his name was Andy. Andrew DelCastillo, which means "ofthe castle." Apparently his ancestors had been kings. When I taught him about baseball we called him Blind—O Mc Q, "The only blind pitcher in the American League." He was also known as Maximillion Shalizar, then eventually as Max—-though I can't think of why, other than it seemed to suit him. Outside of "The Blind Guy," those are the things he was called. I won't reference them a g a i n . There's no point. Onward we progress...about the awful blind guy. ASIDE* I had pondered that he might eventually come to haunt me. There is nothing I can think of that is more annoying than a blind imbecile, except, possibly, the ghost of a blind imbecile. The thought of him born into the spirit world, freed from his defective corpse once and for all, to haunt me, has often troubled me. I will desist in this line of reasoning lest I tempt fate in that direction. I wonder if his ghost too would be blind. * Both of his parents were sighted; that is, they could see perfectly. They had two children. The blind guy had a little brother who was fat, and a religious geek. He always reminded me of an incompetent friar—You know?—the kind that make it into bad movies for comic relief. The little brother was also blind. I liked the blind guy a little better than his fat, religious little brother, but that was mostly because the little bastard was always telling on us for smoking dope, or anything else we decided to do that was exciting. He even told us once that if he caught us smoking dope he would have no choice but to call the police. Can you imagine? Anyway...I can see how the blind guy became selfish; I mean, his parents shot out one cripple and still had the audacity to try again. In a world full of war and starving people it hardly seems reasonable to people a nation with cripples. Right? The thing that struck me about his parents was that they didn't SEEM to feel badly about making sightless children. In fact, they were incredibly self—righteous people. CATHOLICS! I guess I'd be a Catholic too if I felt as guilty as they MUST have, inside, for being able to see and procreating a couple of blind nerds. I don't blame them. In that kind of situation I guess instant absolvement is absolutely necessary. Being a scumbag is nothing that a 103

The

Sunset

couple of Hail Mary's and well placed Our Father's wont fix. But seriously—if you had one blind kid, and knew that your genes were defective (and they did) wouldn't you get fixed or something? It was cruel. I desist. The blind guy was always smiling. It was as if there was nothing better in the world than being blind. He bore his disease with much nobility. He held his head high (partly because it helped him to hear) and didn't complain. He even told people that if an operation became possible that would restore his sight he would not undergo it unless it was reversible. He loved his blind life that much. Personally I always thought that he was bluffing; though it did occur to me that he was afraid of what he would see when he looked at himself. At first, as I have told you, I thought that I really cared; that I wanted to help him to realize boundaries that were outside the ones that society and he himself had established and accepted for him. I took him hunting (that was scary. Ever seen a blind guy with a gun?) We went mountain climbing, rock climbing, fishing; did acid, speed, heroin... It seemed to me that there was nothing he couldn't do—-nothing that I couldn't do through him. That, I felt, was my greatest accomplishment. Vanity is intoxicating. I began to feel like a messiah. Though I felt bigger then, I now realize that he was making me smaller like him— turning me into a monster. Like an asteroid he drew me into his decaying orbit. Like a tiny star crushed in the unfeeling vacuum of space I began blinking inwardly toward my own destruction. Sometimes the desire to self—destruct is so powerful it eclipses all the rest of our natural urges. We all eventually crave death, so it makes sense that we would want the experiences along the way to be as painful and pointless as possible. After all, there can only be one result. That they are occasionally disguised as virtues is an added bonus, enjoyed only by the exceptionally deluded, or the especially weak. II. There were endless conversations, but they were always the same. Someone would tactfully ask him a blind guy question (which would inevitably embarrass them a little) and he would answer seriously and politely. He must have answered the same questions a thousand times, though he never showed it in his demeanor. The most common blind guy question was, "Have you been blind all your life?" or, "Were you born blind?" depending on how a person wanted to ask it. Somehow the second question (while its content is the same as the first) implied some sort of guilt, whereas the first phrasing implied tragedy. One could assume that his good nature kept him from being annoyed, and maybe it did. He certainly seemed to be a good sport about it. Considering that the inquiries were largely generated out of selfish curiosity, and that they were asked at the potential expense of his pride...no, maybe that's not the right word...comfort? Well, what I mean was that they were basically pointing 104


Berkeley

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Review

out his flaws. I knew the logic behind it because in the beginning I had done the same thing, asked the same questions. As ugly as the questions were to me they weren't half as ugly as his responses, which were always unabashed and informative answers. He sated, happily, their selfish whims. I find it impossible to believe that the poor shit wasn't embarrassed. I think either he was, and was consciously belittling himself, or he wasn't, and was savoring the selfishness of others along with the discomfort they showed while indulging it. Either way the whole thing was sickening. I began to dread the questions that he should have dreaded; to wince when they were asked; and to hate him for the way he handled them. It's easy to hate someone who has no sense of pride or self-worth, especially a cripple, because their shortcomings are obvious. Though I disliked the askers, I disliked him more for answering them. Considering that the faces ofthe askers changed, and his(the answerer) remained the same, I felt that he was exponentially more guilty than the others, whose only crime was that they indulged their selfish curiosity at the expense of a self—deprecating cripple. Just once I would have liked to have seen him tell them to mind their own business, or better yet, to fuck off! That would have been the right thing to do. He never did. He was guiltier than they were by far. III. Enough background. Here are some ofthe things that happened. THE WAITRESS I took him out to a Mexican restaurant. Over drinks and food we talked, and all was well. When our waitress came to check on us she handed me a note. I assumed that she was trying to pick me up, so I pocketed the note and ordered a couple of Bloody Mary's. When she left I opened the note. This is what it said: "Your friend is cute. I want to get to know him." It was simple enough. Its message was clear. I smiled to myself (he could not see me) and folded it again then placed it on the table between us. My smile was a gesture to myself that conveyed to me not only shock, but a genuine amazement at the situation. I reveled in broken solitude. The girl was beautiful. I was deflated. When she brought our drinks I acted as though nothing had happened (I had not told him yet) and my smile became genuine as I watched her eye the note between us nervously. I suppose it took a lot of guts to hit on a blind guy. I really couldn't fathom it. When she left I read him the note and watched as he filled with an undeserved pride. I, at least, considered it undeservea*— I mean, he hadn't done anything to deserve it, plus I was still a little bitter that she hadn't chosen me. I would have thought that I was the obvious choice. Not only was he blind, but he wasn't an attractive guy. He was hairy, 105

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and his features were exaggerated in a way that only a foreigner or someone who has no concept of their own appearance could be. He was flattered, and I advised him that she was attractive. With his interest piqued (I had really sold her to him) we called her back over to the table and they exchanged numbers and pleasantries. It was no different than any other chance meeting of potential intimates, but I felt dirty for being a part of it, and hurt that I wasn't the object of her desire. As she walked away I realized that not only had I been overlooked, but I had also been used. Lacking the courage to approach him directly and disclose her attraction to him she had approached him in a method that would have been inaccessible to him, but for my presence. If she had known that I too was attracted to her it would have been a terribly insensitive gesture. Either way it bothered me. She was attractive. She should have known that I would want her, and been more considerate of my feelings. I was convinced that she did know, and that her approach was some kind of terrible game whose purpose I could not imagine. I was pretty self-important about the whole thing. As it turns out he meets up with her and gently tells her that she is not his type; that he is not attracted to her; that he likes only fat women—which was true. She could hardly be offended by his rejection; what girl would be? He didn't like her BECAUSE she was beautiful. He then told her that I liked her (wanted her), and put us in touch with one another. I had been set up by a blind guy. I took his unwanted seconds happily. The sex was fabulous because I hated them both. I thought of him as much as I thought of her as I took her. I began to play little games with him in private. I marvel as I remember how easily he was drawn into fantasy. I told him stories about how the world was really controlled by two factions of rival simians(one located in the Amazon, and one in the Congo) who existed in other dimensions, and whose battles resulted in our natural catastrophes. I told him that above them hierarchally were a group of giant jellyfish called "The Watchtowers of God," who lived in the oceans, and that the oceans were the true world, and we lived in the smaller of three environments—- space being the third, and the largest. The last statement I pointed out to him when he asked why The Watchtowers didn't take over the Earth. It was because they already had it. Three—quarters of it was, after all, covered in water. That constituted the majority. I told him that The Watchtowers only communicated with the aliens above in the unseen heavens (The Simians too were prehistoric aliens), or with God, who may well be an alien himself. The only exception to this rule that they had ever made was that they had spoken to Charles Darwin when he was in The Galapagos, and that had been necessary as it led us to discover enough of our own origins to remain truly ignorant. These ideas (still so new to him) became his religion, and in private he began calling me, "My Liege." I didn't stop him. Why should I? Like any dominator I was insecure, and though I knew his faith was worthless because it had not been earned, I accepted the token of his gratitude that the tide conveyed 106


Berkeley

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out his flaws. I knew the logic behind it because in the beginning I had done the same thing, asked the same questions. As ugly as the questions were to me they weren't half as ugly as his responses, which were always unabashed and informative answers. He sated, happily, their selfish whims. I find it impossible to believe that the poor shit wasn't embarrassed. I think either he was, and was consciously belittling himself, or he wasn't, and was savoring the selfishness of others along with the discomfort they showed while indulging it. Either way the whole thing was sickening. I began to dread the questions that he should have dreaded; to wince when they were asked; and to hate him for the way he handled them. It's easy to hate someone who has no sense of pride or self-worth, especially a cripple, because their shortcomings are obvious. Though I disliked the askers, I disliked him more for answering them. Considering that the faces ofthe askers changed, and his(the answerer) remained the same, I felt that he was exponentially more guilty than the others, whose only crime was that they indulged their selfish curiosity at the expense of a self—deprecating cripple. Just once I would have liked to have seen him tell them to mind their own business, or better yet, to fuck off! That would have been the right thing to do. He never did. He was guiltier than they were by far. III. Enough background. Here are some ofthe things that happened. THE WAITRESS I took him out to a Mexican restaurant. Over drinks and food we talked, and all was well. When our waitress came to check on us she handed me a note. I assumed that she was trying to pick me up, so I pocketed the note and ordered a couple of Bloody Mary's. When she left I opened the note. This is what it said: "Your friend is cute. I want to get to know him." It was simple enough. Its message was clear. I smiled to myself (he could not see me) and folded it again then placed it on the table between us. My smile was a gesture to myself that conveyed to me not only shock, but a genuine amazement at the situation. I reveled in broken solitude. The girl was beautiful. I was deflated. When she brought our drinks I acted as though nothing had happened (I had not told him yet) and my smile became genuine as I watched her eye the note between us nervously. I suppose it took a lot of guts to hit on a blind guy. I really couldn't fathom it. When she left I read him the note and watched as he filled with an undeserved pride. I, at least, considered it undeservea*— I mean, he hadn't done anything to deserve it, plus I was still a little bitter that she hadn't chosen me. I would have thought that I was the obvious choice. Not only was he blind, but he wasn't an attractive guy. He was hairy, 105

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and his features were exaggerated in a way that only a foreigner or someone who has no concept of their own appearance could be. He was flattered, and I advised him that she was attractive. With his interest piqued (I had really sold her to him) we called her back over to the table and they exchanged numbers and pleasantries. It was no different than any other chance meeting of potential intimates, but I felt dirty for being a part of it, and hurt that I wasn't the object of her desire. As she walked away I realized that not only had I been overlooked, but I had also been used. Lacking the courage to approach him directly and disclose her attraction to him she had approached him in a method that would have been inaccessible to him, but for my presence. If she had known that I too was attracted to her it would have been a terribly insensitive gesture. Either way it bothered me. She was attractive. She should have known that I would want her, and been more considerate of my feelings. I was convinced that she did know, and that her approach was some kind of terrible game whose purpose I could not imagine. I was pretty self-important about the whole thing. As it turns out he meets up with her and gently tells her that she is not his type; that he is not attracted to her; that he likes only fat women—which was true. She could hardly be offended by his rejection; what girl would be? He didn't like her BECAUSE she was beautiful. He then told her that I liked her (wanted her), and put us in touch with one another. I had been set up by a blind guy. I took his unwanted seconds happily. The sex was fabulous because I hated them both. I thought of him as much as I thought of her as I took her. I began to play little games with him in private. I marvel as I remember how easily he was drawn into fantasy. I told him stories about how the world was really controlled by two factions of rival simians(one located in the Amazon, and one in the Congo) who existed in other dimensions, and whose battles resulted in our natural catastrophes. I told him that above them hierarchally were a group of giant jellyfish called "The Watchtowers of God," who lived in the oceans, and that the oceans were the true world, and we lived in the smaller of three environments—- space being the third, and the largest. The last statement I pointed out to him when he asked why The Watchtowers didn't take over the Earth. It was because they already had it. Three—quarters of it was, after all, covered in water. That constituted the majority. I told him that The Watchtowers only communicated with the aliens above in the unseen heavens (The Simians too were prehistoric aliens), or with God, who may well be an alien himself. The only exception to this rule that they had ever made was that they had spoken to Charles Darwin when he was in The Galapagos, and that had been necessary as it led us to discover enough of our own origins to remain truly ignorant. These ideas (still so new to him) became his religion, and in private he began calling me, "My Liege." I didn't stop him. Why should I? Like any dominator I was insecure, and though I knew his faith was worthless because it had not been earned, I accepted the token of his gratitude that the tide conveyed 106


Berkeley

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The

THE GIRL WAS HIS FIANCEE... and she was vicious. Her name was something Greek that sounded more like a disease than anything else. She had coarse, acne—scarred skin, and wiry, kinked hair. The one thing that she had going for her was that she was fat. In fact, she loved eating so much that she ran up a $5,000.00 take—out bill on the blind guy's credit card. In addition to being ugly (at least conventionally so) she had a mean temperament. I, and a mutual friend (that is, of myself and the blind guy) traveled to San Francisco to visit him and his Gorgon lover. The blind guy was attending Stanford University. He had fooled them into believing that he was smart. The deceitful bastard! He lived in a building full of other cripples and freaks. There were blind, albino negroes, and recently blinded Italian body builders with purple splotches on their face where the acid had eaten it away— there was even a blind Asian guy that would get right up in your face and sing oldies. I didn't blame him. I guess he just wanted some attention. The building was full of these people, and walking through the halls we were overcome with a desperate sense of hopelessness, accompanied by the alien feeling of not belonging. Our eyes worked, we had no facial burns or racial anomalies, and though I could sing, I wasn't Asian, and didn't particularly care for oldies. It wasn't until the second day, when the grace had wom off of the Gorgon, and the hospitality had given leave to her charm, that we began to see how awful she was. She would publicly berate him about the size of his penis (she thought it was small), then make allusions to having affairs with his friends— in this case, us. I remember listening to her talk about his little blind dick as I tried to choke down some clam chowder. I eventually had to abandon the chowder. The parallels were too numerous to the conversation. Eventually the clams and the sex merged, leaving an awful stew of thoughts that clouded my conscience for quite some time. The whole time she was speaking he was smiling. Though I was shocked, I could hardly have expected anything else from him— still, it seemed somehow worse than the other abuses I had watched him silently shoulder while smiling. Perhaps it seemed more maliciously personal. I later found out that on occasion he would watch (in whatever capacity that it was possible) as his friends copulated with that awful troll he intended to marry. He explained to us that he was not possessive, and that he wanted to satisfy her every desire, even if that meant watching her fuck his crippled friends. It made me more sick than angry, so I got drunk and went to bed. During the night the Gorgon molested our mutual friend (mine and the blind guy's). She fell on him in the dark, while supposedly on her way to the bathroom. He was too drunk to notice, and therefore only became suspicious when he awoke to find his penis outside of his fly and smelling of slobber. Because he was sleeping in their bedroonr(I had wisely chosen the couch) there were only two possibilities—the blind guy, and the troll. He asked the blind guy, directly, if he had done it, and received an abrupt denial. As the two of them came to the same realization about what

tome. I WAS better than he was. I knew that much. I gave him a new God! I became his creator's creator.

r

Sunset

ATHERBEHEST... he touched my girlfriend in the spa. It was innocent enough, if something like that can be innocent. She asked him if he had ever touched a "hot" girl before(she was hot), and he said, "I don't think so"—the non—committal bastard! Of course he hadn't. He didn't like "hot girls"; he liked FAT girls. So she takes his hands and runs them gently over her curves. I sit, dumbfounded, and watch. I am too far into my rage and disgust to respond. The spectacle before me is truly grotesque. His eyes begin bobbing, and she smiles. He is obviously excited. She is on an ego trip. I am seething. Though he didn't touch anything too secret, her body was mine, and I was offended past my own comprehension. It was a bizarre sort of violation— one with a double edge. They had both betrayed me. I punished her with sex. The sex was rough, and I can't see how she could have enjoyed it, but at the end of it I felt better. She knew she was mine. I had called her names and choked her 'til she understood that much. My opportunity to punish him came much later. It was a game. While drinking red wine we organized a fight. It wasn't uncommon for us to spar when drinking. I closed my eyes. It was fair. Sometimes he even won—when I let him! He was too weak to hurt me... physically. Our referee (a roommate) placed us a couple feet apart and laid out the rules. There weren't any except for that I had to keep my eyes closed. We had never needed any rules beyond that. I had never hurt him before. Our roommate counted backwards from ten. At zero we were to fight. I thought of his hands tracing her frame; of how ugly they looked on her smooth curves; of her face as I choked her, and penetrated her, and she wept. At zero I hit him. HARD. It was a left, but it caught him in the cheek, just below the eye, and knocked him cold. I had taken the first opportunity to flatten him that was ever offered to me. We had sparred before, but I hadn't been ready to hurt him then. In his slumber he was sick. He got sick and stayed dizzy. He probably had a concussion. He went to bed (we should have kept him awake— that's what you're supposed to do with concussions) and as I cleaned up after him I thought to myself, "I hope he dies, the useless bastard." I meant it. It was more than he deserved. When I finished I felt better. With both of them punished I finally felt avenged. I had written some ofthe names I had called my girlfriend during her abuse on her skin in black permanent pen. By the time they had faded he was restored.

108

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Fiction

Review

The

THE GIRL WAS HIS FIANCEE... and she was vicious. Her name was something Greek that sounded more like a disease than anything else. She had coarse, acne—scarred skin, and wiry, kinked hair. The one thing that she had going for her was that she was fat. In fact, she loved eating so much that she ran up a $5,000.00 take—out bill on the blind guy's credit card. In addition to being ugly (at least conventionally so) she had a mean temperament. I, and a mutual friend (that is, of myself and the blind guy) traveled to San Francisco to visit him and his Gorgon lover. The blind guy was attending Stanford University. He had fooled them into believing that he was smart. The deceitful bastard! He lived in a building full of other cripples and freaks. There were blind, albino negroes, and recently blinded Italian body builders with purple splotches on their face where the acid had eaten it away— there was even a blind Asian guy that would get right up in your face and sing oldies. I didn't blame him. I guess he just wanted some attention. The building was full of these people, and walking through the halls we were overcome with a desperate sense of hopelessness, accompanied by the alien feeling of not belonging. Our eyes worked, we had no facial burns or racial anomalies, and though I could sing, I wasn't Asian, and didn't particularly care for oldies. It wasn't until the second day, when the grace had wom off of the Gorgon, and the hospitality had given leave to her charm, that we began to see how awful she was. She would publicly berate him about the size of his penis (she thought it was small), then make allusions to having affairs with his friends— in this case, us. I remember listening to her talk about his little blind dick as I tried to choke down some clam chowder. I eventually had to abandon the chowder. The parallels were too numerous to the conversation. Eventually the clams and the sex merged, leaving an awful stew of thoughts that clouded my conscience for quite some time. The whole time she was speaking he was smiling. Though I was shocked, I could hardly have expected anything else from him— still, it seemed somehow worse than the other abuses I had watched him silently shoulder while smiling. Perhaps it seemed more maliciously personal. I later found out that on occasion he would watch (in whatever capacity that it was possible) as his friends copulated with that awful troll he intended to marry. He explained to us that he was not possessive, and that he wanted to satisfy her every desire, even if that meant watching her fuck his crippled friends. It made me more sick than angry, so I got drunk and went to bed. During the night the Gorgon molested our mutual friend (mine and the blind guy's). She fell on him in the dark, while supposedly on her way to the bathroom. He was too drunk to notice, and therefore only became suspicious when he awoke to find his penis outside of his fly and smelling of slobber. Because he was sleeping in their bedroonr(I had wisely chosen the couch) there were only two possibilities—the blind guy, and the troll. He asked the blind guy, directly, if he had done it, and received an abrupt denial. As the two of them came to the same realization about what

tome. I WAS better than he was. I knew that much. I gave him a new God! I became his creator's creator.

r

Sunset

ATHERBEHEST... he touched my girlfriend in the spa. It was innocent enough, if something like that can be innocent. She asked him if he had ever touched a "hot" girl before(she was hot), and he said, "I don't think so"—the non—committal bastard! Of course he hadn't. He didn't like "hot girls"; he liked FAT girls. So she takes his hands and runs them gently over her curves. I sit, dumbfounded, and watch. I am too far into my rage and disgust to respond. The spectacle before me is truly grotesque. His eyes begin bobbing, and she smiles. He is obviously excited. She is on an ego trip. I am seething. Though he didn't touch anything too secret, her body was mine, and I was offended past my own comprehension. It was a bizarre sort of violation— one with a double edge. They had both betrayed me. I punished her with sex. The sex was rough, and I can't see how she could have enjoyed it, but at the end of it I felt better. She knew she was mine. I had called her names and choked her 'til she understood that much. My opportunity to punish him came much later. It was a game. While drinking red wine we organized a fight. It wasn't uncommon for us to spar when drinking. I closed my eyes. It was fair. Sometimes he even won—when I let him! He was too weak to hurt me... physically. Our referee (a roommate) placed us a couple feet apart and laid out the rules. There weren't any except for that I had to keep my eyes closed. We had never needed any rules beyond that. I had never hurt him before. Our roommate counted backwards from ten. At zero we were to fight. I thought of his hands tracing her frame; of how ugly they looked on her smooth curves; of her face as I choked her, and penetrated her, and she wept. At zero I hit him. HARD. It was a left, but it caught him in the cheek, just below the eye, and knocked him cold. I had taken the first opportunity to flatten him that was ever offered to me. We had sparred before, but I hadn't been ready to hurt him then. In his slumber he was sick. He got sick and stayed dizzy. He probably had a concussion. He went to bed (we should have kept him awake— that's what you're supposed to do with concussions) and as I cleaned up after him I thought to myself, "I hope he dies, the useless bastard." I meant it. It was more than he deserved. When I finished I felt better. With both of them punished I finally felt avenged. I had written some ofthe names I had called my girlfriend during her abuse on her skin in black permanent pen. By the time they had faded he was restored.

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The

had transpired, I observed for the fist time (perhaps the only time) the presence of shame on the blind guy's face. I guess he didn't support the oral rape of his friends, even by his fiancee. In the other room I slept soundly—drunkenly. I was dreaming ofthe guy with the purple face. He had been one ofthe lucky creeps that had gotten to fuck the blind guy's girlfriend. His name was Rosemier. Because it was weakness, I hated the blind guy for his tolerance. Luckily, he never married the troll.

Sunset

Meanwhile the nightly (or almost nightly) drinking binges had continued, and though the rubbing seemed to me a creepy and perverse violation, something more sinister arose. Much more sinister. The blind guy had been gone all night, and had gone to work from there. This did not alarm me, as it had become common. Upon his arrival home I noticed that he was wearing a severely mismatched outfit. A pink shirt with blue sailboats, and orange pants. This was not unusual. He was, after all, blind. His fashion sense was always at least questionable. But the pants were not his. When I asked him about the pants he flushed, became elusive. He told me that they were his, that they were old, and that I had never seen them because he hadn't worn them in a very long time. Since he had not been home, I realized that they were not the same pants he had been wearing when he left the previous day. I knew he was hiding something, so I lit-into him about trust, and friendship, and told him that true friends respected each other, that honesty was a part of respect, and that without these virtues two people could not maintain any sort of healthy relationship. If he had been a better liar he would've gotten away with it. I broke him down. I even slapped him when he admitted to me that he had lied about the pants being his. He told me that they belonged to the lawyer. My stomach began to turn. I already knew where this was going. "What happened to YOUR pants?" I asked him. "I want the truth." I reminded him. He fell into tears, so I poured him a drink and we sat down— he to tell the story, and I to listen. What I heard was somewhat worse than what I had expected. He told me that he awoke in the lawyer's bed, and that upon inspecting himself, realized that he had no pants, and that he was sore. I thought of his girlfriend and our friend; then ofthe old Jewish lawyer heaving himself on the blind guy's crippled back. I stopped him talking. I had heard enough. He had been raped— maybe drugged too, but certainly raped. I told him to report it, and he told me that he did not remember anything, and that he couldn't be sure that it wasn't consensual. I asked him if he was gay and he told me "No". He was lying. It now made sense to me that he was able to watch(listen) as his friends fucked his girlfriend; that he was not possessive. I don't believe that the lawyer raped him at all, but the fact that he told me that he did made me hate him more. He was too much of a coward to admit that he was gay, instead he fictionalized a rape for my benefit that wasn't even portrayed as a definite rape. I have to hand it to him; he was one manipulative son of a bitch. Areal master! Ilostallofmy remaining respect for him that day, and I never spoke to the old lawyer again. I had no need for an old Jewish queen. He continued working for the lawyer, and drinking with him in the evenings... and I assume he also continued being raped, or not being raped, too. Either way it was more than I wanted to think about. The two fruits could have each other, could rot in hell, as far as I was

THE LAWYER MOLESTATIONS For about a year he had been working for a lawyer. The lawyer was old, and ugly, and Jewish. His name was Seymour, and we ultimately discovered (at the blind guy's expense) that he was a homosexual. The lawyer had a wife when the blind guy met him. The wife used to pack them lunches of tomatoes and fish, or ribs and potato salad, which they would take during their daily break. Dispensing law built up quite an appetite in them. The lawyer ate like a pig, as did the blind guy; consequently they quite enjoyed each other's company. While they ate, the room was silent except for crunching or slurping, sporadic moans of approval, or soft belches of contentment. Soon the lawyer discovered that the blind guy liked to drink and began inviting him to his home regularly for an after work cocktail, or two, or three, or four... It was at about this time that the lawyer divorced his wife. Anyway, the blind guy had no self control, or any real tolerance for drink. He began to pass out at the lawyer's home regularly. This was not alarming in itself. It was what followed it that first aroused, and eventually unequivocally confirmed our suspicions about the lawyer's sexuality. At work the lawyer (who the blind guy had begun calling boss) began to fondle the blind guy's leg beneath the table, sometimes even touching his penis. The blind guy was alarmed but polite, and would discreetly remove the straying hand without comment. Nobody, least of all he, wanted an incident. As I told you before, he was quite possibly the least confrontational person on Earth. He was also the weakest. He never stood his ground... whatever that was. At some point the fondling became a daily affair, and even the polite removal ofthe lawyer's hand seemed only to enliven his pursuit of the blind guy's penis. I guess he thought that the blind guy was playing coy. One day the blind guy confronted the lawyer about the groping (mostly upon my insistence; he never would have done it if left to himself), and the lawyer was astonished... apologetic. He told the blind guy that he had a nerve disorder, and so was unable to control his arms completely or the descent of his hand into the blind guy's groin. There is no part of me that believes that the blind guy bought the lawyer's pathetic story, but he let it go, and when the groping resumed he would say to the lawyer, "Boss, you're rubbing again," which would put him off for a while. 109

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had transpired, I observed for the fist time (perhaps the only time) the presence of shame on the blind guy's face. I guess he didn't support the oral rape of his friends, even by his fiancee. In the other room I slept soundly—drunkenly. I was dreaming ofthe guy with the purple face. He had been one ofthe lucky creeps that had gotten to fuck the blind guy's girlfriend. His name was Rosemier. Because it was weakness, I hated the blind guy for his tolerance. Luckily, he never married the troll.

Sunset

Meanwhile the nightly (or almost nightly) drinking binges had continued, and though the rubbing seemed to me a creepy and perverse violation, something more sinister arose. Much more sinister. The blind guy had been gone all night, and had gone to work from there. This did not alarm me, as it had become common. Upon his arrival home I noticed that he was wearing a severely mismatched outfit. A pink shirt with blue sailboats, and orange pants. This was not unusual. He was, after all, blind. His fashion sense was always at least questionable. But the pants were not his. When I asked him about the pants he flushed, became elusive. He told me that they were his, that they were old, and that I had never seen them because he hadn't worn them in a very long time. Since he had not been home, I realized that they were not the same pants he had been wearing when he left the previous day. I knew he was hiding something, so I lit-into him about trust, and friendship, and told him that true friends respected each other, that honesty was a part of respect, and that without these virtues two people could not maintain any sort of healthy relationship. If he had been a better liar he would've gotten away with it. I broke him down. I even slapped him when he admitted to me that he had lied about the pants being his. He told me that they belonged to the lawyer. My stomach began to turn. I already knew where this was going. "What happened to YOUR pants?" I asked him. "I want the truth." I reminded him. He fell into tears, so I poured him a drink and we sat down— he to tell the story, and I to listen. What I heard was somewhat worse than what I had expected. He told me that he awoke in the lawyer's bed, and that upon inspecting himself, realized that he had no pants, and that he was sore. I thought of his girlfriend and our friend; then ofthe old Jewish lawyer heaving himself on the blind guy's crippled back. I stopped him talking. I had heard enough. He had been raped— maybe drugged too, but certainly raped. I told him to report it, and he told me that he did not remember anything, and that he couldn't be sure that it wasn't consensual. I asked him if he was gay and he told me "No". He was lying. It now made sense to me that he was able to watch(listen) as his friends fucked his girlfriend; that he was not possessive. I don't believe that the lawyer raped him at all, but the fact that he told me that he did made me hate him more. He was too much of a coward to admit that he was gay, instead he fictionalized a rape for my benefit that wasn't even portrayed as a definite rape. I have to hand it to him; he was one manipulative son of a bitch. Areal master! Ilostallofmy remaining respect for him that day, and I never spoke to the old lawyer again. I had no need for an old Jewish queen. He continued working for the lawyer, and drinking with him in the evenings... and I assume he also continued being raped, or not being raped, too. Either way it was more than I wanted to think about. The two fruits could have each other, could rot in hell, as far as I was

THE LAWYER MOLESTATIONS For about a year he had been working for a lawyer. The lawyer was old, and ugly, and Jewish. His name was Seymour, and we ultimately discovered (at the blind guy's expense) that he was a homosexual. The lawyer had a wife when the blind guy met him. The wife used to pack them lunches of tomatoes and fish, or ribs and potato salad, which they would take during their daily break. Dispensing law built up quite an appetite in them. The lawyer ate like a pig, as did the blind guy; consequently they quite enjoyed each other's company. While they ate, the room was silent except for crunching or slurping, sporadic moans of approval, or soft belches of contentment. Soon the lawyer discovered that the blind guy liked to drink and began inviting him to his home regularly for an after work cocktail, or two, or three, or four... It was at about this time that the lawyer divorced his wife. Anyway, the blind guy had no self control, or any real tolerance for drink. He began to pass out at the lawyer's home regularly. This was not alarming in itself. It was what followed it that first aroused, and eventually unequivocally confirmed our suspicions about the lawyer's sexuality. At work the lawyer (who the blind guy had begun calling boss) began to fondle the blind guy's leg beneath the table, sometimes even touching his penis. The blind guy was alarmed but polite, and would discreetly remove the straying hand without comment. Nobody, least of all he, wanted an incident. As I told you before, he was quite possibly the least confrontational person on Earth. He was also the weakest. He never stood his ground... whatever that was. At some point the fondling became a daily affair, and even the polite removal ofthe lawyer's hand seemed only to enliven his pursuit of the blind guy's penis. I guess he thought that the blind guy was playing coy. One day the blind guy confronted the lawyer about the groping (mostly upon my insistence; he never would have done it if left to himself), and the lawyer was astonished... apologetic. He told the blind guy that he had a nerve disorder, and so was unable to control his arms completely or the descent of his hand into the blind guy's groin. There is no part of me that believes that the blind guy bought the lawyer's pathetic story, but he let it go, and when the groping resumed he would say to the lawyer, "Boss, you're rubbing again," which would put him off for a while. 109

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concerned. I was long past caring. THE BLACK GUY INCIDENT Though I find it unbearable to write this, as it causes me in some sense to relive it, I will relate this last episode to you in hopes that it will help you understand. It is important that you understand. The day was unremarkable, and I had returned home from the zoo(where I had spent the day) to a darkened house. I was accustomed to the absence of light upon my arrival home, as the blind guy obviously had no use for lights, and therefore usually left them off in my absence. I was unprepared for what I discovered; what I saw. I don't think ANYTHING could have prepared me for it. "Hello," I called out into the darkness. I was met with silence. I wandered about the house ttirning on lights and preparing for an evening of rest. I was tired. It had been a long day. When I walked through the hallway that separated our bedrooms I noticed that his door was open, and heard a strange rustling in the unlit room. "Hello," I called again. Still no answer. I walked into his room and turned on the light Though the door was open, I now realize that I should have knocked. It would have spared me a great deal of shock. The blind guy was kneeling on the floor in front of his bed performing fellatio on an overweight black guy that was lying atop it perpendicular to him. When I turned the light on the black man startled, and moved in such a way that his penis was dislodged from the blind guy's mouth. I, unfortunately, saw it quite clearly. When the blind guy turned toward me there was a tendril of spittle, or something worse, hanging from his mouth. He blinked, surprised, then swallowed and said, "I didn't expect you home so soon." I guess it was true that he hadn't. I was horrified. I asked him, "Do you know what you're doing?" He must not have had time to invent an excuse, because his answer was simple and honest. "Yes," he said. "Next time close the door," I said, and closed the door behind me as I left the room. I sat drinking red wine (it always seems to help) on the couch, trying to forget what I had seen, until the black guy(obviously flustered) made his way hastily through the living room, and out the front door. He said "Hi" to me as he passed. It was more of an apology than a greeting. I couldn't blame him for being stand—offish. I'd be uncomfortable too if I had just been caught getting head from a blind guy. YUCK! I now had proof that my roommate was a faggot, and a liar. He wandered into the front room looking embarrassed, and sat down 111

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across from me. "Don't," I said, when he opened his mouth to speak. I didn't care. Not anymore. He poured himself a drink and we sat in silence until I retired. I was unable to sleep that night. My hate kept me awake. He was a liar and a queer. It was then that I decided to kill him. I could no longer live happily with him in the world. My hate was too deep, and my injuries too great. I wanted nothing more to do with him. Ever. EVER!!! That was the last straw. A star shined in the distance, in my head. Its brightness was my release. I was going to kill him. IV. THINGS I HATE ABOUT BLIND PEOPLE Realize first, that though I have met many blind people, I have only KNOWN one, and he was terrible. My opinions may be somewhat biased as a result of those associations. 1. They can't see. 2. They lie, and are gay. 3. They have no pride, or self respect. 4. They can't see. 5. They lie, and are gay. 6. That's enough. Those reasons are enough. More than enough. V. There are points at which I feel that he didn't deserve my wrath, not all of it anyway... but he wasn't innocent. He earned his fate. I hate him still. Our secret relationship had degraded to a point that was unsalvageable. Fantastic things cannot endure tragedy. Fantasy is too fragile a thing to exist in the absence of goodness. I no longer felt anything when he called me "My Liege," and I had grown too tired to tell him any more stories about "The Watchtowers," or 'The Simians," or anything else. Hate is a truly exhausting emotion. He began to recede from my presence— at first removing himself sporadically (gently) from my company, then being altogether absent from even the most mundane and vital routines which would call him into my presence. I did not fight it. I let him go. Even if I had wanted to salvage our friendship, I couldn't see how it was possible... not then; not after so much had happened. Not ever. We were done. He told me he was moving out of our apartment. I was not surprised. 112


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concerned. I was long past caring. THE BLACK GUY INCIDENT Though I find it unbearable to write this, as it causes me in some sense to relive it, I will relate this last episode to you in hopes that it will help you understand. It is important that you understand. The day was unremarkable, and I had returned home from the zoo(where I had spent the day) to a darkened house. I was accustomed to the absence of light upon my arrival home, as the blind guy obviously had no use for lights, and therefore usually left them off in my absence. I was unprepared for what I discovered; what I saw. I don't think ANYTHING could have prepared me for it. "Hello," I called out into the darkness. I was met with silence. I wandered about the house ttirning on lights and preparing for an evening of rest. I was tired. It had been a long day. When I walked through the hallway that separated our bedrooms I noticed that his door was open, and heard a strange rustling in the unlit room. "Hello," I called again. Still no answer. I walked into his room and turned on the light Though the door was open, I now realize that I should have knocked. It would have spared me a great deal of shock. The blind guy was kneeling on the floor in front of his bed performing fellatio on an overweight black guy that was lying atop it perpendicular to him. When I turned the light on the black man startled, and moved in such a way that his penis was dislodged from the blind guy's mouth. I, unfortunately, saw it quite clearly. When the blind guy turned toward me there was a tendril of spittle, or something worse, hanging from his mouth. He blinked, surprised, then swallowed and said, "I didn't expect you home so soon." I guess it was true that he hadn't. I was horrified. I asked him, "Do you know what you're doing?" He must not have had time to invent an excuse, because his answer was simple and honest. "Yes," he said. "Next time close the door," I said, and closed the door behind me as I left the room. I sat drinking red wine (it always seems to help) on the couch, trying to forget what I had seen, until the black guy(obviously flustered) made his way hastily through the living room, and out the front door. He said "Hi" to me as he passed. It was more of an apology than a greeting. I couldn't blame him for being stand—offish. I'd be uncomfortable too if I had just been caught getting head from a blind guy. YUCK! I now had proof that my roommate was a faggot, and a liar. He wandered into the front room looking embarrassed, and sat down 111

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across from me. "Don't," I said, when he opened his mouth to speak. I didn't care. Not anymore. He poured himself a drink and we sat in silence until I retired. I was unable to sleep that night. My hate kept me awake. He was a liar and a queer. It was then that I decided to kill him. I could no longer live happily with him in the world. My hate was too deep, and my injuries too great. I wanted nothing more to do with him. Ever. EVER!!! That was the last straw. A star shined in the distance, in my head. Its brightness was my release. I was going to kill him. IV. THINGS I HATE ABOUT BLIND PEOPLE Realize first, that though I have met many blind people, I have only KNOWN one, and he was terrible. My opinions may be somewhat biased as a result of those associations. 1. They can't see. 2. They lie, and are gay. 3. They have no pride, or self respect. 4. They can't see. 5. They lie, and are gay. 6. That's enough. Those reasons are enough. More than enough. V. There are points at which I feel that he didn't deserve my wrath, not all of it anyway... but he wasn't innocent. He earned his fate. I hate him still. Our secret relationship had degraded to a point that was unsalvageable. Fantastic things cannot endure tragedy. Fantasy is too fragile a thing to exist in the absence of goodness. I no longer felt anything when he called me "My Liege," and I had grown too tired to tell him any more stories about "The Watchtowers," or 'The Simians," or anything else. Hate is a truly exhausting emotion. He began to recede from my presence— at first removing himself sporadically (gently) from my company, then being altogether absent from even the most mundane and vital routines which would call him into my presence. I did not fight it. I let him go. Even if I had wanted to salvage our friendship, I couldn't see how it was possible... not then; not after so much had happened. Not ever. We were done. He told me he was moving out of our apartment. I was not surprised. 112


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The

I had been expecting it. He was going to work for the Lutherans. He saw his shortcomings for what they were, and thought that maybe he could sort them out amidst the zealots, and in the general presence of benevolence. I thought that maybe he was right. I certainly didn't know what to do for him. He turned to God when he lost his faith in me, or vice—versa, or however it happened. Then he was gone. I waited. His leaving was part of my detachment. I needed the distance to think. Space showed me what I already knew; I had to kill him; I could not live happily knowing that he still existed—-not after everything that had happened. I waited. The right time was bound to present itself eventually. It had to. I needed it to. There was a time when I liked him; when I genuinely enjoyed his company, but that time was long past. In the absence of pity(because he had brought all of this on himself) my rage increased. I had to spend my hate on something. He embodied everything I hated about the world; about mankind in general. He embodied our weakness; our tragic flaws, and was an appropriate receptacle into which I could project my loathing. And I did. Perhaps I have failed to make you understand how awful he was; why I hated him so much. I have tried. You know what happened. There is nothing more I can do, or say. Your feelings are your own, and I cannot shape them, but for the relation of fact, which may impress you differently than it does me. I had to do it. I had to kill him. He was too awful to live in my world, or I was too awful to live in his. It really didn't matter which. Things are as they are; they happen as they do. At points he invoked tenderness in me, and I do not altogether regret our interactions. They certainly made me stronger. Somehow. I reasoned that by killing him I was doing him a favor. He was a cripple. Sightlessness is an impairment of vision, both spiritually and physically... at least in his case it was. No one should have to live like that, as a cripple—spiritually, or otherwise. I was doing him a favor.

Sunset

We walked along the trail, reminiscing as we went about the many pleasures we had experienced in each other's company. There were many. Our friendship spanned a decade. I enjoyed the talk. It made my task seem less grim. We came to a bluff. The sun was sinking in the sky, but the night was no menace to us; we couldn't see it— we two sightless evils glaring hotly into the irreversible future. Standing there I see the distance that has grown between us. It is a void that, though unseen, I am unable to breach with beguiling. I need to get close to him. I need him to believe again. I realize that to make him believe, I've got to believe again too. So I take the old attitude, and try as hard as I can to care again. I find my refuge in the fact that I need to do this thing... this important thing, about which I do, indeed, care. It is easy to shift around my sincerity and display it to him once I have discovered my true path, and its importance in achieving my desires. Yes, this one last time I need him. "Andy," I say (I used his name), "Have you ever seen a sunset?" He stops whatever he is doing. It's hard to tell what he's doing most times, because his eyes give no clue as to his purpose. Most times it seems as if he's just sort of taking it all in— the sounds, the feelings, the smells... and I suppose that's what he's doing when he stops. He looks puzzled. In the fading light he looks like an angel. I fight off the urge to remind him that he's never seen anything. It's an old joke and it would ruin the mood. "I don't think so," he replies. "Let me tell you," I say, "it's really beautiful", and I leave it like that. I can tell that I've piqued his interest. He is frantic. His dead eyes strain and bounce, his throat bulges; and it is obvious to me that he is thinking. I guess the eyes do tell me something. "Really?" he asks. He is baiting me to continue my explanation. He never could just come out and say anything. Heat flashes in my cheeks, and I ball my fists. I am tired of being manipulated. I breathe deeply and slowly regain my composure. I decide to continue explaining it to him, but only because it suits my purpose, and I have come too far to turn back now. "When you close your eyes and point your face at the sun the feeling you get is yellow. As you lower your face, halfway to the ground it turns to orange. Blue is the feeling ofthe wind. White is the feeling of snow. Mostly it's the yellows, and oranges, and blues that come into play in a sunset(play is a good description of what they do), but sometimes there's white if it is in winter, or the clouds are low." I forget to tell him that sometimes there's red, that it is the blood ofthe

VI. I called him on the phone one day, after much time had passed. Something told me it was time. I had been feeling it for a while— looming in the clouds beyond, hiding in the shadows that glided below them... weightless, dark, and perfect. It was important. It was time. I told him that I was no longer angry, and invited him to go hiking with me. I don't think my act fooled him, but he was weak, and responded in the only way he could, which was to give in to me—I being the stronger of us two beings. 113

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I had been expecting it. He was going to work for the Lutherans. He saw his shortcomings for what they were, and thought that maybe he could sort them out amidst the zealots, and in the general presence of benevolence. I thought that maybe he was right. I certainly didn't know what to do for him. He turned to God when he lost his faith in me, or vice—versa, or however it happened. Then he was gone. I waited. His leaving was part of my detachment. I needed the distance to think. Space showed me what I already knew; I had to kill him; I could not live happily knowing that he still existed—-not after everything that had happened. I waited. The right time was bound to present itself eventually. It had to. I needed it to. There was a time when I liked him; when I genuinely enjoyed his company, but that time was long past. In the absence of pity(because he had brought all of this on himself) my rage increased. I had to spend my hate on something. He embodied everything I hated about the world; about mankind in general. He embodied our weakness; our tragic flaws, and was an appropriate receptacle into which I could project my loathing. And I did. Perhaps I have failed to make you understand how awful he was; why I hated him so much. I have tried. You know what happened. There is nothing more I can do, or say. Your feelings are your own, and I cannot shape them, but for the relation of fact, which may impress you differently than it does me. I had to do it. I had to kill him. He was too awful to live in my world, or I was too awful to live in his. It really didn't matter which. Things are as they are; they happen as they do. At points he invoked tenderness in me, and I do not altogether regret our interactions. They certainly made me stronger. Somehow. I reasoned that by killing him I was doing him a favor. He was a cripple. Sightlessness is an impairment of vision, both spiritually and physically... at least in his case it was. No one should have to live like that, as a cripple—spiritually, or otherwise. I was doing him a favor.

Sunset

We walked along the trail, reminiscing as we went about the many pleasures we had experienced in each other's company. There were many. Our friendship spanned a decade. I enjoyed the talk. It made my task seem less grim. We came to a bluff. The sun was sinking in the sky, but the night was no menace to us; we couldn't see it— we two sightless evils glaring hotly into the irreversible future. Standing there I see the distance that has grown between us. It is a void that, though unseen, I am unable to breach with beguiling. I need to get close to him. I need him to believe again. I realize that to make him believe, I've got to believe again too. So I take the old attitude, and try as hard as I can to care again. I find my refuge in the fact that I need to do this thing... this important thing, about which I do, indeed, care. It is easy to shift around my sincerity and display it to him once I have discovered my true path, and its importance in achieving my desires. Yes, this one last time I need him. "Andy," I say (I used his name), "Have you ever seen a sunset?" He stops whatever he is doing. It's hard to tell what he's doing most times, because his eyes give no clue as to his purpose. Most times it seems as if he's just sort of taking it all in— the sounds, the feelings, the smells... and I suppose that's what he's doing when he stops. He looks puzzled. In the fading light he looks like an angel. I fight off the urge to remind him that he's never seen anything. It's an old joke and it would ruin the mood. "I don't think so," he replies. "Let me tell you," I say, "it's really beautiful", and I leave it like that. I can tell that I've piqued his interest. He is frantic. His dead eyes strain and bounce, his throat bulges; and it is obvious to me that he is thinking. I guess the eyes do tell me something. "Really?" he asks. He is baiting me to continue my explanation. He never could just come out and say anything. Heat flashes in my cheeks, and I ball my fists. I am tired of being manipulated. I breathe deeply and slowly regain my composure. I decide to continue explaining it to him, but only because it suits my purpose, and I have come too far to turn back now. "When you close your eyes and point your face at the sun the feeling you get is yellow. As you lower your face, halfway to the ground it turns to orange. Blue is the feeling ofthe wind. White is the feeling of snow. Mostly it's the yellows, and oranges, and blues that come into play in a sunset(play is a good description of what they do), but sometimes there's white if it is in winter, or the clouds are low." I forget to tell him that sometimes there's red, that it is the blood ofthe

VI. I called him on the phone one day, after much time had passed. Something told me it was time. I had been feeling it for a while— looming in the clouds beyond, hiding in the shadows that glided below them... weightless, dark, and perfect. It was important. It was time. I told him that I was no longer angry, and invited him to go hiking with me. I don't think my act fooled him, but he was weak, and responded in the only way he could, which was to give in to me—I being the stronger of us two beings. 113

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sky, and that it feels a little hotter than orange. Mostly I forget because I can't describe it, or don't really want to. "What color do you feel now?" I ask him. He puzzles. It's like asking a baby to recite Shakespeare, but he's good at faking, so I let him stew on it. "Yellow," he finally says. "Are you saying yellow because I just described it, or because it's really the way you feel?" I ask him. This obviously upsets him. I can see his face flush, and his eyes straining at something distant— maybe the horizon. "Black... maybe," he restates. He is unsure. Maybe there is black in his sunset. "Let me explain it again," I say to him. He is obviously relieved. So I describe the sunset to him again. How the clouds drifted above the mountains, their wide bodies catching in strings across the green heads ofthe trees that stretch to meet the impossibly blue sky. I painted Heaven in his unseeing gaze. I crept up behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders; my face next to his; my mouth so near his ear that I could whisper. I felt my words entering his head, and I could almost see the picture they made in his imagination— the sunset through his dead eyes. It was beautiful. "Keep looking," I told him. "Can you see it?" "Yes," he said, "I think so." "Keep looking," I said to him. I knew he saw it. The sunshine was blue like the sky. His body was weightless, like a bird's in flight. I watched the sun set behind the mountains, then walked the path back to the car alone. I knew he had seen it. In the bowl ofthe valley, beyond the broken trees through which he fell, and past the frozen streaks of cloven earth, he lay with crimson fingers curling into tiny pools around his head. Their color mimicked the sunset. His eyes were fixed on the sky, I knew he had seen it. I had explained red to him after all.

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sky, and that it feels a little hotter than orange. Mostly I forget because I can't describe it, or don't really want to. "What color do you feel now?" I ask him. He puzzles. It's like asking a baby to recite Shakespeare, but he's good at faking, so I let him stew on it. "Yellow," he finally says. "Are you saying yellow because I just described it, or because it's really the way you feel?" I ask him. This obviously upsets him. I can see his face flush, and his eyes straining at something distant— maybe the horizon. "Black... maybe," he restates. He is unsure. Maybe there is black in his sunset. "Let me explain it again," I say to him. He is obviously relieved. So I describe the sunset to him again. How the clouds drifted above the mountains, their wide bodies catching in strings across the green heads ofthe trees that stretch to meet the impossibly blue sky. I painted Heaven in his unseeing gaze. I crept up behind him and placed my hands on his shoulders; my face next to his; my mouth so near his ear that I could whisper. I felt my words entering his head, and I could almost see the picture they made in his imagination— the sunset through his dead eyes. It was beautiful. "Keep looking," I told him. "Can you see it?" "Yes," he said, "I think so." "Keep looking," I said to him. I knew he saw it. The sunshine was blue like the sky. His body was weightless, like a bird's in flight. I watched the sun set behind the mountains, then walked the path back to the car alone. I knew he had seen it. In the bowl ofthe valley, beyond the broken trees through which he fell, and past the frozen streaks of cloven earth, he lay with crimson fingers curling into tiny pools around his head. Their color mimicked the sunset. His eyes were fixed on the sky, I knew he had seen it. I had explained red to him after all.

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116


There was a Fire Alarm, Like

T h e r e

L i k e

b y

w a s

a

F i r e

A l a r m ,

B e f o r e

Kirsten A l l e n

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. "You're leaving! Don't leave! Why are you leaving? I knew it was you who was creeping around." I sat on the end of her bed. "I have to. My train." "Why are you leaving now? I knew it was you who would be leaving." "Because the train is leaving." "Aren't there later trains? I so totally knew it was you who was up." 117

Before

"My apartment is a mess, Sally." I didn't mention Atley. "When are you leaving?" "Actually just after breakfast. I haven't been home." She meant her daughter and husband were waiting. 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." I thought, what, in holding on to your friends while you rocket through your fife 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 comer 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.

Editor's Note "There was a Fire Alarm, Like Before," originally ran in "Berkeley Fiction Review Issue 25," but was misprinted. It was the third place winner in our Sudden Fiction Contest

118


There was a Fire Alarm, Like

T h e r e

L i k e

b y

w a s

a

F i r e

A l a r m ,

B e f o r e

Kirsten A l l e n

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. "You're leaving! Don't leave! Why are you leaving? I knew it was you who was creeping around." I sat on the end of her bed. "I have to. My train." "Why are you leaving now? I knew it was you who would be leaving." "Because the train is leaving." "Aren't there later trains? I so totally knew it was you who was up." 117

Before

"My apartment is a mess, Sally." I didn't mention Atley. "When are you leaving?" "Actually just after breakfast. I haven't been home." She meant her daughter and husband were waiting. 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." I thought, what, in holding on to your friends while you rocket through your fife 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 comer 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.

Editor's Note "There was a Fire Alarm, Like Before," originally ran in "Berkeley Fiction Review Issue 25," but was misprinted. It was the third place winner in our Sudden Fiction Contest

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

Karin Lin-Greenberg (Bread) has published stories in Bellevue Literary Review, Eclipse, Karamu, and Redivider. She is completing her MFA at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches creative writing. Robert D. Vivian (Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was) R.V.'s first book was Cold Snap As Yearning. His first novel is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press in the fall of 2006 and is entitled The Mover of Bones. He currently teaches English at Alma College in Michigan. Paul Handstedt (My Campaign Story) edits the Roanoke Review and teaches at Raonoke College in Salem, Virginia. His stories have appeared in lots of very important journals that only a clever few have ever heard of. And yes, that is a preposition. Edward Moore (The Cornbin) is a transplanted New Yorker, living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to having several stories published on the internet, he has had fiction printed in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Crimewave Magazine (United Kingdom) and several anthologies. He is eternally grateful to the Berkeley Fiction Review for publishing his first printed story, Evening Shifts, in their 25th issue. Andrew Tomlinson (Hoffmeister) currently resides in Poland. This is his first published piece of fiction. Don Pollock (I Start Over) Last year, Donald Ray Pollack quit his job in a paper mill and began the MFA program in fiction at Ohio State University. A lifelong resident ofthe Buckeye State, he grew up in a holler called Knockemstiff, and has recently published stories in Third Coast, The Journal, Chiron Review, and Sou'wester. Liz Prato (Long and Thin) Liz's fiction has recently appeared in ZYZZYVA, and she's a regular contributor to the Northwest Women's Journal. She's a message therapist in Portland,

Oregon, where she lives with her husband, a bookseller and a musician, and their two cats. Kyle Killen (The Baby) is a fiction and screenwriter. His previous work has appeared in Salon.com, The Black Warrior Review, Faultline, Pindeldyboyz, McSweene's Internet Tendency, and Reed Magazine as the 2003 Steinback Award For The Short Story Winner. Edward Kelsey Moore (The Best Damn Suicide Letter Ever) is a writer and cellist who lives in Chicago. His fiction has appeared in The River Oak Review and been performed on Chicago Public Radio. He recently completed his first short story collection. Jose Garcia (At Custer's Last Stand) is a Mexican-born poet and fiction writer who lives in Oakland, California. He is a past winner ofthe Tappan Poetry Award and the Hispanic Heritage Fiction Writing Contest. He has published work in Rio Grande Review and in Mississippi Review. Johanna Pirko (Vacation) has two fantastic cats. The eldest ofthe two sits next to her on the arm of her lazy boy while she furiously types stories. They bring her great joy. Dustin Miller (The Sunset) is a native of Southern California. He is a writer of fiction and poetry, a musician, and a foreign correspondent of Skin Deep Tattoo Magazine in London. He has completed one novel, The Valley ofthe Dog, and is currently nearing completion of a second, Storyland. He will be seeking publication for both novels in 2006. Kirsten Allen Major (There Was A Fire Alarm, Like Before) is a graduate of the MFA program at Cornell University and has previous published fiction in Chelsea. She lives in New York City. Kenneth Ronquillo (Red Door, cover; Sleeping Child, interior art) Kenneth Tan Ronquillo is a twenty year-old Filipino-Chinese-Emo-American from San Jose, California. He is currently a junior at UC Berkeley and is majoring in Public Health and minoring in Creative Writing. When he is not busy procrastinating, he enjoys rice consumption, memorizing lines from Power Rangers seasons one and two, and calling his grandmother.


f

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

Karin Lin-Greenberg (Bread) has published stories in Bellevue Literary Review, Eclipse, Karamu, and Redivider. She is completing her MFA at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches creative writing. Robert D. Vivian (Cellar of Light Where the Dead Man Was) R.V.'s first book was Cold Snap As Yearning. His first novel is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press in the fall of 2006 and is entitled The Mover of Bones. He currently teaches English at Alma College in Michigan. Paul Handstedt (My Campaign Story) edits the Roanoke Review and teaches at Raonoke College in Salem, Virginia. His stories have appeared in lots of very important journals that only a clever few have ever heard of. And yes, that is a preposition. Edward Moore (The Cornbin) is a transplanted New Yorker, living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to having several stories published on the internet, he has had fiction printed in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Crimewave Magazine (United Kingdom) and several anthologies. He is eternally grateful to the Berkeley Fiction Review for publishing his first printed story, Evening Shifts, in their 25th issue. Andrew Tomlinson (Hoffmeister) currently resides in Poland. This is his first published piece of fiction. Don Pollock (I Start Over) Last year, Donald Ray Pollack quit his job in a paper mill and began the MFA program in fiction at Ohio State University. A lifelong resident ofthe Buckeye State, he grew up in a holler called Knockemstiff, and has recently published stories in Third Coast, The Journal, Chiron Review, and Sou'wester. Liz Prato (Long and Thin) Liz's fiction has recently appeared in ZYZZYVA, and she's a regular contributor to the Northwest Women's Journal. She's a message therapist in Portland,

Oregon, where she lives with her husband, a bookseller and a musician, and their two cats. Kyle Killen (The Baby) is a fiction and screenwriter. His previous work has appeared in Salon.com, The Black Warrior Review, Faultline, Pindeldyboyz, McSweene's Internet Tendency, and Reed Magazine as the 2003 Steinback Award For The Short Story Winner. Edward Kelsey Moore (The Best Damn Suicide Letter Ever) is a writer and cellist who lives in Chicago. His fiction has appeared in The River Oak Review and been performed on Chicago Public Radio. He recently completed his first short story collection. Jose Garcia (At Custer's Last Stand) is a Mexican-born poet and fiction writer who lives in Oakland, California. He is a past winner ofthe Tappan Poetry Award and the Hispanic Heritage Fiction Writing Contest. He has published work in Rio Grande Review and in Mississippi Review. Johanna Pirko (Vacation) has two fantastic cats. The eldest ofthe two sits next to her on the arm of her lazy boy while she furiously types stories. They bring her great joy. Dustin Miller (The Sunset) is a native of Southern California. He is a writer of fiction and poetry, a musician, and a foreign correspondent of Skin Deep Tattoo Magazine in London. He has completed one novel, The Valley ofthe Dog, and is currently nearing completion of a second, Storyland. He will be seeking publication for both novels in 2006. Kirsten Allen Major (There Was A Fire Alarm, Like Before) is a graduate of the MFA program at Cornell University and has previous published fiction in Chelsea. She lives in New York City. Kenneth Ronquillo (Red Door, cover; Sleeping Child, interior art) Kenneth Tan Ronquillo is a twenty year-old Filipino-Chinese-Emo-American from San Jose, California. He is currently a junior at UC Berkeley and is majoring in Public Health and minoring in Creative Writing. When he is not busy procrastinating, he enjoys rice consumption, memorizing lines from Power Rangers seasons one and two, and calling his grandmother.


Michael Greenstein (City Sketch, interior art) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His ink drawings have appeared in a number of fine literary magazines. William E. Myer, Jr. (Chicken Livers for Sale, Palm Tree, interior art) is a freelance artist and writer living in Beaumont, Texas. His graphics, poems, stories, and essays have appeared in the US, Canada, England, Germany, and Australia.

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 , a n d Third P l a c e will b e 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 payable to "BFR Sudden Fiction Contest/ASUC" 1000 words or less 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 for list 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

Contest

Berkeley Fiction 10B Eshleman University of Berkeley, C A

R e v i e w Hall

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is October I

to:

3 1 , 2 0 0 6

Winners w i l l b e notified b y the e n d o f January 2 0 0 7


Michael Greenstein (City Sketch, interior art) studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His ink drawings have appeared in a number of fine literary magazines. William E. Myer, Jr. (Chicken Livers for Sale, Palm Tree, interior art) is a freelance artist and writer living in Beaumont, Texas. His graphics, poems, stories, and essays have appeared in the US, Canada, England, Germany, and Australia.

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 , a n d Third P l a c e will b e 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 payable to "BFR Sudden Fiction Contest/ASUC" 1000 words or less 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 for list 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

Contest

Berkeley Fiction 10B Eshleman University of Berkeley, C A

R e v i e w Hall

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is October I

to:

3 1 , 2 0 0 6

Winners w i l l b e notified b y the e n d o f January 2 0 0 7


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